SWING? (Forward by correspondent on internet, evidentally downloaded from the Society For Human Sexuality)
Swinging is a form of recreational social sex between consenting adults, most commonly consisting of male/female couples meeting other male/female couples for sex and/or ongoing intimate friendships.
Swinging (otherwise known as “the lifestyle”) can take a variety of different forms. Although single women are generally welcome at swinging events, the degree to which single men are accepted varies from club to club. Although female bisexuality is generally accepted in the swinging community, the degree to which male bisexuality is accepted also varies from club to club. Swing clubs can be “on-premises” (which means that one may interact sexually with others at that event) or “off-premises” (which means that one would generally go back to the home or hotel room of other couples for sex, after deciding to do so at the event). Newspapers and magazines which carry personal ads for swingers also exist, and to a slightly lesser degree these publications may also be considered an aspect of “the lifestyle.” Swingers have traditionally been largely middle class and tend to blend in quite easily with the general population in terms of appearance and ideology.
What Might I Like About Swinging?
People may be attracted to the swinging community for a variety of different reasons. Many couples find the thought of having sex with other people to be very arousing, and may find that swinging becomes a catalyst for improving their own sex lives and relationship. Some people may feel stifled by repressive societal attitudes towards sexuality, and may welcome the opportunity to form friendships and a new social network with people of like mind. Others may simply feel that sex should be a natural possibility in any friendship in which there is mutual attraction, and so appreciate the relative open-mindedness and pleasure-positivity with which the swinging community views this subject. Although the swinging community is unfortunately not always the best place right now for het-identified men to explore their potential bisexuality, it is currently a relatively good place for het-identified women to initially explore sex with other women, and this sometimes plays a role in couples choosing to seek it out.
In the past, the swinging community has been somewhat unaware of or confused by alternative sexual practices such as BDSM or Tantra. This appears to be changing, and these days you may find many folks in the swinging community who are knowledgeable about such things (though forms of BDSM much more extreme than spanking or very light bondage may make people uncomfortable, depending on the club). If you’re interested in doing so and spend enough time meeting different people, you may actually find that today’s swinging community is becoming a somewhat fertile place to meet folks with a variety of sexual interests. It is certainly true right now that the national swinging conventions tend to host seminars and workshops on a variety of sexual topics, which seems at least somewhat indicative of broadening perspectives in the community.
Some women may find the swinging community to be a welcome dose of sanity. Our culture can be quite cruel to women who have an active interest in sex, often derisively labeling them “sluts” – a term which stands in sharp contrast to the less derogatory term for men, “studs”. The swinging community may be especially attractive to these women, who may feel their sex drives and/or sexual assertiveness should be appreciated rather than snickered about or reviled.
Some people end up learning quite a bit about themselves and their sexualities through swinging. For example, most folks find that having their partner actively enjoy and appreciate what they are experiencing during sex to be a tremendous turn-on; this is a realization which may stand in sharp contrast to the attitude that “performance” is all-important. Swinging can be an opportunity to learn to relax and appreciate sexual pleasure, and may help one view sex more as a source of pleasure and intimacy and less as a social bargaining chip or ego fuel.
Although this may vary slightly from club to club, in general the swinging community is quite accepting of a variety of body types, sizes, ages, and shapes. Additionally, many on-premises events provide an opportunity to dress sexily or go completely nude, which can be a fun and sensual experience in and of itself.
What Might I Dislike About Swinging?
If you are uncomfortable with people being sexually attracted to you and/or flirting with you, then you might be uncomfortable at swinging events; similarly, if your relationship with your partner is on shaky ground, you might find seeing him or her flirt or be flirted with to be an uncomfortable experience. If either of you have hidden agendas concerning finding a permanent “replacement” for each other, you’re probably in for a major emotional disaster. If you and your partner cannot communicate directly about relationships and sex, you’re probably eventually in for a similarly-sized disaster. In general, sex can provoke strong feelings along with its many pleasures; if you aren’t comfortable dealing with emotions, then perhaps it might be better to wait a little while before exploring “the lifestyle.”
