Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.



May 1, 2010

Polys vs. Swingers: staring down the stereotypes

Boston Open Relationships Examiner

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.

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8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As usual, Kamela is intelligent and not afraid of criticism.

May 02, 2010 9:13 AM  
Anonymous Inferno said...

"Polyamory is an identity, swinging is an activity!"

I consider myself a swinger. Calling yourself a swinger is as much an identity as calling yourself poly.

"Swinging is about sex; poly is about relationships."

I call bull on that one. Most (yes I said most) poly people are about the sex even more than swingers.
Not many people are not out there trying to build super close type relationships with other poly folk they are not interested in sexually.
Many swingers on the othet hand often do just that.
Swingers are very into building close communities of other like minded swingers including those they don't have sex with.

"Swingers tend to shun gay and bisexual men; poly communities embrace them."

That is something I would say is a true statement from what I have witnessed.
Sadly - many swingers are often very homophobic.
The younger (newer) crowd of swingers however seem to not have such a bigoted view however so pretty much every major city now has a growing swingers community with bi sexual males being more than welcome.


"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."


From what I have seen (after being at many clubs, many parties , and knowing many swingers) I would say that swingers practice safe sex more than any other social group.
It is expected in swinging to use condoms. Not suggested... Expected.
As for oral... no. swingers rarely use condoms for oral.

Poly folk on the other hand practice safe sex pretty much like everybody else. If somebody asks, or if somebody takes it on themselves to introduce a condom they will. Hit and miss - maybe.


"Swingers tend to be more mainstream in their everyday lives; polyamorists tend to be more alternative.... "

Very true.

"On the other side, swingers can find themselves in positions of hypocrisy"
The funny thing here is that even some out poly people hide that they swing from other poly people.
They are afraid of the judgemental nature of many poly people.

Sad is the bisexual male poly swinger having to hide his swinging from poly friends while hiding his bisexual nature from swinger friends. (I actually know a few guys in that exact situation)

I know poly and swing folk. Lots of them.
They have so much in common, but most refuse to look at the others as kindred spirits. They focus on differences and even make them up. They decide their own way is THE way and the other is wrong.

Besides being a swinger... I lived in a semi open relationship for 17 years before I met my current wife. For 3 of those years I lived in a triad situation. Full share of everything (2 bisexual women , myself, and 4 kids)

I come from both sides of the issue.

May 06, 2010 8:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And you are not an 'issue,' you are a human being. Great that you see from more than one side of the issue, however. It is healthy for humans to be authentic, who they are, however they are. The more we accept ourselves and own our behavior, and love our choices and how we live, the more others will follow in suit and accept us too. There is no right or wrong way to live.

In this lifetime, we may go through monogamy phases, poly phases, cheating phases, phases of swinging, exploring same sex and opposite sex partners, exploring s & m, and there is more. We don't necessarily have to define ourselves. It is just limiting to do so. It isn't necessary to place judgment on another group and how they choose to be sexual because sexual expression is personal. All life experience is for the fun of it and also for our learning and evolution as people, because we wanted certain experiences. Defining makes us stuck and creates separation from one another. From a wider view, we are all the same life experiencing as many people and many experiences. It comes down to expressing who we are, and the more love with consideration to fellow beings, the better, because what hurts another being hurts ourselves. Also, let's cultivate self love of our sexual identities and their expression by loving who we are and not caring what others think about it and how they judge it. By making our sexual identities to be fluid, we allow ourselves to change as it suits us. By not judging other lifestyles, we cut short hypocrisy which is inherent in thinking that "swinging" is the immoral choice and "I am better" because I am polyamorous. It is exactly what the right wing anti-gay anti-poly opioniated people do. We want to build bridges of understanding and acceptance in this world. And also a world that is safe and loving for all.

May 09, 2010 11:04 AM  
Anonymous Cooper said...

I was just having a discussion with a poly friend tonight about this very thing. Personally I feel that the two communities are VERY closely related and you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference often. We have relationships with many couples that we care deeply about, and dare I say it even LOVE, which we've been told is a big time no-no in the swing community. It's our opinion, however, that the more you try to label yourselves, the more you're oppressing yourselves.

