The usage of labels in our various lifestyles is something that I have been mulling over for quite a while. Lately we have heard multiple podcasters talk about them in various ways, so when the infamous (but always quite lovely) Swap Fu team wrote about "My problem with the term Progressive Swinging," I felt inclined to add my own sentiments.
Before I reply to the specific critiques of the blog post, lets look at the bigger pictures. What do we really mean with the word "label?"
la·bel/ˈlābəl/Noun1. a piece of paper, card, or other material attached to an object to identify it or give instructions or details concerning its ownership, use, nature, destination, etc.; tag2. a brief descriptive phrase or term given to a person, group, school of thought, etc. the label "Romantic'' is applied to many different kinds of poetry3. a word or phrase heading a piece of text to indicate or summarize its contents
Of course, neither Wikipedia or the old dictionary are the boss of us, but this does reflect our intrinsic feeling on these. They are tools to help communicate a certain set of attributes, not definitions by themselves. If somebody calls something a "car," we won't know if that thing is a Mini Cooper or a Hummer, hybrid or diesel-powered, but we will know that it is not a lawnmower or a pony.
In that same way, we have created a rough mental association with certain labels, and we accept (sometimes begrudgingly) that a certain amount of vagueness is built-in. It's not a bug, it's a feature.
My challenge is a quick experiment. Look at these labels (each of which is used often by people on themselves) and write down what you think the exact definition is:
newbie. open. slut. BBW. soft-swap. bisexual, bi-curious, bi-friendly. kink. HWP. non-vanilla. drama-free. queer. dominant.
Done? Now try to find somebody else to do the same. Start with your significant other. I'm willing to bet more often than not, your definition will be in the same ballpark, but not really on the same base. I challenge you to find anybody which understands these terms in exactly the same way as you more than half the time.
We don't get to tear off the labels that people put on their clothes or persona, and we don't get to put ours on them.
We can choose to disagree with a person's self-assessment if we feel that the usage of a label directly contradicts its colloquial definition. In that case, we try to educate the person about the confusion it might cause, and how that can negatively effect them.
When the "Swingset team" publicly claimed the "progressive swingers" label, I was sitting less than 30 feet away from them and paid close attention. After hearing their side of the story, I feel slightly confused by the negative reactions. Let me try to find the disconnect by examining the critique in detail.
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.
I don't believe that, and I've never seen this claim made elsewhere. Personally, I would find the concept of "non-promiscuous swinger" very hard to grasp, if not a contradiction-in-terms.
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.
In the words of Wikipedia: "Citation needed". It is particularly hard to imagine any sort swinging to fall "inside mainstream." I'm not even going to touch the "moral" issue here, since that will lead down a long rabbit hole. Let's just say that morals are relative. What does surprise me here is the assumption that applying a label to oneself somehow ends up being a negative judgement of those outside that group.
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.
May I suggest as a term of that group: "swingers."
We never used negative labels in the past, so why would be start now? Has anybody ever used "non-bisexual," "non-queer," "non-kinky," or "non-poly" to describe themselves or others, let alone indicate that these people would be any less worthy then others?
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?
They aren't comfortable because they aren't taking a stand. They don't have a problem either because they are promiscuous too. There is no "us versus them" going on here.
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.
- "friends first swinging" is functionally the same as "progressive swinging."
- Because of this, the second term is redundant and should not be used.
I personally disagree with the first claim, and I believe you do too, but haven't noticed yet. Otherwise, you would have already been equally offended by being an implied "non-friends-first swinger."
As for the second claim: Would you ever tell somebody, "Don't call yourself bi-curious, just use bisexual!" ? If not, then you also respect people's choice in determining what more accurately describes their persona.
I'm not trying to pick a fight here. I'm trying to prevent one. In our community, communication is valued highly, so I felt the need to point out the "transmissions error."
In my opinion, the basic premise of "progressive swingers claim they are not promiscuous" is faulty. I've seen and/or heard all public discussions of the subject and quite a few private ones, and found nothing that indicates this. But I'm willing to be proven wrong or have a discussion about it.
Drop a comment here, or hit me up at email@example.com.