Open relationships can involve polyamory, but typically they refer to relationships in which the main emotional and intimate bond is between the two partners, with both partners consenting to the possibility, at the very least, of close relationships with other people. Polyamory usually means engaging with more than one intimate partner, whereas an open relationship is more associated with individuals having sexual relationships outside their priority partners, but with their consent. Generally, open relationships include the arrangement that each partner may have sex with other people, on different terms, with certain restrictions, while maintaining their priority relationship. In other words, open relationships are less about emotional connections to people outside the primary relationship, and more about sexual ones.
Open relationships–a loose term that could encompass anything from polyamory to a variety of non-monogamous, unconventional arrangements–are growing. Despite the growing acceptance of non-monogamous arrangements, as well as a growing awareness of open relationships, overall perceptions continue to be negative. Or, at the very least, there is growing curiosity around open marriages and non-monogamy.
These days, people are becoming more aware about what type of relationship structure they want to be in, and what kind they would be happy in, says Meghan Fleming, PhD, a New York-based expert in sexuality and relationships. People are becoming more open and transparent about how they define and what they want in a relationship.
Also, when people are trying to study this stuff, they are usually having to work with a convenience sample, like people who attend swinger parties, or are in a group on the internet that is geared toward those who are not in monogamous relationships. In her studies on sexual fantasies, for example, Lehmiller found that most people had fantasized about being non-monogamous in some way, like attending swingers, opening their relationships, or being polyamorous. In addition, people involved see their polyamorous relationships as providing an avenue where individuals can continue exploring and growing emotionally, unconstrained by traditional roles involved in romantic relationships. Dedeker Winston also mentioned open relationships in which both partners let the other person have sex with other people, but they are reluctant to discuss these experiences together.
An open marriage, sometimes called consensual non-monogamy or CNM, is a type of marriage in which the parties involved explicitly agree that their partner will have or participate in romantic and/or sexual relationships with other people.