Swinging or, “the lifestyle,” as we often refer to it with each other (sometimes indicated by a black ring on the right ring finger for those who like to advertise their proclivity), is one subculture among many with countless variations and expressions. I acknowledge that this is written from my own perspective as a bisexual woman in a hetero marriage, and hence has a limited point of view. I don’t speak as an expert, nor do my views and experiences fully represent it. I do not mean to imply that this practice is any better or worse than others. Disclaimers aside, we proceed. Generally speaking, swinging is married couples who sleep (play) with other married couples (marriage is not a prerequisite, but it’s pretty common).
Some common breakdowns
“Soft swap” can mean that play does not include intercourse or it can mean that only the women play. “Full swap” usually means the partners switch and intercourse is involved. Lots of people start with “same room play” where they might just use the sexual energy of an encounter to enhance their own copulation, or the couples swap but are still all in the same room together. Some people have “hall passes” and play separately. Some folks looking to meet you and hook up on the same night and may not ever talk to you again, and others seek more meaningful and lasting relationships and friendships that exist in and out of the bedroom.
Some people get off on seeing their spouse having sex with someone else (doesn’t work for me, but that’s one of the reasons I enjoy full-swaps: my partner is close and I can be present with them and share the energy of the room, but I’ve got someone giving me their full attention so that I don’t have to just watch them). Many couples enjoy bringing in a single female (unicorns, anyone?) and a some enjoy playing with single males. Group sex and orgies are also prevalent. There are many other variations, but in my own experience, the above mentioned are the most common.
Local swinger communities flourish with websites that allow couples to create profiles and interact online, in clubs and resorts, and at organized gatherings. It’s also helpful to have places like this when people are new and to ask each other questions. Most swingers practice safe sex and are responsible with intoxication (every population has its irresponsibles and rebels). Many are parents or have jobs which require them to be discreet, and some will only play when they are far enough away from home to maintain their anonymity. One of the biggest surprises to me was how many of the women that we’ve encountered are straight (or barely bi-curious), so woman-on-woman action has not been as prevalent as I’d thought it would be.
Differences between swinging and polyamory
What makes swinging different from poly, in my own personal understanding and opinion, is that we are firmly committed to our spouses, and we are not looking for or cultivating an extra one-on-one relationship that extends beyond play time (though friendship is very common). We might like to hang out with other swingers, but we aren’t there as caretakers in the way a partner in a poly relationship is. Our time together is not a separate and budding relationship with endless potential and commitment; rather, it is primarily there for sex. Our individual marriages always come first. If sex with another couple ends and we remain friends, then we are friends and that’s great, but that’s not swinging anymore (friendship isn’t a prerequisite for swinging). I believe the primary difference between swinging and poly is that the core isn’t a romantic relationship; the core is sex.
If you consider all relationship styles a spectrum, I am sure there are blurred lines and variations and swinging is some kind of poly and all of that, but I try to offer some perspective by pointing out what the differences mean to me personally. For me, swinging is the proverbial icing on my marriage cake. We don’t need it to be happy and complete, but it’s awesome. In contrast, often in poly, it is a requirement or need, and the poly people wouldn’t be happy or fulfilled without it. Swingers move at the pace of the slowest person: if we are not all in, we don’t do it (never take one for the team); whereas, in poly, there can be one monogamous partner and one poly partner.
Fears and communication
One of the big fears for opening up monogamous relationships is the fear of being replaced. Deliberately seeking out chemistry and intimacy with others might sound like it increases the odds of falling in love with someone new, and so couples try to mitigate that and prepare to intentionally disengage. In poly, falling in love with someone new is an expected outcome and a celebrated one. In swinging, it is either avoided or managed very carefully. In my experience (in a healthy scenario), if swinging is creating the potential for breaking the marriage, it stops. In poly, relationships shift often, and that isn’t usually a cause to stop.
Here is a big similarity with poly: swinging is hard work requiring strong communication and trust. We have to find our own boundaries and explore our insecurities and learn how to talk to each other in passionate moments (even if that means pausing said moment to check in with each other). I am sure this works differently for everyone, but for me, I am able to wrap my head and heart around it because we do it together — for us. This isn’t something he does just to make me happy or the other way around. It’s not a favor or a gift from one to the other. We get enough from each other without it; this is recreational sex — an extra vacation, an adventurous and consensual experience. We are sure to debrief and we pay attention to chemistry and remain wary of emerging infatuation. We respect each other’s boundaries and requests, and we are willing to dig into feelings that come up (even the most uncomfortable ones). We still run into new situations where unexpected discomfort arises and work through it together. We evolve and revise our preferences and limits, and we are always able to say no.
It’s incredibly liberating and uplifting to let our ethical sluts flag fly in good company.
Swinging has had a big impact on my life. Beyond the awesomeness of having sex with a variety of people and all that comes with that, I have made some incredible friendships. Healthy, mature relationships really stand out in the community we’ve connected with. When hanging out with other swingers, we can have conversations we can’t have with family or vanilla friends, and the authenticity is deeply satisfying. Many people’s closest friends are also in the lifestyle. It’s incredibly liberating and uplifting to let our ethical sluts flag fly in good company.
I have learned so much about myself: the difference between wanting to want someone and really wanting to be intimate with them. I have learned how to say “no thank you” even if everyone else was on board. Swinging has helped undo the illusions of unattainable Photoshopped beauty. In the lifestyle, real bodies are coveted and praised and ravished. My love for my own body has grown, and I feel sexier and more desired. I’ve discovered kink and have a safe way to explore it even if my husband isn’t into the same things I am. My husband and I are closer and stronger as we continue to reinforce what we love about each other and how grateful we are to have each other. In the end, we always treasure that we are the only ones we want to wake up and face the world with day in and day out.
Fun swinger perks:
- You can go out with other couples and confuse the hell out of people around you
- Remembering not to let revealing comments slip
- The sparkle in your eye when chatting with vanilla people about how risque their sex lives are
- Explaining where those hickies came from
- Packing your “play bag” (or traveling with all of your lingerie and shoes)
- The “walk (or drive) of shame” in your sluttiest clothes
- Going on a trip and forgetting to take any photos you can show to your family
- Clubs with multiple stripper poles, buffet rooms with TVs nonchalantly showing hardcore porn on one screen and the local sports game on the other, and playrooms with all kinds of accoutrements (mirrored ceilings, dungeons, an endless supply of towels, etc).
Lots of the poly posts had great explorations about jealousy and self-love. I just wanted to toss out another non-monogamous variation with some of my own observations. With swinging, both partners have to be on board. And if we are going to sleep with another couple, all four of us have to be on board, so it takes a lot to find a match, but it’s worth the hunt.
I’m an open book, so if you have questions comment it up!