Swinging (sexual practice)
Swinging, also known as wife swapping or partner swapping, is a non-monogamous behavior in which both singles and partners in a committed relationship engage in sexual activities with others as a recreational or social activity.
The phenomenon of swinging, or at least its wider discussion and practice, is regarded by some as arising from the freer attitudes to sexual activity after the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the invention and availability of the contraceptive pill and the emergence of treatments for many of the sexually transmitted diseases that were known at that time.
Reasons for swinging
People may choose a swinging lifestyle for a variety of reasons. Many cite the increased quality, quantity, and frequency of sex. Some people may engage in swinging to add variety into their otherwise conventional sex lives or due to their curiosity. Some couples see swinging as a healthy outlet and means to strengthen their relationship. Others regard such activities as merely a social and recreational interaction with others.
Swinging can take place in a number of contexts, ranging from spontaneous sexual activity involving partner swapping at an informal gathering of friends to planned regular social meetings to "hooking up" with like-minded people at a sex club (also known as a swinger club, not to be confused with a strip club). Different clubs offer varied facilities and atmospheres, and often hold "theme" nights.
Swinging is also known to take place in semi-public venues such as hotels, resorts, or cruise ships, or often in private homes. Furthermore, many websites that cater to swinging couples now exist, some boasting hundreds of thousands of members.
According to 2005 estimates by the Kinsey Institute and others, swingers account for 1 in 3 married couples with numbers in excess of 4 million people in North America. As of 2011, some experts believe that there are as many as 15 million Americans swinging on a regular basis.
Research on swinging has been conducted in the United States since the late 1960s. One 2000 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, which only polled self-identified swingers, is of limited use to a broader application to the rest of society (external validity) owing to self-selected sampling.
John Stossel produced an investigative news report into the swinging lifestyle. Stossel's report in 2005 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."
According to economic studies on swinging, the information and communications technology revolution, together with improvements in medicine, has been effective in reducing some of the costs of swinging and hence in increasing the number of swingers.
Religious and moral objections
Some people object to swinging on moral or philosophical grounds. Most religious communities and moralists regard swinging as adultery, not withstanding that it is with the knowledge, consent or encouragement of one spouse to the other. Some argue that strict monogamy is the ideal form for marital relationships and that sexual relations should only take place between marriage partners or, perhaps, between partners in a committed monogamous relationship.
Swingers are exposed to the same types of risks as people who engage in casual sex, with the main concerns being the risk of pregnancy and of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Some swingers engage in unprotected sex, a practice known as barebacking, while others follow safe sex practices and will not engage with others who do not also practice safe sex. Swingers may reduce the risk of STI by exchanging STI test results and serosorting. Proponents of swinging argue that safe sex is accepted within the swinging community and the risk of sexual disease is the same for them as for the general population – and that some populations of sexually non-monogamous people have clearly lower rates of STIs than the general population. Opponents are also concerned about the risk of pregnancy and STIs such as HIV, arguing that even protected sex is risky given that some STIs may be spread regardless of the use of condoms, such as Herpes and HPV.
A Dutch study that compared the medical records of self-reported swingers to that of the general population found that STI prevalence was highest in young people, homosexual men, and swingers. However, this study has been criticized as not being representative of swinger populations as a whole: its data was formulated solely on patients receiving treatment at an STI clinic. In addition, according to the conclusions of the report, the STI rates of swingers were in fact nearly identical to those of non-swinging straight couples, and concluded that the safest demographic for STI infection were female prostitutes. According to the Dutch study, "the combined rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea were just over 10% among straight people, 14% among gay men, just under 5% in female prostitutes, and 10.4% among swingers."
Some have criticized the swinger culture for being too passive on issues of consent, an issue which has become more prevelent in recent years, including the passage of California's Affirmative Consent law.
Responses to objections
Many couples enter swinging while in secure relationships, providing added motivation to avoid excessive health risks. Though some sexual affairs outside relationships may be in "the heat of the moment" without regard to consequences, swingers maintain that sex among swingers is often more frank and deliberative and therefore more honest than unfaithful.
