On the surface it's all very simple.. Swinging is a sexual lifestyle in which people, both in and out of committed relationships, have sex with other partners for fun, recreation, exploration, social interaction etc. Polyamory is distinct from swinging as the emphasis here is on the acceptance of (or desire for) several, simultaneous, intimate relationships, with the consent of ALL involved. Besides the focus on non-monogamy, consent and honesty are the main commonalities with the poly and swinging lifestyles. The importance of sex is one the main differences. Like I say, simple of the surface, right? So, why is there still so much confusion?
Well, there is confusion on several levels. On a larger level, society is still trying to get it's head around the fact that it looks like we're heading for another Sexual Revolution… but unlike the one we rave about from the 60's, this time the guys are actually invited to do more than take advantage of the fact the Pill exists. There is so much movement in the direction of open and free relationships; there's a real questioning of monogamy, and a real exploration of the options starting to take hold. And as we know, there is always resistance to change, and as many so-called 'reasons' for this resistance as there are fears of it. On this level, there is planned confusion and misinformation. In an excellent article on the media and it's portrayal of non-monogamy, Niko Antalffy points out that 'The vast majority of mainstream articles that mention polyamory are actually focussed on infidelity/cheating and consider polyamory both an extension of the idea of "getting some on the side" and a frightening scenario to which the solution is monogamy'. In this respect, mixed messages and blatant bullshit reign supreme.
It's no surprise then that people head into their exploration of swinging or polyamory unprepared. For some, the terms are still interchangeable. I am not naive enough to think many people wanna try polyamory cos the housing set-up in Big Love is sweet, but I have seen worse. It doesn't help when a couple goes to a swinger event, without doing research or ever talking this through with anyone who'd been before, cos they were 'shy', only to find it made one of them uncomfortable to the point of physical blows. And again, this comes back to a fundamental lack of clarity; confusion on a personal level… battling the values you've grown up with, your ethics and beliefs, and re-negotiating them with the new possibilities you see before you. How much do you share with your friends about your journey or desires? How do you deal with the fear of being judged? Is this 'right' for you? These lifestyle choices effect people you may not usually consider; bringing more people into a relationship, even the purely physical, makes your ripple of influence last longer, sometimes hold firmer.
People jumping into these situations without thought or research are not uncommon, and their negative experiences only perpetuate the misconception that non-monogamy is harmful in some way. This just adds to the general sense of confusion, and gives the mainstream media more fodder for fuel. It even makes some of the most committed Non-Committers question their choices…
So with all the mixed messages, what can YOU do to be clear about what it is you want? How can YOU prepare for your journey?
1) Educate yourself: If you were taking a holiday, you'd find the right destination for your needs, right? You'd talk with people you know, and even some experts on travel, to decide where you might want to spend your time. Find several sources YOU trust and learn about the options. Find a website or forum to get involved in and discover some like-minded people.
2) Know that this takes effort: One popular misconception, particularly true for swinging, is that this is an easy way to get extra-marital sex. I hear people whine all the time that they go to swingers events and don't find any play… Be aware that people still have standards and there is etiquette involved in getting sex, even at an orgy. Again, if you have spoken to people about this, it should come as no shock. Make the effort to have an idea what you're getting into and what the standards of behaviour are BEFORE you touch something you shouldn't and end up in all sorts of trouble.
3) Be true and clear to those you are involved with, and encourage them to research with you. Keep everyone in the loop with where you are at. Especially in the initial stages when you are defining what it is you want. Do you and your partner want another long-term partner to share your lives with? Do you want to just watch each other with other people from time to time? Perhaps you want to tread the middle ground of one consistent fuck-buddy…? Keep the lines of communication open. Swinging and polyamory are not mutually exclusive. It is not unknown for a member (or members) of a poly relationship to swing. And by the same token, there is no reason why a swinging relationship could not develop into more, and open the doors to a poly situation. Our relationships are in constant flux. Be aware of where you're at, and be sure to let those you love know where that may be.
4) Deal with the issues: It's interesting that people will try monogamy over and over again - serial monogamy is the most common form of relationship. But if they have a bad experience with non-monogamy, then they 'tried it, and it didn't work' for them. Imagine if everyone only tried monogamy the first or second time… Our whole society would be close to non-monogamous by now! Like a monogamous relationship, issues will arise; jealousy is a big one… trepidation of change… how to deal with the logistics of 'sharing'… Go back to your sources, talk things over with those you trust. Most importantly, decide for yourself. Do not let the manipulations of the wider society with a monogamous agenda distract you.
I do believe some people are truly monogamous, just like the glorious wolves that mate for life. I find there is a real beauty in this bond. But I know I'm not one of them, and I see a wondrousness in the freedom my relationship affords me that I will speak up for this alternative. For those of you like me, let's be clear about who we are and project that clarity onto others.
If we, the torchbearers, can't blaze our truth, who can?
(Written for DVPassion)