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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.