Different Types of Open Relationships

The term “open relationship” refers to a relationship style that is consensually non-monogamous. There are different ways these relationships can work and fall on a spectrum of commitment levels. If the concept of open relationships is new to you, this will help you understand a bit more about the most common types including polyamory, swinging, and designer relationships.

Our society is very heavily weighted towards monogamy, which makes these alternative relationships difficult to talk about openly. We often don’t see examples of them in our friends, families or in media, making us sometimes feel wrong about our desires. You may very well know people who operate somewhere along the open relationship continuum, however they likely hide this side of their life. But, healthy open relationships are possible!

Understanding Open Relationships

For many people, the idea of open relationships are confusing, especially when they consider the idea of jealousy. To help simplify this concept, I bring up the concept of parenting. As parents, (if you aren’t one, consider your own parents) we don’t love one child more than another, but may love them differently. We don’t have less love to give our second or third child (or more), we have an endless amount. Just like you are capable to love more than one child, and learn to divide your attention among them, you can love and be in love with more than one adult and adapt to meet the needs of everyone involved.

It’s important to note as well that if someone tells you they are in an open relationship, ask how they define themselves and do not assume they abide by the strict definition of the term. These are generalizations and not hard and fast rules.


Polyamory is when a person has more than one committed emotional and physical intimate relationship. In true polyamory, relationships are out in the open and consented to by all involved. There are several different types of configurations of polyamory, and some use a hierarchical structure while others don’t. Some include relationships with same gender, or relationships where all partners are intimate, or others who aren’t.


Often referred to as “the lifestyle”, it tends to involve less of the deep emotional commitment to an additional partner or partners and is more recreational. It is usually defined by couples engaging with other couples, or couples adding a single male or female in sexual play. They tend to have casual intimacy encounters, as opposed to in polyamorous relationships with a stronger commitment level.

Designer Relationships

These relationships tend to be unique to the persons involved and don’t fall into the definition of monogamy. People may experiment with swinging and polyamory yet feel that they don’t quite fit in either community. The definition of designer relationships then comes to mean that you and your partner(s) are the designers of your unique relationship, and it can be re-designed at any time.
This relationship style can include people who bond emotionally, yet not sexually; those with occasional lovers or friends with benefits; multiple partner configurations with long-term bonds; and partnerships in which certain kinky activities take place outside the primary relationship. It can also include being single, asexual, nonsexual, and friends with benefits. It can work for partners where one tends to enjoy more deep committed relationships, while their primary partner prefers more recreational sexual encounters outside of the primary relationship.

Dr. Rhoda Lipscomb is a sex therapist focused on alternative sexual expressions including BDM, ABDL, Open Relationships, Kink/Fetish and sexual orientation. To learn more or to request a free consultation, contact her today.

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