Recent articles on Polyamory Weekly and SoloPoly have me thinking about one very important difference between good swinger practices and good polyamory practices: veto power. For a good and safe swinging experience, a couple would do well to employ veto power. In polyamory, though, veto power should be exercised with caution, if at all.
Swinging and polyamory are not mutually dependent or mutually exclusive. Swingers can be polyamorous or monogamous (beyond the sex). Polyamorists can be swingers or not. For some, swinging leads to polyamory. It is likely that polyamory leads some to swinging. However, one does not guarantee the other, nor guarantee the other’s absence. Now that I have that out of the way…
Swinging covers a wide range of activities and approaches, but ultimately comes down to pursuing recreational sex with people outside of a committed relationship. This applies to singles as well as couples, and includes activities like full swap, exhibitionism and voyeurism, and group sex. The focus is sex for fun and with people with whom you are not necessarily otherwise involved. The others can be intimate friends or strangers, or any range of association in between.
Since this is just for fun, for the moment of pleasure, the swinging couple needs to be able to communicate effectively and decisively with each other on whether to proceed or not. Browsing profiles online may allow time for lengthy conversations on yea or nay and why, but flirting with another couple at a party leaves less opportunity for such discussion. The partner who feels uncomfortable — is not attracted, is getting a weird vibe, is unhappy — needs to be able to say, “No,” without penalty. The rejection is of the specific act in the specific situation.
Polyamory covers a wide range of relationship styles, but ultimately comes down to allowing multiple, concurrent, honest, romantic relationships. This includes dynamics like one woman with two boyfriends, one man and two women all together in a triad, two couples dating each other, and so many different other dynamics that I doubt there can be an exhaustive list. The focus is on having relationships with people. This is how polyamory is so very different than the more popularized form of non-monogamy, swinging.
Swinging is about the recreational act. Yes, it is a lifestyle for some, and may lead to close friendships or romantic ties, but the act is the core. The executed veto power, the “No,” is only to an act. Assuming no drama or serious issues, a “No” to a particular act does not mean “Never” to the people involved. Here, the veto power is just being used to convey, “I don’t want to do this act with these people at this time.”
Polyamory is about the relationships; its very core is other people and how one interacts with them. When veto power is used in polyamory, it is often to say “No” to an entire relationship… and entire person. The veto power that lets one say, “I do not want you to like that person,” is very different than the veto power that lets one say, “I am not comfortable doing this thing with these people right now.”
Even when veto power is used to a lesser extent in polyamory, it is still about dictating another’s actions. “You cannot have a date tonight.” “You cannot sleep over at any time.” It allows one to control one’s partner and, consequently, one’s partner’s interactions and relationships with other people. Here, veto power is not about making a cautious decision on a single act, but impacting people’s behaviors, interactions, schedules, feelings… their lives.
One should still be able to express concerns, feelings, anxieties, and preferences, but that is very different than just saying, “No, you may not.” Expressing oneself should be through constructive conversations, in which those who impact — and are impacted — can learn, share, and help decide what rules and actions should be implemented to best accommodate everyone’s needs. Just employing veto power and saying, “No, not her/him,” is vastly different, and gives one person too much control over too many other people.