You know that saying, “if you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you are the product?” While this was originally applied to the likes of Facebook and other “free” platforms that make money by harvesting and selling data, I’ve realised it also applies to parts of the swinging and kink scenes. And I do not like it.
The gendered pricing model
Gendered pricing models are sadly extremely common in the swinging world in particular. One club I won’t name charges £35 per visit for a (cis male/female) couple, £50 for a single man, and £5 for a single woman.
For these purposes, a lesbian couple would be considered two single women and a gay male couple would be… well, a gay male couple would probably be discouraged from attending at all, to be honest, but if they did they’d be charged as two single men.
Again, this isn’t unusual. This is the norm. Some venues charge single men even more, £100 or more for a single visit. Others don’t charge single women at all, and might even add other incentives – such as free drinks – to tempt them in.
Wait, how is this fair?
Honestly, it isn’t.
If these venues want to ensure something of a gender balance, there are other ways to do that. Limiting the number of tickets for single men is one common strategy (again, remember these places are extremely cisheteronormative.)
But I don’t believe gendered pricing is the way to do it. For one thing, it creates a situation where only cis m/f couples are considered “real” couples, as I mentioned above. For another, it makes many events financially challenging or completely inaccessible for the single men on these scenes, most of whom are perfectly decent, respectful guys who just want to have some fun with other consenting adults.
But do you know what else it does? It turns women into a product.
What does “free entry” really cost?
Why are swingers’ clubs (and some kink venues) so desperate to get women in? It’s not because they care so much about being safe places for exploration of female sexuality. No – it’s because we act as bait for the higher-paying men and couples.
I’ve seen more than one situation where a man (or sometimes a couple) has paid a high entry price and now feels “owed” something – a conversation, attention, a blowjob, a shag. And who suffers for this entitlement? The women it’s enacted upon. This entitlement can lead to pressure, coercion, or even sexual assault. Suddenly, that “free entry” can come at a very steep cost indeed.
Some men feel as though they are being disenfranchised and discriminated against by having to pay high entry fees, while women get in for free or a nominal cost. What they don’t realise is how frightening it can be when you understand that you’re the product at least as much as you are the customer.
The argument for equal pricing
There are several really positive things I think would happen if we abolished gendered pricing models across these events:
- They would become far more welcoming to trans folks, non-binary people, and queer couples.
- It would largely get rid of the problem of some men thinking “well I paid £100 to be here so now I’m owed something.”
- It would stop the problem of pricing out decent men based on the (extraordinarily classist and completely untrue) belief that the “right kind” of man for these spaces is a man who can afford a very expensive cover charge.
- And… more single women would probably attend.
That last one might sound counterintuitive, but stick with me. I mostly go to events with my partner, and I enjoy doing so. But if I was going to attend events alone, I would be far more inclined to attend events that use an egalitarian, non-gendered pricing model.
Why? Because non-gendered, per-person pricing doesn’t make me feel like a product. Because I want to interact with other adults as an equal, not a commodity they feel entitled to by virtue of their entry fee.
If you’re a woman or read as a woman, have you ever felt uncomfortable when a man buys you a drink and then seems to expect something in return? This is like that only worse. If a man has paid to enter the space and I haven’t, I’m automatically in a weaker position. It creates a sense of obligation. Because even though I’m a feminist and I know that I never owe a man a goddamn thing just because he buys me a drink (or pays for entry to a club), the patriarchal programming we’re all exposed to runs extremely deep.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years on the swing scene, it’s that free isn’t free. I’d much rather shell out £20 to get into an event than free entry and then be treated as part of the package that men are paying for with their higher entry fee.
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