Swinging is a polyamorous practice in which both singles and partners engage in sexual activities with other partners. Swinging is also referred to as comarital sex, wife swapping, husband swapping, and partner swapping. Although traditionally swinging has been used to refer to couples in committed relationships engaging in sexual activities with other couples, single people and non-committed partners can engage in swinging as well.1 Swinging is a consensual, non-monogamous practice and can be a recreational or social activity. Partners may engage in sex separately by exchanging partners, or they may experience sex together as a form of group sex. Additionally, swinging does not have to include sex at all, and may be limited to activities such as flirting, kissing, heavy petting, oral stimulation, and/or observation during swinging parties. Generally, swingers decide on either a personal plan or a shared plan between partners for behaviors they wish to engage in during a swinging encounter.2 Swingers can include persons of all genders and sexual orientations.
History of Swinging in the United States
The origin of swinging in the United States is generally tied to the U.S. military; more precisely, a group of U.S. Air Force fighter pilots during World War II. These men had the highest fatality rate of any branch in the military, so they struck up a unique social agreement that made non-monogamy between these pilots’ wives and other pilots acceptable. This agreement included a promise to take care of the wives of fallen soldiers, providing the women with both emotional support and sexual fulfilment. This arrangement persisted and spread throughout WWII and into the Korean War.2
By the 1960s and 1970s, swinging started to become more widespread amongst the general population. National and local swingers magazines began to be published, and swingers contacted each other through advertisements in these magazines. Next, swing clubs began to open up, mostly in big cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.2 The North American Swing Club Association (NASCA) formed in the year 1985 and worked to promote the circulation of accurate information regarding swinging across the U.S.3 Pretty soon, swing clubs and the sexual activity of swinging spread to every state in the country. Today, the most modest estimates report that two to four percent of married couples have engaged in swinging; a study by NASCA, however, reports that fifteen percent of married couples in the United States have incorporated swinging into their sex lives at some point.2
The rise of the internet has resulted in a more prevalent, open, and active swinging community in the United States and throughout the world. Now, it is much easier for swingers to find and communicate with partners and learn about swinging parties and clubs. The NASCA website features an extensive list of swing clubs and their contact information, including establishments in the United States and internationally. The list features swing clubs in more than thirty countries, including locations in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa.3 A quick internet search will result in thousands of websites, chatrooms, and social platforms focused on the topic of swinging. Additionally, multiple television shows and documentaries have been produced that attempt to share the lives of swingers with the world.2 While swingers have more public representation in modern society, swinging remains one of the most misunderstood and stigmatized sexual activities to this day.
Levels of Swinging Activity
Every person or couple decides the level and type of sexual activity they are comfortable with when participating in swinging. Individuals and couples engaging in swinging usually decide on what activities they are comfortable with before having a planned encounter; this process can involve setting personal or joint boundaries, goals, and limitations. Some people choose to engage in “soft swinging,” which can involve flirting, kissing, and foreplay with others but reserves other activities, such as oral and penetrative sex, only for their spouse or partner.2 Additionally, couples who engage in swinging often decide beforehand if they wish to engage in all swinging behaviors together or if they plan to give each other privacy to be alone with other partners at any point during the encounter.2
Many participants in swinging choose to limit the emotional and personal connections they form with other swinging partners. A key part of swinging for many committed couples and spouses who swing is making sure their committed partner always knows they are number one.2 Some swingers choose to form relationships and friendships with other swinging partners, and may even repeatedly engage in swing sessions with the same couple or group of people. Many swingers, however, choose to restrict emotional involvement and personal relationships with other swingers.2
Reasons for Swinging
There are many reasons why people choose to engage in the practice of swinging. Some of these reasons include the following:
- Increased sexual novelty and variety
- Increased frequency of sex
- Heightened quality of sex
- Possibility for experimentation
- Fulfillment of fantasies
- Excitement of living a sexually “deviant” or “taboo” lifestyle
- Opportunity to gain self-confidence
- Exploration of new sexual partners, including same-gendered partners
These are just a few of the reasons why people may choose to engage in swinging, but there are countless possibilities for why an individual or couple may choose to participate in this sexual behavior.
Deterrents to Swinging
While there are many positive aspects of the swinging subculture, there are also potential problems that can arise when participating in swinging. Some potential issues include the following:
- The risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- The risk of social stigmatization, isolation, and/or loss of social standing
- The difficulty of finding other swingers
- The fear of telling a partner that one wishes to engage in swinging
- The fear of jealousy between partners
- The fear of having to perform sexually with new partners
- The fear of public exposure
- The issue of self-confidence and maintaining a positive body image
While all of these factors may be deterrents to engaging in swinging, it is important to remember that most of these fears are nothing more than that—fears. It is very possible to engage in a swinging lifestyle in a safe and healthy manner; individuals should make sure they are always protecting themselves against STIs by getting tested regularly, using barrier methods—such as male and female condoms—during all sexual activity (oral sex included), and asking partners if they have been tested for STIs before engaging in sexual activities. Additionally, with honest communication, a positive self-image, and an open mind, the rest of the potential issues surrounding swinging can certainly be overcome. That being said, one should never feel pressured to engage in sexual acts that they are not comfortable with. Swinging is not for everyone, and if an individual does not wish to participate in swinging for any reason, that should be respected and understood.
