One of the best things about our trip to Desire with the Swingset was getting to know the other people on the trip, and one of the couples who quickly became a favorite was JV and Shara. JV and Shara do not look like the perfect match they clearly are; she looks like someone you’d meet at the neighborhood Whole Foods, sweet, friendly, and soft-spoken. He looks and sounds like a biker dude; a tall, muscular guy with a ponytail and chest tattoo, the whole deal. But they are awesome together and they were awesome to us. A real treat to have on the trip. As a complete non-sequitur, one of our favorite lines of the trip came from JV, who said “Well, I didn’t think I was going to live to 25, so when I did, I thought ‘well, shit; now I’ve got to do something with my life.’”
JV and Shara also have a podcast/blog, called Ending the Sexual Dark Age, and it’s excellent, so you should check it out. Their basic premise, which they state better than I, is that while we as humans have developed excellent ways of passing knowledge down to our successors, we have utterly failed to do that with sexual knowledge. So unlike with the arts, technology, politics, etc., where we build on what came before and further our progress as a civilization, with sex, each generation basically has to figure things out all over again, wasting time, harboring prejudice, and making the same mistakes that their predecessors did. It’s deep stuff, important stuff. Take a look.
If you followed all our livetweeting on #ssdesire, you’ll also know that JV and Shara were two of the leaders of the group of kinksters who had some group discussions and demonstrations (and did quite a bit of tweeting themselves!). They helped those of us who have no experience in that world understand it better. I don’t want to name any of the others, since I don’t know if they would want that, but suffice it to say, it took a Kink village to help raise us non-Kink children, and they did an excellent job. We got a ton of teaching, both lecture and hands-on (including being able to participate in a ‘scene’ with one really cool couple, and learn some rope bondage techniques with that same pair), and we came away floored by it. To have so many people really open up about their sexuality like this was something special, and it meant so much to me and to SexyThing, both in our development sexually and as people, as well as just in feeling accepted and loved. It was awesome.
But getting to the point: I was honored recently when JV wrote an excellent response to my asymmetrical swinging post on how this dynamic plays out in the Kink community, and why the labels and assumptions of the Swing community don’t really make sense in that world. You should go read it for yourself, because I’ll be responding to his response, by which I really mean badly summarizing what he said, saying some stuff that sounds vaguely intellectual, and then using it as a jumping off point for a discussion of something that we had been realizing before Desire, but which really solidified while we were there: the Kink community is lightyears ahead of the Swing community on a lot of things, and we can really learn from them.
As JV pointed out, Swing labels like ‘full swap’ and ‘soft swap’ don’t really make sense in a Kink world; lots of the play going on is not ‘sex’ in the vanilla, traditional sense (even once we get past the frustrating resilience of the term ‘sex’ being used to only mean penis-in-vagina sex), though it is definitely sexual. There is a wide range of Kink play, as JV put it: “bondage, spanking, flogging, humiliation, power play, cuckolding, etc., so forth, ad nauseum.” He (quite vividly) described a scenario in which he would have an incredibly intimate and extensive sexual experience with a woman that would be ‘soft swap’, while her husband went ‘full swap’ with Shara but didn’t do nearly as much with her vis a vis the Kink play. In other words, penetrative vaginal sex, or lack thereof, completely breaks down as the defining focus of the play (and in the planning, description, or desiring thereof).
As well it should! We all admit in abstract, philosophical conversations that we need to get past the idea that penis going into vagina is the end-all-be-all of sexual encounters, and that we all are working towards (or away from) that and focusing on our rules regarding that. But in practice, this is still the fixation of the Swing community. It’s silly, and it creates so much unneeded pressure: on men when it comes to performance anxiety, on women when it comes to menstruation, and on and on. And it’s not just silly, it’s also representative of how much our community, despite its openness and taboo-breaking nature, is still confined to very traditional norms of what sexuality is and should be.
But I will save that particular rant for another post. What I really want to focus on is that this is yet another example of how the Kink community has thought through a complex challenge also facing the Swing community and found a solution to it that we, too, can adopt. In this case, by getting rid of of two radically over-simplified categories, which inevitably form a false hierarchy, and substituting in a level of individualized, specific and more helpful terms, and then being open in discussing rules and desires.
Maybe instead of just ‘soft swap’ and ‘full swap’, we need to complicate our terminology and focus our classification and categories, as the Kink community has, on people’s preferences rather than on their rules and limits*. Remember JV’s partial list of Kink play? Why don’t we discuss Swing play like that?
For example, there are folks for whom the ideal, rather than their upper-limit, is giving or receiving oral. And note that would really be two distinct categories, since many people feel very differently about giving and receiving. This is something we almost entirely ignore, but it’s crucial; imagine how much trouble the Kink community would have if there were not categories of dominant and submissive and switch! And the fact that the existing hierarchy is inaccurate is not limited to Kink play; maybe we need a category for people who really want to do a passionate seduction that doesn’t go beyond second base; I know there are lots of people who would consider that kind of connection far more intimate than an anonymous hook-up at a play party, but it’s no more traditionally ‘sexual’ than a trip to a strip club with loose rules and eager tippers.
Someone who comes to a play party ‘just wanting to flirt’ is likely to get looked down on, possibly ignored, or even, as I mentioned in my first post, if their partner is looking for something different, might elicit feelings that they were a kind of bait. Even the oft-repeated phrase ‘all play levels are welcome’ is itself emblematic of what I’m saying: wanting something that others don’t, and vice versa, is not a different ‘level’, it’s a different preference. There should be no value or comparative judgment attached to it.
The connection to my original post, beyond the fact that it was that post which apparently inspired JV’s far better one, is that this change would go a long way towards dealing with asymmetry. If we get specific enough with our categories, as the Kink community has, then asymmetry wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, because it would become almost inherent; the odds of finding a couple whose categories perfectly align with those of you and your partner would be extremely unlikely. Instead, the focus would be on finding overlap and exploiting it for mutual hedonistic gain. And by moving away from the fixation (both psychologically and in our language) on penetrative vaginal sex, we could open ourselves up to finding that overlap with people whose limits might be ‘lower’ than our own, but with whom a desire might line up quite nicely.
Obviously to some extent this is a strawman; I’m comparing the best of the Kink community, embodied by JV and Shara and the other couples we got to know in Desire, to the most frustrating practices of the Swing community. On everyone’s favorite ‘dating’ site, Kasidie, there are extensive ‘play preference’ questions, even if many people don’t really pay much attention to, or update, them. And people often very openly describe themselves as ‘voyeurs’, indicating that they enjoy watching as much or more than participating. But my point stands: the Kink community is way ahead of us on recognizing that there is a panoply of different play preferences, and on working to accomodate them and make connections between people who share them, without creating a hierarchy. We in the Swing community desperately need to do the same.
*- To some extent, this may stem from the problematic treatment of ‘implied consent’ (“oh, we’re all full swap, so clearly that means we’re going to do full-swap”) and pre-play negotiation in our community, another area in which the Kink world is far ahead of us. That’s definitely going to be its own post one of these days.