Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Blog Entry: My problem with the term Progressive Swinging

The term progressive swinging has been proposed by the Life on the Swingset Podcast as a term to describe the type of swinging some of them engage in. In the podcast, the panel describes progressive swinging as swinging with a close group of friends, which they say encourages bonding, promotes safer sex practices and community.  The implication is that since the people they would be having sex with are friends of theirs, as their friendships grow, so would their desire to care for each other's well being. This, in turn, would create a community of so-called progressive swingers.

In this article I will discuss an alternate view; why I believe “progressive swinger” is not only a useless term, but one that carries moral judgement and potentially harmful one to those of who do not fit its description.

Ms Swap Fu and I have been swingers for a little more than three years. We have sex with close friends – people we cherish in fact – however, we would never call ourselves progressive swingers. The reason for this is that we do not see friendship as a precondition that must be in place before we have sex with people. The people we have sex with exist at varying levels of intimacy from us: from complete strangers to people we, as mentioned, cherish.

From Wikipedia (which I will be abusing for the length of this article):
Swinging or (rarely) partner swapping is a non-monogamous behavior, in which singles or partners in a committed relationship engage in sexual activities with others as a recreational or social activity. Swinging can take place in a number of contexts, ranging from spontaneous sexual activity at informal gatherings of friends to planned regular social meetings to hooking up with like-minded people at a swingers' club. It can also involve Internet-based swinger social networking services online.

By this definition, what some of the Swingset panel as well as Ms Swap Fu and I do is correctly considered swinging. The above definition quite clearly says that swingers can be friends with each other or not.

Now, let’s go back to this concept of progressive swinging. The perceived need for this term has arisen, I believe, out of criticisms by other members of the non-monogamous community and from the public at large that swingers are promiscuous. I believe the Swingset panel is trying to mitigate this criticism by saying that progressive swingers are not promiscuous. But, let’s remind ourselves what promiscuity means.

From Wikipedia:
Promiscuity, in human sexual behavior, is the practice of casual sex with multiple sexual partners.

I do not think the Swingset panel would disagree that by this definition, that they are indeed promiscuous, as Ms Swap Fu and I are. As in the definition of swinging, nothing is said above about relationship those who are promiscuous have with each other. The only qualifier is that the sex be casual and that there are multiple partners.

But the Wikipedia definition continues:
The term can carry a moral judgment and is viewed in the context of a mainstream social ideal for sexual activity to take place within exclusive committed relationships. A common example of behavior viewed as promiscuous within the mainstream social ideals of many cultures is a one-night stand.

I have highlighted “can carry moral judgment” above. And this is where I have a problem. The term “progressive swinger” is an attempt to avoid moral judgment. It infers that those who are progressive swingers are engaging in a behavior which is inside mainstream social ideal, or moral. And those who are not progressive swingers are outside the mainstream social ideal, or immoral.

This moral judgment is only exacerbated by the choice of the word “progressive” to somehow describe those within the mainstream ideal. What are the rest of us swingers to be called? Non-progressive swingers? Regressive swingers? Or we could just be “immoral swingers” and cut to the chase.

To be clear, I do not have a problem with being called immoral. Morality is a matter of opinion as far as I’m concerned, and everyone is entitled to have an opinion. Further, I think everybody has the right to call themselves whatever they want. That being said, I would like to know whether people calling themselves progressive swingers are comfortable taking a moral stand against those of us who do not have a problem with being promiscuous?

Ms Swap Fu and I are unabashedly promiscuous, and by the non-judgmental definition of the word, so are those on the Swingset panel. The only difference is that the Swingset panel’s promiscuity, when qualified by the fact that they only have sex with friends, more closely resembles the sexual practices of other non-monogamous groups.

And that’s fine.

On the swinger dating websites you see the term “friends first” a lot. This means the swinging couple wants to become friends with their potential sex partners before they have sex. I think this is a much more accurate and judgment-free manner of describing what the swinging members of the Swingset panel do: friends first swinging. The progressive swinging label is therefore largely unnecessary or least ill chosen.


  1. I get really tired of all the judgement in the "naming" of how you swing. Just enjoy it and be done with it, stop worrying about the labels.

  2. I think you do a disservice to the term by characterizing it as simply "friends with benefits" in a different disguise.

    In listening to the podcast over the past couple of years, it is clear that the Swingset crew is moving beyond the confines of what most would consider to be swinging. They now straddle the gap between poly and swinging with large splashes of the sex positive community thrown in for good measure.

    So my understanding is that progressive swinging is more about being open to relationships forming with your play partners, than seeking friends first, and being open and welcoming to the kink/LGBTQ panoply of human sexuality.

    You can criticize the choice of the term progressive if you wish, but everyone gets to pick the labels they feel applies to them, and that is the Swingset's choice. You, of course, are free to call them something else ;)


  3. For those wanting to follow the debate, my reply turned into a blog post at: http://blissbringers.com/2013/04/17/in-defense-of-labels/

  4. I think I've listened to every word spoken on the podcasts and read just about every word written on the blogs published by the SwapFus and the Life On the Swingset and affiliated Pedestrian Polyamory co-hosts. I am a huge fan of both and think the Fus and the Swingset group have done great work in making the segments of the sex-positve lifestyles that they represent entertaining, more understandable and less-threatening to the vanilla world, and both podcasts have done so much in terms of educational efforts to welcome the curious and newly non-monogamous into the lifestyle.

