Swinging

Swinging

[swing-ing]
Swinging, sometimes referred to as the swinging lifestyle, is "non-monogamous sexual activity, treated much like any other social activity, that can be experienced as a couple." The phenomenon of swinging (or at least its wider discussion and practice) may be seen as part of the sexual revolution of recent decades, which occurred after the upsurge in sexual activity made possible by the prevalence of safer sex practices during the same period. Swinging has been called wife swapping in the past, but this term has been criticized as androcentric (taking a male-oriented point of view) and inaccurately describing the full range of sexual activities in which swingers may take part.

Activities

Swinging activities may include (but are not limited to):

  • Exhibitionism: having sex with a partner while being watched.
  • Voyeurism: watching others have sex (perhaps with the above mentioned partner).
  • Soft swinging or soft swap: kissing, stroking, or having oral sex with a third or fourth person. Soft swap may be in the form of a threesome, group sex, or the literal swapping of partners.
  • Full swap: having penetrative sex with someone other than one's partner. Although this is the commonly understood definition of swinging, it is not necessarily the most common type.
  • Group sex: An all-inclusive term for activities involving multiple partners in the same vicinity.

Typically, swinging activities occur when a married or otherwise committed couple engages in sexual activity with another couple, multiple couples, or a single individual. These acts can occur in the same room (often called same room swinging) though different or separate room swinging does occur. On these occasions, swingers will often refer to sex as play and sex partners as playmates.

History

While contemporary swingers look to earlier practices, such as ancient Roman acceptance of orgies and alternative sexual practices, swinging in the 20th century began differently.

According to Terry Gould's Book The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers , swinging began among United States Air Force pilots and their wives during World War II. The mortality rate of pilots was high. Gould reports that a close bond arose between pilots, with the implication that husbands would care for all the wives as their own, emotionally and sexually, if the husbands were away or lost (thus bearing some similarity to levirate marriage).

This is debatable, however, since it would have been unusual for wives to accompany their husbands on foreign tours. Other sources point to U.S. Air Force pilots in the California desert as the original participants. Though the beginnings are not agreed upon, it is assumed swinging began among American military communities in the 1950s. By the time the Korean War ended, swinging had spread from the military to the suburbs. The media dubbed the phenomenon wife-swapping.

The first swingers' organization, the Sexual Freedom League, began in the 1960s in Berkeley, California by a young student named Robert McGinley, in the sexually liberal San Francisco Bay Area. McGinley later formed an umbrella organization called the North American Swing Club Association (NASCA) (now NASCA International) was formed to disseminate information about swinging across North America. Many internet related organizations now exist, some sporting hundreds of thousands of members

In the United Kingdom there was a proliferation of neighborhood groups in the early 1970s - known as "wife swapping" groups -and press articles in later years suggest the peak was 1973-75.

Research

Subjective scientific research has been conducted in the United States since the late 1960s. One study, based on an Internet questionnaire addressed to visitors of swinger-related sites, found swingers are happier in their relationships than the norm.

  • 60% said that swinging improved their relationship; 1.7% said swinging made their relationship less happy. Approximately 50% of those who rated their relationship "very happy" before becoming swingers maintained their relationship had become happier.
  • 90% of those with less happy relationships said swinging improved them.
  • Almost 70% of swingers claimed no problem with jealousy; approximately 25% admitted "I have difficulty controlling jealousy when swinging" as "somewhat true", while 6% said this was "yes, very much" true.
  • Swingers rate themselves happier ("very happy": 59% of swingers compared to 32% of non-swingers) and their lives more "exciting" (76% of swingers compared to 54% of non-swingers) than non-swingers, by significantly large margins.

There was no significant difference between responses of men and women, although more males (70%) than females completed the survey.

This study is of limited accuracy due to self-selected sampling. Internet-based sampling procedures create a substantial potential for bias. For instance, swinging couples who had stronger relationships may have been more motivated to complete the questionnaire. Alternatively, because swinging may cause stress on a marriage, only those with higher than average commitment are able to remain married while swinging. Couples who have jealousy or strife issues caused by swinging will not usually stay in the lifestyle, and therefore would have been less likely to respond.

ABC News reporter John Stossel produced an investigative report into the swinging lifestyle. Stossel reported that more than four million people are swingers, according to estimates by the Kinsey Institute and other researchers. He also cited Terry Gould's research, which concluded that "couples swing in order to not cheat on their partners." When Stossel asked swinging couples whether they worry their spouse will "find they like someone else better", one male replied, "People in the swinging community swing for a reason. They don't swing to go out and find a new wife;" a woman asserted, "It makes women more confident - that they are the ones in charge." Stossel interviewed 12 marriage counselors. According to Stossel, "not one of them said don't do it", though some said "getting sexual thrills outside of marriage can threaten a marriage". Nevertheless, swingers whom Stossel interviewed claimed "their marriages are stronger because they don't have affairs and they don't lie to each other.

