monthly column from lifestyle author/activist
Why Women Swing (Part Two)
My IN box runeth over! As a result of an interview I did with anthropologist and author Leanna Wolfe, I received significantly more mail than usual. The majority took issue with her comments regarding the reasons why women swing. Dr. Wolfe said that she found it hard to understand why females would want to have sex with males who are not then, in turn, going to provide resources, security, identity or babies. This seemed a bit too much like sex for sale and prompted Debbie to write: " she views sex as a means to an end rather than appreciating sex for its own sake." And Ralph wrote: "Since many women have all the money, status, children and power they want, mightn't they be motivated to swing for purely sexual reasons, as are many men?" So I asked Dr Wolfe:
Why do you seem to preclude the possibility that there are women who truly enjoy sex for sex sake and find it especially exciting with strangers?
I believe there are perhaps many women who enjoy sex though I wonder if it is just for "sex sake." Sex with a stranger is a very strong drive in the primate/animal world. Why? Because it may result in the conjoining of superior genes and produce exceptional offspring. I'd say that when a woman encounters a man who sets off those He-Could-Be-It fantasies, her sex drive could be very intense.
It sounds as though you believe that females engage in sex strictly as a means of getting stuff "superior genes" in your example.
Many social scientists have now come to appreciate the powerful impact our reproductive drives have on our mating behaviors. Of course Swinging functions as a respite from such core drives. This can result in a woman experiencing the sensation of many men willing to serve her in mimicry of traditional mating behavior. Of course, she leaves with no additional servants and no additional resources.
This talk of servants and resources sounds more like an exchange of power than it does a mutual sharing.
I do contend that in many ways men and women are involved in a power exchange. In Swinging, however, the exchange is inverted. Traditionally, men trade wealth for beauty. In Swing situations, it's the women who control the currency, which may be defined as their willingness to say "Yes."
A few readers focused on Dr. Wolfe saying that she needed "a proper seduction wine and dine" before having sex with a man. Cookie wrote: "When Daddy buys that ice cream cone it says I love you and you're special. Later in life, the date who takes you to an expensive restaurant makes you feel more cared for and more special than the one who takes you to McDonalds. Life and worth are intertwined with labels -- especially during woman to woman talk." Cookie then suggested that I might want to send her a box of Godiva Raspberry truffles.
The well-known author and media sexologist, Dr. Susan Block, e-mailed me with a quote from Dr. Helen Fisher's studies. "There is a two to four year itch that causes Americans to be intrigued by new partners and the promise of heated passion." Dr. Block's own concept of the Ethical Hedonist explains " the Swinging woman who wants to scratch that itch without losing the love and security of her long-term relationship. She wants to be good to her husband and her family and wickedly sexual at the same time." So I asked Dr. Wolfe:
Do you agree with Dr. Fisher's conclusion regarding that two to four year itch?
I agree with Dr. Fisher but I'm not convinced that Swinging is the way to scratch that itch. That's more of a couple acting as co-conspirators in a mutual quest for strange ass. I think long-term marriage has its own trajectory of social, emotional and sexual intimacy. All Swinging might do is arrest sexual expression in the earliest phase of attraction and conquest.
And what's wrong with a little "attraction and conquest" exactly? Recalling the recent study by Dr. Edward Laumann at the University of Chicago (published in the Journal of the American Medical Association) America appears to be in the middle of a sexual epidemic. In what is arguably the most comprehensive sex survey in half a century, 43% of women and 31% of men suffer from chronic sexual dysfunction. So I asked Dr. Wolfe what she thought the cause or causes might be.
If the numbers are correct, I'd say it's due to a lack of variety, challenge and freedom. Think of the man who needs Viagra with his wife but not with his mistress. Sex with her is a replication of early stage courtship. But, as an anthropologist, I look at marriage and family in a global context and seriously question whether this early phase of sexual expression has any true value for marriages and families across time and place.
My feelings towards sex are simple and straightforward. Sex is good and more is better. Furthermore, I believe the vast majority of women in the Lifestyle are self-confident, well adjusted, sexually aggressive and that they Swing for purely libidinous reasons no hidden agenda. After many years of dealing with patients in both private practice and hospital settings, I've come to the conclusion that the more positive an attitude toward sex, the more positive an attitude toward life. Start going through that tired litany of dangers that supposedly surround screwing around and I'll tell you about an even greater number of ills, both mental and physical, that can result from abstinence. But let me step down from my soapbox for a moment and admit that philosophies of life do indeed tend to be autobiographical. My experiences with sex have been so overwhelmingly good that even the bad ones weren't all that bad. Leanna Wolfe may not have been so fortunate. I have no intention of trying to psychoanalyze the good doctor in absentia but perhaps her comments in a Los Angeles Times (May 17, 2001) article dealing with polyamory provide some insight. In speaking of jealousy in different Lifestyles she says: " whatever people to do tackle it, it's just a strategy that doesn't work." And further along she adds that there are times when: "I have a fantasy of meeting a one-and-only partner so that I'd be done with it all." Finally, she tells the reporter (Ajay Singh) that a year earlier, when she was in a relationship with three men, it "wasn't a very happy situation." Now please don't get me wrong, I truly like Dr. Wolfe. She's a very attractive, very bright and most personable young lady. I guess the only thing that bothers me is there's not much chance I'm ever going to run into her at an orgy.
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Dr. Mason may be reached with comments and column suggestions at: DrSBMason@aol.com