    I'd put them in the same class as the Sex Is Fun group, Dan Savage, Cunning Minx, Tristan Taormino and a few others, some of whom are just emerging on the scene, like Sex Nerd Sandra.

    I think the Fus and the Swingset group are much, much closer in philosophy that you may be thinking right now. What I'm hearing from the Swingset group is an inclusionary and non-judgmental effort to find common ground and unity, based on common cause, across the LGBTQ, open, swinging, poly, kinky/fetish and sex-positive communities, including tolerant and supportive monogamists. I have seen or heard any sign of the Swingset crew trying to curry favor with those who are intolerant of swinging or any of the other alternative lifestyles. In fact, I've heard them take some pretty strong positions along the lines of close-minded people can go pound sand.

    As I'm recalling, the progressive swinging initiative (for lack of a better term, arose as a gap-filler or effort to bridge some of the divide between the purists in the poly world and the swinging world. It's well-recognized that here are polyer-than-thou individuals who look down on swingers because there's not enough love. And there are swingier-than-thou individuals who look down on polys because it's just sex and when love and romance with anyone besides the significant other starts to enter the picture, well, we all know that's a line you shouldn't cross because things always get dicey. In reality, most of us in the open relationship world fall somewhere outside those narrow definitions or behavior sets. We may engage in several behaviors, often during the same periods in our lives. Are we swingers, polys, opens, all of the above, or something else. Purists may say the the poly and swinging lifestyles are mutually exclusive. But many of us seek an easily understandable label to self-identify and to succinctly communicate our lifestyle and associated philosophy about sex-positive, ethical non-monogamy to others inside and outside the alternative lifestyle communities. I think this is what the Swingset crew is trying to do with "progressive swinging."

    I do hear the various co-hosts continuing to describe participation in activities and behaviors that meet the traditional criteria for no-strings-attached or few-strings-attached swinging, even as they explore other relationship styles.

    Guest appearances and other cross-pollination efforts have been so successful in tearing down the silo effect in the alternative lifestyle communities. It would be great to see the Fus appear on the Swingset to discuss all of this, and though the Fus have not been as active lately and have not traditionally had many guests on their podcast wouldn't it be great if they did in this instance ?

    I hope both groups continue to do the great work that makes them must-listen in my book.

  5. The term Progressive swinging does carry a "better than" meaning and it comes across very judgmental whether they intended it or not. I don't think they intended it to be as they are always wanting to include everyone. Whatever their reasoning, this term is a big FAIL the words chosen are unclear to others(multiple &loaded meanings) which alone is bad enough without the added moral judgment this term implies.

    Seems they found themselves living the gray area between poly/swing. They introduced their term to the world at an Open/Poly convention. In reading the write up of their speech introducing Progressive Swinging-it obviously appears to me they were trying to wrap Swinging in a pretty package for their audience, whom many carry very negative views of swingers in regards to NSA sex.

    Here is their write up for Progressive Swinging: their "official" definition unveiled at an Open/poly conference:
    Sex With Benefits: Progressive Swinging
    Cooper S. Beckett, Dylan Thomas, Ginger Bentham, Shira B. Katz

    "No longer content to be the pervy cousin of "more enlightened" forms of non-monogamy, swingers all around the world are redefining what ethical non-monogamy means to them. As the cultural footprint of non-monogamy grows, swingers are opening themselves up beyond the former key parties and "wife swapping" and finding themselves with wonderful benefits: relationships. Swingers everywhere are asking for "friends first" and "no one night stands," developing relationships that offer comfort, community, safety, and validation. This practice of allowing and embracing deeper emotional connections among playmates has become a phenomenon that has landed progressive swinging somewhere between the swinger sex club score and long-term polyamorous relationships. Cooper, Ginger, Dylan, and Shira B. Katz from Life on the Swingset discuss taking back the term swinging, and growth toward the sexiest of futures."

    To truly take back the word Swinging and bring groups together,I would think a better more sex positive way for them to approach it at this Poly convention would have been-" We are Swingers and some of us are open to developing "meaningful emotional relationships" ( look at us, all swingers are not what you imagined) we are the SOP community -Poly/swingers and we believe we enjoy the best of both worlds." ...

    Saying it without placing a label that distances themselves from "those other swingers" or simply stating their preference by a clearer, non judgmental term for what it is they enjoy/do for instance..Swing/Poly,Poly/Swingers or poly-like swingers would be better. It would show they take pride in both communities and their unique position in BOTH communities would have been much better at uniting and community building as opposed to choosing a term that in effect satisfies one group but morally judges another in the process, albeit unintentionally.

    If the group started their non monogamy paths in the Poly community and found themselves enjoying to swing too and labeled themselves as "Progressive Polyamorist"...-"moving forward to open themselves up to enjoy recreational NSA swinging in addition to their meaningful open/poly relationships" -I don't believe that term would have gone over too well with the Polyamorist either.

