I know you aren’t talking about me, in particular, but I’m just pointing out that generalities don’t always apply, but I think I have a better idea where you are coming from now. The need to be careful doesn’t go away with age. But, I’ve also met all of my poly relationships through the door of sex, and I think that’s pretty common. Most people don’t say, “I’m looking for additional life partners, and I’ll only have sex with you after the 5th date if I think we’re compatible.” You meet people you like, you have sex with them, and if more than that develops, than it does, but the poly people I know don’t make a huge distinction between the different stages. It’s all a part of the poly continuum.
I think the real distinction between that and what I think of as swinging is that you are open to it becoming more than sex. Swingers really only want sex. Polyamorists want different types of intimate connections, some of which may be sexual or have a sexual aspect. I have a younger friend who has several acquaintances whose marriages broke up when they fell in love with other people. If they were polyamorists, this wouldn’t have mattered, but since they were essentially swingers, being in love with more than one person was an issue.