If you are bothered by seeing people have sex without condoms, then you might want to avoid some of the larger play areas in many on-premises swinger’s events. Although I have never run into a situation in the swinging community where my requests to use latex were looked down on in any way, it is certainly true that not all on-premises clubs require the use of safer sex precautions. Depending on your experience with sex-positive communities other than swinging, seeing others not use latex may be unsettling to you. You should know what your own standards are with regard to safer sex, and be willing to articulate them to new people or couples you are about to have sex with. If your personal safer sex standards include using barriers for cunnilingus, then you should be prepared to do some explaining as not everyone will be familiar with this practice.
If you are offended by phobia against bi men, then you should be prepared to either look for a club that is more open-minded on this particular issue, wait for attitudes in the community to change (which I believe may happen in the next five years or so), or else attend anyway and make a point of not letting small-minded comments go unchallenged.
If you are a single male, you might actually be better off waiting until you are in a suitable relationship before attempting to become active in swinging – most swing clubs allow few if any single men to attend their events.
General Hints for Enjoyable Swinging
In the context of swinging, “couples” need not be married. They should, however, have at least a little history together and familiarity with each others’ emotional needs, and be comfortable approaching others as a “couple.” The general rule of thumb is that swinging works best when couples view swinging as an enhancement to their existing sexual relationship, rather than as a replacement for a failing one.
As one would expect, good communication is critical in any attempt at swinging as a couple. There are many, many different forms that swinging may take, and whichever one you choose is fine as long as you and your partner are clear about what you are doing and why. Sex has the potential to be an emotionally-charged area, and the pleasures that may be found in swinging can generally be reached only when both partners are sensitive to each others’ needs, and put their partner’s comfort first. From a more pragmatic point of view, there will always be another party, another personal ad, another dance, another convention; there may not be another chance to salvage an exploration into swinging if one partner becomes overwhelmed in “the garden of delights” and forgets to treat his or her primary partner with sensitivity and respect.
It’s important to keep in mind that swinging is primarily a SOCIAL activity. The ordinary social customs of meeting people and initiating a conversation are really not that different than at any other type of social gathering, and the process by which acquaintances become close friends is not that different either. The key social traits that tend to be appreciated in the swinging community are responsibility, friendliness, flirtatiousness, open-mindedness, and most importantly stability with regard to one’s primary relationship.
As is the case with almost all human social endeavors, if you already know people in a particular community you’ll probably be happier if you attend your first few events with these people so they can introduce you to others. Waiting a little while and watching how others behave is also a good idea, as it is in almost any new social situation. Common courtesy, of course, is as welcome in the swinging community as it is in any other community; we’re all just people, after all.
There are several different styles of swinging which you may see in the swinging community. Some people may prefer not to be around when their partner is having sex with someone else (“closed swinging”), while others may insist on it (“open swinging”). The term “soft swinging” refers to trading partners just for the purposes of heavy petting and then switching back to one’s primary partner for any actual sex. It might be valuable for you to think about whether there are any potential situations that you feel you would be more or less comfortable in, and discuss these with your partner.
Although not all couples find it necessary to do this, some couples feel more comfortable having social “codes” that only the two of them know. Examples might be discreet phrases or gestures which mean a) one of you is attracted to the people or person he or she is talking to and wants to know if you are interested in swinging with them, b) a reply to the above, either affirmatively or negatively, and c) one of you is not having a good time and wants to get away from things for a while.
At off-premises events such as dances, it’s common for people to dress up or else wear fairly sexy clothing. Dress at on-premises events tends to be more casual, since nudity is a common outcome of the evening for many. At on-premises clubs it’s a good idea to bring something like a robe so you don’t have to put all your clothes back on after sex, and to avoid wearing lots of jewelry that might get lost. If there’s a dress theme for a particular event, go with the theme.
By the way, it is not necessary to actually have sex with other people to have a good time in the swinging community. Off-premises activities such as dances can provide a wonderful opportunity to flirt and be flirted with in a non-threatening yet sexually-charged atmosphere, which can be fun in and of itself. On-premises activities can provide an opportunity to appreciate the sights and sounds of sex as an enhancement to sex with your primary partner, whether you two decide to have sex at the party or after the party.
