Vice Squad
Sunday, January 25, 2004
A Swinging Debut

Hello Vice Squad readers. I'm new at this whole blogging thing, but I hope I can do it justice during Professor Leitzel's absence. Since I'm going to be inviting my parents to read Vice Squad this week, I thought I'd start off by talking about a classic family-friendly topic - swinging. Sorry Mom and Dad.

In the January 18, 2004 issue of the New York Times Lifestyles section, I came across three Letters to the Editor from three different women. They were all appalled at a story that had appeared on the previous week's cover of the Lifestyles section about the new swinging scene in Manhattan. The letters piqued my curiosity, and so I went back and read the earlier article about swinging.

The article explains that "among a certain adventurous younger crowd in Manhattan these days, thriving with a twist." Most of the promoters of swinging events are young women, and the participants are attractive professionals in their 20's and 30's. The women are firmly in control at the events, and one promoter states that the goal of the parties is "to help the masses feel comfortable with their sexuality."

The original article wasn't particularly titillating, but what I found interesting were the responses to it the following week. One woman from Columbus, Ohio spoke for all "early feminists", and concluded that the women in the article had "been tricked into believing they want 'the lifestyle'". She was despondent over the fact that this was not what the "early feminists" had envisioned at all when they set out to empower women. Apparently the point of "early feminism" was to ensure that women were free to make any choice that the "early feminists" deemed acceptable. How do I contact one of these early feminists to find out if I'm making appropriate decisions? Without an early feminist around to guide me, my choices about my education, my career, and about with whom I choose to have sex could all be horribly, horribly wrong. This is serious.

A second woman began her letter by letting all of the readers know that she is a "dedicated and contented monogamist." Whew, at least she's credible then. Go on, please. She writes that to her the parties "sound about as erotic as a plate of tepid mashed potatoes." I have no idea why this woman felt compelled to share this opinion with the readers of the New York Times Lifestyles section, or more importantly, why the sexiness of mashed potatoes is suddenly being called into question. Finally, a woman from Queens was really able to put this story into a geo-political context by concluding, "no wonder the religious right (all over the world) thinks the United States epitomizes decadence and immorality." I can't even begin to comment on this one.

My problem with these responses are that they are not only misguided, they are condescending, pointless, and just plain ridiculous, respectively. Anna, a woman who regularly attends these parties was interviewed for the piece. She solicited an invitation to her first swingers party, and had to write an erotic essay to gain admittance. She is smart and successful, and hardly sounded "tricked". Anna is in a committed relationship with a man that shares her interest in this lifestyle, and they attend events together. Others interviewed for the article had had similarly positive experiences, and seemed to enjoy having the ability to express themselves in this format.

I recently read an excellent book by Dan Savage called Skipping Towards Gomorrah. The book celebrates the right of Americans to pursue happiness as they see fit (as long as they are not harming others), regardless of what social conservatives think of their choices. In a particularly interesting chapter, "Lust", Savage introduces the reader to Bridget and David, a devoutly religious couple who have two young children, are happily married, live in a wealthy suburb of Chicago, and attend orgies a couple of times a month.

Bridget and David speak about the "Catch-22" that their lifestyle puts them in. They recognize that there are many negative, and they believe incorrect, stereotypes of swingers out there. They also recognize that if more people like them came out about their swinging lifestyle, they could help dispel these stereotypes, thus making it safer for others who have chosen this lifestyle to be open about it. It would help others if society could see that these people are good people, good parents, and good neighbors - they just take their sex a little differently than some. However, at this point, it's not safe for a couple like Bridget and David to be open about their lifestyle. Their friends and neighbors would likely react in much the same manner as the women who wrote to the New York Times about the swingers article.

Savage notes that there are some pursuits out there that make some Americans happy, but are considered sinful by others. This would be fine but for the fact that many social conservatives feel the need to ram their version of Happiness down everyone else's throats. Savage wonders, "While some Americans might choose to lead a less than virtuous existence, at least in William J. Bennett's estimation, what skin is it off Bennett's ass?"

I couldn't agree more. The fact that the women who wrote into the Times felt compelled to take time out of their not-too-busy days to give all the other readers a lesson in their version of morality is not only annoying, it's harmful. In Savage's book, he states that there are an estimated 1.1 million swingers in the U.S. According to the Times article, one Manhattan swingers group started with a mailing list of 100 in the year 2000, and now boasts over 100,000 members. These largely women-owned business are providing a safe outlet for the Davids and Bridgets of the world to meet other like-minded people, and have the kind of sex life they want to have. I'd like it if the finger-waggers would just pipe down.

[The Title of this post, "A Swinging Debut" was added by Jim Leitzel.]


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