Body Polytic: Why Poly People Don’t Like Being Called Swingers

a red swing
Image by Selma90 / CC BY

One of the most common questions I run into as I talk with polyamorous folks and frequent forums is: Why do poly people get upset when you call them swingers? What’s so bad about being a swinger?

I’ve struggled with this question a lot myself. I used to get really upset when people would call me a swinger. In a way, it was curious to me, as I really do believe that if people consent — really mutually agree — to just sex, then it’s fine.

You don’t have to be in lurves to knock boots.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a purely physical relationship — provided again that both parties consent and there’s no coercion involved.

So it led me to wonder: Why did I used to get so damn upset when people called me a swinger? After all, I’ve known some pretty good poly people that have been part of the formal swinging scene.

And then it hit me.

It’s Not the Purely Physical Thing

It’s not the purely physical thing. That’s a red herring. That’s an objection more compatible with sex-negative culture. As Dossie Easton memorably wrote in The Ethical Slut: “Sex is nice and pleasure is good for you.”

So you don’t need love to somehow purify sex. Sex is fine on its own. Well actually, it’s freaking wonderful.

So if it’s not the “purely physical” thing, then what is it? What, pray tell, is the trouble with being called a swinger?

Many Swingers Do Not Embrace Queer Values

While there are definitely good queer/queer-friendly folks who swing, many swingers do not embrace queer values.

They’re Extremely Homophobic to Queer Males

Swinger culture is often particularly homophobic toward queer men.

Gay men are absent from the formal swinging scene, often explicitly banned.

As I interview polyamorous people for our upcoming case studies project, I have heard many unpleasant stories from bisexual poly men who have been involved with “the lifestyle.” Even if they limit their sexual activity to simply heterosexual acts within the scene if their orientation is somehow uncovered, bisexual men are barred as well.

They Only Like Queer Women If It’s Male Centered

Conversely, female bisexuality is celebrated, lauded. But the catch is: The focus is acts that either center on men’s pleasure or on putting on a good show for men. Performative female bisexuality for the male gaze.

Sex between women isn’t even considered on the same level as straight sex.

It’s very much like the one penis policy in poly, i.e., a popular setup where a a straight man and bisexual woman opening their relationship agree that a man may have all the female partners he likes and so can the woman, but the woman is not allowed to have other male partners.

They’re Just In It for the Sex, Not Liberal Values

They want the sexual benefits of liberal values without actually embracing core tenets such as respecting gender equality, celebrating diversity, and protecting civil rights.

Some of them are even political social conservatives.

It’s really fucking icky.

These Are the Same Reasons Why a Lot of Unicorn Hunters Suck

If this all sounds familiar to you, it’s because the unicorn hunters that poly people complain about are gross in the same way. One penis policy. Patriarchal. Heteronormative.

#NotAllSwingers

I want to be really fucking clear that not all swingers are this way. (And it’s worth noting that there’s overlap — some polyamorous people are swing and some swingers are polyamorous. The two groups aren’t mutually exclusive.)

But a lot of them are.

And yes, it’s a problem for queer poly people when it’s this way.

Because it’s troubling when folks want the surface sexual benefits of liberal values without fully embracing their core tenets.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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