We identify as swingers because primarily, our relationships are begun with the intent to progress to sex, but also believe that we shouldn't tie ourselves into any specific cubby hole. Tristan Taormino, in her book "Opening Up" talks about how one must be prepared for the sharp right turn in life.

We became swingers because that was where we were in our lives. If suddenly one of us falls in love, we re-evaluate and discuss what that means for our lives. Labels and prejudices only serve to segment the outcasts we are from the mainstream world, just like the raw nerve ire that hovers between the gay community and bisexuals. Once it stops being us, and you, and you, and you, VS them, it can all be US VS them, when it's a whole lot easier to fight that fight.

Let it be about Open VS Closed.

May 14, 2010 1:48 AM  
Anonymous Jessica K said...

"Swingers tend to be more mainstream in their everyday lives; polyamorists tend to be more alternative.... "

I agree that this is the truth. It was a bit of a culture shock for my husband and I to connect with our local poly community. Based on our demographic leanings (white-collar corporate, middle-class, white picket fence suburb dweller, and right-of-center politically), we fit more into the "swinger" stereotype than the "poly" stereotype. We've actually been confused as swingers because of this.

May 21, 2010 6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"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."

Why is this? Why do you think polyfolk believe swingers are hypocrites because the majority don't choose to share their sex life with the general public? Where's the hypocrisy here?I don't get it. I didn't share my sex life with coworkers, family,kids when I was sexually monogamous..was I a hypocrite then?

I agree there must be a Poly vs. Swinger contention but do not think there is much, if any, Swinger vs. Poly. I have been swinging for eight yrs, social around a very large number swingers over the years-where sex is talked openly. I have NEVER heard a single swinger talk negatively about polyfolks. Come to think of it,I never even heard poly as a topic of casual conversation amongst swinging couples.It is not because we are anti poly...it's just not the vast majority of swinger's cup of tea. Most swingers are happy and having fun with sexually and socially like minded adults and have no reason to judge others that don't like to have casual swinger sex the way they do...that's neg energy and not sexy. We just want to have fun and hope ALL people monogamous or non monogamous are sexually & emotionally fulfilled in their relationships too...makes the world a much friendlier place.

I believe the US against THEM mentality isn't helpful and in fact, counterproductive in bringing people together- no matter what label/or group you put on either side of the VS. in any area of life...including US(Open) vs Them(Closed)like someone suggested above.

To all Poly people- Swingers, as a whole, do not dislike you and are not judging you-if you run across a few swingers who do judge-forgetaboutit...no need to waste your time with those negative people. Life is too short! Peace.

January 14, 2011 6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like I'm late on this subject, but am new to this whole swingers/poly world.

First off, I have not identified with either side, I'm still testing the waters and trying to figure out what feels right to me and my wife. I love my wife more than any other thing in the world, but I also love sex and related activities and so does she. I love the idea of open relationships, but I also like the idea that we are partners in life (me and her). I guess I'm saying that I like the idea of all three aspects, monogamy, poly, and swinging.

Here's my confusion or question. From reading this article and the comments it seems to me that if poly is about relationships rather than sex, that most people that are poly are still only having sex with one person or the person they love, but they are intimate in a non sexual way with many people?

While swingers have one person that they are in a relationship with, but have "mindless sex" with multiple people?

Help me out because to me it sounds like a lot of people out there are simply putting a label on "how they identify" rather than just identifying.

"Hi, my name is Justin and I love my wife, sex, and friendships. If I meet a great person through the act of mindless sex for pleasure and become close to them over time, what does that make me... I say that makes me Justin."

June 05, 2012 6:39 PM  
Blogger memeticist said...

Some great comments on this thread. here is my more trivial treatment in response to a FB polyamory group question. http://funologist.org/2013/04/26/is-swinger-interchangeable-with-polyamorous/

April 26, 2013 11:50 AM  

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