Friday, December 16, 2016

The C-Word: Swingers and Cliques

Overall Trends, a Look at the Numbers

As insiders and party hosts in a swinger community in a major city in the Southeast, Claire and I realized that we might not be perfectly placed to judge whether our local community felt clique’ish or exclusive to some participants. In order to get a broader idea of how people felt about this issue locally, we sent out a questionnaire, to which we received 26 responses. Interestingly, out of these twenty-six responses, twenty respondents were women and only six were men. We wonder if this response from our local LS simply reflects a broader trend, where women are socialized to place more importance on and pay more attention to inclusion in social groups.

Twenty-five respondents confirmed that they had noticed the presence of cliques in their local LS community; while one claims to not have noticed their presence. When it came to defining the criteria by which the respondents felt judged, looks were the most significant factor (64%), followed by age, which tied with “swing status that is considered on the fringe of LS norms” at 55%. Other factors that were mentioned, in order of decreasing importance, were “coolness, (45%)” “socioeconomic status (32%),”  being “too shy (36%)” or “too outspoken (27%).” 

Sixteen respondents answered the question: “If you answered "yes" to behavior or status that is considered outside of LS "norms," do any of these apply?” Playing “full open” was the most common reason provided for feeling “judged by the community on play status, cited by 50% of the respondents, followed by “desiring a higher degree of connection with LS partners” (44%), “rarely play” and “sport fucker” tied at 38%, followed by “dating or seeking partners outside the LS community” (19%), and “being in polyamorous relationship” (13%) and “being a unicorn” (6%). Keep in mind, that for both these questions, participants could check off more than one category.

In the general trends category, when asked whether “the LS is more, less, or the same when it comes to how judgmental the community is in all aspects of accepting other people, not just conventional LS sexuality," 46% answered “the same as society as a whole,” 42% said “less judgmental,” and 16% said “more judgmental.”

Respondents’ Written Answers:

Question One: If you answered "Yes" to the question about LS cliques, what is your feeling about them? Have you felt included/excluded by these cliques? What do you think the common "glue" is that binds the clique or cliques together? The most obvious criterion for separating the written responses was based on whether the respondent felt included or excluded by the cliques.

Insider View:
“We're a part of a few cliques, and have seen the situation from both sides. It makes it difficult to make new friends or even to get laid sometimes, because you're talking to the same group of folks all the time. Cliques are convenient, and provide a low-energy way to socialize without making the effort to make new connections.”

“Part of the ‘glue’ is people have to pass a test of being say trustworthy, fun, engaging, looking for similar experiences etc., so it's a natural selection process.”

“I don't see ‘cliques’ per se. I see groups of friends who become closer due to shared interests, life stages, or just generally feeling a connection, besides just good sex. For my partner and I, the friendships are just as important as the sexual side of things, so it's possible people outside of our close knit friends could see us as cliquey. We don't try to exclude anyone; we just have friends we intentionally try to spend time with.”

“I feel like these groups exist in all social situations in life. People don't normally stand strong when they are on their own; they seek out others like themselves or people they want to be like.”

Outsider View:

“Mainly just excluded. They are hard to penetrate.” *

*We don’t know if this was an intentional double-entendre or a Freudian slip, but it’s priceless.

“It's almost like high school.”

“Drug use. Physical appearance. Coolness.” **

**Authors have not seen more drug use in the LS than you would expect in a socially active group in the same age range. We feel that the two comments tying drug use to belonging to “the clique” may reflect a group that was previously more active and that overlapped with the rave scene.

“Excluded. Seems as though having known ppl over time is the common denominator and age range.”

“Excluded. Mostly judgmental females keep their comfort buddies around and are fake friendly to others.”

“Felt excluded. There seems to be many things that could be the glue. All the girls may be bi, heavy drinkers in the group or may do drugs, group has known each other for years and doesn't allow others to be included or invited.”

“We are fairly new to the LS and it seems that more experienced people/couples judge us. We are still exploring our comfort level with different things. If we don't full swap, we're not welcome with certain groups.”