    The people that do fall into this gray area between swinger and poly worlds have a much greater chance of increasing their community and breaking thru the tired stereotypes/images of both groups if they drop the "better than though" sounding label Progressive Swinging and just be who they are and do what they enjoy and show by example in both worlds that there are those who enjoy both communities and they are not ashamed of either one.

  6. Yeah, what they said.
    Distilling this discussion into the simplest terms, if we were to use a 7 point "Kinsey Scale" for Non-Monagamy, with 1 being extreme polyamorous(ie all about the love, almost to the point of platonic) and a 7 being extreme swinger ( it's about the sex only, and no connection needed), the "progressive swingers" would solidly stake out the 4 position.
    Regardless of whether you think that "progressive swinger" is an unfortunate choice for the term, I am suspecting it was more about seeking some way to identify the grayest of the gray area, rather than passing some kind of judgement.
    I am also going to opine that absolutely everyone who identifies as the Swinger, Open, Poly falls somewhere in the gray area, since the 1 and the 7 on the scale are purely theoretical. In addition, for many where you fall on the scale may change based on who you are interacting/playing with.

    Like one of the posters above, I too have listened to every word of both podcasts, and enjoyed both thoroughly. I am left with the impression that this discussion of "progressive swinging" is likely no more than an unfortunate choice of a label.

  7. I've tried listening to both ped poly and the swingset, but the women on there annoy the hell out of me. the constant giggling and laughing after every sentence drives me to commit multiple stabbings. even the cunning mynx podcast is the same way, and she's older. i'd expect more maturity from her. anyone know of any such podcasts hosted by only men or more mature women who don't have the mentality of 13 year olds? and i'm a woman by the way, so don't accuse me of being sexist, thanks.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I'm leaving this comment up but I'm not sure how it relates to either the blob entry or the Swap Fu podcast. I will no publish anything else that is this far off topic.

  8. Since you've concluded all three women mentioned (Ginger, Shira B. and Minx (not Mynx) have the emotional IQ of 13-year-olds, then no, no recommendations. There are no podcasters past, present or future that won't annoy you.

    I don't think anyone would conclude that the opinions you expressed reflect a sexist attitude. Now if you choose to self-identify as a misanthrope, then who's going to argue?

    Kidding -- I'm just kidding. We kid the Internet trolls because we love.

    1. I'm also leaving this one up as rebuttal to the previous post for the sake of balance.... but that's it.

  9. Mr. Fu, thanks for writing this. I have so much to say, but I want to keep my reply short (also, I am terribly late to the party).

    I actually used to write for Swingset way back in its infancy, but had to cut our relationship off when I realized we weren't interested in the same things: namely, I too disagree with the concept/use of the word "progressive swinging" and felt pressured to write about being poly and "progressive" when that is not my experience at all. (Also, I had some issues with the relationship Cooper expected to have with me since I was writing for him.)

    The idea that they are proponents of "ethical" non-monogamy is fine--as long as we are talking about safe sex and treating your partners well (but we also need to acknowledge that there ARE swingers who play without condoms--it's a fact, and we can't pretend it doesn't happen). Suggesting that one-night stands or fucking people you aren't best friends with somehow makes me less of a swinger (and less of a human being) and...ugh, I find myself getting riled up. My husband and I LOVE one night stands--it's part of what makes being a swinger exciting. But we also have a group of swinger friends who we also deeply care for (and it's been interesting to see how the lines between our swinger and vanilla lives continue to be blurred). However, there is no way that we will ever move toward being poly. Quite frankly, I get annoyed when we spend too much time with our swinger friends (just like we need to spend time away from our vanilla friends). We know several poly couples/quads/whatever in our circle, and they are wonderful people and their relationships are successful. But this is not what swinging is for us.

    It's a little bit dangerous that Swingset wants to be this "evangelical" swinger blog, and yet they alienate anyone who doesn't buy into their heavily poly (and DBSM)attitude. I cannot, in good conscience, recommend their website or podcast anymore to newbies, or even our established friends. Essentially nothing they talk about relates to our swinging experience, or the swinging experience of those we know. They provide a fantastic service to many many people, so I don't want to sound like I think they don't "work" for anyone. But, just as you mention Mr. Fu, it is "progressive swinging" and their elitist attitude that has me heading in the other direction.

    ~Maria (and Tony) from The Swingers Next Door

  10. Last episode of Life on the Swingset I listened was 11, as I had enough of Mr. Cooper, trying to be the swinger Evangelist, and his group of none sense followers. I feel bad for her wife, not sure if she continues to be with him.
    I mean, I consider swinging a couple recreational activities that helps to build up a better relationship with your partner, but all contrary to Mr. Becket’s comment, we would be able to cut this activity at any giving time, if it affects my partner or anyone in the community. With this in mind, if progressive swinger is to be mindful of other couples, bringing respect, education, honesty and courtesy to the activity, we are in. If progressive swinger means, to start doing your own couples community, by definition and start point this will not work, unless you are talking about Sister Wives.