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Compersion: The Secret Behind Swinging Relationships

The term "compersion" may not be immediately familiar to everyone – we checked and it’s technically not in the Merriam-Webster dictionary – but when Googled it does come up. And within the context of non-monogamous relationships, some say compersion is the secret behind swinging. The concept is often misunderstood or overlooked, especially as swinging itself is fraught with misconceptions related to emotional dynamics like jealousy or possessiveness. Yet, compersion can serve as a potent emotional cornerstone in the swinging lifestyle, offering a profound psychological perspective on our relationships. Truth be told, Jake and I felt feelings of compersion before either of us had ever heard the word. And when we did, the word resonated like no other. So, in this article, I’m going to delve into the complexities of compersion—its definition, its psychological foundations, and its transformative role in the swinging community.


What is Compersion?

Compersion is a term that has been gaining traction in both polyamorous and consensual non-monogamous communities (CNM). Often dubbed as the "antithesis of jealousy," compersion is the positive emotion one experiences when witnessing their partner's happiness with another person. It refers to the experience of feeling joy, happiness, or even vicarious excitement when witnessing one's partner(s) experience love, pleasure, or emotional intimacy with another person. Instead of feeling threatened or envious about a partner's involvement with others, a person experiencing compersion feels a sense of compersive joy for their partner's happiness and fulfillment. This concept was initially coined by the Kerista Commune, a San Francisco-based polyamorous group that has since disbanded, as the feeling of taking joy in the joy that others you love share among themselves and has since gained popularity as consensual non-monogamy becomes more mainstream.


Here are a few key points to understand about compersion in relation to swinging and CNM:

  • Empathy and Positive Emotions: Compersion involves empathetic and positive emotions towards a partner's other relationships. It signifies emotional maturity and the ability to find happiness in the happiness of those you love, even if that happiness comes from a source outside the relationship.

  • Absence of Jealousy: Compersion is often seen as a marker of a secure and healthy relationship. It indicates that individuals have successfully managed or overcome feelings of jealousy, which can be a significant challenge in non-monogamous relationships.

  • Communication and Trust: Compersion is closely linked to open communication and trust between partners. In swingingrelationships, open and honest communication is essential to navigate complex emotional landscapes. Trusting that your partner's other relationships do not diminish their feelings for you is crucial for experiencing compersion.

  • Differentiating Compersion from Indifference: Compersion is not about being indifferent to a partner's other relationships. It's an active, positive, and empathetic response. It's not just tolerating or accepting your partner's other relationships; it's finding genuine joy in their experiences.

  • Personal Growth: Experiencing compersion often requires personal growth and self-reflection. It can challenge societal norms and ingrained beliefs about possessiveness and exclusivity in relationships. People who experience compersion often report personal growth and enhanced self-awareness as they confront and overcome jealousy and insecurities.

Compersion is the Opposite of Jealousy

People outside the swinger lifestyle have a hard time understanding compersion and let’s face it, can’t get past their extreme feelings of sexual jealousy. The truth is sexual jealousy is a complex and deeply rooted emotion that can be attributed to evolutionary, psychological, and social factors. Here are a few reasons why people may feel sexual jealousy over their partner:

  • Evolutionary Perspective: From an evolutionary standpoint, sexual jealousy can be seen as a mechanism to ensure reproductive success. Our ancestors who were possessive of their mates were more likely to have offspring who survived and passed on their genes. Jealousy, in this context, can be viewed as a natural response to the perceived threat of reproductive competition.

  • Insecurity and Fear of Loss: People often invest significant emotional energy in their relationships and when they fear that their partner might be sexually interested in someone else, it triggers feelings of insecurity and fear of loss. This fear can stem from concerns about abandonment, rejection, or a decrease in the partner's commitment.

  • Social and Cultural Norms: Many societies have social and cultural norms that emphasize monogamous relationships. When these norms are breached, it can lead to jealousy. Societal expectations about fidelity and commitment can create pressure on individuals to feel jealous when their partners show interest in others.