Enjoying House Parties and Other On-Premises Events
Since you may have the opportunity to get physically close with one or more folks during the course of the evening, it’s probably a good idea to take a shower, brush your teeth, and (if necessary) shave before showing up. If you like to use your fingers inside your partners as part of sex, don’t forget to clip your fingernails short.
Even if you’re a regular, it’s usually polite to make a party reservation rather than just “dropping in”, and to cancel your reservation if you can’t keep it. For parties in peoples’ homes, it’s usually polite to ask if there is anything you can bring (e.g. chips or beverages). Arrive on time, and if you are part of a couple be sure you arrive together as a couple.
Generally the host and/or hostess will fill new couples in about party rules and etiquette, often as part of an orientation to their club. The Jacuzzi or hot tub, if there is one, is a good place to get involved in friendly conversations; most folks at swinging events are more than happy to answer questions and talk about their experience of the lifestyle.
It’s a good idea for couples to stick together at the party unless they both agree that they’d like to mingle or play separately for a while; if one partner just wanders off, the other may feel abandoned or jealous. If you DO need to have a serious relationship discussion or argument with your partner, however, it’s considered polite to do so away from the party in a more private area. In general, if a bedroom or other space is being used for sex it’s considered impolite to carry on loud or extraneous conversations in it that might distract others.
The tradition at some on-premises clubs and party houses is for one of the larger rooms to be for the “group scene.” Depending on the club some rules of etiquette may be slightly relaxed here; it might be assumed OK for someone to touch you unless or until you say no. Again, this completely depends on the club. Opening closed doors to bedroom areas and then just staring at whatever is going on is usually considered pretty rude, and men will have more fun in ANY of the party’s play areas if their female partner is with them (some clubs actually have rules about men going into the “group scene” area without their female partner). If at some point during the evening you decide to wash up, be careful not to use somebody else’s towel or washcloth on your eyes or genitals (this should just be common sense).
Using alcohol to excess is a poor idea, especially if you or your partner are just getting into swinging. Many non-swingers have their first quasi-swinging experiences when they are heavily intoxicated, and then regret what they did the next day or blame the alcohol for what they freely chose to do; try to make your experience different from this.
But without question, the most important suggestion I can offer is to always keep track of where you’re at, and only do what you want to do. If you don’t want to swing with someone, just say no tactfully and courteously. You always have the right to say no to anything, and if someone doesn’t take no for an answer you should tell the party host immediately. In swinging, sometimes you will be told, “No, thank you.” When this happens, just accept it graciously and don’t inquire as to “Why not?”
Dealing with Jealousy
There are many different opinions about jealousy – several of the books recommended at the end of this guide devote considerable attention to the topic.
An interesting dynamic can sometimes arise in couples new to swinging, a dynamic which has inspired the community adage that “the more enthusiastic member of a couple will get the couple into swinging, but the less enthusiastic partner will keep them there.” As Carol Queen puts it in Exhibitionism for the Shy,
“The swing community has noticed another prevalent dynamic in couples where one partner, more often than not the man, has more enthusiasm than the other. He has had terrific fantasies about freewheeling sex and plenty of it, and he finally convinces his initially reluctant partner to give swinging a try. When they get to the party, she has a great time and is high demand, while he thinks the party’s a dud… Before you pack up your sexy outfit and fistful of condoms, take some time to consider and negotiate how you will deal with the chagrin of the less popular partner if such a dismaying event happens to you.”
In other words, some jealousy may spring from insecurity: if I’m worried that I’m not valuable enough to keep my primary partner’s interest and love, or that fewer people will be interested in playing with me than with my primary partner, I may be more apt to get jealous. For the latter case, some of these fears may be alleviated by choosing, at least initially, to only swing together as a couple; this way neither partner can be left out.
Sometimes jealousy may spring from feelings of scarcity rather than feelings of insecurity: the fear is that “there’s only so much love and so much pleasure and so much intimacy to go around.” With this in mind, I’d like to quote from the NASCA Guide to Swinging,
“The Myth of the Scarcity of Love is the popular belief that ‘love is scarce,’ which encourages hoarding. Hoarding, in turn, created the very scarcity that was feared to begin with. The myth’s premises are that each of us has a very limited amount of love to give, spend, or sell; that if this is divided among several people, each will get less; that love can be saved; and that in order to be valuable, true love must be exclusive.”