Organizations

Certain swinging activities are highly organized. Most major cities in North America and western Europe have at least one swingers' club in a permanent location (although they often keep a low profile to avoid negative attention); over 3,000 swinging clubs exist worldwide. Slightly over 1,000 have online presences , but there are countless small neighborhood clubs, which are known among members of the lifestyle community, but do not have websites (for obvious reasons). As such, the true number of Swinger Clubs is impossible to confirm, but can be safely guessed to number in the thousands worldwide.

Swingers commonly meet through lifestyle magazines, personal ads, swinging house parties, swinger conventions, and Internet sites.

Although the term "club" may refer to a group that organizes lifestyle-related events in a particular area, it can also refer to a physical location or building. In this latter context, clubs are typically divided into on-premises clubs, where sexual activity may occur at the club itself, and off-premises clubs, where sexual activity is not allowed at the club, but may be arranged at a nearby location.

In the US, many off-premises swinging clubs follow a bar or nightclub format, sometimes renting an entire existing bar (frequently termed a venue takeover) for scheduled events. Takeovers are normally done to avoid interaction with non-lifestyle segments of the population, and to avoid unwanted negative attention. Consequently, on weekends in suburbia, bars in large industrial parks that attract a mainstream clientèle during weekdays and would otherwise sit empty or closed on weekends (when business offices are closed) are likely locations for a takeover.

On-premises clubs usually have a similar format as off-premises clubs. A notable exception is that most on-premises clubs do not serve alcohol, asking participants instead to bring their own, thus avoiding issues from restrictive laws regarding sexual activity and the sale of alcoholic beverages. Concordantly, the vast majority of swinging clubs in the US do not advertise as such.

In Europe, off-premises clubs are rare, and the majority of swinging venues allow sexual contact and serve alcohol. Three standard formats exist: the bar/nightclub (usually smaller, in city centres and focused around a dance floor), the spa (which has pools, Jacuzzis, saunas and steam rooms where people strip on entry), and the country club (which is out-of-town, usually serves a free buffet, and may include elements of the first two formats while also offering large play spaces).

A large amount of swinging activity is organized via the Internet on various sites with personals, listings, and local information. For many couples, the swinging lifestyle and the clubs can be as much a social venue as a sexual one. Like many sexual subcultures, a strong community atmosphere exists, fostered in part by the greater communication enabled by the Internet.

Subgroups

Bisexuality and same-sex activity

Attitudes to same-sex activity and bisexuality vary by culture and locale, and by gender.

As a rule, female bisexuality and bicuriosity are common in both the "selective" (see below) and traditional swinging scenes and tend to be the norm amongst participants; by contrast, male same-sex activity has a wider variation in its handling, and may be welcomed, accepted, frowned upon, or forbidden. Swing clubs and other facilities exist for gay and bisexual interests for both genders, but differ – for example bathhouses and the like for gay males, sometimes described as being "controversial" even in the gay community due to safer sex concerns, whereas women's clubs are "comparatively rare" and tend to be organized as private events, or niche clubs with high popularity for their events.

No studies have been conducted as to what percentage of swinging men or women who define themselves as bisexual would be open to romantic as well as sexual relations with both genders.

Dogging

Dogging is a British term for swinging that takes place in a public but reasonably secluded area (often based in cars, but not necessarily). There are many known dogging spots across the UK where people go after dark, typically to engage in voyeurism and exhibitionism but also to take part in group sex.

Hot Wife

The term hot wife refers to a married woman who has sex with men other than her spouse, with the husband's consent. In most cases the husband takes a vicarious pleasure in watching the pleasure of his wife and the man or men, or enjoys watching, hearing, or knowing about his wife's adventures. Husbands may also take part by engaging in threesomes, or arranging dates for their wives.

One variant of the hot wife phenomenon is when two men (one generally the compersive husband and the other perhaps a close friend) take turns pleasuring his wife, each immediately taking over from the other as soon as his orgasm is reached. In effect one man is recovering while the other is active, but the woman effectively has continuous intercourse. In this way, particularly if the woman experiences multiple orgasms, this game can effectively provide her with a very extended sexual act that she could not experience in any other way.

