An on-line survey comparing swingers and polyamorists.

Author:Jenks, Richard J.


Swinging is defined as the exchange of partners solely for sexual purposes. Involvement at the emotional level (although this no doubt does occur) is contrary to their normative structure. Throughout history, the practice of spouse exchange has existed. There is evidence that this form of behavior, as late as the 1940s, was acceptable in 39 percent of world's cultures. In the United States, so-called "key clubs" came into existence. These "clubs" consisted of WWII fighter pilots and their wives. Starting in the 1950's the media labeled this form of behavior as "wife-swapping." Later, tags such as co-marital sex, and then, swinging were introduced. Currently, the term the Lifestyle is used and is probably the preferred term among those who practice this behavior (Gould, 1999). However, the more popular term is swinger and, therefore, that is what will be used in this paper. Estimates vary as to the prevalence of this lifestyle. Most estimates place the incidence at 2 % or less (Bartell, 1971; Cole & Spanaird, 1974; Hunt, 1974; Jenks, 1998). However, a study by the North American Swing Club Alliance (NASCA) states that 15 % of couples in the U.S. have engaged, at least at some point in their married lives, in swinging (McGinley, 1995)

Polyamory is less well-known than swinging. Polyamory literally means many loves. According to Loving More (2013), which is a website and magazine devoted to polyamory, it involves "emotionally connected relationships openly involving three or more people. It is about honesty, integrity and respect". One of the arguments used by both swingers and polys (as polyamorists are known) is that the prevalence of cheating among married couples is high and that this element of cheating is absent with swinging and polyamory. Although there are similarities between swingers and polys - the term, "swollies," has been recently coined by Ken Haslam for those traits shared between polys and swingers--there are important differences. Scheff (2014) states that a "desire for multiple partners as innate or as a choice and a desire or lack thereof to change traditional familial and gender roles" (p. 75) are the two most important. While the swingers focus on the lifestyle, the polys emphasize the innate. And, swingers, in contrast to polys, do not seek to change the traditional roles.

Swinging Literature

The literature pertaining to swinging is more prevalent than that for polyamory. With regards to the former, there have been studies which have looked at their social and demographic characteristics. Studies are consistent in terms of age. Jenks (1985), in his study of attendees at a national swingers convention reported the mean age to be 39. Bergstrand and Sinski (2010) reported a mean age of 39.1. Finally, Fernandes (2009), in his study of 1376 swingers, found that 29% of the males were between 36 and 45 while another 33% were between the ages of 46 and 55. The figures for the females were 42% and 22%, respectively.

Social class variables have also been studied. A number of studies (Gilmartin, 1975; Jenks, 1985; Levitt, 1988) found that swingers were above average in education. Fernandes (2009) found his respondents were, on the average, college educated and had incomes ranging between $70,000 and $200,000. These studies definitely point to a lifestyle engaged in by those who are middle and upper-middle class.

Politically, Jenks (1985) found that 50% of swingers voted for Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election while a little less than 24% voted for Jimmy Carter. Ideologically, the plurality (41%) labeled themselves as "moderate" while 32% said "conservative" and 27% identified themselves as "liberal." Bartell (1971) also reported a high incidence of Republicans in his sample of Midwestern and Southwestern swingers. However, when asked specific questions relating to family and sexual issues, swingers in the Jenks' sample were, in contrast to their more general attitudes, liberal. Questions here included topics like: divorce, premarital sex, pornography and homosexuality and abortion.

There is evidence that there has been a change in political identification and ideology in recent years. In the Bergstrand and Sinski (2010) study, there were slightly more who identified as Democrat (31.7%) than Republican (27.7%). Almost as many (27%) identified themselves as Independents. Using a 1-5 scale on political ideology they found that approximately 44% were right in the middle (a 3 on their scale) while 30% were in the liberal direction and approximately 26% were in the conservative direction.

As to religion, Bartell (1971) found that a majority did not attend church of any kind on a regular basis. Two-thirds of the swingers in the Jenks' (1998) study reported no present religious identification. Gilmartin's (1971) figure was 63%. Fernandes (2009) found that only five percent of his sample said they were "very interested" in religion; 50% had no interest. In contrast, Bergstrand and Sinski (2010) found that slightly over 72% said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque. However, given the choice of Catholic, Protestant or Jew, 38.5% said "Other." This figure was a close second to Protestant (38.8%).

Polyamory Literature

As indicated, there is less academic literature on polyamory than swinging. However, that is changing. One of the early studies looking at the characteristics of polyamorists was conducted in by Walston (2001). She constructed a questionnaire consisting of 20 major items and the questionnaire was posted on a number of polyamory Internet sites. She received 430 completed questionnaires, of which two were excluded, for a total sample of 428.

Walston found that 37% were between the ages of thirty and thirty-nine. The next highest category consisted of those between eighteen and twenty-nine: 28%. One quarter of her sample fit into the forty to forty-nine category. Walston also asked about religion. She found that 22% indicated no current religious affiliation while almost two-thirds gave a response which fit into a non-traditional category despite the fact that three-fourths were raised in a Judeo-Christian religion. She found that Unitarian-Universalism (UU) was one of the major responses in the non-traditional category (12 %) and that many of these also said things like pagan, agnostic or atheist. UU is a humanistic religion and so these more specified categories are not unusual. Also, there are UU churches which allow polys to form and meet in their church.

In a recent survey of over 4,000 respondents of Loving More the average age was approximately 40. In terms of level of education, 27.4% had a graduate degree while another 35% had a Bachelor's degree. Therefore, a slight majority (52.4%) had at least 16 years of education. The authors also asked about how happy they were. Respondents could answer along a 1 to 4 scale with 1 being "Not too happy," 2 being "Not sure,", 3 being "Pretty happy," and 4 being "Very happy." Their average score was slightly over 3.0. This score was higher than the score for the comparison sample which...

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