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Monogamy is often the default option for many couples when it comes to intimacy. But not all couples go into relationships “closed,” nor do all relationships stay on a path of mutual, purposeful monogamy. Many couples have “open” arrangements and understandings, and some even look to strengthen and spice up their sex lives through actively adding partners to their twosomes, which is otherwise known as “swinging.”
But embarking on a swinger’s lifestyle isn’t as simple as sifting through Craigslist. There are boundaries, guidelines, and overall expectations couples should strongly consider before totally throwing out the comfort of tradition.
What is swinging?
Swinging is where a couple seeks out another couple or single person (or two) to enter into sexual relations or swap partners. This could happen via an ad or a designated party or a meet-up—or like any other sexual encounter, casually and randomly.
“I think what’s happening now is that it’s 2017 and people are coming to the understanding that we are going to live until we are basically 80 years old and what are we going to do with each other?” said Cristine Milrod, a sex therapist and researcher in Los Angeles.
Swingers give permission to their partners to have sex or “play” with other people, sometimes joining in or just watching from the sidelines. Couples who embark on this lifestyle often have rules that set a level of trust, like being with others, together, sexually, but being only with each other emotionally.
How to get started in swinging
Talk with your partner
Having a discussion with your partner about swinging is the first step to finding out if the choice is right for the both of you. It’s important that you both are on the same page, and that you aren’t rushing into it without understanding your own personal boundaries regarding intimacy first.
One way to test the waters is to watch porn together and study each other’s reactions. Find our what you like, what’s boring, what’s a turn off. Are you jealous of what he likes or finds attractive? Are you turned on by being turned on by the same things? This is a starting point for conversation.
Do your research
“Swinging can mean different things to different people,” says Milrod. “And I think that’s really important to acknowledge, so do your research before jumping into anything.”
This research could mean visiting swinging forums or engaging in conversations with other swingers first to get an idea of expectations and possible issues. Often, people mistake swinging to be the same as polyamory, where a single party practices emotional and sexual relations with multiple people other than their significant other. Swinging is a joint effort, where the couple goes into swinging together, whether simply for pleasure or to improve their relationship.
To some, knowing that both parties are going into it as a pair, as equals, makes swinging seem more appealing and approachable.
Set some rules
“Know your boundaries, negotiate your boundaries beforehand, and also know that boundaries can be renegotiated depending on feelings,” Milrod says.
Rules are important to feel safe in any new and strange environment, and if respected, rules can also strengthen trust between couples. The boundaries you make with your partner can always be shifted based on comfort levels. Ultimately, it comes down to what you two, as a couple, want out of swinging—and if the reality of swinging is giving you what you want.
Join a club or party
The ways couples find partners varies depending on their preferences.
Attending a hosted party or a swingers club is a more personal and natural way of jumping into the swingers community. Exclusive parties are most likely hosted in your area and can be found on dating websites or your local Craigslist forum.
Many of these parties are private, and phones with cameras or video are not allowed inside due to obvious privacy issues. People are able to join or become members of these parties or societies like Killing Kittens or the Society of Janus, the latter of which focuses on BDSM.
Also, don’t feel like you have to give into the pressure to interact the first time you attend a party. Just go and observe to see if the group is right for your relationship.
Find a website
There are many different websites like Swing Lifestyle and Mixxxer where couples can sign up to find nearby parties and others interested in their sexual desires. Reddit has its own official thread that discusses the pros and cons of popular swinger sites and can also be a place to read about swingers’ personal experiences.
Jane Smith, who wishes to remain anonymous, first started playing a little after she met her partner five years ago. Smith, who typically interacts, and her partner, who is usually a voyeur, find their swinging partners through Reddit and other sites.
“After we talk to someone online long enough and get a feel for them along with verification pictures, we set up a time and place,” said Smith. “Sometimes people flake out cause they get scared or lose interest—nature of the internet—but eventually you get a bite and it’s worth waiting.”
What to expect when swinging
The notion that swinging is a chance to have sex with attractive people other than your original partner is not accurate. Do yourself a favor and ditch the idea that swinging is like Fifty Shades of Grey with high-profile, magical soirees in a mansion filled with extremely sexy people. The parties and elite clubs will most likely be filled with regular folk like your next-door neighbor.
Since swinging is often about exploring the physical side of intimacy with your partner and others, not engaging in emotional attractions, be aware that if unwanted feelings start to occur, then swinging may not be for you.
“Some people could fall in love,” said Milrod. “And if you are they type of person that really is more adept to a monogamous relationship based on your own level of comfort, feelings, and cultural background, there are ways this can both really enhance your relationship or really damage it like a torpedo. You’ve got to have rules in place.”
Swinging isn’t just a big orgy, either. At society parties or clubs, couples interact with one another based on what they are comfortable with. In one room, everyone could be observing a couple having intimate sex together, and in other private rooms, a couple could select a single woman to interact within their boundaries.
“Some couples we run into are heavily against kissing or engaging in only one partner,” said Smith. “To each his own, and in this world, it’s important to treat others with respect if you too wish to receive respect.”
The boundaries established before entering a party or meet-up will help aid the natural feelings of possessiveness and jealousy some might experience, and according to Milrod, could ultimately improve a couple’s sex life and take their relationship to another undiscovered level.
The swinging lifestyle isn’t for everyone and certainly hasn’t broken through most barriers of social acceptance, but having confidence in your relationship and trust with your partner is important to expanding your sexual repertoire.
Kristen Hubby is a tech and lifestyle reporter. Her writing focuses on sex, pop culture, streaming entertainment, and social media, with an emphasis on major platforms like Snapchat, YouTube, and Spotify. Her work has also appeared in Austin Monthly and the Austin American-Statesman, where she covered local news and the dining scene in Austin, Texas.