When people think about open relationships, the idea is that of a sexual free-for-all. Very often, hedonistic hook-up culture and open relationships are made out to be one and the same. This, however, is a profoundly misleading misconception. Hooking up and open relationships are certainly not the same thing. The idea that they are the same thing is part of the stigma against open relationships, which has created damaging misconceptions that prevent people from being comfortable entering an open relationship, for fear of looking “hedonistic” or “irresponsible.”
What exactly is the difference between hook-ups and an open relationship?
Let’s start with hookups. Hooking up is essentially a non-committed manner of sexual activity, where you have multiple partners but you are not in a committed relationship with any of them. Some of these partners might be recurring, and other partners might not be. The idea though is that hooking-up is sexual hedonism. If one is simply asking to hook-up, the idea is not that you will learn everything about one another, share your feelings with one another and meet each other’s family –or whatever other emotionally romantic needs you have. Rather, the idea is that you are both engaging purely for sexual release.
The above-described scenario is what comes to mind in most people when they think of “open relationships.” Yet, open relationships could not be further from this.
Really, an open relationship is quite the same as a monogamous relationship. You openly communicate, share feelings, values, needs, and love with your partner. The only real difference is that you are capable of doing this with multiple people. Insofar as it is agreed upon by all parties involved, having multiple agreed-upon partners is not considered cheating.
It might be that you have a primary partner, whom you have agreed upon with that you can have sex and emotional ties to others. Or you might even have multiple partners on equal footing emotionally with one another. Either way, open relationships are far from a sexual free-for-all.
For instance, in an open relationship, your partner has every right to object you seeing a specific person. Let’s say you want to date someone outside of your primary relationship and this relationship is polyamorous, but your primary partner knows that the person you are trying to date is mean behind closed doors; your primary partner has every right to say “no” to you dating this person, and also has every right to end the relationship if you go and date them anyway. We can see how this isn’t exactly a “free-for-all.”
Where, in hooking up all parties involved are only in it for sexual pleasure, in open relationships partners care about the needs and emotional well-being of one another. Indeed, within open relationships, you still have an emotional responsibility to your partners. It isn’t a lack of commitment, but rather, a commitment to multiple individuals. By contrast, the idea of hooking up is the complete antithesis to commitment. You might be able to say to someone you intend to hook up with that you’d like to be friends who just have sex, but that is not the same as making a commitment. In an open relationship, you are just as obligated to your multiple partners as you would be to your single partner in a monogamous relationship.
Ultimately, open relationships and hooking up are very different things, and this difference is very important to keep in mind if we are going to be able to lift the stigma against open relationships. Open relationships require love, emotional availability, and commitment. Hooking up is when you actively ensure that these factors are not involved. We can see that open relationships entail far more responsibility and meaning than conventional opinions would have you believe.