What Effect Can Swinging Have on a Relationship?
Overall, academic studies and personal testimonials have shown that swinging can have a very positive effect on marriages and relationships. One study on a group of married swingers found that 62% of participants felt that swinging improved their marriage, 35.6% felt that their marriage quality stayed roughly the same, and only 1.7% became less happy since engaging in swinging with their partner. Among that same group, of those who reported the most unhappy marriages at the start of the study, 90.4% said their relationship had become happier since engaging in swinging.4 Another researcher who interviewed sixteen couples who were actively engaged in swinging found that 50% of the couples believed their participation in swinging caused increased feelings of trust, warmth, and closeness between both partners.1 Many other psychologists and social scientists have found similar results when interviewing couples who engage in swinging about the effects of swinging on their marriage. In general, it seems that a majority of committed partners who decide to participate in swinging find the activity to have a positive impact on their relationship.
Demographics of Swingers
There have been multiple studies that attempt to define the demographics and characteristics of swingers. This article will present these findings for informational purposes, but it is important to remember that many of these studies are performed on small groups and in specific regions, largely limited to the United States. Any person of legal consenting age who wishes to participate in swinging should do so without worrying about whether they are the right “type” of person to engage in swinging.
The majority of studies conducted on swingers have found participants to be of middle and upper class standing, usually having received an above average level of education. Studies also reveal that the majority of swingers (over 90% according to multiple sources) are White, and that the most common age group for swingers is between 28 and 50, with the average age falling around 39 years.1 Interestingly, swingers in the United States tend to be politically moderate to conservative, and often identify as members of the U.S. Republican Party. Despite their moderate to conservative political tendencies, swingers tend to hold liberal ideologies when it comes to topics of divorce, premarital sex, pornography, abortion, and homosexuality.1 There are mixed results on the religious identities of swingers, with some studies reporting an overall lack of religious affiliation, while others report swingers to be more likely than the average person to identify as religious.1,4 While these demographics are interesting, it is important to keep in mind that they are largely based on small samples of swingers that are mostly located within the United States and are not representative of the complex and diverse identities that exist within the swinging subculture.
Staying Safe While Swinging
It is important to plan ahead when engaging in swinging, especially when it comes to protecting against STIs and unintentional pregnancy. Those who participate in swinging should get tested for STIs regularly to ensure they are in good sexual health; if an individual knows they have an STI that is incurable, such as herpes or HIV, it is their responsibility to inform all potential partners of this before engaging in sexual activity. Additionally, it is important to ask all potential partners if they have an STI, or if they have been recently tested for STIs, before engaging in sexual activities. In order to best protect against STIs and unintentional pregnancy, individuals should use barrier methods such as male and female condoms when engaging in any sexual activity; this includes during oral sex, penetrative sex, tribadism, and anal sex.
Individuals may wish to bring personal lubricants to swinging encounters to ensure maximum comfort and lubrication during sexual activity; lubricants can be especially helpful in preventing painful intercourse or irritation during longer sessions of sexual activity. Additionally, individuals should always make sure that the facilities where they are participating in swinging are clean and sanitary. If swingers are using and/or sharing sex toys amongst partners, it is advisable to clean them thoroughly between uses and use a condom/barrier method along with the sex toy, unless all partners have been recently tested and are STI free.
Individuals and couples may benefit from establishing a “safe word” or signal amongst partners that indicates pain, discomfort, and/or termination of consent. Some partners who engage in swinging agree beforehand on certain limitations that will ensure maximum comfort for all people involved. It is always important to abide by the boundaries and expectations set by fellow sexual partners. Remember, consent is an affirmative “Yes!”, not a lack of saying “No.”
Swinging is a non-monogamous practice in which individuals and couples engage in sexual activities with other partners. When practiced in a safe and consensual manner, swinging can be an exciting and fun addition to any relationship or lifestyle. In the modern era, it is easier than ever for people interested in swinging to connect with other swingers, both online and in person. Under the right circumstances, swinging has been proven to increase trust, novelty, sexual satisfaction, and sexual pleasure in many relationships. This article aims to demonstrate how natural and positive swinging can be, with the hope that the general population will become more educated about the practice of swinging.
- Jenks, Richard. “Swinging: A review of the literature.” Archives of Sexual Behavior 27.5 (1998).
- Bergstrand, Curtis R., and Jennifer Blevins Sinski. “Swinging in America: Love, Sex, and Marriage in the 21st Century”. ABC-CLIO, 2010.
- “NASCA International.” NASCA International.
- Bergstrand, Curtis; Blevins Williams, Jennifer (2000-10-10). “Today’s Alternative Marriage Styles: The Case Of Swingers”. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality 3. Retrieved 2012-05-24.
Last Updated: 11 March 2018.