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Swinging: How exactly do you make ethical non-monogamy work?

It’s nothing new, maintaining alternative relationships in typically monogamous Philippine society.

One form of it that’s been discussed more often lately, for example, is polyamory, which the OED defines as “the practice, state, or ability of having more than one loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.” Said another way, it’s consensual and responsible non-monogamy.

Aren’t our favorite stories about the intricacies of true love complicated by infidelity and non-conformist interactions?

Admittedly, the liberating concepts of autonomy, self-determination, follow-your-heart, and even feminism challenge the perceived restrictions of exclusive sexual and romantic relationships.

This is where Anna and Zach come in. Both single with no kids, Anna and Zach have a happy five-year partnership. And yes, it’s an open relationship. I asked them a lot of questions, the first of which is: Why?

I have needs

“Despite having a partner, I still find myself physically attracted to other people. As loving as my partner is, I understand that she cannot meet all of my needs and it would be unfair of me to expect her to,” revealed Zach.

Anna said, “My dream partner’s characteristics cannot be found in just one man but can be found in bits and pieces in different men and women.”

In this scenario, the romantic expression “You complete me” is slightly tweaked to “Y’all complete me.” This opens the floodgates for friendships all around, held together by like-mindedness, special interests, and, of course, sexual urges.

If Anna and Zach are typical, the tendency towards an open relationship seems to stem from being true to oneself in wanting to find satisfaction from an assortment of individuals. After all, why settle for just one?

It’s our little secret

While Zach admitted that he discovered swinging when he gave it a shot, Anna confessed that she was 16 when she had a relationship with an older man. “At some point in our journey he brought in one of his friends, and I liked this mutual passion or sharing of bodies with more than one individual. Then, trying to be more out-of-the-box, we joined a swingers club.” There was no turning back.

I couldn’t stop the questions: Are you open about it? Does your family approve? Are your friends, polys and otherwise, okay with you and your lifestyle?

Zach said that their families are clueless. No surprise there. “And our friends who are also in the lifestyle understand this completely; the ones who are not, do not know about it.”

Anna added, “My people are old-school and will not understand the concept of the swinging lifestyle. I’m sure my parents will think that I will be transformed into a pillar of salt. I am open about my preferences when one of like mind asks, but you can’t just spring this on your friends because they will simply not get it, plus they will stick a scarlet S (for slut) on your chest and you will be the center of all their nasty chismis (gossip) for years to come.”

I surmise that, while the multiple-partner lifestyle is gaining traction, it will most likely remain a deviation from the norm, though forever strong in its lure for secrecy and clandestine moments.

Ooh! I like this!

So, how to get into this scheme of things.

Let’s start with Anna. “I belong to an online sex site, where I troll, for lack of a better word, for what I want. I am given choices of what I want, or can search some parameters like desired age, preferences, race, location. When I make up my mind, I converse with potentials, and go out on a date to see if it has magic. Then proceed to have fun or search again.

“Sometimes I just go out with people I’ve previously tried out and like. I usually will not go out with people I know at work, because they do not know I am in the lifestyle, and there are just too many people who know about Zach and they’ll think that I am cheating on him. Sometimes, a friend I know will recommend a guy and will ask permission to give digits.”

Now, Zach: “Usually, we meet via referrals or we take a shot in the dark. There are communities that hook people up like this. Someone initiates communication via chat or text, we decide to meet if first impressions are good, and then take it from there. It can be casual or otherwise. Relationships start off as friendships and we play it by ear.”

Sounds easy enough, right? But oh, there are rules.

Wait, I have ground rules

Swinging can be demanding in terms of taking care of oneself and intimate relationships with several partners.

I asked Anna and Zach what logistical and practicality issues and parameters they have to deal with.

“I keep it simple by keeping the friends with benefits as friends,” said Zach. “No drama, no emotional investment to the degree that I invest in my partner (Anna). We do the deed, have our fun, and then go back to our respective partners afterward. In that sense, there are no issues, and no one is negatively affected.”

Anna, on the other hand, has a list and a manifesto.

