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

March 12, 2010

Polys vs. Swingers, as viewed from today

Boston Open Relationships Examiner

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.




Blogger Marco said...

Swinging is fun. Polyamory is work, but fun if everyone involved puts in the work. I've played both sides of the fence, and I gotta say...just do you. Why concern yourself with titles? Swingers - Polyamorists. Either way, you only live once.

March 13, 2010 9:09 AM  
Blogger Clarisse Thorn said...

This is one of my favorite topics. Thanks for posting on it! I have more thoughts than I can pull together right now but this will hopefully inspire me to write about them.

March 13, 2010 6:15 PM  
Anonymous Tim said...

Odd things happen when one gets information about swinging mainly or solely from the internet.

The nature of swinging is changing in Florida, where I am, according to the swingers I talk to. These changes have been coming slowly along for years.

People who have sex only once with someone and then look for someone new are often labeled "bednotchers". They are often thought of as cold or simply using others to further their quest to up the "count". Yet bednotching remains a segment of swinging here. Usually this is couple on couple swinging, no singles wanted or welcome. Correction - a single woman is almost always welcome.

Many swingers have organized themselves into small circles of friends who meet regularly. They go to a club or partyhouse together to experiment among themselves, dance, drink, and enjoy the vibe. Some of these circles also enjoy backyard bbq with all the kids present and clothes on. But you won't find them moving in together. The people I have met who do this are great flirts but want to go home at night to stability. The women enjoy selecting partners from a pool and having more than one guy on a string.

A number of couples go looking for other couples or one other person to be a "steady date". Some of these folks expect to face boundary issues and work them out. Finding a single man or single woman who wants to be a sexual toy on a steady basis is not easy. The couples often try to take them home from swing parties but I hear mostly that results in drama when a single woman is involved - some of the single guys go quite willingly.

A significant number of the guys who want solely physical encounters with women have been recruited into "gang bang teams". Party organizers arrange parties for women or couples where her pleasure is the central objective of the evening (or noon hour). The men usually face rules and restrictions as well as specific expectations. It is almost always uncool to try to make contact with the woman or couple after the party. It is always ok for the woman to initiate contact with a man after a party, but going the other way suggests you are too aggressive or might be becoming attached. The woman, or couple, wants an experience without complications.

Those are the four patterns I have noticed going on in Florida in the past five years. When I was in Virginia and occasionally showing up at swing parties ten years ago it was almost all "bednotchers". Party hosts discouraged attempts at relationships outside the parties. I remember, from an orientation speech: "Just come to the party, have a good time, when it is over go to your own homes and what happened here, stays here."

April 05, 2010 10:27 AM  

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