Swing Out Sister
What is swinging? Technically, swinging is defined as consensual, non-monogamous sex, usually done in the presence of or with the participation of one’s long term partner. It can include full-on sex, bi-sensuality, threesomes, wife swapping, and even just making out with other hot people that you aren’t married to. However, the term alone is so subjectively loaded that it rarely brings about a clear understanding – the word itself brings to mind images of suavely dressed men in wide lapel’ed sports jackets and their hairsprayed, polyester wearing wives in 60’s kitsch décor, with a drink in one hand and their other fondling a neighbor’s ass. It even reminds some people of1970’s and 80’s soft-core porn from Europe, where scantily clad couples on nude beaches frolicked affectionately with each other for the titillation of the viewers. Fortunately for us, the way that swingers – and their activities – have changed over the intervening decades has actually made it easier for people who are interested in giving it a try to find out where to go and how to get along.
Swinging has developed into is it’s own culture, with websites, parties, magazines, cruise and resort vacations, private clubs, and PR campaigns – all designed to inform, attract interested people, and most importantly, provide swingers with discretion and fun – two things that are pretty high up on the “want” list of participants in the lifestyle.
Devotees of swinging, and the swinging lifestyle, come in as many shapes, sizes, and colors as you can imagine, and from all walks of life; most of them are involved in a long-term, committed relationship or are (usually) bisexual women who are single and interested in playing with people without a relationship developing. What you won’t usually find at swingers events are same-sex couples, single men, and bisexual men; some groups and clubs are welcoming to non-het couples or men who enjoy sex with men, but that’s the exception to the rule.
Swinging, as a form of non-monogamy, often gets confused with polyamory. While there is no specific dividing line between the two terms, polyamory is generally used as a label by people who have fully emotionally involved relationships with more than one person (or who intend to); swinging is usually the label chosen by people who seek out other intimate partners with their partner, and without the emotionally-oriented “relationship” context. As in all things, though, these are wide generalizations; you might want to ask the people that you’re talking to how they define themselves and their relationships before you make any assumptions!
If you’re thinking about swinging with your sweetie, there are some important things to consider. Swinging, like any other sexual exploration, requires a high level of honest communication between partners – and even more so, because of the possibility of emotional pain (jealousy, feelings of inadequacy or abandonment, etc.) or physical problems (sexually transmitted diseases). Most swinger websites, FAQ’s, and discussions reflect that the qualities present in couples that are successful with swinging are the ability to maintain the primacy of their relationship with their partner, the ability to communicate and be responsible for their own individual feelings. Swinging shouldn’t be an immediate decision, nor should it be the first thing you aim for when things aren’t going so swell in your relationship; as many people can attest, adding more stress into an already challenged partnership often has some very unwanted consequences.
Among other things, you will want to talk with your partner, both before and after your initial (and subsequent) visit to a swingers group, about a variety of subjects. Obviously, discussing potential jealousy issues is of primary importance. Think about the kinds of things that might make you feel uncomfortable – are you okay with watching your partner kiss another person, or would you prefer not to watch? What about sex? Are there certain activities, such as penetrative sex or anal sex, that you’d prefer to remain “just between us”? The last thing you want is to have someone get the wrong button pushed, and react negatively at a gathering (yes, it’s been known to happen, and no, you’ll never be invited back again if it does).
You’ll also want to talk about and practice safer sex practices. It’s an empowering experience to get tested together, learn about how various STDs are contracted, then make mutual decisions about what risks are acceptable to you. And make sure you’re absolutely clear on these – it’s not unheard of to hear “well, we didn’t use a condom when we had anal sex, since nobody could get pregnant” when the rule was “all intercourse requires a condom”, and unfortunately, one slip is all it takes to get an STD that can ruin a relationship.
Swing, Baby, Swing!
Swinging has a lingo all its own, as well – and it’s a great way to clearly communicate with other swingers what your own wants and limits are. It’s important that you get a feel for some of the terms most often used, as you’ll see them over and over again in personal ads, party information, and when conversing with other swingers. For instance, you’ll often hear the terms “soft swap” and “full swap”; a soft swap is intimacy / foreplay with others, but doesn’t encompass “home plate” intercourse (that’s where the “Full swap” comes in – no, it doesn’t mean exchanging chewing gum by mouth, sorry!). Also, you may hear “open swinging” and “closed swinging” used; a couple that wants open swinging wants to engage in activities only in the presence of both partners (whether or not both are actually included in the action), and a couple that does “closed swinging” would be willing to play separately. You also may see the term “on premises” or “off premises” - on premises means that there are spaces available for sex, and off premises means that you’ll need to take your conquests home or to a hotel to get busy with them.
