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POLY vs Swing: The Swing Isn’t the Whole Playground by Nicole/Niki,


Alternative Relationships Articles Non-Monogamy Polyamory

POLY vs Swing: The Swing Isn’t the Whole Playground by Nicole/Niki,


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Merry-go-rounds, monkey bars, slides, seesaws, bridges and swings. Everyone had their preferred play structure at the park; do you remember yours? Mine was the swing; I loved flying through the air, feeling weightless and free. The swings of the playground bring back great childhood memories. But more than a rope and seat, swinging can mean something else altogether. Swinging is not just a childhood playground adventure, but for many is an adult adventure all its own.Ii






Swinging is the practice of consensual exchange of partners for sexual purposes1. It’s important to note that swinging is not the same as polyamory, as is often a misconception when people attempt to understand polyamory or other variations of consensual non-monogamy.







“Oh, you’re poly? So that means you go to sex clubs and screw a bunch of people? Do you go alone, or do you and your husband (or wife) go together?” This is a version of one of the most common questions I hear from people, and that’s perfectly okay because the concept of polyamory can be difficult to grasp at first. Since the media often portrays non-monogamy as either cheating or swinging (e.g. the television showCheaters2 or recent film Swinging with the Finkels3), I don’t blame them for mistaking polyamory and swinging as one and the same. Truth be told, there is some overlap and many people identify as both swinger and polyamorist, or in other words, a “swolly4. Allow us to explore the differences and similarities of these two concepts:

Some similarities between swinging and polyamory:

* Both are forms of non-monogamy, including more than two people (though swingers usually maintain more “monogamy” in their relationship than polyamorists).

* Both (typically) enjoy sex outside of their (primary) relationship, either with their partner(s) or without.

* Both are part of unique subcultures that challenge traditional relationship standards.

* Both are often misunderstood and even discriminated against sometimes5.

* Both require open and honest communication between partners to be successful.

Some distinct differences between swinging and polyamory:

* Swinging is usually about recreational sex6. The goal of swinging is to have sex with people outside of the (primary) relationship. Polyamory is, first and foremost, about love. The philosophical underpinnings of polyamory involve the ability to love multiple people simultaneously. The sex (when it’s present) is an awesome bonus.

* Swingers tend to seek out partners together, whereas many poly people seek out partners individually, outside of their (primary) relationship.

* Swingers tend to treat swinging as an engagement or (as mentioned above) a recreational activity; people who are polyamorous generally experience polyamory on a daily basis, as an integral part of their life or personal identity/philosophy.

* Although this is not always the case, many swingers prefer to have sexual relationships with others on a short-term basis, whereas poly folks lean toward seeking more lasting relationships.

As you can see, they are not the same thing at all; with polyamory, sex is usually not as strong a motivator as it is in swinging. Although the swing is a really fun part of the playground (more so for some than others), there are other structures to play with, structures that, perhaps, might be a better fit for one’s desires. Some people would rather spin around on a circular platform to the point of dizziness than rock back and forth on a swing, and some people would rather open their relationship up to mutual sex with other couples; to each their own. As long as you’re enjoying yourself and playing responsibly, who cares? Life is meant to be fun, sohave fun.

1 Jenks, R. J. (1985). Swinging: A replication and test of a theory. The Journal of Sex Research, 21(2), 199-205.



Sheff, E., & Hammers, C. (2011). The privilege of perversities: Race, class and education among polyamorists and kinksters. Psychology & Sexuality, 2(3), 198-223.

5 Jenks, R. J. (1998). Swinging: A review of the literature. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 27(5), 507-521.

6 Barker, M., & Langdridge, D. (2010). Whatever happened to non-monogamies? Critical reflections on recent research and theory.Sexualities, 13(6), 748-772.


Janet Kira Lessin & Sasha Lessin, Ph.D.

Many subcategories crowd beneath the polyamory umbrella but by far the most popular subcategory of folks to squeeze into our umbrella of late is poly swingers.

Poly swingers are those, usually couples, who’ve stumbled onto polyamory by way of swinging but within the swinging scene, they create ongoing emotional relationships and realize they’re polyamorous.  They continue in the swing scene, but become polyamorous within it, seeking relationship and continuity with lovers whom they find in that scene.  And they continue to adhere to the prime rule of swinging: honor and preserve your primary relationship, taking care not to let sex outside the primary couple sour that primary committment.

