Polys vs. Swingers: staring down the stereotypes
Kamela Dolinova's Boston Open Relationships Examiner gives a weekly listing of poly, sex-positive, and swinging events every Monday, an "Open Questions" column every Wednesday, and her thoughtful essays. The site is a fine model for what you could create in your own city, and the ready-made Examiner platform seems like an easy way to do it.
Two months ago Dolinova stirred up a hornets' nest that I had thought was going dormant, with her call for polys and swingers to collaborate better. Her article got wide attention (ahem) and kicked up a fury of discussion on various sites. Yesterday she followed up:
Swinging and poly: what's the darn difference, anyway?
A lot of people responded to my article on the conflict between swingers and polyamorists.... I want to address the issue honestly, and try to come to an understanding.
Some folks reacted in exactly the way I was attempting to problematize in the article: "But we're poly, not swingers! We're not the same! Polyamory is an identity, swinging is an activity! Not that there's anything wrong with that..." and so on. To these folks I say: yes, I know, I know.... I pointed out many of the differences between the general cultures in the article, and was merely trying to say that perhaps we could do better at working together, as we are both sexual outlaws....
The real problem... is that it's easy to pigeonhole and stereotype each group.... [Nevertheless] I'm going to lay out some generalized differences. Please note that these will very likely be incomplete, inaccurate on an individual level, and possibly insulting. I'm simply trying to lay out some of the differences as they tend to exist....
Swinging is about sex; poly is about relationships. By and large, this is true.... The problem: In making this distinction, there is often an implied condemnation of sex for sex's sake. What some poly people seem to forget is that really, sexuality is the main distinction between having multiple romantic relationships and just having a bunch of close friends.
Swingers tend to shun gay and bisexual men; poly communities embrace them. This, unfortunately, also tends to be true.... The problem? Where do I start?
...From many anecdotal reports, it seems that the usage of barriers for sexual interaction in swinger communities is a lot less de rigeur than it is in poly communities. While I'm betting that most couples who swap will throw on a condom for intercourse, things like the "glory hole" parties at Choice Social Club suggest that barriers for oral aren't exactly the norm.
...Polyamorous communities are not immune to this problem either: there are definitely more bisexual women than men in the Boston community, and gay and lesbian folk don't tend to hang around much at all. There is a growing movement toward making safer spaces for male-male sexual interaction within the Boston community, however. People's personal codes of safer sex conduct differ as well, though there's a strong tendency toward safety.
Swingers tend to be more mainstream in their everyday lives; polyamorists tend to be more alternative.... The problem: By living too far outside the mainstream, polyamorists can isolate themselves in ways that can be harmful....
On the other side, swingers can find themselves in positions of hypocrisy.... As one commenter pointed out on my previous article, it's difficult for swingers and polyfolk to be allies if swingers are unwilling to live their non-monogamy publicly.
Readers: please feel free to comment and argue away about any of this, and remember: these are blanket statements that encompass not necessarily the truth of what currently goes on in either community, but the larger view of what the differences between the communities are.
Go have at it. But read the whole article first, not just these snips.