Swing clubs and organizations aren’t that difficult to find – a quick trip to your local Google will get you plenty of options. Do keep in mind though that many clubs have requirements for potential members or attendees at their parties – and for good reason. They’ll often ask for photos, a brief writeup of why you and your partner are interested in attending, a personal ad (if they keep a website for members to peruse), and occasionally you’ll need to meet with someone before you get invited to a gathering. While this might seem like overkill, think about it from their perspective – a lot of people don’t want the details of their sexy lives blasted all over the media, and even more people just don’t want to harsh the buzz of the swinger’s playspace with people who are not really into it and just want to be “lookie lou’s”.
While you’re making contact, make sure you ask any questions you might have. Trust me, they’re not going to think you’re idiots; in fact, most people are pleased to answer questions from newcomers, as it means that they won’t have to deal with poor etiquette and misunderstandings later! Ask what you should wear to the get together; make sure you know what levels of interaction are acceptable. Find out what (if anything) you should bring with you – a nosh to share at a snack table, a bottle of your favorite adult beverage, etc. You might also want to find out if there are any special etiquette customs within the group; one group we know of offers ribbons of various colors for people to wear to indicate their interests and whether they are approachable or would prefer to not participate at all.
Once you’re in, what can you expect to see? The short answer is … a lot, but not everything! At most social events, there is a main area for socializing, dancing, and making out; there may also be private areas for more intimate activities. You’ll certainly see lots of flirting and touching, as well as some hot makeout sessions (voyeurs will LOVE it). You should see safer sex supplies handy, especially in private areas (at minimum, you should see condoms and lube); if you have your own personal favorites, feel free to bring them along. You should also see people who are hosts for the evening; these are the folks that you should approach with any questions, or even if you want an introduction but are a bit on the shy side to go do it yourself.
Etiquette at swingers clubs is very casual, but there is one rule that is very firmly enforced – No means No! Just because someone attends a swinger gathering (or really, any sex-positive event) doesn’t mean that they’re interested in participating physically…and the biggest faux pas you can make is hearing “no” and not respecting the boundaries of the person you’re talking to. If you’re interested in someone, simply ask them if they’d like to dance, or kiss, or whatever. Some people will touch others to communicate interest; if you’re being touched and are uncomfortable with it, all you need to do is simply say “no” and move on. You also may be told to arrive in street-appropriate attire; most clubs don’t wish to draw attention to themselves as “sex clubs” and dozens of people traipsing through the door in g-strings and pearls doesn’t say “PTA Meeting Here!”. You can always change into something more exotic once you’re inside…in fact, we highly recommend it!
One thing to remember about the voyeur angle – people don’t go to a club and make out unless they’re willing to be observed. If you see something that’s hot – feel free to watch, from a respectful distance, and know the etiquette before you approach for some hands-on (or in!) action. Some clubs have doors that can be left open for people to join in the fun; other clubs suggest that you not approach unless you’re invited (often with a non-verbal acknowledgment by one partner with a “come on over” gesture). If in doubt – watch, don’t approach, and make contact later – a little flattery is, in essence, a “social lubricant” beyond compare!
If you feel uncomfortable about attending a party, never fear – there are plenty of websites dedicated to swingers out there, and many of them prefer to not be public in any way about their fun. Of course, you’ll have to wade through a lot of ads and kiss some frogs to find your Mr. and Ms. Charming, but the payoff can be quite exciting! Many people will (rightly) want to meet in public the first time, perhaps at dinner or over drinks, without any play time afterward; this way they can evaluate the chemistry and the fit of everyone without being overcome by hormone- or booze-induced optimism. Just one point – when you start talking to people that you have any interest in meeting or becoming friendly with, remember that honesty is important. There’s no need to fib about your experience; not everyone is looking for the worldliest couple in town!
So, what’s the polite thing to do the morning after an amazing hookup happens? Drop the lucky couple from the night before a note and let them know how much you enjoyed their company…and if you really did, tell them that you’d love to do it again if they’re interested. Some couples prefer to keep their hookups to a single time or very rare repeat, to ensure that emotional boundaries don’t get crossed; others, however, love to build connections with the people that they swing with, and develop strong friendships over time. Either way, it’s always a nice way to cap off a great evening by letting everyone that participated know how much fun it was for you.
So, swinging, while not an activity for everyone, is experiencing a resurgence as people decide that they want to explore other levels of their sexuality; with patience and the advice above, we hope that you’ll be able to make a decision about it and take your first steps into swinging with confidence and excitement. And if you do, be sure to write us with all your hot stories…