Poly people vs Swingers = Montagues and Capulets?

Greetings. So, the deal is that am very honest and up front about who my wife and I are when meeting others for the first time; something that I think most people can and would appreciate. I like others to know where we are coming from and where we are trying to get. I cannot stress how much honesty means to us. In any case, the background of my wife and I will include that fact that we were in the swing community before we found the poly community. At that point it seems that I might as well have said we are serial killers based on their reaction. The reply that I received on a poly-dating site started off nice until she wrote about why she can’t look at ex-swingers without “remember what you [they] did.” To be completely fair, she also acknowledges that she probably shouldn’t have those prejudges against me, but she can’t help it. Another person explained that some swingers use the cover of being poly to simply have sexual relations with others, but not really wanting the relationship part. This couldn’t be further from what we are looking for. In fact, that is why we are seeking guidance and support from those that know the poly ropes well. Our goal from the get-go was in line with the theories, as far as I understand, of the poly community. We wanted relationships to go along with everything else. What we noticed was that goal for us seemed to scare some swingers away, but brought others closer to us. These were all signs that polyamory could and would work for us.

So I have a few questions: 

What is everyone’s opinion about swingers or ex-swingers? 
Is there a way to prove to others that I am genuine when I state that I prefer this community (relationship choice) to the swing community? 
In general, what should I be considering when communicating with others of the poly mindset?
Am I just being crazy, and I just had bad luck talking to certain people?

I’d hate to think that I would have to hide my past to be able to fit in.


Greetings back, SZ!  First off, let me commend you and Mrs Z for your commitment to honesty.  Without it, relationships of all kinds simply don’t work. 

For those who don’t know what swinging is, and why it may be seen negatively, an explanation is in order. While definitions vary widely, a reasonably simple distinction is that swingers are open to casual sex, outside of and in addition to any existing romantic or emotional attachment, and polyamorists are open to romantic or emotional attachments, outside of and in addition to any existing romantic or emotional attachments. 

With clearly a ton of overlap, why is swinging such a contentious issue in the poly world?  Well, some people don’t think much of casual sex.  Many have had bad experiences which color their views.  Others believe it to be immoral.  Still others consider it a form of cheating.  In short, everyone has opinions on sex, but because it’s so commonly avoided as a topic in both conversation and education, it’s fertile breeding ground for personal baggage based on small sample sizes, gossip, media, repressed desires, lack of healthy information, and so on.  Swinging has developed somewhat of a reputation for being “all about the sex,” and since many people in the poly world consider the sex secondary to strong positive interpersonal connections, some look down on swinging and swingers, particularly those who haven’t made the effort to improve their own communication and honesty skills.

You may take some consolation in the fact that while you’re likely to find people who are have negative views of the swing community, those people aren’t likely to be a good match for you and your partner anyway, unless you’re able to address their concerns and possible misconceptions in a positive way that builds trust. Which brings us to your second question.

As written earlier, I’m a big fan of honesty.  Don’t ever hide what or who you are (or were); instead, understand your target peer group and find out better ways to help them feel comfortable with you.   In order to get in good with poly people, remember the priority poly gives to open and honest communication, and go out of your way to communicate that you both understand and prefer this system.  Have people already in the community vouch for you, if possible.  Spend time getting to know new poly people as simply new friends, and perhaps bring up sexual topics later, once everyone feels comfortable.  Regardless of your approach, no one should come down on you too hard for your swinging ways, especially since without a reliable Idiot’s Guide to Polyamory (hey, there’s a book idea) most of us have learned our way through the non-vanilla world through trial and error, including trying different ideas and experiences on to see how they fit and made us feel.  If you are able to express this to potential new partners, as well as what you and your wife are looking for now and why, I think you’ll find that those certain people you’ve encountered will prove to be in the minority.  

Mischa, what’s your take?  And kindly reference a superhero movie from a decade ago in your response.

Leon, that pretty much covers the whole issue of how people view swinging and the swinger community. Personally, I have never been in the swinger community, but have friends who are or were in it. I can’t tell anyone else what to think, but it seems silly to me for poly people to have such a low opinion of swingers. Frankly, we’re all under the same big umbrella of non-monogamy and each group should be supportive of the other. 

If you think about what polyamory is all about, at its core it is about making up your own rules. One of the things we say at the beginning of every Open Love NY meeting as a part of safe space rules is that everyone has the right to do what feels comfortable and right for themselves and should not be attacked for it. I view swingers as a subset of poly people who have very specific relationship agreements that allow sexual activity but not emotional attachment. If that’s what works for them, then who is anyone to argue?

How would I “prove” your preference for this community? That’s simple – to quote from Batman Begins (2005), it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you. If you’re spending your free time in the poly community, learning the lingo and getting to know people, no one will question your intentions on which community you want to belong to. 

But as you said, there are people with prejudices and I understand not wanting to lead with a bad first impression. My approach is a little less direct than Leon’s (being more of a woman’s point of view) because to me, talking about your sexual history is not something I would discuss until it was relevant, e.g. there is sexual interest on both sides. At that point I would certainly be open about how many partners I’ve been with and in what context (monogamous, open relationships, sex parties, etc.) 

However, what I probably wouldn’t say is that “I was a swinger.” I don’t view that omission in any way deceptive, unless you intend to remain a member of the swinger community. Basically what I’m saying is that you should define yourself by who you ARE now, and what you’ve DONE in the past, but you don’t need to disclose who you WERE in the past. We all have past lives that we deserve to let go of so we can focus on the present.

Again, I stress that I’m a big proponent of honesty when it comes to sexual partners and under what situations you’ve had sex when dealing with a new partner. We all need to be able to be open about that without guilt or shame. But just as going to Poly Cocktails doesn’t necessarily make you poly, and going to Suspension doesn’t necessarily make you a kinkster, going to a sex party doesn’t necessarily make you a swinger. If that’s in your past, then leave it in the past. Good luck!