“Sometimes included, sometimes excluded. It depends on the crowd, and who in the crowd is inviting people to a relatively small event. Some people in cliques have been friends for years, some flirt better and more often, some are sport fuckers while we like to get to know people before sex.”

“I thought I was included, but soon found out that I am excluded or somehow ‘forgotten’ about. What amazes me is that I introduced several Couples to each other and they have become great friends, who have broken off in their own clique. I love to see others happy. It makes me sad that there are cliques because it makes LS feel less inviting and less open.”

“When I first entered the LS, I was quickly able to identify the cliques and did try to get close to those certain people just because they seemed to stick together, get out and do more. It is very hard to break through so I stepped back. No hurt feelings or anything. Just too much work and not that interested, at least not as much as I'd have to be to make it a priority in my life.”

“I think cliques are unfortunate in the LS. Having traveled heavily to other states this is definitely more an Atlanta trend than elsewhere. The common glue seems to be people with an elevated sense of self worth. Cliques often center around social or economic status. I've been judged on many occasions for seeming too active, when in actuality I'm far more socially active than sexually active.”

“Because we're ‘social swingers’ (vs. notchers) and being relatively new, having ‘community’ is something we crave. We really want to be invited and accepted into the groups that are culturally ‘us.’ We empathize with how time, and trust-accrued makes a group cautious new people. Certainly we'll find ‘our group’ in time, but (especially with social media), it feels like we're looking through a window at a party we weren't invited to. Ask us again in 6 months.”
“You have those that extremely fit and tan oh and don't forget they have money, no kids and all the time in the world to work on their looks. They only hangout with others just like them, and look down and talk down to those that are not like them. You also have those that pretend to be your friend just to meet those you hang out with, just so they don't have to find that couple to play with, they just take our couple. These pretend friends will not say a word to to us again until they see us with a couple they want to get with.”***

***The Authors have not necessarily seen this dynamic play-out for a group of people or even any people that have all these qualities -- fit and tan, no kids, money. There is a smaller group that has been in the LS for a long time. They are good-looking, fit, and tan. However, they don’t stand out in terms of their income level and most of them have kids and live in the suburbs. This group seems exclusive because they have known each other for so long and no longer attend many mainstream LS events.

Authors’ Reflections

The authors are not surprised that looks seem to be the number one category where people felt judged. The reason for this is that most people are looking to hook up, and in an environment where people do not know each other well, looks tend to be the number one criterion for picking sexual partners, outside and as well as inside the LS. The inside/outside perspective on cliques does not surprise us either. People who feel comfortable and accepted in a group have less reason to reflect on whether everybody feels as included and accepted as they do. Members of a group may not feel like they are consciously excluding others, but simply feel like they are socializing with the people they know and with whom they have the most in common. On the other hand, people who, at any time, have felt excluded from a group or judged by a group; tend to be more motivated to examine the reasons for this. The distance of being an outsider often gives people perspective. For example, it’s often easier to give advice to friends, than to see how it applies to our own lives, or take the same advice ourselves. People often take privileges for granted, even if those privileges are as simple as being accepted by other people.

Like high school, people mentioned situations where the cliques weren’t just judgmental towards outsiders; at the same time, there is an in-group dynamic of behavior to which the members are expected to conform. The unspoken fear is that if they don’t conform they will be cast out of the group. Two examples of in-group “policing behavior” mentioned by respondents had to do with couples seeking greater emotional, not just physical connection with their partners and with couples playing with other couples who were outside the group.

Finally, it is worth noting that we may all have misjudged some people as being snobby and exclusive if we were intimidated by their appearance or other attributes and it seemed that those people did not make an effort to reach out to us. Not all people who are conventionally attractive are social extroverts; some are shy and introverted. They may not mean to exclude others, but simply are unaware that people may want to interact with them. Their own shyness and introversion may prevent them from reaching out, not a sense of “superiority” to others.