  • Self-esteem and Validation: For some individuals, their self-worth and validation are closely tied to their partner's faithfulness. If a partner shows interest in someone else, it can be perceived as a threat to their self-esteem, leading to feelings of jealousy. Jealousy is also rooted in fear of comparison.

  • Fear of Comparison: People might fear that their sexual performance, attractiveness, or other qualities are being compared to someone else. The thought of not measuring up to a perceived rival can lead to jealousy.

  • Lack of Trust: Jealousy often arises when there is a lack of trust in the relationship. Trust forms the foundation of any healthy relationship, and when it is compromised, it can trigger jealousy as individuals worry about their partner's faithfulness.

The Science Behind Compersion

Research, including a 2021 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior by Rhonda N. Balzarini, suggests that anticipated compersion may be linked to greater relationship satisfaction. This is particularly true for relationships that have a strong foundation of trust and open communication. While the term originated in polyamorous communities, it's not exclusive to non-monogamous relationships. According to psychologist Joli Hamilton, who has conducted extensive research on the subject, many monogamous individuals can identify with compersion once they understand what it means.


Navigating the Path to Compersion in Swinging

Experiencing the joy of compersion is likely what’s needed to start you and partner on the road to swinging but some find it hard to shake off the shackles of jealousy. If this is you, you're not alone. As mentioned above, many of us have emotional barriers, often erected due to societal norms or past experiences, that can make this journey challenging. So here’s the thing – and this may sound a little counterintuitive – but acknowledging jealousy is the first step towards fostering compersion. From there, you can practice with non-romantic relationships to build your "compersion muscle." By understanding and embracing compersion, you're not just avoiding jealousy; you're actively participating in a more empathetic and emotionally intelligent form of relationship-building. Here are the things you can do to cultivate compersion:

  • Set Boundaries: Be explicit about your boundaries and comfort zones. This isn't just about what you're okay with your partner doing, but also what you're comfortable doing yourself.

  • Keep the Lines Open: Continuous dialogue is crucial. The more you talk, the easier it becomes to understand each other's feelings and apprehensions. This can be a liberating experience that helps both of you grow emotionally.

  • Seek External Support: If you find yourselves hitting a wall, don't hesitate to seek external help. Couples therapy can offer valuable insights into managing jealousy and fostering compersion. Alternatively, joining a swinger's forum can provide a sense of community and practical advice from those who have been in your shoes.

  • Understand that Emotions Can be a Rollercoaster: Swinging isn't just a physical adventure; it's an emotional one, too. You've got highs, lows, and everything in between. Sometimes, those feelings don't come neatly packaged—they overlap and collide in unexpected ways. You might find yourself feeling a bit jealous but also kinda thrilled at the same time. And guess what? That's okay. It's all part of the journey. The key here is communication. You've got to check in with each other: how are we feeling? What's working? What needs a rethink?

By taking these steps, you're not just working towards eliminating jealousy; you're actively paving the way for a more empathetic and fulfilling swinging experience.


Final Thoughts on the Feeling Compersion

It's important to note that while compersion is a concept often associated with swinging and CNM relationships, not all individuals in non-monogamous relationships necessarily experience it, and that's perfectly okay. People have diverse emotional reactions to different situations, and the key in any relationship, regardless of its structure, is open communication, understanding, and mutual respect for each other's feelings and boundaries.


But if you’re in or interested in the swinging lifestyle, let’s face it, you're not just hooking up with other people; you're exploring a whole new emotional landscape together. It's like setting off on this amazing journey, but instead of a map, you've got your shared feelings as your GPS. When you're both open about what you're experiencing—be it compersion, lust, or even a twinge of jealousy—you create this shared narrative that strengthens your bond. It's a journey with plot twists, turns, and maybe even some bumps, but as long as you're navigating it together, you're enriching your relationship in ways you might never have imagined.


Compersion is way more than just a buzzword; it’s the game-changer for any couple interested in swinging or other forms of non-monogamy. It was for us, and we can honestly say that opened up the world of swinging. This isn't just about spicing up your sex life; it's about leveling up your emotional connection too. If you can get to a place where you're cheering for your partner's good times as much as your own, you're not just swinging—you're soaring.


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