I’ve been seeing lots of awesome posts about polyamory and ethical non-monogamy. I wanted to offer some thoughts on a variation that I haven’t seen talked much about yet: swinging.
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!
Comments on Swinging: an insider’s perspective (plus how it differs from polyamory!)
I’m just going to add here, I have worked at one of the oldest UK swinging clubs for a long time and used to partake, so if there are questions about the club scene I’m happy to help!
How does one go about finding a club? How amenable might they be to a pair of shy newbies stopping in to see what it’s like but not necessarily play with anyone else? My husband and I are curious but intimidated.
So if you’re UK based, I’d have a look at fabswingers (assuming I can name a specific website, please redact if not!).
Clubs do vary in terms of whether you go dressed up like a night out or if you strip off to underwear/towel on arrival (these are sometimes called “dry” and “wet” clubs respectively, wet clubs having more jacuzzi/spa/sauna type arrangements). Pick a club based on what you both like the look of and how far you’re willing to travel. There might be different requirements about taking out memberships and how much these cost, but again this depends on which club you choose. They’ll offer different nights, some where it’s solely couples and single women or nights where there can be single men too, there might also be fancy dress theme nights or specific events happening. I’d look on club websites and forums to ask if you’re unsure.
Every club has a no pressure policy. On any night, veteran swingers or total newbies, you only do as much or as little as you want to do. Plenty of people only use clubs for exhibitionism or voyeurism and never actually partake in partner swapping. The golden rule is always “no means no”. If it’s your first night at a place they’ll likely give you a tour round and explain things to get you settled in
Great post! Well written and developed. At this stage in my life, swinging isn’t my thing, but you make it sound like so much fun! Thank you for sharing!
Loved this post, definitely something my hubby and I are interested in.
My husband and I are in the “lifestyle”. Thanks for writing this piece. We don’t have any close friends in the lifestyle, just the friends we have made through swinging. From our perspective, we aren’t into parties or large groups and prefer either couples or single women. I was also surprised at the amount of straight women, as well. I enjoy girl action and it’s a deal breaker, for me, if the women isn’t interested.
Over time our boundaries have evolved. So for all you curious/newbies, that’s the beauty of swinging. Like the article said, you must be comfortable being able to stop in the heat of the moment to check in with your partner. We only do same room, so it is easier, but we have been in situations where in the heat of things, we stopped and walked out, because something happened that made one of us uncomfortable (that was an extreme situation of someone continuing to take pictures when we had asked him not to repeatedly and I have had this happen only once in 5+ years of experiences). You have to be 100% open and honest with your partner about deeply intimate, personal, and even embarrassing thoughts or feelings.
It has made my partner and me so much better and stronger and completely enhanced our relationship. I would recommend it to any couple who love sex with different people or who are bisexual but in a hetero relationship.
Thank you for featuring this topic and to the author for sharing!!
Nicely written and worth reading. We are a gay couple and my partner is bit flirtatious on social-media. Swinging seems fanciful and I certainly want to try it however, I am afraid my partner will end up bringing 30 more contacts to flirt with or sneak into bedroom when I am away.
Ofcourse, a sense of mutual understanding is very important as we started off recently and I have trust issues because of previous heart breaks. Thrilling it seems and someday we might just try 🙂 🙂
Luv from Australia.
Really nice piece, thank you for sharing! My partner and I are “same room,” which means for us we don’t play without each other present. We also share all sexy chats and meet up plans (screenshots or group texts) with each other. I wouldn’t be comfortable if I felt there were secrets. Its been working for us for 5 years. The few times I’ve felt jealousy were more envy, things I wanted for myself, and easily taken care of.
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