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Swingtown – loitering in the muck of moral ambiguity

Last Updated: April 13, 2015

Luke Gilkerson
Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Your Brain on Porn and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

The pilot of CBS’ new show ‘Swingtown‘ aired on June 5. It is a TV drama depicting the clash of values around sexuality.

The show highlights the lifestyle of characters Tom and Trina Decker, a carefree couple that has embraced the swinger lifestyle. The first show opens with Tom, an airline pilot, inviting a stewardess to his home to have a ménage à trois with he and his wife. And this is just the first 2 minutes of the show.

The show’s myriad of characters gives viewers an up-close and personal look at several suburban families and their varying attitudes about sex. In 45 minutes they manage to cover marital intimacy, teen sex, pornography, orgies, and sexual dysfunction.

‘Swingtown’ Pilot – Brief Overview

The Swingtown website says the show “traces two generations of friends and neighbors as they forge intimate connections and explore new freedoms during the culturally transformative decade of the 1970s.” Swingtown shows viewers facets of the sexual revolution in America, specifically the world of swingers.

It’s impossible to walk away from the show without knowing the impression that the producers are attempting to imprint on its viewers: consensual sex—no matter the variety, marital status, age, or number of people involved at one time—is good and healthy.

For example, one of the teenage characters candidly tells her mother that she can decide for herself whether she has sex or not. The mother feels she has very little grounds to tell her daughter what to do because she herself was “knocked up” in high school.

In another scene two boys, about 12 or 13 years old, are looking through some Penthouse magazines they’ve stolen. One of the boys’ father walks in and finds their stash. I was expecting a heart-to-heart talk about curiosity and sexuality. Instead, the father simply tells the boys, “Don’t let your mother catch you with this. She’ll have a coronary on the spot.”

The pivotal scene involves a conversation between Trina Decker and her new neighbor, Susan Miller. Trina and her husband have previously discussed whether they can sell their neighbors to the swinger lifestyle. So in this conversation with Susan, Trina describes her “open marriage” and asks if Susan and her husband will open up their marriage like “everyone else.” She describes the swinger lifestyle as “the best thing” that has happened to her marriage.

Susan, intrigued and somewhat shy, doesn’t like the idea of cheating on her husband. Trina quickly corrects her, saying that an open marriage isn’t “cheating” because it involves no sneaking around, no lies—everything is on the table. Trina says that it can bring a marriage to a whole new level of intimacy and is the doorway to “incredible sex.”

The only antagonist to this lifestyle is Janet, one of Susan’s old friends. Unfortunately she doesn’t represent a voice of reason, but rather is portrayed as a kind, yet hopelessly neurotic, prudish, sexually repressed housewife.

Trina and Tom convince their new neighbors (with the help of quaaludes) to go to bed with them. As the show closes, Susan and her husband Bruce are finishing up from their first foursome with the neighbors. As they rise from bed, the morning sun is shining in the window. Audiences hear Johnny Nash singing “I Can See Clearly Now” in the background as the couple contemplates their first open marriage experience.

On this bright, bright sun-shiny day it happens to be the 4th of July, and one can’t help but see that Susan and Bruce are experiencing their own “independence day” as they’ve been awakened to a brand new life.


There are many morally deplorable things depicted on TV, so why pick on Swingtown?

First, there are restrictions placed on broadcast networks for a reason. As a society we recognize the power of media and its affect on public opinion and belief systems. As a nation that also believes strongly in freedom of speech, we’ve given certain sectors of the cable market to those who want less restrictions. If Swingtown will continue, let it find its home there. (Although, I would prefer it be gone altogether.)

Many reviewers on the opposite side of the moral spectrum from me agree. Swingtown was originally pitched for premium cable, and when CBS picked it up, the restraint needed to meet broadcast network standards placed the show at an awkward compromise: a show about sex where you can’t show any sex. As the New York Times aptly states, the show “Seems like something that would be right at home on HBO or Showtime, where programs tend to loiter in the muck of moral ambiguity.”

Secondly, I can find nothing good coming from a show that seeks to capture and dramatize the spirit of the sexual revolution. It’s time that we, as a culture, recognize the great harms the sexual revolution brought to us as a nation. The most obvious harm is seen in the minds of children. As more research is done, we see more and more problems that can arise from children being introduced to sexual stimulus in the early stages of psycho-sexual development. (I’ll refer readers to the work of Dr. Jill Manning and Dr. Judith Reisman for more information.)

Swingtown opposes the sexual morality taught by Jesus Christ; the show depicts God’s morality as unhealthy and stifling. As Tom and Trina Decker converse about whether they can sell their new neighbors on the open marriage idea, Tom comments that they may be too “straight and narrow.” This idiom stems from the lips of Jesus himself: “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life” (Matthew 7:14, KJV). Swingtown would have you believe that God’s morality only leads to boring, sexually lifeless marriages.

In the final analysis, what is wrong with Swingtown’s message? In short, its purpose is to spread the idea that free love and open marriages are really the most sexually fulfilling lifestyles, yet this flies in the face of God’s wisdom and design for sex and marriage.

I wrote some about this in a previous post, Myths About Pornography, saying that some think better sex is a function of better orgasms. Swingtown is a capstone built on top of a widely believed lie that the optimal sexual life, all things being equal, is pleasure-oriented: bigger and longer times of arousal, more stimuli, more variety, more racing hormones.

But healthy sexuality is primarily an integrated sexuality; we are sexual beings and our sexuality touches many aspects of our personality, our identity and our relationships. In reality, better sex is not pleasure-oriented but intimacy-oriented. Better sex does not flow from the variety of sexual experience in swinging or pornography, but from the trust, love, respect and commitment experienced in marriage.

The ultimate goal of sex is not pleasure, it is oneness. When our personal goal for sex is pleasure, in the long run we will either settle in dissatisfaction or we will seek for satisfaction outside our marriage bond. But when our personal goal is oneness, great pleasure will be the byproduct.

A Time to Protest

To express your concern directly to CBS, please write the network at audsvcs@cbs.com or find information online to contact your local CBS affiliate.

  • Comments on: Swingtown – loitering in the muck of moral ambiguity
    1. Thanks for this review … I’m no prude, but that show does not belong on network television. The commercials alone fouled other programming that I was watching with my children (who are 11 and 14).

    2. Jesus the man existed. Jesus as the son of God is make believe.

      The sooner you people the accept that, the better off the world will be.

      • Swinger Baby,

        I appreciate your comment, but I would love to see reasons for why you believe what you do. You’ve made some pretty bold historical claims and I’d love to understand where you are coming from. Please respond.

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