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 to preclude any sexual performance problems. This counter-argument suggests that such swingers take a safer approach to sexual health than comparable non-monogamous singles (who ostensibly have impaired judgment from becoming inebriated).
Condoms are often highly encouraged and readily available at many swinging clubs and parties. In addition, many swingers rely on frequent STI testing to ensure their safety. A small portion focus on massage and other activities unlikely to transmit STIs; However, most participants acknowledge they are accepting the same risks that any person does who is sexually active outside of a strictly monogamous relationship.
Although there is a risk of pregnancy, they are the same as monogamous sex and can be minimized. Solutions include a tubal ligation (female sterilization), vasectomy (male sterilization), or having a group entirely made of menopausal women. Other solutions include using condoms or the pill. Proper use of a condom with an effective birth control method minimises the risk of pregnancy and transmission of STIs.
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%.
Swinging in Western society
It may not be possible to trace a precise history of swinging since the modern concept is so closely related to basic human sexuality and relationships, and they vary significantly across time and cultures. The modern concept of "swinging" is a recent Western phenomenon with no counterpart or meaning in many other cultures and civilizations in history in which monogamous relationships was the norm or which had religious or social prohibitions against such sexual practices.
A formal arrangement was signed by John Dee, his wife Lynae, his scryer, Edward Kelley and Kelley's wife Joanna on 22 April 1587, whereby conjugal relations would be shared between the men and their spouses. This arrangement arose following seances which apparently resulted in spirits guiding Dee and Kelley towards this course of action. The arrangement ended badly and destroyed Dee's working relationship with Kelley.
It has been claimed that two related 18th-century messianic Jewish sects—the Frankists, followers of Jacob Frank, and the Dönmeh, followers of Shabbetai Zvi—held an annual springtime Lamb Festival, which consisted of a celebratory dinner that included a ritualized exchange of spouses.
One of the criticisms of communism was the allegation that communists practice and propagandize the "community of women". In The Communist Manifesto (1848), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels suggest that this allegation is an example of hypocrisy and psychological projection by "bourgeois" critics of communism, who "not content with having wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each other's wives."
According to Terry Gould's The Lifestyle: a look at the erotic rites of swingers, swinging began among American Air Force pilots and their wives during World War II before pilots left for overseas duty. The mortality rate of pilots was so high, as Gould reports, that a close bond arose between pilot families that implied that pilot husbands would care for all the wives as their own – emotionally and sexually – if the husbands were lost. Though the origins of swinging are contested, it is assumed American swinging was practiced in some 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.
Later in the 1960s in the heyday of the Free Love movement, the activities associated with swinging became more widespread in a variety of social classes and age levels. In the 1970s, sometimes referred to as the "The Swinging 70's", swinging activities became more prevalent, but were still considered "alternative" or "fringe" because of their association with non-mainstream groups such as communes.
Swinging activities had another surge in interest and participation in the late 1990s due to the rise of the Internet.
Partner swapping in traditional societies
Wife-lending is a practice in Pre-Islamic Arabia whereby husbands allow their wives to live with "men of distinction" to produce noble offspring. The husband, who abstained while his wife lived with the other man, would then be socially considered the father of the child.
Temporary spouse-trading is practiced as an element of ritual initiation into the Lemba secret society in the French Congo through "wife exchange:" "you shall lay with the priestess-wife of your Lemba Father and he shall lay with your wife too."
Among the Orya of northern Irian Jaya, the agama toŋkat (Indonesian for 'walking-stick') cult "encouraged men to trade wives, i.e., to have sexual relations with each other's wives. This trading of sexual favours ... was only between pairs of families, ... adherents are now very secretive concerning cult activities and teachings." In this 'walking-stick' cult "the walking stick ... dute is the term men use to refer to the husband of the woman who becomes his sexual partner." Furthermore, "There have been other similar movements ... near Jayapura. These are popularly called Towel Religion (agama handuk) and The Simpson Religion (agama simpson)."