If you enjoy good literature and want to explore this idea in more depth, take the time to read a short story by Amy Bloom entitled “Love Is Not a Pie” (published in her Come to Me: Stories collection). But just as food for thought for the time being, you might consider a question which Dr. Deborah Anapol poses in Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits: “Imagine a culture in which your partner’s attraction to another signified opportunities for greater pleasure and intimacy; would jealousy occur in this context?” I honestly don’t know the answer to this question, but for me swinging has been part of the inquiry.
To end this section on a more practical note, many couples find that the secrets to dealing with jealousy tend to revolve around good communication, keeping agreements, reassuring each other as to your love and commitment before and after playing with someone new, and listening to each other’s emotional concerns and taking them seriously whenever they arise. If jealousy becomes an issue for you and your partner, you might try working on some or all of these things.
Of Interest to Men…
By including these warnings I do not mean to imply that all or even most men would ever act like this; chances are if you’re still reading this document you already have a healthy social sense and wouldn’t think to misbehave in these ways. But anyway, here goes…
Attempting to hire an escort or sex worker to go to a swinging event with you, if you don’t have a regular female partner, just so you can get in the door is a terribly poor idea; this is considered inappropriate at every club I have ever heard of, is generally sufficient to get you black-listed, and is a ruse that is highly likely to be noticed by others. A related concept is taking along someone who isn’t really your primary partner and isn’t really interested in swinging; such folks are called “tickets” (i.e. you just used them as a “ticket” to get in the door), and this practice isn’t looked upon favorably either.
If you want nothing more than to see your female partner have sex with another woman, you will probably be better off forgetting about it until she brings it up; wandering around by yourself attempting to find a woman who wants to have sex with her, or otherwise trying to push this personal choice into happening, is considered quite crass.
Finally, please remember to converse with both members of a couple you and your partner are interested in, not just the partner you are interested in having sex with; ultimately it’s your ability to form friendships with COUPLES which will determine the quality of your experience in the swinging community.
Use Personal Ads
It’s an unfortunate fact that many ads in swinger’s publications seem to have nothing to do with swinging at all. Ads that ask for money, even discreetly, or which mention “generosity” are almost certainly ads from sex workers rather than swingers. Other ads are from individuals who are basically being dishonest, perhaps claiming to be part of a couple when they aren’t. Amidst all this, however, you can usually find some ads that end up being from actual swingers who are sincerely interested in meeting other singles or couples.
In general, you will probably waste less time by placing an ad than by responding to ads. When writing your personal ad, it’s important to be clear and honest about what your requirements are. You may find it helpful to first obtain a P.O. Box and a voice mail box which aren’t traceable to your real name or home address; it’s also a good idea to arrange the first meeting with someone new to be in a neutral and/or public place, so that if things don’t seem to be going well you’ll be able to leave easily and nobody new will know where you live.
Ultimately, however, if you have swing clubs (whether on- or off- premises) in your area you will probably be better off meeting swingers through them than through personal ads.
Keep Yourself and Your Partner Healthy
Each sex-positive community in this country has had a different response to the AIDS crisis, and in the face of a very frightening disease it is hard for me to fault people for acting irrationally sometimes. However, I believe the time has come for a more intelligent, pleasure-positive, and long-term response to STDs (of all kinds) than “excluding bisexual men,” “inquiring about sexual histories and hoping for the truth,” “trying to reassure yourself about how few people in your community you think are infected right now,” “stigmatizing anal play,” etc.
Learning to use latex and water-based lube skillfully may take a little practice, and ultimately it is up to you and your partner whether you will follow some or all the precautions I’m going to describe. However, try to keep in mind some of the payoffs: increased protection from disease, increased peace of mind, increased protection against pregnancy when another form of birth control (such as the pill) fails, and greater ease in interacting with younger swingers who may have never known a time when they haven’t felt it necessary to use latex.
Put simply, the single most effective thing you can do to stay healthy when swinging is to use latex condoms for intercourse; this practice is now extremely common in the swinging community, and is often expected.
