Fox on Sex: 'Big Love:' The Different Kinds of Polyamory

“Swinging saves you from cheating – there’s no lies and deception. It’s letting people have the variety they crave, but their partners get to have power and choice in the matter.”

— Danielle, 31*

“If done right, it can keep relationships together, rather than add to the statistics of divorce or miserable deceptive marriages.”

— Jonathan, 46*

With so much talk about cheating, sex addiction and horny housewife shows, I've been getting a lot of mail asking questions that span from inane to fantastic.

How does polyamory (having multiple intimate relationships simultaneously, with full consent) differ from swinging? Are swingers nudists? (Not necessarily, though I am sure some nudists might swing). Are bondage and S&M essential parts of swinging? (Nope, not essential). And then there are the numerous e-mails I get that about “cuckolding” (men who like watching their wives having sex, which might have an undercurrent of psychological humiliation to it).

“While the word ‘swinging’ may conjure images of hairy hippies for you, there is no profile of an ‘average’ swinging couple,” said Lola, president of, who is also a writer for "Penthouse" and an alternative lifestyle educator. “Fortune 500 owners, CEOs, people in law enforcement -- they don’t fit any mold at all except that everyone is very polite and open-minded.”

The topic that reoccurs is the amount of communication that is needed. Couples in “alternative” or “open” relationships have to express themselves very precisely about their comfort levels, boundaries and desires. Divorce once had terrible stigma attached to it, so what do you think the future is for “open” or alternative lifestyles?

Some basic definitions:

Open Relationships — When a couple agrees that each partner can have a romantic relationship outside the marriage or dating situation.

Polyamory — An umbrella term that covers various forms of multiple relationships. You might hear people refer to themselves as "part of a poly" relationship. In the “family,” all agree to have relationships with one another as well as the possibility of having relationships beyond what's in their household. Each "family" has different rules. Polyamory has nothing to do with polygamy.

Polygamy — Refers to multiple marriage (although the word "polygamy" is often used to refer only to polygyny: one man with several wives). Traditional polygamy is usually patriarchical and often claims a religious justification.

Swinging — Recreational sex with others, without romance. It's purely an agreement between partners that having a different sexual appetite is acceptable. Communication becomes paramount, as boundaries and each scenario are discussed openly with one another.

BDSM – Role playing based on a "power exchange" where sex is usually not involved. The compound acronym, BDSM, comes from the terms bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism.

*These quotes are from people who swing, who were interviewed for this article.

Dr. Belisa Vranich is a psychologist and sex expert. She is the author of three books, including her latest "He's Got Potential," which is in stores now. Do you have a "Dear Doc" question? E-mail Dr. Vranich at and check out her Web site at