Cuckolding

A distinct threesome subculture is cuckolding. Cuckolding is a subgenre where open relationship and threesomes meet. In a cuckold experience one partner has sex with another person outside of their primary relationship for a limited number of times and the person who engages in the experience generally shares that experience with their partner after the encounter has ended.

Generally cuckolding differs from an open relationship as it does not involve an ongoing emotional relationship that is commonly found in open relationship nor is it an ongoing relationship that is commonly found in an open relationship. Though the nonparticipating partner is not involved in the sexual act they may be involved in preparation and selection of the third person. Cuckolding is not always done for sexual humiliation as it may be done to allow sexual exploration, the opportunity to live out a fantasy, fulfill a desire, or sexual fulfillment that cannot usually be obtained through the normal boundaries of a relationship. In essence cuckolding seeks to 'fill the gap' that is left by other threesome or group sex activities.

Polyamory

Polyamory is the desire, practice, or acceptance of having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time with full knowledge and consent by everyone involved. Poly lifestyles vary, with some being open relationships and others being polyfidelitous.

Many people involved in polyamory are not swingers. Some are openly critical of swingers, contrasting their committed relationships with the recreational sex that, in their view, swingers practice. Others are not critical of swingers but simply do not regard themselves as belonging to the same group.

Selective swinging

Traditionally swinger clubs accept all ages and body types, and the average age of swingers is 39, while the ages when people first enter the swinging lifestyle average 31 for women and 34 for men. Younger swingers who wish to swing with their own age group find that this isn't always possible in swinging clubs.

Fever Parties began organising events for affluent under-40s in London in the late 1990s. Other organisers, such as Lounge Parties in London (who select on looks, but not age) and Belle Baise in the Midlands (who select on looks and age) have sprung up. These organisations try to elevate themselves by hosting events in upmarket venues, serving Champagne or cocktails and asking guests to dress in smart evening attire. Entry is often competitive and photographs are usually required to demonstrate attractiveness.

Due to the success of these events in the UK, they have spread to Norway, South Africa, Sweden and the United States. This has renewed the term The Lifestyle' to encompass swinging activities, younger couples being averse to "swingers" because of its connotations.

'Selective swinging' events include mostly childless, unmarried young graduates whose average ages are as low as the late 20s, whereas traditional swingers events have average ages in the 40s. Selective parties are often referred to as "exclusive" or "elitist." Contravening the assumption that such organisations are not associated with groups propagating "family values," the Fever parties were revealed in June 2003 to be organized by a senior coordinator of a British Conservative Party pressure group, Conservatives for Change, older than the maximum age allowed to attend his events.

Another factor is the continued growth of Swinger-oriented internet sites. These provide more accessible ways into Swinger activities. By offering flexibility, it becomes possible to look for playmates who match certain characteristics, including location, looks, wealth and age. In the United States, it is still uncommon to find parties with age requirements. However, 'elite' parties continue to grow, with couples and single females more willing to pay to spend time with only a select segment of the swinging population.

The criticism of selective swinging among traditional swingers is that it is unethical to discriminate. The interest in selective swinging has given rise to a rift between the two groups. Couples who identify with traditional swinging may advertise themselves as "not Ken and Barbie", an implicit rejection of what they perceive to be a superficial ideal of youthful physical attractiveness. The proponents of selective swinging claim an entitlement to peer-group options in this as in other leisure pursuits.

Singles

The acceptance of singles varies by area and event. Some clubs (including parties and private events) allow only couples and females, but some allow single men on selected nights. Single females are often admitted at reduced price.

Reasons against single males vary. Most but not all of the people in swinger events are male-female couples more interested in couples or single women than single men. Thus, swinger events strive to achieve a balance between male and female participants or have a slightly larger number of females.

A complaint is that single men change the tone of an event. While hostility towards single men is rare, an abundance of single males is not often looked upon favourably. When single males are permitted, their numbers are usually limited by high fees or stringent requirements.

Controversy and debate

Objections to the swinger lifestyle

Arguments made in opposition to the practice of swinging and partner swapping fall into two broad categories: first, objections based on the practical considerations of engaging in a swinging lifestyle, and second, moral or philosophical objections against the principles of swinging itself.

Practical objections

Common objections based on practical considerations include health dangers of multiple partners, pregnancy, and the risk of emotional attachments to sexual activity which may cause friction in a relationship.

