Because American culture is structured around monogamy, the idea of having sex with anyone other than your spouse or long-term monogamous partner might seem unimaginable. It can be hard to understand how “swinging” — when you swap partners with another couple and sleep with someone new — can in some cases lead to stronger relationship bonds. You may think that this is totally rare and always on the DL, but believe it or not, there are more couples interested in dipping their toes (and other body parts) into the swinging waters than you may realize. And for some of these couples, their relationship is totally blooming as a result.
Here’s one major caveat: You need to communicate exactly what the arrangement is. “For any type of ethical non-monogamy to work peacefully, and here I’ll include swinging, you really have to be on top of your communication game, and be incredibly self-aware,” says Dr. Emily Morse, host of the podcast “Sex With Emily” and author of Smart Sex. “Most folks think any type of non-monogamy is about more sex, but if anything, it requires more communication!” You need to take extra time to process your emotions around your sexual relationships and how its impacting your main partner, even if you develop other sexual and romantic connections, emphasizes Morse.
It’s also not ideal to try swinging as a way to “spice things up” in a relationship that might be on the rocks. “If anything, it will put a spotlight on the problems in your current relationship, whether that’s a lack of trust, a lack of connection, or an inability to communicate,” says Morse. If you are in a secure and trusting spot in your relationship, trying swinging can be an amazing “erotic adventure,” according to Morse. The sky is pretty much the limit — you can head to designated clubs and on cruises for swingers and connect with people who will make your couples’ trip that much sexier and gratifying.
Through meeting and exploring sex with other couples, learning new peoples’ bodies and preferences can help you become more aware of your own and your partner’s as a result, says Morse. That self-awareness piece (and knowledge of your partner) is key here. If either of you tend to experience jealousy intensely, then swinging could potentially be a challenge for your relationship, according to Morse. Once you’ve established what jealousy looks like or doesn’t look like for you as a couple, you can move on to thinking about swinging more seriously. “From there, you and your partner may find you even strengthen your communication and trust, and build an even more solid foundation upon which to have sexy adventures,” says Morse.
If you’re reading this and feeling a bit curious about swinging — either with your spouse, a new or long-time partner, or just that cool friend with benefits you have an understanding with — there are a few more things you should know before you dive in. Below, four women get real about what their own swinging experiences were really like.
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Nicole has been with her husband for 18 years and they’ve been swinging for 17.
How she got into it: “I grew up with this idea that there’s not just one person for anyone and that we can enjoy being with multiple people, as well as the idea that you can have sex without having emotion tied to it. My husband knew that I was bi-curious when we met, so on the anniversary of our first date, we decided to explore and went to a swingers club.”
How it impacted her relationship: “It’s really helped strengthen our relationship. Not all experiences were 100 percent pleasurable, so we made an effort to have those conversations and keep the lines of communication open. When you talk about [swinging] it makes it so much easier to discuss other issues in the relationship.”
Her advice to those considering the lifestyle: “For couples who are considering it, we suggest that you better have a really good relationship starting out because it doesn’t fix broken relationships, it only breaks them up faster. Also, you need to have conversations with your spouse or partner before you go into it. Know your rules and limits before you get into a situation because you can’t really get upset with your partner if you didn’t talk about.”
Jody was introduced to swinging five years ago and is currently single. She loves her work as a sex coach and says if it weren’t for swinging, she wouldn’t be where she is now.
How she got into it: “I was introduced to swinging by my former husband, and not in a good way. One day he forgot to log off the computer and I looked at his browser. I saw some sites that I was not familiar with, but I was appalled by what a saw. Some time later, I confronted him about it. He explained to me what swinging was, but I furthered my knowledge by reading everything I could. I then told him that if he had just talked to me about it, it was something I could be open to.”
How it impacted her relationship: “[Swinging] honestly had no effect on our relationship, which ended for other reasons. Swinging changed me personally for the better. I have sexual confidence that I didn’t have before. I exclusively date swingers now because I meet a much better class of men. They really honor and respect women.”
Her advice to those considering swinging: “If your marriage is struggling, don’t do it. It will only make things worse. If you have a good marriage, dip your toes in the water. Attend a meet and greet or other event. The swinger couples I know have absolutely amazing marriages. For a single woman, you’ll meet the best men ever, but take it slow and make sure you take the usual dating precautions.”
Julia Allen, co-founder of StockingsVR, was 24 when she first walked into a swingers club and has now been swinging for 25 years.
How she got into it: “My boyfriend thought it would be fun to try. We didn’t do anything except dance and talk to some people the first night, but it was exciting and I couldn’t wait to go back. A few months later, on New Year’s Eve, we had a hotel room and invited a few people up. Well… Everyone came up. It was packed and before I knew it, everyone was having sex all around me. A lovely woman wanted to play with me and my boyfriend. I loved it. I loved watching him with her and having him watch me with her, and then both of us just getting lost in the whole experience. I loved the experience of being able to have sex outside of my relationship.”
How it impacted her relationship: “I’ve never been tempted to stray outside of my relationship by having an affair. Swinging takes care of all of my sex needs. I really feel that it strengthens every relationship. I don’t view sex as something that you only have with someone you love. Sex is recreational. I think every boyfriend I’ve had has felt the same way. Along the way, I started filming myself with various people and decided to take my swinging/exhibitionist/kinky lifestyle and make it full time. I guess you could say that swinging has enriched my relationships and also enriched my life.”
Her advice to those considering swinging: “Don’t feel pressure. Most people who are new to swinging don’t actually have sex. They like to watch. In a swingers club, no really does mean no. Many times, I’ve had men or women approach me and if I don’t feel like it, I just say no. You can explore any fantasy you have at a swingers club. I would suggest for first timers to try a larger club where there are lots of people. People who go to swingers clubs are normal people who you would never guess in a million years are swingers. About 90 percent of people who swing are married with kids and just want to try walking on the wild side together.”
Jessica Drake, an adult superstar and certified sex educator, has been swinging since before she was in the adult industry.
How she got into it: “Depending on the state of each relationship and my boundaries with different partners, I had different experiences. In the beginning, when I was younger, it felt awkward based on my inability to be assertive about my wants and needs. It felt more like that group sex stereotype that you might see on TV or in porn… and definitely more male pleasure-centered.”
How it impacted her relationship: “Sexual jealousy has never really been an issue for me, and as long as my needs are being met, I feel secure and aroused when I watch a partner enjoying someone else. I think one mistake some people make is assuming that swinging has only one meaning, but it’s something that is totally open to interpretation. Some of my most intimate, fulfilling encounters lately have been ‘soft swap’ — meaning I have sex with my primary partner, and have foreplay only with our ‘guests.’”
Her advice to those considering swinging: “If you want to start experimenting with swinging and swapping, you need to take a look at your sexual values and belief system. Compare it to the way your partner perceives things, and before you proceed, have an honest discussion. Overall, if you find yourself wanting to try this later on in life, go for it! It may reawaken you and give you a sexual second wind. It’s never too late. There are people of all ages, all body types, all colors, who come from a variety of backgrounds looking for like-minded people.”
A version of this story was published February 2017.
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