Most of us grow up imagining that the prince or princess of our dreams is going to come along, and we will live together forever in hot monogamy. Sadly, not all our fairy tales end so happily. In America, sexless marriages are approximately 20%, divorces are still at 50%, and men and women are having about the same number of affairs, which range from 30-35% depending on the study that you’re reading. So it’s understandable that a lot of couples are starting to ask whether traditional sexual styles make sense anymore. They’re asking could there be another way to go about this and make their marriages last. Is sexual exclusivity – that’s a mouthful right there! – even sensible anymore? Is it necessary? Is it the be-all and end-all? Well, in seeking an answer to those questions, millions of couples are beginning to explore the various ways that they can engage in ethical, consensual non-monogamy. And the two most widely practiced forms are polyamory and swinging. In this article, we’re going to be talking about swinging, and in another one, we’ll be talking about polyamory.
Swingers are couples who have sex with other couples or individuals but don’t get involved in romantic or intimate relationships. Nobody seems to know the true number of swingers in America. Estimates suggest about two percent of paired-up people, but because swinging, which is also known as “the Lifestyle” (as if there were only one!), is often entertained in private, and with a great deal of discretion, so figures are hard to come by.
Swinging couples usually do their sexual exploring at private parties or at houses or nightclubs that are specifically set up for that purpose. Locations range from, for example, a mammoth redwood lodge in the Pacific Northwest that’s all done up in with retro-seventies style and has huge park-like landscaped grounds. Or an 80’s style disco in the Southeast. Or some clubs that look at whole like more like Elks clubs than sex clubs! Or your next door neighbor’s private home. You never know where a suburban swing group will meet. But whatever the ambience of the location, they share a kind of “joie de vivre” inspired by couples dedicated to preserving the emotional exclusivity of their relationship while engaging in a more spirited form of sexual sharing. At Lifestyle conventions, everywhere from cruise ships to Las Vegas hotels, thousands of swingers from around the world meet to do what they love to do – and by that I don’t mean play blackjack.
Although people outside the Lifestyle wrongly assume that men often convince their partners to get involved with swinging – that may have been true back in the 70’s where there were such things as key clubs in homes where everyone would throw their keys into a dish, and the women would pull out one set of keys and wind up in the bedroom with whoever those keys belonged to. That may have been true then, but today it’s usually women who drive the swinging movement. In fact, some would tell you that it’s actually very matriarchal. For example, one of my clients was introduced to swinging by a girlfriend, and when she suggested it to her partner, his initial reaction was to feel quite a bit of resistance, because he didn’t know if he liked the idea of seeing her making love to someone else. So she convinced him to go with her to a swing party just to be voyeurs, just to watch, and feel no pressure to have to do anything. This makes a lot of sense because most swing clubs are very social, if anything. There’s a lot of celebrating and chatting, people have dinner, dance, and it’s usually much later into the evening when they pair off and get down to business, or get busy, as the case may be. Many women report that it’s actually the sounds of people making love around them that turn them on and make them want to participate, even if it’s, to begin with, with their own partner. Though invitations to partake are usually plentiful, no one has to feel any pressure to get involved until they’re ready. And that could be weeks or even months after they first engage in swinging.
One professional woman I know tells the story of how she was the first to introduce vibrators to her local swing club gatherings in private homes during the early nineties. It seemed that the women of the group were having a little trouble being orgasmic in that setting – the men didn’t seem to have that problem! – so she decided that they needed a little help, and brought her favorite plug-in toy to the parties, and before long other women were doing the same. So she was their heroine.
Swinging also gives a lot of women their first bisexual opportunity. In one of the few research studies of women in the lifestyle, a group of fifty women were interviewed; each had their first experience with another woman through swinging. Prior to swinging they’d had little or no fantasy about women. Once they got into it, about 60% of them began to include women in their masturbatory fantasies even when they weren’t at the parties. And most of those began to self-identify as bisexual.
So if you are considering experimenting with swinging, or if you’ve already done so, here are some tips that long term swingers have given me about how to really make the experience the best it can be.
* First, negotiate beforehand what you’ll do or not; discuss your fantasies with your partner, and make sure that you’re clear – that both of you are clear – about your expectations and about what you will or won’t do.
* Have a safeword or safe signal so that if either of you is uncomfortable at any time or in any way, you can invoke your safe signal and the action stops right there – no questions asked and no blame implied.
* Bone-up on safe sex techniques; depend only on yourselves, not on anyone else. Not everybody is as responsible as they should be, and you want to be sure that you keep yourselves very, very safe.
* Do every damn thing you want to do and nothing that you don’t want to do! That might be the most important suggestion here – mainly because it’s very easy for people to say no to what they don’t want, but it’s a lot harder to go after what you really want and to act on all of the fantasies or scenarios that you’ve been carrying around in your head for a long time. When you’re afraid to go after what you want, you wind up going home from an event like this disappointed, and that would be a very sad outcome, because you have to ask yourself, if you aren’t going to get the pleasure you’re seeking, why engage in alternative partying at all?
The question I’m asked most often is doesn’t swinging have a detrimental effect on relationships? The presumption is that any kind of sex outside of the relationship will be a threat to the stability of that relationship. The reality is that so long as the couple is doing everything that they would do otherwise to maintain the emotional bond of that relationship – so long as they’re doing all the necessary housekeeping in the relationship, then swinging is actually less likely to result in sexual betrayal. What would the point of betrayal be when those who crave sexual variety can have it ethically and can even share the fun with their partner? Granted, there are couples whose relationships are shaky and in trouble and are looking for a quick fix, and they’ll do anything but the hard work required to put their relationship back together. And that might include swinging. And there are situations where one partner is coercive in a lot of ways – and yes, may coerce a partner into taking part in swinging. But in those instances, if the relationship crumbles, it’s not the fault of swinging – it has to do with much deeper issues. Still, swinging is not for everybody – nor should it be. The whole point is that it’s only for those who really groove to it and who see it as a way to enhance their relationships.