Among the Mimika of southern Irian Jaya, temporary spouse-trading is said to have been originated by a woman who had returned from the world of the dead: "The wife says to her husband, '... tonight I will sleep in the house of the headman ..., and ... his wife, will sleep in your house. Because I have been dead ..., tonight I am going to do for the first time what people have been looking forward to (for so long). I am going to institute the papisj, wife exchange.'"
Inuit and Aleut
Inuit wife trading has often been reported and commented on. Temporary "wife-lending ... was apparently more common among the Aleuts than Eskimos". Several motivations for temporary spouse-trading among the Inuit have been suggested:
- at the instigation of an aŋekok (shaman), as a magical rite to achieve better weather for hunting-expeditions
- as a regular feature of the annual "Bladder Festival"
- for a man visiting unaccompanied by his wife, under the promise that he will in the future make his own wife sexually available to his host whenever the host will himself come visiting his erstwhile guest.
Among the Inuit, a very specialized and socially-circumscribed form of wife-sharing was practiced. When hunters were away, they would often stumble into the tribal lands of other tribes, and be subject to death for the offense. But, when they could show a "relationship" by virtue of a man, father or grandfather who had sex with their wife, mother or other female relatives, the wandering hunter was then regarded as family. The Inuit had specific terminology and language describing the complex relationships that emerged from this practice of wife sharing. A man called another man "aipak," or "other me," if the man had sex with his wife. Thus, in their conception, this other man having sex with one's wife was just "another me."
Indigenous peoples in South America
Among the Bari tribe of Venezuela, when a woman becomes pregnant, the women often take other male lovers. These additional lovers then take on the role of secondary or tertiary fathers to the child. If the primary father should die, the other men then have a social obligation to support these children. Research has shown that children with such "extra" fathers have improved life outcomes, in this economically and resource-poor area of the jungle.
In popular culture
- The Savage Innocents (1960) is a drama adapted from the novel Top of the World by Swiss writer Hans Rüesch in which an Inuit offers his wife to a priest.
- Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) is an 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.
- Score (1974) is an American film by director Radley Metzger that explored bisexual swinging relationships, and was based on an off-Broadway stage play that featured Sylvester Stallone in a brief role.
- Eating Raoul (1982) is a comic send-up of swinging stereotypes.
- Raising Arizona (1987). Glen mentions that he and his wife, Dot, "are swingers. As in, to swing."
- The Fourth Protocol (1987) shows a brief clip of four American women and an American airman naked in a room. The swinger overtones were very implicit.
- The Rapture (1992). Mimi Rogers's character Sharon pursues an active swinging lifestyle with her 'partner', played by Patrick Bauchau.
- Consenting Adults (1992 film) (1992). is a 1992 American mystery crime-thriller film directed by Alan J. Pakula.
- 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 1970 novel by John Hawkes.
- The Ice Storm (1997) by director Ang Lee features a cheating husband, played by Kevin Kline, and his long suffering wife, played by Joan Allen, who attend a "key party" during a nasty ice storm.
- Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). During a flash back scene explaining where babies come from, a tiny baby Grinch floats down from the sky and is stuck in a tree during a snowstorm. In the window of the Who house he is stuck by he can see adult Whos picking keys out of a bowl for a "Key Party", a type of swinging activity.
- Zebra Lounge (2001) talks about swinging and its effects on the lives of a married couple with kids who seek some sexual adventures.
- Ajnabee (2001 film) is a 2001 Bollywood suspense thriller film directed by Abbas-Mustan
- The Sex Monster (1999) is a comedy about a couple who begin a ménage à trois with another woman.
- The Lifestyle (1999) is an American documentary about swinging.
- Swingers (2002) is a Dutch film that tells the story of a thirty-something couple and their first experiments with the swinging lifestyle.
- Mixed Doubles (2006) is an Indian film that follows the general plot of a middle-class Bombay husband persuading his wife to swing.
- American Swing (2008) is an American documentary about swinging at Plato's Retreat in New York City during the 1970s.
- Brüno (2009) involves the protagonist being involved in a swingers' meeting in one segment.
