Bigamy, Bloggamy or Good Old American Swing
People in the news are talking about bigamy, more politely termed “polygamy,” while people I know are talking about swinging.
Let’s go to the news first. I haven’t yet seen HBO’s sizzling new series “Big Love” yet, but I did see Jean Tripplehorn in person at the Television Academy‘s “Women in Prime” event. Tripplehorn plays Barb, Wife #1 of three typical, everyday American wives married to one typical, everyday American guy (Bill Paxton). She sat onstage with a group of other “Women in Prime” including Diane Burroughs (Exec. Producer, “Still Standing”), Laura Innes (actress, “ER”), Melina Kanakaredes (actress, “CSI NY”), Janet Leahy (Exec Producer, “Boston Legal”), Janel Moloney (actress, “West Wing”), Kathryn Morris (Actress, “Cold Case”), CCH Pounder (actress, “The Shield”), Greer Shephard (Exec Producer, “The Closer”), Holland Taylor (actress, “Two and a Half Men”) and one woman who could be said to be “Beyond Prime,” the imperious Angela Lansbury.
Tripplehorn chimed in as they talked about how wonderful, talented, fortunate, caring and important they all are, and how absolutely terrific their shows are. Dreamy Jeanie Tripplehorn (what a great name for the first of three wives!) sidestepped the attempts of smooth-as-a-Magellan-Gin-martini host Jim Longworth to ever-so-gently steer her into the shallow end of controversy by asking if she’d gotten any interesting mail because of her “bad girl” roles in quirky movies, like Yippie Founder Abbie Hoffman’s sexy lover Johanna Lawrenson in my friend Robert Greenwald‘s “Steal this Movie.” Especially now that she’s in a show that portrays polygamy as, well, so typical, everyday and American. Jean stayed close to the edge of the pool by reminding us of how fortunate she is to be working with such a wonderful ensemble cast, and doesn’t “Big Love” provide a terrific opportunity for monogamy-loving Mormons to make their position clear?
Margo and I participated in a much more interesting *panel* during the after-party where we sat at a table with Gladys Holland Zucker (most recently featured on the Oscars singing that Dame “Judy Dench was no dame”), Del Zamora (“Repo Man”) and writer Lin Unez, and speculated about what really happened on 9/11 and how far the Thief-in-Chief would go in taking typical, everyday America down the drain. We did not discuss polygamy, although that seems to be au courant these days. Everybody’s opining about “Big Love,” from Washington Post pontificator Charles Krauthammer to ex-stripper Diablo Cody, and whether bigamy or polygamy is healthy for society. Some, like Ailee Slater, are all for freedom to marry the person or people of one’s choice; others, like Jonathan Rausch, feel polygamy would herald the collapse of liberal democracy. Rausch, who bases his idea on Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal, reminds us that when one man in a society has many wives, many other men in that society will have no wives. This leads to a surplus of frustrated, testosterone-plagued men, which fits swimmingly with Bush, Dick and Rummy’s idea of an *all-volunteer* American military. Too many single guys? Perfect for cannon fodder. I’m all for freedom of expression; let folks marry whomever and how many they want. Who is the state to tell people with whom they can share someone so personal as love and marriage?
Personally, I like having one husband (my H), as well as my occasional Saturday night harems of lovers, quasi-lovers and co-conspirators. While I’m not polygamous, I’m not too keen on the nuclear family, having grown up in one and then traveled miles to get away from its kind of Big Claustrophobic Love. I prefer living with my H in a community we sometimes call a family, other times a company.
We also have an *extended family* of artists, porn stars, professors, dancers, doctors, dominatrixes, writers, tech people, web designers and hangers-on, most of whom seem to practice some kind of serial monogamy or casual polygamy, many of whom fill out their one-on-one dating or mating schedule with the occasional swing party.
Swing parties are to polygamy what a one-night-stand is to marriage. Polygamy is about family and daily life. Swinging is about sex. Most real polygamists are very religious; most swingers are not (well, unless you consider *pagan* a religion). Swingers are, by definition, pretty open about sex. Polygamists are often rather prudish. It might seem like swinging leads to polygamy, and that’s hardly ever the case. Most polygamous brides are virgins when they marry their Big Love husband. And actually, in some ways, swinging can often help couples to stay monogamous. But more on that in a minute.
First a word from our *sponsor,* The Dr. Susan Block Show: The after-party after the show often turns into a wild quasi-swing party, with couples and threesomes, foursomes and moresomes going at it like bonobos on the beds, couches, the Monkey Rocker and the Bonkum, not to mention the restrooms, and other hot spots in and around the art at Dr. Suzy’s Speakeasy. Our next show on April 15 features a married couple, ex-cop turned porn star Jack Lawrence and his porn star wife Annie Cruz (who also squirts!). Since they’re in the porn business, their very careers make them swingers. So this should be a hot show ~ make your reservations now! But it’s not a typical swing party, primarily because it’s all part of the show, and not everyone who comes here is *into* swinging.
Here’s how I describe a typical swing party in a piece called “American Swing“:
You’re at a party. You notice it’s not your typical social gathering as soon as you walk in. In the front room, men and women are laughing, flirting, some dancing, a few making out, squeezing a nipple here, a tush there, like any other hot party, except a bit more sexually blatant. Well, maybe a lot more. Most of the partiers are semi-clothed, in lingerie or wearing nothing but a damp towel. On the coffee table is a bowl of dip, a bowl of chips, a bowl of condoms, a bowl of lube packets. Off to one side is a big jacuzzi where people are soaking, drinks in hand, smiles on faces, erections between legs – for the men, of course. As for the ladies, well, it’s never easy to tell just by looking whether or not a woman is truly aroused, but these gals seem unusually open and free, proud of their sexuality and downright lusty toward the men and other ladies.
