Polys vs. Swingers, as viewed from today
The "poly vs. swinging" debate has died down in the last five years or so, praise be. The two subcultures, similar in theory but different in who they attract, may be learning not to over-stereotype and diss each other. And there's always been crossover and middle ground.
Now, in her smart Boston Open Relationships Examiner blog, Kamela Dolinova presents a clear and knowledgeable perspective on the two cultures.
Open war: the polyamorous versus the swingers
...Many polyamorous people define themselves in opposition to swingers, and in fact, at least locally, swingers tend to dwell outside of the intersecting subcultures that one often sees gathered together: the polyfolk, queers and kinksters, the geeks and gamers, the DIYers and cohousers, the pagans and atheist-engineers. I can speculate a number of reasons for this... but what I also hope for is a greater understanding between the two groups, who often see each other in a negative light.
In 2004, a friend of mine named Pepper Mint did a wonderful presentation at the Building Bridges conference and shared his notes for that presentation online. The presentation sought to bring together polyamorists and swingers under the identity umbrella of nonmonogamy....
Swingers tend to be vilified by mainstream culture, but also tend to be more a part of it than poly people.... Given the mainstream viewpoint of swingers and [their] desire to continue operating within the mainstream culture, it's no wonder that many of them remain extremely private about their swinging.
...Unlike swingers, poly people often must be out at least to a certain extent: after all, it is difficult to pretend to everyone in the world that you don't have two husbands. Your kids are certainly going to notice, your neighbors probably have a good idea....
By and large, swingers seem to see themselves as normal folks who are just out having some excitement on Saturday nights.... They are often happily suburban, Christian, and ranging from working class through to wealthy. Aside from their adventures with other couples, which admittedly sometimes turn into long-term, dating-like friendships, swingers tend to fully participate in Normal Life(tm).
Poly people, on the other hand, are often life-hackers: people who are interested in doing things differently from the norm to see if they work better for them.... Many polyfolk are entrepreneurs in the widest sense: not just running their own businesses but generating the business of their lives....
...Swingers have the challenge of working within the mainstream even as their life choices are condemned by it. And polyamorists are working to make their choices acceptable to the mainstream even as they often reject its other strictures.
...If we banded together rather than remaining so separate, perhaps the larger culture could expand a bit, and discover that more is possible: it's certainly happened before. But to start with, we might simply try not judging each other.
That's just a skim off the top; read her whole essay (March 10, 2010).
Meanwhile, an important new book on swingers is out: Swinging in America: Love, Sex, and Marriage in the 21st Century by Curtis R. Bergstrand and Jennifer Blevins Sinski. Curt Bergstrand, a sociology professor, gave a talk at last month's Poly Living conference: "The Rise and Decline of Monogamy in America." The book, published by Praeger (November 2009), is an academic hardcover. From the publisher's description:
Drawing on an extensive survey of [1,100] real people and over 40 years of research, this revealing volume proposes that a nonmonogamous lifestyle may be healthier for marriages than a monogamous one.
...Significant social science research suggests that the standard of monogamy has become a destructive force both on marriages and parenting, and that nonmonogamous relationships actually provide a more viable blueprint for relationships today.... [Bergstrand] concludes that nonmonogamous relationships such as swinging and polyamory offer a new blueprint for combining sex and love — one that may prove more in line with the way people actually live their lives in our society.
Swinging in America begins with what we know about swingers and the swinging lifestyle, based on personal narratives and over 40 years of sociological research comparing swinging and non-swinging couples on factors such as personal happiness, marital satisfaction, psychological stability, and personal values. The second half of the book explores the historical rise and contemporary decline of monocentrism — the sexually monogamous marriage as the organizing principle underlying our culture — and the implications of this decline for new nonmonogamous relationships and marriages.
...Centers on the largest survey of swingers ever undertaken, comparing married swingers to a national scientific sample of married nonswingers on 40 questions about their lives.
A much more popular-level new book on The Lifestyle is The Swinger Manual; see review (March 9, 2010).
Whatever you think of the swing scene, it's way bigger and better organized than the poly world. But it usually comes into public view only for its giant conventions in Las Vegas and Florida, and for police busts of party houses (often triggered by neighbors' complaints of noise and traffic). One such battle in the suburbs of Dallas prompted the alternative weekly Dallas Observer to follow up with a long feature article on the swing scene, ranging from its low to high ends. The article is a little old (Sept. 18, 2008) but still interesting.