- Swinging with the Finkels (2010) features Mandy Moore and Martin Freeman as a suburban married couple looking to improve their sex lives through swinging.
- Dos más dos (2012) is an Argentine comedy film featuring Adrián Suar, Julieta Díaz, Carla Peterson and Juan Minujín, two swinging couples.
- In John Irving's 1974 novel The 158-Pound Marriage, two New England college professors and their wives enter a ménage à quatre with disastrous consequences.
- In John Updike's 1981 novel Rabbit Is Rich, Rabbit Angstrom and his wife engage in a wife-swapping session with another couple while they're all on holiday in the Caribbean.
- In a 1972 episode of All in the Family, Edith befriends a couple (played by Vincent Gardenia and Rue McLanahan) whose names she finds in a "friendship" magazine and invites them over for coffee, not realizing that they are swingers expecting to swap spouses with her and Archie for the night.
- In 1995 episode of Martin, "Swing Thing" The Paynes’ are invited to attend a Christmas party, given by some influential people who may be able to help Martin in his career. But little does Martin realize that at the party, the guests are swapping more than Christmas gifts, and Martin may have both his hands full.
- Touch And Go, a 1998 BBC Two drama, focused on a young couple, played by Martin Clunes and Zara Turner visiting a swinging club in order to reinvigorate their marriage.
- In the Fox sitcom That '70s Show, the episode "The Good Son" (1999) featured Red and Kitty inadvertently attending a swingers' party.
- The episode "The Good Couple" (2000) of the series Yes, Dear featured two of the main characters, Greg and Kim, inadvertently becoming social with a swinging couple.
- The short-lived 2003 series Keen Eddie featured a character Monty Pippin who, along with a female friend, pretended to be married in order to gain access to a swingers' club for recreational sex.
- In a 2003 episode on the first season of the Fox series The OC, Sandy and Kirsten Cohen are tricked into attending a swingers' party on New Year's Eve.
- In a 2004 episode of American crime drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, "Swap Meet", a woman is found dead in the fountain of a gated community after visiting a neighborhood swingers party.
- An episode of the 2006 BBC television programme Life on Mars featured the main characters infiltrating a swingers' club.
- In a 2006 episode the second season of Sugar Rush (TV series) Stella and Nathan both experiment in the swinger lifestyle, ending in a visit to a club in Brighton.
- In Journeyman, the eighth episode "Winterland" (2007) shows Dan Vasser traveling back to 1973 along with Livia and finding themselves in a swinging party.
- In the 2007 ITV series Benidorm, main characters Jacqueline and Donald are often seen reflecting on their sexual experiences much to the shock of their fellow guests, with their hobby beginning in the 60s and carrying on to the present day.
- 2008 CBS series Swingtown is a period piece which deals with social and sexual changes of the 1970s, including swinging.
- A 2010 episode (118) of the series Criminal Minds featured an episode with a serial killer who met his victims in swing clubs and acted out because his wife got pregnant.
- In the 2010 series The Hard Times of RJ Berger, RJ's parents are apparently swingers.
- In the episode "Swingers" (S02E02) of his Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends series (1998), the BBC2 interviewer and documentary maker Louis Theroux investigated an American Swingers group.
- A 2008 episode of the series Close to Home (Episode 4 of season 1) features main prosecutor Annabeth Chase handling a case related to the swinging lifestyle craved by the murderer's husband.
- A 2011 episode of the series Law and Order: SVU features characters Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson going undercover at a swinging club.
- A 2011 episode of the series Body of Proof features character Dana Delany investigating a homicide in a neighborhood in which all neighbors are in the lifestyle.
- A 2013 American cable television reality television series on Discovery Fit & Health "Secret Sex Lives: Swingers" follows several Atlanta couples involved in the swinging lifestyle.
- In the 2015 3rd season of Hard_(TV_series), Sophie opens a swinger club under Roy's restaurant, as her own business venture, and gains much success.
- Bergstrand, Curtis; Blevins Williams, Jennifer (2000-10-10). "Today's Alternative Marriage Styles: The Case of Swingers". Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality. 3. Retrieved 2010-01-24.