You wander down the hall, past a couple of closed doors marked “Private.” You stop and cup your ear to the wall, eavesdropping on the sounds of passion, heavy breathing, cries, sighs, howls and grunts like animals in heat. You step further down the corridor, up to an open door marked “Group Room.” Mattresses line the edges of the room, and in the center, several mattresses are joined together. The lights are dim, the air heavy with the warmth and aroma of intense human activity. You squint through the soft light and see naked human bodies, couples and clusters of three or four in different positions, two couples side by side, one in missionary, one with the woman on top. Two women drinking each other thirstily. A man entering a woman from behind as another woman licks and fondles them both from underneath. In the central area is a group of who-knows-how-many arms, legs, mouths, heads covered with damp hair, genitals, breasts, buns–all tangled up in love–well, lust. They seem like a single creature, a great pagan monster-god with many heads, limbs and genitals, undulating ecstatically. Off to the side, a couple of single men masturbate, watching the scene. And remember, you’re watching too.
I don’t know if you’re aroused or disgusted by this scene. But I do know you’re fascinated. Such is the power of Swing, and I don’t mean Big Bands. I mean spouse-swapping, playcoupling. Partying with a capital P. Lifestylin’….Ever since Gay Talese wrote Thy Neighbor’s Wife (almost ruining his reputation and losing his own wife in the process), swingers or lifestylers have been booed, hissed and dissed by Middle America. The funny thing is, swingers are Middle America.Somewhere between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party lies the Swing Party. Most playcouples are into family values and everything. They go to work and backyard barbecues and PTA meetings and…the occasional Saturday night orgy.
Why do so many people swing, try it, or at least fantasize about it? Canadian journalist Terry Gould’s book The Lifestyle is the best, most comprehensive examination of the subject. But, to encapsulate: Some couples swing because it allows them to explore the excitement of having sex with other people right in front of each other, which feels healthier, or at least more honest than cheating. Many folks actually get aroused by watching their spouse have sex with other men or women. Most enjoy the intimate camaraderie that swinging fosters. For them, sex and socializing go together. Many delight in the sheer orgiastic atmosphere of a swing environment. I sure do. Humans, like other animals, experience a high level of sexual energy in a place where they see, hear and smell others having sex.
Modern group sex may awaken primitive sense memories of prehistoric times when families and even whole tribes lived and slept together in giant caves. Ancient religions held fertility orgies in the midst of the Dionysian, Bacchanalian, Carnival and May Day festivals, celebrating the mysteries of sexuality and giving widows, homely virgins and spouses of infertile mates a chance to conceive. Modern swingers don’t swing to get pregnant, of course, but the desire for a transcendent, orgiastic experience remains. Many don’t even go “all the way.” They just watch, or have sex with their partners in the midst of all the collective aphrodisia.
There are as many explanations for swinging as there are swingers. As any swinger will tell you, the Lifestyle is not for everybody. Probably not for most couples. Swinging won’t turn a bad relationship into a good one. In fact, if your relationship is fairly weak, swinging can destroy it in less time than it takes to make a Daisy Chain . But if it’s already pretty strong, and if the two of you have cravings for adventure and sex drives like bunnies, it can be the ultimate extracurricular activity.
If you’re NOT into swinging, you probably think of it as a man’s domain. And in the old days of wife-swapping, it usually was. But that’s no longer true. Now, women rule American Swing. In a typical couple, it’s the man who’s initially most excited about swinging, often to the point he has to cajole, encourage, beg, bribe or trick his wife or girlfriend into trying it. But if she does participate, after a while, the wife often gets even more involved than her husband. Then what might happen? Any number of possibilities, the worst of which involve hubby fuming jealously as wifey basks in the glorious newfound attention of several sensual men and women.
For the most part, nowadays, American Swing is a femalist sexual paradise. Single women are welcome at swing parties, single men usually are not. There are sensible reasons for this: single guys tend to be more aggressive and thus troublesome. Also, while most swinger women are bisexual, most swinger men are not, at least not actively. Group sex presents women with certain benefits that neither dating nor relationship sex offers. Some ladies use swinging to experiment with different forms of sex, such as sex with women or with more than one man. They can explore playful erotic encounters in an environment where there is little need to worry about rape, physical abuse or being vilified as a “slut.” A good swing party is a femaleist sexual paradise. I consider the best swingers to be the bonobos of humanity. They’re highly sexual, remarkably peaceful, and women are in charge…
So how can swinging help a couple stay monogamous? Monogamy is like a garden – lovely and under control. Natural human sexuality is like the jungle – wild and free, dangerous, out of control. You don’t have to work to create a jungle; it’s part of nature. Jungles are beautiful and fun to explore. But most of us would rather not live in a jungle, or even have one in our backyard. We’d rather have a garden. But gardens, like monogamy, require work, cultivation, patience, creativity. Also gardening can be tedious. After a while, you just want to toss down your hoe, and go native. The Swinger Couple Solution is to be gardners who every so often leave their gardens to swing through the trees together.
Some swinger marriages are rock-solid (H and I will be celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary on April 12th!). Of course, there are some who change relationships as frequently as bonobos eat bananas. But all swingers are at least attempting to deal with their sexual desires in a relatively open, honest manner, trying to evolve beyond the deceitful cheating and debilitating repression that pervades most American marriages – monogamous and polygamous.