Health dangers

A set of swingers play without condoms, called barebacking. However, even among that population, there are sometimes other measures taken to lessen chance of transmission of STD's like exchange of STD test results. However, the majority promote their activities as safe sex and will not engage with others who do not also practice safe sex. An informal survey of swingers, mostly from the UK, showed 73% practice safe sex. Proponents for swinging point to the fact that safe sex is accepted within the community and the risk of sexual disease is the same for the general population. Opponents argue that even protected sex is risky, especially in the light of the upsurge in sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS, and the risk of pregnancy.

Emotional complications

Some who object assert that sexual relations, by their nature, have an emotional component. Since many swingers are in a committed relationship with one partner (see History, above), sexual relations with a person outside the relationship could emotionally damage the committed couple. Intimacy might be diminished by sex with others and this may lead to the end of the relationship.

Another argument states that one partner may be more enthusiastic than the other, the less willing feeling pushed into taking part, leading to the break-up of the relationship or to psychological problems.

Proponents advocate that it is not swinging that caused the demise of the relationship but relationship issues brought to the surface by swinging. Therefore proponents argue couples considering swinging need to work through relationship issues and share an equal enthusiasm

Moral and philosophical objections

Objections pertaining to the basic principles of swinging on a moral or philosophical basis may include the sacred nature of sexual relations between two persons, or the view that sexual relations should only occur within a committed relationship (sometimes stated as "only within a marriage"). Those invoking this reasoning may assert that in order to engage in a swinging relationship, one must degrade sexual relations to the most basic element of pleasure, which would be in violation of the sacred nature of sexual relationships. Some argue that if sex becomes the main reason for swinging, sex may become mechanistic and less satisfying than the intimacy experienced by monogamous couples.

Common responses to objections to the swinger lifestyle

Responses to practical objections

Many couples enter swinging while in secure relationships, providing added motivation to avoid excessive health risks. While sexual affairs outside relationships may be in the heat of the moment without regard to consequences, swingers maintain that sex among swingers is a more thought-out and practical affair.

Many swinging clubs in the US and UK do not have alcohol licenses and have a "bring your own beverage" (BYOB) policy. Also, it is not uncommon for experienced swingers to remain sober; these individuals may state that they take a safer approach to sexual health than comparable non-monogamous singles (who ostensibly have impaired judgment from becoming inebriated).

Condoms are required at most swinging clubs and parties. In addition, a minority of swingers rely on STD testing to ensure their safety. A small portion focus on massage and other activities unlikely to transmit STDs; however, most participants acknowledge they are accepting the risks that any sexually promiscuous member of society does.

Although there is a risk of pregnancy, there are ways to minimize the risk to almost zero. Solutions include a tubal liagation (female sterilization), vasectomy (male sterilization), or having a group with entirely menopausal women. Other solutions include using condoms with another form of non-surgical birth control such as using the pill. Proper use of a condom with an effective birth control method will minimize the risk of pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted disease.

Some believe sexual attraction is part of human nature and should be openly enjoyed by a committed or married couple. Some swingers cite divorce data in the US, claiming the lack of quality of sex and spousal infidelity are significant factors in divorce. One study showed 37% of husbands and 29% of wives admit at least one extramarital affair (Reinisch, 1990), and divorce rates for first marriages approached 60%.

As one study asserted:

According to King (1996) sexual habituation leads to changes in interaction with partners. At three to seven years into a marriage, it takes increased stimulation to produce the sexual excitation previously obtained by a glance or simple touch. A couple receptive to new and different sexual experiences will begin to explore different avenues of shared sexual fulfillment to continue to grow together. At this stressful point infidelity increases and the divorce rate peaks. Couples who find a way to reconnect physically and emotionally are more likely to make it through this period. Swinging may be one solution – it provides sexual variety, adventure, and the opportunity to live out fantasies as a couple without secrecy and deceit.

Many swingers report that their relationships are strengthened through swinging, and say their sex lives are more intimate and satisfying. Jealousy can occur, but proponents of swinging assert that jealousy is mainly couples whose relationships were already unstable. The effect on unstable relationships has yet to be determined.

Finally some swingers advocate that swinging is about sex, physical aspect and relationship (marriage) is about love, emotional aspect. To swing the couple needs to differentiate and keep emotions out of swinging. This means not getting to know the third person and having a level of attraction between all members. Those who swing advocate that emotional feelings for the third is a signal that the relationship with the third needs to end.

Responses to moral and philosophical objections

Swingers provide a variety of responses to moral and philosophical objections. As with any community, the depth and type of spiritual philosophies varies. A common response to moral and philosophical objections is that there is a difference between sex and love. Contradictorily, this is one of the objections that religious groups have: that this distinction should not exist.