- Bergstrand, Curtis R.; Sinski, Jennifer Blevins (2010). Swinging in America : love, sex, and marriage in the 21st century. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Praeger/ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0313379666.
- "Why Swing?". Retrieved 4 October 2012.
- "Advice and information on Swingers Clubs". Swingers parties. Retrieved 11 October 2015.
- Goodman, Hallie. "Happily Married Swingers". Redbook. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
- "The 'Lifestyle' – Real-Life Wife Swaps". ABC 20/20. 18 March 2005.
- Kerner, Ian (15 September 2011). "Would you ever swing?". CNN Health. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
- Fabio D'Orlando (2010), "Swinger Economics", in The Journal of Socio-Economics 39(2), pp. 303–304.
- "Superior Court Quashes CAL-OSHA'S Attempt to Subpoena Confidential AIM Medical Records". AIM Medical. 2009-10-20. Retrieved 2009-10-21.
- "Older and swinging; need to identify hidden and emerging risk groups at STI clinics – Dukers-Muijrers et al. – Sexually Transmitted Infections". Sti.bmj.com. Retrieved 2013-03-14.
- "Disease risk higher for swingers than prostitutes". Reuters. 2010-06-23.
- "Why I Don't Like Swingers Parties". -X-C-BDSM-. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- "California adopts college sex crime rule". BBC News. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- "Condom Effectiveness". advocatesforyouth.org. Retrieved 2016-05-16.
- The Queen's Conjuror; The life and magic of John Dee by Benjamin Woolley, Harper Collins, 2001, ISBN 978-0-8050-6510-7, p292
- Michaelson, Jay (June 2007). "Why I Study Sabbateanism". Zeek.net.
- Nassi, Gad. "Exploring the Pagan, Jewish and Ottoman Roots of the "Sabbatean Lamb Festival"" (PDF). GadNassi.com.
- Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels (1848). "Manifesto of the Communist Party". Retrieved 2009-12-11.
- Terry Gould, The Lifestyle: a look at the erotic rites of swingers. Vintage Canada, November 23, 1999 ISBN 1-55209-482-0
- History of Wife Swapping, homerf.org
- The History and Definitions of Swinging which is Couples Only, Liberated Christians, Inc.
- Stone 1994, "Sex, Love and Hippies".
- Sheff, Elisabeth (2005). Gender, Family, and Sexuality: Exploring Polyamorous Community. University of Colorado. p. 648.
- Muslim Women's League (September 1995). "Women in Pre-Islamic Arabia". Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- Janzen 1982, p. 142
- Janzen & McGaffey 1974, p. 100b (.7.10)
- Janzen & McGaffey 1974, p. 116 (81)
- Fields 1998, p. 40.
- Fields, Phil,"Of Paradise Lost: Orya myth". 1998, p. 39.
- Fields 1998, p. 39, fn. 10.
- Gerard Zegwaard (transl. from the Dutch by Peter Mason & Ton van Santvoord): Amoko. Crawford House, Belair (SA), 2002. p. 203
- Hennigh, Lawrence. "Functions and Limitations of Alaskan Eskimo Wife Trading" (PDF).
- "Do Eskimo men lend their wives to strangers?". The Straight Dope. 2003-01-21. Retrieved 2009-10-24.
- Ley, David (2009). Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and The Men Who Love Them. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 1-4422-0030-8. OCLC 373474387.
- Eduardo Batalha Viveiros de Castro (transl. from the Portuguese by Catherine V. Howard) : From the Enemy's Point of View. University of Chicago Press, 1992. p. 127
- "Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends: Season 2, Episode 2". Retrieved 2014-05-31.
- "Secret Sex Lives: Swingers". Discovery Life. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
- NASCA International
- Related To Bigotry: The Repression of Swingers in Early 21st Century Britain (describes legal situation, and gives lengthy defense of swinging)
- 'Forever and a Day' or 'Just One Night'? On Adaptive Functions of Long-Term and Short-Term Romantic Relationships
- Plays Well in Groups – An academic exploration of various forms of group sex