All condoms are not made alike; men should experiment with different brands until they find the one they like best (my preference is Kimono MicroThins, which also taste fine for fellatio if you get them without Nonoxynol-9). When you put on a condom, pinch its tip as you unroll it (all the way down!) to prevent an air bubble from forming in the reservoir tip. For intercourse, you should then put some water-based lube (such as I-D, ForPlay, Wet, or Astroglide) on the outside of the condom for comfort, mutual pleasure, and to keep the condom from tearing during sex.
For a while, health experts were recommending that people use condoms and water-based lubes with Nonoxynol-9 to help guard against HIV transmission; current evidence suggests that, in the real world, N-9 is not nearly as good at HIV prevention as it has proved to be at contraception. Also, many women are allergic or sensitive to N-9, and it tastes horrid. For these reasons I only purchase products without N-9, but of course the choice is yours.
It should be obvious that a new condom needs to be put on for each new partner. If you’re going to switch from anal intercourse to vaginal intercourse, you should also put on a new condom (doing otherwise can cause vaginal infections – similarly, you shouldn’t put any fingers that used to be in an anus in a vagina without first washing your hands with hot water and anti-bacterial soap).
Some men find that more sensation is transmitted to them if they put a drop of water-based lube in the tip of their condom before putting it on.
Opinions differ on the use of safer-sex barriers for oral sex. It is clear that herpes can be easily transmitted during unprotected oral sex, but some people argue that if herpes sores aren’t visible on either partner and neither partner believes he or she is infectious, that the risk of transmission is low. There ARE recorded cases of HIV being transmitted via oral sex, but many swingers dismiss this concern because the risk of transmission via this route is apparently low, and because (in their opinion) HIV is not widespread in their community. Ultimately, it is up to each of us to set our personal standards for risk, and it is not my place to dictate what yours should be.
If you choose not to use barriers when performing oral sex, you can make things safer for yourself by not having flossed your teeth immediately before the party (which can make the gums less able to keep pathogens out of the bloodstream), by not letting men come in your mouth, by not performing cunnilingus on a woman while she is menstruating, and by knowing what herpes sores look like (herpes transmission is most likely when either sores or the tingling sensation that precedes the sores is present).
If you decide your personal standards include using barriers for oral sex, this will mean using latex condoms for fellatio (choose a brand without Nonoxynol-9) and either saran wrap or one of those “Glyde” or “Lixx” oral sex barriers for cunnilingus (put a drop of water-based lube on your partner’s side of the barrier to increase the sensation transmitted to her).
The use of barriers for oral sex is not widespread in the swinging community, but if you and your partner decide your safer sex standards include using them you’ll probably find that the concept is not that difficult to explain to people.
If you’ve had your fingers in someone’s vagina or ass, or had someone come on your hands, it’s a good idea to wash your hands with hot water and anti-bacterial soap before touching your eyes or genitals (or anybody else’s).
If you’re planning on doing a lot of play with your fingers in someone’s ass, or if you want to avoid having to constantly leave for the bathroom to wash your hands, you might try latex “examination” gloves (available at most drug stores); just use a new set of gloves when switching from one person to another or when switching from someone’s anus to their vagina, just as you would with condoms. Of course, whether you use gloves or not, some water- based lube will make everything that you do inside your partner feel better for him or her.
Using latex gloves is currently even less common than using barriers for oral sex (except when it comes to anal play), but in my experience most people who are aroused and attracted to you will happily go along with almost any safety standard or emotional need you articulate as long as they think they’re going to get sex as a result.
Safer Sex Kits
It’s helpful to get a little hip pack for your safer-sex supplies, your small bottle of water-based lube, pieces of paper to write your name and phone number on, and anything else you commonly need. Although safer-sex supplies are provided at some parties, it’s still nice to know that you have with you the supplies and brands you prefer. Also, having what you need with you at all times will make it MUCH easier for you to maintain whatever safer-sex standards you have chosen.
You may be interested in knowing that a permanent vaccine is available for hepatitis B. If you’re planning on spending a lot of time in the swinging community (or any other lifestyle potentially involving lots of sex with different people), it might be worth your time to get this vaccination.