Question Two: If you are comfortable, and can do so in a way that does not directly identify yourself or any others involved, can you describe a situation or situations with clique behavior or people being judgmental in the LS?

“Reputation as never playing in a big one.”

“Not being invited to parties that your so called friends have. Exclusion from party invites.”

“Being told that we were ‘bad swingers’ because we were more emotionally involved.”

“Have been told people would not approach us because we were intimidating based on our sexy appearance ?? But that comes across to us as judgmental without even getting to know us.”

“Race: African American couples are always left behind. It's not the same when is a mixed couple. Same happens with Latinos and older couples.”****

****Authors tried to think of age cut-off, but this was too generic. We think people tend to be more forgiving about age if the couple, in question, are good looking, in shape, and have other qualities that make them interesting and attractive. Sex appeal and sexual performance are not always age dependent. Taking into account that, the authors live in the Southeast. There is a definite trend where bi-racial couples are more represented in the local (predominantly white) LS community than couples where both parties are minorities.
“From inside our clique we've been judged as sport fuckers for playing with people outside our immediate circle. Cliques run the risk of turning into co-dependent or poly relationships, so we try hard to branch out.”

“We were not quite ready to full swap with a couple so the other male got all pissy and tried to damage our professional careers on a public LS not cool. Very glad I never did have sex with him!”

“I would just say that there is a kind of capital in the LS. All of this is optional. We get to be picky about who we choose to share our very limited time with. And we don't get offended when others would rather spend time with others. It's all good.”

“On multiple occasions at Trapeze, despite friendly introduction, I've been literally completely ignored. This has also occurred when attending with a fellow unicorn. The acceptance of unicorns is the biggest myth in this community.”

“On the group FB page once, there was a small ‘hate’ or ‘judgment’ discussion going about soft swappers in the LS. At the time we were soft swap. It's aggravating to feel like i'm just tease because I won't fuck everyone who hits on me! I also get irritated for being judged because i'm willing to soft swap with people I wouldn't necessarily fuck. We are in fact full swap but do a lot more soft than full, because we enjoy foreplay and teasing. The buildup is what we enjoy as much as sex. Interestingly enough once we became full swap some of those haters spoke to me like they were just meeting me.....guess it's easy to forget we've met when I was merely a softie back then ;-)”

“People not inclusive with conversations by turning backs, whispering, or making quick getaways. This behavior feels like I am not worthy of their attention or time. Typically females do this. Males are pretty respectful and not as bold. Feels like high school, but worse because in high school, I was considered "cool". I seriously never felt so rejected socially until being in LS. Makes me more insecure and anxious. Also, more self conscious and worried about how I am perceived. Ironically, this actually makes me appear closed off, reserved, bitchy, or bored -- all because I am afraid to do or say wrong thing or I feel that just by being there and breathing, someone might make a judgement about me. Typically I am an extremely positive, happy, social, friendly, and secure person. I am successful in my career, loved by my family and vanilla friends, and have a nice, sweet life. However, recent interactions, exclusions, and gossip from others have dampened my spirit within the LS community.”


Most responses analyzing reasons people felt excluded in the LS had to do with being new and not knowing anybody, having a reputation for not playing, being soft-swap, and anxiety about “not getting asked to the dance,” reminiscent of high school. Couples wonder why their “supposed friends” didn’t include them, why other people “made the cut” and they didn’t and feelings get hurt.
Claire and I have been on both the inside and outside of the “group” phenomenon and can see both perspectives. In some ways, our experiences as outsiders at other times in our lives inspired us to be more outgoing and host parties, so that we could foster a more positive sense of community. Ironically, however, once you are a host and get to know people and either form or feel included in the group, you may lose touch with what it’s like to be an outsider. You can become so busy catching up with all the people you know, that you don’t realize that you are part of a bubble. This survey was a reminder to us and hopefully to others to reach out and make an effort to talk to people and make them feel more included. This does not mean you have to have sex with people you are not attracted to, but does mean that, as a community that is very harshly judged by the outside world, swingers can all benefit by being better ambassadors.