Swingers differentiate between fun and friendship, and the love and companionship provided by their existing relationship. Thus, though swingers may have many sexual relationships, only a single emotional relationship exists. Although close friendships are formed within the community, swingers often feel nothing is more important than their own partner. The friendships among swingers strengthen the primary relationship rather than damage it.

Swingers claim sex is more rather than less intimate because they are with a partner who encourages their fantasies; therefore, the partner is so confident that jealousy is not an issue. Swingers claim that swinging makes infidelity less likely, as they know they can have sexual contact with others with their partner's consent.

Various responses exist to those who object to swinging on the basis of faith. Many swingers feel their activities in their own homes or private clubs are not for others to judge. Others believe that as long as they consider their relationships sacred, playing does not contradict the sanctity and is consistent with spiritual values.

Two additional arguments are made. The first is that the couple defines cheating. As long as the couple has a definition and stays within their boundaries, no cheating has occurred. Secondly some argue that adultery is incongruent with the original definition. The original stated that adultery occurred if a married woman had sex outside marriage. It excluded a married man who had sex with a single, not married, woman or single women.

Swinging in popular culture

Film

  • In the movie The Blood Oranges (1997), two western couples, one with children, come together in the fictional Mediterranean village of Ilyria. The film was adapted from the novel by John Hawkes.
  • The movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) is the American comedy classic that captures the sexual revolution of the late 1960s in the United States. It was nominated for four Academy Awards; Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Screenplay.
  • The movie Eating Raoul (1982) is a comic send-up of swinging stereotypes.
  • The documentary movie The Lifestyle: Swinging in America, a 2000 film by director David Schisgall, took an in-depth look at several true-life swinging couples.
  • The recent Bollywood film by Rajat Kapoor called Mixed Doubles has tried to portray a humorous outlook to this concept on the Indian scene.
  • PlayCouples, a 2003 feature-length documentary directed by Michael A. Bloom, has been called "the most complete and honest explanation of The Lifestyle I have yet to see" by Dr. Robert McGinley, founder of The Lifestyle Organization.
  • Mimi Rogers' character Sharon, in the 1991 movie The Rapture, pursues an active swinging lifestyle with her 'partner', played by Rustam Branaman. Several of the key characters are introduced into the plot when they join Rogers and Branaman for group sex after meeting in a bar one night.
  • The movie The Sex Monster (1999) is a comedy about a couple who begin a ménage à trois with another woman.
  • The movie Zebra Lounge (2001) talks about swinging and its effects on the lives of a married couple with kids who seek some sexual adventures.
  • The Dutch movie Swingers (2002) tells the story of a thirty-something couple and their first experiments with the swinging lifestyle.
  • The film The Fourth Protocol (film) shows a brief clip of four American woman and an American airman naked in a room. The swinger overtones were very implicit.

Literature

  • In John Irving's novel The 158-Pound Marriage, two New England college professors and their wives enter a ménage à quatre with disastrous consequences.
  • Ewan Morrison's debut 2007 novel "Swung" centres on a Glasgow couple who try swinging, to mixed reviews.

Television

  • The BBC2 interviewer and documentary maker Louis Theroux investigated an American Swingers group in an episode of his Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends series.
  • An episode of the BBC television programme Life on Mars featured the main characters infiltrating a swinger club.
  • In an episode on the first season of the FOX series The OC, Sandy and Kirsten Cohen are tricked into attending a swinger's party on New Year's Eve.
  • Touch And Go, a 1998 BBC Two drama, focussed on a young couple, played by Martin Clunes and Zara Turner visiting a swinging club in order to reinvigorate their marriage. After initial success, their marriage is threatened by the pressures of their new lifestyle.
  • The Good Son, an episode of the Fox sitcom That 70's Show featured Red and Kitty inadvertently attending a swinger's party.
  • A 2000 episode of the series Yes, Dear ("The Good Couple" ) featured two of the main characters, Greg and Kim, inadvertently becoming social with a swinging couple.
  • 2008 CBS series Swingtown is a period piece which deals with social and sexual changes of the 1970s, including swinging.
  • An episode of the comedy, Just Shoot Me featured a confusion between swingers and swing dancers.
  • In the second series of Sugar Rush (TV series) Stella and Nathan both experiment in the swinger lifestyle, ending in a visit to a club in Brighton.
  • In "Winterland", the eighth episode of Journeyman, Dan Vasser, the protagonist of the show, travels back to 1973 along with Livia and finds themselves in a swinging party.

Podcasts

  • Swingercast produces shows relevant to swinging. It was the first podcast to be inducted into the Kinsey Institute and offers insight from a real couple's perspective.

See also

References

External links

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