Although the term “swingers” may evoke images of ’70s suburbia and “key parties,” swinging is still alive and well.

The swinging lifestyle or “the lifestyle” describes individuals, but usually couples, who have sex with someone other than their partners, with the full knowledge and consent of their partners. Unlike polyamory – where the focus may be on developing other relationships – swinging generally refers to recreational sex with others. Swinging can happen in group settings at a swing party, swing club, between two or more couples in a more private setting, or by bringing a third person to enjoy sex with a couple – a threesome.

Who are swingers?
Swingers vary across race, gender, age, shape, size and sexuality. Although partners may have sex with other people by swinging, the primary connection is still between the couple. Single people may be involved in the swing scene, but single men are discouraged (or charged very high entrance rates at swing clubs) from attending. Single women, on the other hand, are often encouraged to attend, especially if they would be willing to be sexually intimate with other women. Gay and bi men, however, are often implicitly discouraged from attending many of the mostly straight swing clubs.

The Swinging Agreement
Swinging isn’t cheating; it is an agreement a couple makes. (In fact, “cheaters” who are caught may be shunned from future swinging interactions.) Couples that swing talk about being very secure in their relationships, and they see swinging as a way to enhance their relationships. The “lifestyle” requirements are very clear: both partners need to be completely comfortable and honest with each other to fully enjoy swinging.

Swinging couples also establish rules with one another about what their swinging interactions will look like. Some couples may agree to sex but no kissing because that may feel too intimate. Some couples may agree to touching, but not to penetrative sex. Establishing these ground rules before getting into a swing, as well as opening up communication during and afterwards, helps couples stay connected to one another and enjoy themselves more.

Where the Swingers Are
Swing parties may be “off-premise” – the swingers meet in one place but have sex elsewhere – or “on-premise” – the swingers meet and have sex in the same location.

Swing clubs are privately owned spaces where swing parties are held. There may be a cover fee or a membership fee to be part of the club. Swing clubs often have private memberships and may require couples or singles to complete an interview before being accepted. Just like swingers themselves, swing clubs vary, ranging from upscale night clubs to renovated western-style restaurants.

Contact lists and swing communities abound online. These may be categorized by location (like the East Central Illinois Swing Group) or interests (such as Central Illinois Campers That Swing). These online communities announce parties, seek out interactions and share resources.

Swinging Etiquette
Most clubs and groups post a list of etiquette to help members (especially first timers). First and foremost, no means no. Despite an expectation that people at a swing party will engage in any sexual interaction, all the swinging resources say swingers are able to say – and should graciously accept – a no. At the same time, they make it clear that swing parties are not for lurkers; people who come to the party should be willing to be sexual, although they should be able to define for themselves what that means. In addition, safer sex is important and expected, so be sure to bring condoms, latex barriers, and lube.

Every swing group is different, and it may be important to explore if you jive with the values and norms of the club. Do you like the people you meet? Do you like the community? Be patient. Take your time and find a group that is right for you.

Boys Who Like Boys Need Not Apply
In the swinging lifestyle, male-on-male sexual interactions seems to be discouraged. A recent article on the Chicago Tribune Red Eye interviewed a Chicago-based swing group called Tha’ Sex Kittens. At a party held by the group, rooms were provided for bisexual and bi-curious women to interact, but no similar room was made available for bisexual or bi-curious men.

Swinging can be a place to challenge assumptions about sex and sexuality, and we were disappointed to find that many communities did not encourage a full range of sexual expression, including males exploring sex play with other males.

Kim Rice and Ross Wantland are professionals in the fields of sexuality and violence prevention. E-mail them at buzzdoinitwell@yahoo.com

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