Open relationship and polyamory: What’s the difference?

Polyamory and open relationships have been around for centuries, and they offer a completely different way of life compared to monogamous relationships. 


But what are the differences between polyamory and open relationships? How can each of these types of relationships impact your lifestyle? Can they improve or harm your relationship with your primary partner? 

Understanding Open Relationships

For starters, open relationships are a form of ethical non-monogamy. In open relationships, both partners can consensually agree to pursue other people for sex. These relationships are purely physical. Moreover, open relationships or marriages are different from swinging


In an open relationship, both partners can seek out others for physical pleasures at sex parties involving multiple people. Open relationships are also different from polyamory. This is a type of relationship in which people can seek out several romantic partners.


Conversely, couples in open relationships usually agree that their connections with other people should stay casual, meaning you can get intimate with anyone you’re attracted to, as long as you don’t pursue romantic relationships.

What Is Polyamory?

As mentioned, polyamory is all about intimate relationships with multiple partners. The basis of functioning polyamorous relationships is the consent of all involved parties. But, there are several different poly relationships


For example, some polyamorous individuals often reject conventional opinions of emotional and sexual exclusivity. This is often referred to as an open, polyamorous relationship. People in this kind of relationship can seek out an unlimited number of sexual and romantic partners. Others prefer to limit their emotional and sexual activities. This is called a closed poly relationship or polyfidelity. Typically, it restricts sexual activities to members of the group. There are several other types, including hierarchical and non-hierarchical polyamory.


Additionally, polyamory has turned into an umbrella term that encompasses all kinds of multi-partner, non-monogamous relationships. What you need to know is that polyamory is not solely about non-exclusive sexual relationships. Usually, the values of emotional intimacy, commitment, and honest communication are exactly what separates polyamory from other non-exclusive sexual bonds. The biggest distinction is that polyamory is a kind of ethical non-monogamy that forms intimate and loving relationships. 

Significant Differences

Many people are actually unaware that polyamory, open relationships, and swinging are entirely different concepts. Here are the main differences between polyamory and open relationships: 


  • Polyamorous people can pursue several emotional relationships at a time. 
  • People in open relationships can seek out other people purely for sex but remain emotionally faithful to their primary partner. 
  • Open relationships fall somewhere between swinging and polyamory. 
  • Open relationships always require consent from both partners. 
  • Polyamory requires consent from all partners in the established relationship. 
  • Poly relationships involve more than two partners.
  • The caveat of open relationships is that all your connections need to stay casual.
  • In open relationships, you shouldn’t pursue committed and intimate bonds with others. 
  • In both poly and open relationships, the people involved can set the rules and establish the boundaries on their own. 
  • While open relationships are different from swinging, a lot of people in open relationships can be swingers, and they can have sexual encounters together. 
  • Poly relationships can be based on a high level of physical and emotional sharing. 
  • Poly relationships have different types, including poly groups, two people dating the same person, or triad relationships involving three people. All of those examples cannot be considered an open relationship. 

Impact on the Involved People

All types of consensual non-monogamy can have positive and negative impacts on people. Some of the shared benefits of polyamory and open relationships include improved sex life and enhanced trust. Others include enhanced commitment, communication, and improved emotional bonds. 


Compared to monogamous relationships, both poly and open relationships require different views of trust, jealousy, and honesty. They offer a broader range of sexual and emotional experiences. Plus, they sometimes require a higher level of trust compared to monogamous bonds. 


When it comes to the downsides, people in open and poly relationships are at a higher risk of contracting STIs. While non-monogamy brings increased experimentation in sex, it can be risky in terms of health.


Of course, the impact of poly and open relationships on people can be entirely subjective. Some studies have found that polyamorous individuals feel that their relationships allow them to explore love in different ways. Also, people in open relationships can feel less pressure when it comes to trust and intimacy with their primary partners. 


In the worst case, some people in poly or open relationships can feel guilt and shame or face judgment from their community. Another difficult topic regarding non-monogamous relationships is family life. For example, some poly or open relationship couples could find it difficult to come out to their children. 


However, preliminary studies have found that poly relationships can have the same impact on kids as monogamous marriages. That will depend on several factors, including the partners’ relationship with their polyamorous partners and their relationship with their children. 

Impact on People’s Relationship

In open relationships, many people find that seeking out others for sex can revitalize their sex lives. There are various reasons why people choose open relationships, and some of them involve curiosity or experimentation. A lot of people believe that open relationships are often a way of saving a failed or sexless marriage, but all of that will depend on the context of your relationship. 


Some experts say that open relationships should not be used as a means of saving a marriage. Others believe that these types of non-monogamous bonds can be great for reinvigorating your passions and emotional connection. 


Now, when it comes to polyamory, this type of relationship is not the best choice for anyone who’s jealous. It requires a lot of emotional experience. It also necessitates an entirely different view of love and relationships. One of the most positive impacts of polyamory is the lack of social isolation. This is often common in monogamous relationships. 


Also, the ability to experiment sexually and share the love between several different people of varying sexual orientations is something that many polyamorous individuals enjoy. But, polyamory can also involve issues such as manipulation, deception, and bad sexual health practices. 

Which Is Good and Which Is Not?

The only way to know which non-monogamous bond is right for you is to try it on your own. As stated previously, your and your partner’s view on relationships are entirely unique. Only you can decide what’s right for you!


Nevertheless, the main difference between open relationships and polyamory is romantic love. If you want to explore sex with other people but without any emotional attachments, you and your partner will be better off in an open relationship. Open relationships can offer you a lot of freedom. They’ll give you the excitement of pursuing someone solely for sex. 


Yet, if you’re someone who wants to be in an intimate and emotional relationship with more than one partner, polyamory might be a better choice. If you’re in a poly relationship with three people or even a whole group, you can experience what it means to love multiple partners and have emotionally charged sex with all of them. 


If you are seriously considering one of those two relationship types, the best advice is to think about your initial bond. Talk to your primary partner to see if you are both ready for an open or poly relationship. Remember, consent is the backbone of both poly and open relationships. Regardless of your decision, you should make it together with your partner!

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