1. Have yourself tested every six months.

2. Condoms. Condoms. Condoms.

3. Scheduling… I don’t want to be rushed, so, depending on a meet-and-greet or a party, it needs to be planned, as I work nights and normal folk don’t.

4. Logistics must be near [my location]. Meet somewhere, have coffee or a meal, the fun after.

5. Age: 35 to 58, this will make sure I don’t mess around with any of my friends’ kids — that is a different can of worms.

“My rules are that the partner should not fall in love with me, and cannot be possessive as I don’t have any intentions of staying with one guy only. No hurting. No anal. Anything else needs to be discussed, and the partner needs to be discreet.”

And then there are the psychological and emotional impacts of consensual non-monogamy.

It’s not cheating if it’s allowed

For Anna and Zach, their commitment to each other is mutual.

Zach added, “The commitment (to our multiple partners) is to have safe, fun, and happy sexual intercourse. We remain true to ourselves and our committed partners.”

Anna was more explicit. “Open relationship is just what it implies. I have intense feelings of love for Zach but if I should so choose to play with others I may do so. I usually inform him but I do not ask for permission as he doesn’t own me. I belong to myself.”

I wonder, but what about jealousy and possessiveness?

Anna said, “I do not get jealous. I trust him. Plus jealousy has no part in an open relationship, and vice-versa.”

Zach said, “We handle it by talking things over and returning to our partners at the end of the day. It also helps to involve our partners in the actual sexual intercourse so no one feels left out.”

Trust, open communications, and mutual consent are the key elements. There is no room for possessiveness. And because all relationships are above board, “cheating” is removed from the vocabulary. Open relationships work when everyone is in on it.

Come with me, and you’ll be…

I have to ask, Do you continuously seek out new relationships? How many partners is enough?

Anna replied, “I love sex. I’m always on the lookout for new experiences.”

Zach said, “We do not continuously seek new partners yet we remain open to meeting new people. We’re not desperate for new ones, though. As to how many is enough, I would say the number of partners that actually come our way.”

There’s a start, so there must be an end. Do you end relationships formally like a divorce? What would normally cause you or any of your partners to initiate a break-up?

Zach: “Nope, there’s no formal ending since we remain friends even after the sex. In my experience, there has never been any reason to break up because no one really committed to anything other than the happy sex.”

Anna: “Technically they are not true relationships; I only have one. The others are just bed dates. I stay friends with them forever, that’s just who I am. They all have been briefed and will not expect more than that he is just a set of dick, fingers, and tongue and I am just a talented mouth, fingers, and pussy.”

So, no cheating, no break-ups. But there must be horror stories.

Welcome to the dark side

Aside from the usual bad guys of whatever lifestyle we choose—the liars, no-shows, self-righteous judgmental folk, and pushy people with no respect for boundaries—Anna pointed out a few unpleasantries that come with the open relationship territory.

“Rape. Some people can’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Even if you are careful, sometimes you get to meet a bad seed.  Or a stalker. I have a 15-year stalker that cannot believe that I am just not into him. He even wanted to go on a date with Zach and me.”

Zach was quick to add, “Fakers. People who create accounts on a dating service site claiming to be what they are not. For example, the hot 21-year-old female may really be a 60-something guy.”

At the end of the day…

Regardless, it’s still day-to-day life, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Zach stressed that their situation is “is an alternative, optional lifestyle that people may choose for the fun of it, so long as they go about it safely.”

For Anna, “All I care about is that my partner is clean and discreet. I don’t really want to know the particulars as we are in a bed relationship and not a romantic one. If he is married, I hope he loves his wife and kids. In most swinger groups the guy and his wife are together in the experimentation.”

And finally: Are you happy with all your partners?

Anna: “Yes, so far. Needs, both theirs and mine, are fulfilled. If I am not, we will just stay friends and that is it.”

Zach: “Yes, I am happy with them. There are a lot to choose from so the variety is very much welcome.”

After all is said and done, it’s really about how one finds happiness. Swinging, polyamory, and similar arrangements are not for everyone; but hey, neither is monogamy.

Visuals from Unsplash