What Are Alternative Lifestyles?

Updated April 17, 2017

An alternative lifestyle is simply a lifestyle that does not follow the prevailing cultural norms of the time. This means that what counts as "alternative" can change over time and mean different things for different cultures. In Western cultures, the term "alternative lifestyle" often refers to sexual preferences or choices, though it can also refer to family structuring, philosophical or religious beliefs and food choices.

Alternative Sexual Lifestyles

The most familiar alternative lifestyles are those related to sexuality. Same-sex relationships, as well as transgendered identities, transsexual identities and polygamy, are sometimes considered alternative lifestyles, though throughout the latter 20th and early 21st centuries, same-sex relationships have become far more common. Other sexual choices considered "alternative" are BDSM communities (which stands for bondage, discipline and sadomasochism), furry fandon (people who dress up with and/or collect stuffed animals, sometimes for sexual purposes), and swingers (married couples or partners who both engage in consensual sex outside of the relationship).

Alternative Family Structures and Living Choices

Although the nuclear family is not necessarily the dominant family structure outside of Western culture, intentional non-nuclear family arrangements and living situations are often considered alternative lifestyles in Western countries. Communal living in religious organisations, intentional communities, homes in which children are not raised by biological parents and nudist colonies are all examples of alternative lifestyles based on living choices.

Alternative Philosophical and Religious Beliefs

Since the major three monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) are the dominant religions in Western culture, religious beliefs outside of these three can be considered alternative. Buddhists, Pagans, Baha'i, and Scientologists, among many others, can be considered alternative lifestyles. Atheism, as it is relatively rare in the Western world, is also an alternative choice.

Alternative Food Choices

Although vegetarianism became increasingly common throughout the 20th century, it is still sometimes considered an alternative lifestyle. Veganism (consuming no product that is a secretion or product of an animal) is far rarer than vegetarianism, and rarer still is freeganism, which means eating only food that is free, i.e. food found in dumpsters or through other means of getting leftovers. While most choose vegetarianism and veganism to avoid harming animals and impacting the environment, freegans are primarily concerned with food waste and do not wish to take part in market society. Some freegans stick to a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, while others will eat whatever they can find for free.

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About the Author

Ann Trent has been publishing her writing since 2001. Her work has appeared in "Fence," the "Black Warrior Review" and the "Denver Quarterly." Trent received a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Ohio State University and has attended the Macdowell Colony. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in counseling.