Thursday, August 13, 2015

Playgrounds are for everyone!

  I first heard of the Life on the Swingset website in a Sex is Fun podcast six or seven years ago (it isn’t being produced anymore, but you can still listen to archived episodes!).  Although I often directed friends toward the Swingset website, I never took a good look at it myself, mostly because I was not a swinger.  Non-monogamous?  Yes. Slutty?  You bet!  But for me, the word “swinger” conjured up images of wife swapping, key parties, and for some reason, shag carpets.  I didn’t think I belonged because I wasn’t married.  Or living in the 1970s.  It turns out I was wrong!

Image result for my life on the swingsetHands down, the best thing I got out of reading Cooper Beckett’s collection of essays / blog posts My Life on the Swingset is that it challenged and changed my mind about the nature of swinging.  About what swinging involves, who swingers are, and the types of relationships and community that swingers have.  This book forced me to think hard about my preconceived notions and examine my stereotypes.

Cooper’s writing is insightful, hilarious, and incredibly personal – as many reviewers (mostly other sex educators) have written about the book, it’s not theory; it’s practice.  There’s a lovely mix of analytical pieces about topics related to sexuality and relationships (some examples include jealousy, porn, divorce, coming out as a swinger, and risk aware sex) and firsthand narratives; however, even when the writing falls on the analytical rather than the personal side of things, it’s clear that every opinion Cooper includes in his writing comes from his life experiences (it feels weird using someone’s first name instead of their last in a review, but his online persona makes me feel comfortable doing so, which is a beautiful thing). 

And he seemingly has a lot of experience.  Enough to make me think: Man, I am missing out!  Can you be part of a swinging community without a partner, though?  Certainly!  …if you’re a woman.  One of the issues that Cooper tackles gracefully in his book / on the website is the double standard of accepting bisexual women in swinging communities and at play parties but not bisexual men.  This is manifested in part by the fact that single women are often invited and encouraged to come to play parties while single men are banned (I realize there are other reasons for this – some of them very good reasons – but I think that biphobia plays a part in it).  He also includes an essay about another issue of inclusivity in swinging: ageism.  It’s nice that in a body of work that so clearly supports and advocates for its subject, there’s still room for constructive criticism of that subject.

For me, the book’s greatest strength lies in Cooper’s thoughtfulness regarding complex and murky issues.  He writes very honestly about changing relationship dynamics and how we have to let go sometimes in order to grow and change.  About experimenting with polyamory and trying to navigate the amorphous landscape between swinging, poly, and ethical non-monogamy.  About the bullshit hierarchy that some folks in SOP communities try to impose on each other despite the fact that we have more similarities than differences.  About feelings of confidence and fear of rejection and how they relate to being able to engage in open relationships.

He even calls on his readers to reconsider their definition of sex (and tells us in no uncertain terms that sex becomes better when you do, which I would attest to).

There are comic pieces, too – how to install a sex swing; a story about an amazing prostate orgasm, making me wish on ALL the stars that I had a prostate; and lots of funny entries about how not to be a dick.  There are a few long-winded pieces toward the end that were written in the wee hours of the morning after fucking all night at Desire Resort in Mexico; reading them was akin to listening to the high ramblings of your one friend who still has dreadlocks even though he’s 37.  I can forgive those pieces, though, seeing as how sex actually makes us high (see Emily Nagoski’s book Come As You Are for more about that). 

Overall, I found the book very enjoyable and would recommend it to anyone who’s considering opening up their relationship OR anyone who just wants to swing along vicariously through Cooper Beckett’s life.  He’s bared it all for us, and it costs less than a fancy coffee house drink, so there’s really no excuse not to read it.  There’s even an audio version if you want to hear it read in Cooper’s ridiculously sexy deep voice.  Speaking of – I had never listened to the Swingset podcast before reading this book, but I do now; I also recommend checking that out!    

Lastly, a personal note: there’s this piece in the book about the joy inherent in making out like a teenager – that kind of making out where your lips hurt afterward.  I had this magnificent two-hour makeout session under a subway station in the pouring rain after being inspired by reading it.  It was all quite giddy and romantic, even when we got yelled at by old men.  Especially when we got yelled at by old men.  So thanks for that, Cooper Beckett!      

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