The History and Future of Swinging
Swinging dates back to the 1950’s. Initially, personal ads were the only way to meet people in this particular lifestyle; the first organization to be open about swinging was the Sexual Freedom League (in Berkeley, California during the 1960’s). Eventually, an umbrella organization called the North American Swing Club Association (NASCA) was formed to promote accurate information about the lifestyle all across the country.
Currently the internet is becoming an alternative to printed personal ads, and a variety of large swinger’s conventions are being held every year. Popular conventions include “Lifestyles” (the largest and most well-known), “Wind and Waves”, “Campout”, “Northwest Celebration”, and “Visions”.
My best guess as to the future is that as more people in this country begin to think of themselves as “open-minded” and “sex-positive”, as our response to STDs becomes more rational, as more people from other sex-positive communities begin to explore swinging, and as more bisexual men in the swinging community “come out”, the swinging community will grow and begin to attract a new generation of sexually adventurous enthusiasts. I suspect that the size and influence of the annual swinging conventions will continue to grow, and also suspect that “cyber-space” alternatives to real-life swinging (involving interactive video, sound, etc.) will become increasingly popular.
Other Organizations and Web Pages
Lifestyles: (714) 821-9953
Lifestyles is the nation’s largest swinging convention, held annually. Everyone I’ve known who attended had a wonderful time.
Loving More: (800) 424-9561
The Loving More organization publishes a magazine, also named Loving More, on the topic of multi-partner relationships. The emphasis is on long-term relationships. They also offer and publicize books, tapes, and conferences on responsible non-monogamy. If you find this magazine of interest, you might also enjoy browsing the Polyamory FAQ Page and the NFNC Page.
Society for Human Sexuality
This web page contains a wealth of information on many different forms of sexuality, along with resource guides and reading lists.
Swing Club Directories
NASCA’s List: (714) 229-4870
STD Testing, Birth Control, and Other Concerns
San Francisco Sex Information: (415) 989-SFSI
San Francisco Sex Information (SFSI) is a free telephone hotline. It is staffed by knowledgeable and non-judgmental volunteers who can answer most if not all of the sexuality-related questions you might have both sensitively and anonymously.
Planned Parenthood: (800) 230-PLAN
This number can refer you to a local Planned Parenthood clinic for birth control options.
National STD Hotline: (800) 227-8922
Call this number if you have questions about STDs or about where to obtain testing or treatment in your area. When choosing a clinic to be tested at, it’s important to select one which offers the full range of STD tests in addition to the HIV test – hopefully including the blood test for herpes – and which allows your HIV test to be anonymous rather than merely confidential.
Safer Sex Supplies and Sex Toys
Good Vibrations: (800) BUY-VIBE
A great place to order sex toys, safer sex supplies, books, and videos.
Toys in Babeland: (800) 658-9119
Another great place to order sex toys, books, and videos.
Bar nothing, the best book written so far on the subject of swinging is Terry Gould’s new book The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers.
The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt contains excellent information for anyone interested in non-monogamous relationships of any kind (essentially, you read the Gould book to get the theory, and the Easton/Liszt book to get the practice). Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits by Deborah Anapol also contains valuable information, with an emphasis on long-term relationships.
People interested in hosting sex parties (of any kind) would probably benefit from reading the relevant sections of Sapphistry by Pat Califia and Real Live Nude Girl by Carol Queen, as well as the “Group-Sex Hostess” chapter of Women of the Light: The New Sexual Healers. Anyone interested in becoming less inhibited and enjoying sex more would probably benefit from Exhibitionism for the Shy by Carol Queen, and those folks who feel the need to brush up on sexual physiology, sex toys, and sex techniques could probably get a lot out of The New Good Vibrations Guide to Sex by Cathy Winks and Anne Semans.
Men concerned with “performance” issues would probably benefit from reading The Erotic Mind by Jack Morin and/or The Multi-Orgasmic Man by Mantak Chia. Couples interested in exploring BDSM as part of sex could probably get a lot out of Sensuous Magic by Pat Califia. Couples interested in exploring ways of having sex that can lead to extended orgasmic states but which don’t require erections may enjoy reading ESO by Alan and Donna Brauer.
A more extensive reading list can be found in The New Good Vibrations Guide to Sex and on the Society for Human Sexuality web page.