Couples that come this way to polyamory may first open up their marriages at swing clubs where they connect with others who are swingers and having wild sex.  They thought they were seeking just sexual adventure but find they prefer sex with people who become their friends and enjoy their recurrent company.

Sometimes couples who come to polyamory from the swing scene didn’t actually engage in sex with others in the clubs.  At the clubs, these would-be swingers just made love with each other or watched others and then went home with each other and had sex while charged with what they witnessed. Whether or not they engaged in sex at the clubs or connected at the clubs with others whom they did make love with, they had a chance to look at and perhaps try swinging as a sexual episode pretty much devoid of ongoing emotional involvement with anyone but each other.  They realized they wanted something different than conventional swinging.

Many couples who initially identified as swingers come to us (we’re relationship counselors) and ask how to find special singles or couples to join them as lovers.  Though they’d identified as swingers, they’re really polyamorists.  Though they may not want to live with the man, woman or couple they seek, they seek relationship with them. They want more than isolated episodes in clubs or elsewhere where they don’t really know the other people. They don’t seek total commitment, living with the lovers they seek or even sharing their daily lives. They want some of the best of polyamorous multiple person loving: sex, romance, intimacy, love, shared recreation, good conversation–but not complicated live-in relationships and marriage-like commitments that get messy and difficult.

These swingers-come-polys want to be able to trust the new lover or couple, to dispense with condoms and feel flesh to flesh. Polys who stay in the swing scene still want to make love, have sex, get off, get down, raunchy and dirty. They want to play with total abandon and do all the sexually things formerly forbidden. They want to walk on the wild side and still have the comfort and security of their monogamous home life.  They want to feel love and intimacy without giving that new person dominion over their lives and power to alter decisions they already have as a couple.

In many instances, such poly swing couples want to fulfill their partner’s wildest fantasies. They enjoy their beloved getting everything she or he ever wanted sexually. They love watching their partner’s pleasure, enjoy his or her orgasms. Poly swingers get their voyeuristic fill, see everything they always wanted to see, live, in person, and not just by watching anonymous swingers in a club, party or one-time date.

Poly swingers get to touch places and things they never thought they would. They have experiences with people of all colors and orientations. When wannabe swingers become poly they can be touched by many hands in many places, simultaneously, which brings them to new levels of orgiastic, ecstatic bliss..

The classic swinger caveat–avoid as a couple any emotional entanglement with outside sex partners and regard emotional involvement with others as a threat to the primary relationship–has validity.  Emotions, especially new relationship energy and the challenges of living with a new lover, can be daunting; so there’s something to be said for “keeping it light” as classic swingers do. If you aren’t too involved with new sex partners, you may avoid dysfunctions common with dyadic, often co-dependant couple relationships. Maybe it’s enough for two to figure out finances and how to raise the kids and you don’t need more people telling you what to do, when, where, how and why.

And privacy, so valued by swingers, is a good thing. It’s nice to share your home for an evening but not romantic having to fight for the bathroom on an ongoing basis. Poly swingers, like anonymous swingers, can maintain their privacy and avoid emotional over involvement.

Polyamory’s about accepting diversity, even variety, in how you make love.  You don’t always have to seek live-in, long-term, forever relationships to be polyamorous. If you chose a relationship that fulfills a need or desire and may not last forever, that doesn’t make you a swinger, either.  You’re a poly if you seek relationship, even in the swing scene.

If you’ve tried swinging and want more intimacy but still want your couple privacy, you may chose to move into non-co-residential polyamory. Develop your own intimate network of lovers in the swing scene or through polyamory channels such as World Polyamory Association conventions, mixed swinger/poly venues like our Club Tantra on Maui, poly websites or natural evolution with good friends.  You may not chose to wear any labels (swinger, poly swinger or  polyamorous purist), but rather just enjoy your connections with others who share loving in this new, exciting, intimate way. Polyamory’s diverse enough to embrace all variations of lifestyles. Now’s the time for you to enjoy the flavor of polyamory that most suites your tastes.