Lately I've seen the following question come up in more than a few conversations. "Is Polyamory a lifestyle or an orientation?"
Let's first take a look at the dictionary definitions from the good folks at Merriam-Webster:
Definition of LIFESTYLE
: the typical way of life of an individual, group, or culture
Definition of ORIENTATION
a : the act or process of orienting or of being oriented b : the state of being oriented; broadly : arrangement, alignment
a : a usually general or lasting direction of thought, inclination, or interest b : a person's self-identification as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual
: change of position by organs, organelles, or organisms in response to external stimulus
Often I look at the two words, as they relate to sexual or relationship issues, as follows:
Lifestyle = Implies a choice was made to follow a particular way of living that one enjoys.
Orientation = Implies an inherent predisposition by a person in which choice was not involved.
As an example: One could choose to be a vegetarian for health reasons despite a fondness for meat. In that example vegan is their lifestyle, carnivore is their orientation. (Strangely, in this example the two seem somewhat contradictory).
Back to the question, is polyamory a lifestyle or an orientation?
My impulse is to answer that polyamory is a lifestyle. Assuming orientation is an inherent sexual preference, someone may be bi-sexual, homosexual, or heterosexual yet still be polyamorous. Those same people could also be monogamous, enjoy open relationships, or prefer the swing community which to me emphasizes poly being a lifestyle or choice, sexual preference being an orientation or inherent.
Interestingly enough I actually believe that for me, and others, polyamory is an orientation. I was involved in poly relationships before I knew what poly was. I've tried being monogamous and although I can do it, I don't enjoy it and feel something is lacking. For me, polyamory is natural and inherent. As much so as my sexuality.
On the flip side of the coin, I believe there are people out there who have chosen polyamory. It isn't something that came to them naturally and they have had to learn how to be poly. For them I would call polyamory a lifestyle.
Now let's test my definitions and theories on Swing. Can someone be bi-sexual, homosexual, or heterosexual and exist in the Swing community? Of course. Can those same people choose not to be in the Swing community? Of course. Sounds like Swing is a lifestyle as well.
But this is where I think it gets more complicated. Orientation, for our purposes, typically refers to sexual orientation. Those who chose to live a Swing life do so because sexually they enjoy multiple partners. Emotionally, they often remain exclusive or monogamous. This would suggest Swing is more of an orientation due to the sexual focus.
Polyamorists on the other hand prefer multiple relationships which usually include sex, but aren't typically specifically created for the purpose of sex, and emotional components. Though this doesn't suggest polyamory is an orientation, it doesn't suggest it is a lifestyle either.
I quoted someone recently as saying "Polyamory is a lifestyle, Swing is an orientation". I really liked that quote and thought it explained a lot of the differences between the two, as well as the continued animosity between those groups. I've also come to realize it may be an over-simplification based primarily on the common sexuality found within each group. That can be proven if you remove sexuality from the definition of both Swing and Polyamory, which seems to render the quote pointless as sex is a basis for the definition of Swing. That would indicate Swing is an orientation, Polyamory is a lifestyle.
What does all of that mean? Not much really. I find the conversation interesting and stimulating because it helps define terms. Intellectually it is a bit of a challenge but beyond that does it mean anything? Probably not. People will live their lives as they see fit, definitions be damned. And whether Polyamory is a lifestyle, an orientation, or simply a deviation doesn't change its valuation.
What's your vote? Polyamory; lifestyle or orientation? What about Swing; lifestyle or orientation?