*WARNING* Adult and educational sexual content listed. Suggested reader age 15+. Reader Discretion Advised!*
For many of you reading out there, you probably have a day to day routine. This could involve starting your day with your children, getting ready for work, ending your day with a specific tv show, getting kids ready for bed, and more. For others this day to day routine might include many of the above factors, however for some aspects of dominance and submission might be at play, sexual punishments and rewards, or even multiple dating partners existing in the same home might be present!
If you're feeling confused about what you just read above, let's talk definitions. The term "alternative lifestyle" has existed since the 1920's. If you're familiar with the terms goth, hippies, punks, and even flappers, then you probably recognize that these groups are sub cultures that diverge from mainstream culture. In comparison alternative relationship and sexual lifestyles are those that can diverge from the mainstream standards of monogamy, heterosexual intimacy, and how consent looks in traditional sexual relationships. So let's discuss just a few of the most common alternative lifestyles below, and what makes these lifestyles mentally and emotionally healthy.
BDSM is considered a variety of erotic and role playing acts and includes bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadomasochism, and masochism. Individuals who engage in forms of BDSM are often engaged in activities and relationships in which participants take on complementary but unequal roles. This often involves 'informed consent' from all parties. For example, many of my clients engaged in D/S (dominant and submissive) relationships have very distinguished roles in which the dominant partner (or dom) takes psychological or situational control over the submissive (sub) partner. In healthy BDSM relationships, both parties work together to set a standard of guidelines or rules in which they can each follow, allowing the dominant to take control over specified aspects of a sub's life, and the submissive agreeing to give up or relinquish control of said aspects. When seeing individuals in BDSM relationships, some of the topics that arise for my clients have included boundaries surrounding consent and rescinding consent, communicating changes in what was submitted, safe sexual and emotional practices, and separating past trauma from play.
No we aren't talking about that kind of swing! You might also recognize this term as "wife swapping," "husband swapping," or referred to in social and party settings as "key parties." Swinging is a term for non-monogamous behavior in which singles and partners in committed relationships engage in sexual activities with others as a social or recreational activity. People decide to chose swinging as their lifestyle for a variety of reasons, some of which include quality, quantity, and frequency of sex. Often considered socially and sexually taboo like the BDSM community, swinging often occurs in closed circuits of individuals who share the same or similar desires for a change in their sexual experiences. Swinging also tends to focus more so on developing physical relationships and not emotional. Some of the topics that come up from swinging individuals or couples that I see in my practice include boundaries surrounding how to pick and choose partners, sexual health practices (e.g. sexual protection), agreed upon and hard line sexual practice boundaries with other people, frequency at which swinging occurs, and navigating physical and emotional attachments.
The ethical and consensual dating or multiple partners. This is polyamory! Unlike swinging that tends to focus on the physical and a lack of emotional attachments to partners, polyamory encompasses both. So to better understand, envision yourself as single and looking for a significant other. If you are partnered or married go back to your memories of first meeting your partner. Most people can picture going on dates, building up emotional connection, connecting intimately, and working towards goals. Now, picture that occurrence with multiple people and you have polyamory! There are many different flavors and structures of poly relationships, such as hierarchical couples seeking secondary and tertiary partners, single individuals who live alone but date multiple people, triads in which three individuals are all dating each other, and more. Some of the situations that couples and poly individuals seek in counseling include how to establish boundaries that work for all parties, how to establish a relationship structure, how to bring up insecurities or jealous emotions, and how to grow in current and new relationships.
This term is probably the most familiar to many. Nudism, also referred to as naturism, is a political and cultural movement that advocates and defends personal and social nudity. Many misconceptions about nudists have been that these individuals are somehow over sexualizing the human body. However, many nudists want to spread the word that the human body can be seen and expressed in the nude without in ways that don't insinuate sex. Many nudist's action groups are made up of male and female individuals who enjoy a lot of the same common activities clothed people do, such as cycling, playing sports, lounging, and conversing with friends. However, you guessed it, they prefer to do so nude! Many of these groups can be family oriented like other support groups, and promote similar life values and lessons as other communities. As a counselor I have yet to encounter individuals who identify as nudists at my office, however after discovering that friends identify this way, I have come to learn that nudism is about personal expression, a desire to find ultimate comfort within yourself and body, and to feel safe expressing nudism in a clothing preferred society.
Although there are many other alternative sexual and relationship lifestyles out there, these highlight some of the most common ones I have seen and counseled individuals for. Not all lifestyles are for everyone, and not everyone reading this may agree with the lifestyles of choice that others live by. However, I can say that so long as people are living happy and healthy lives for themselves and all involved, this is what promotes positive self image and mental health growth.
If you are seeking a sex therapist or want to discuss lifestyle concerns you're having that affect your mental health, please don't hesitate to reach out to us!
Devin Pinkston is a local mental health counselor and Gender Therapist in Grand Junction Colorado. Call to schedule a free consultation today at 970-644-2392.