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What to Know About Swinging Before You Try It Yourself

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When you think about swingers, you might hear Mike Myers saying the word in his iconic Austin Powers voice: “Swingers baby, yeah!”

But the term “swinger” doesn’t just apply to groovy people who went to sex parties in the ’60s and ’70s. Swinging still happens today, and with different forms of non-monogamy gaining traction in mainstream culture, it might be more common than you realize. Maybe it’s something you’d even like to try.

What is swinging?

Swinging can be defined as either (or both) a behavior and an identity, according to Zhana Vrangalova, Ph.D., a sexuality and relationships scientist who runs a course on non-monogamy called Open Smarter.

“Behaviorally, it means that you are in a couple, or you’re a single person, who is living a life of having multiple casual partners,” she says. For most couples who partake in swinging, they’re having these sexual experiences “together as a couple, and they are doing it with some frequency,” she adds. (Think: Once a month, you and your spouse get together for a no-strings-attached foursome with another couple; or once a year, you hit up a swingers’ resort for a weeklong group sex buffet.) People who swing might find sex partners on apps, at social events, at sex clubs and sex parties, or even on cruises and other vacations geared toward these types of experiences.

Swinging can be an identity when people “adopt that label for themselves, and feel like they are part of the swinger community, or what’s often known as the Lifestyle,” Vrangalova says.

While there may be a rise in people in partaking in swinger behavior, Vrangalova has noticed a decline in people claiming “swinger” as an identity. “The word ‘swinging’ has been losing popularity,” she says. “The younger generation does not relate to it. They relate to polyamory, but polyamory is different, and it should be kept different.”

How does swinging compare to other forms of non-monogamy?

Swinging is often confused with open relationships and polyamory. To be fair, they all fall under the umbrella of non-monogamy, but they differ in whether partners are emotionally (or just sexually) exclusive, and whether partners play together or separately.

The biggest difference is that swingers only have one committed romantic relationship at a time, whereas polyamory—or multi-partnering, as Vrangalova also calls it—is a form of non-monogamy were people are open to having multiple committed romantic relationships at once. “That is a very different animal,” she says. A swinger couple might do soft or full swaps with other couples every weekend, but they’d still be emotionally and romantically exclusive with each other. (FYI, “soft swap” and “full swap” are swinger lingo for hookups that don’t and do involve P-in-V penetration, respectively.)

Swinging is also distinct from an open relationship, where members of a couple have their own sexual experiences outside their primary partnership. “Swingers mostly play together, whereas in open relationships, people mostly see other people separately,” Vrangalova says.

four friends walking through town together at night

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What is swinging like?

We asked three people who enjoy swinging to describe their experiences. You’ll hear from:

♥ Aaron*, 37

♥ Blaine*, 51

♥ Gary, 35

*Names have been changed to allow subjects to speak freely on private matters.

How would you describe your current swinging arrangement?

Aaron: Right now, we’re mostly playing as a couple. I have been added as a bull [a man who has sex with another person’s wife in a cuckolding scenario] for a few couples, and play with two female friends from time to time. Couples are the main goal, as I like having a balance of pleasure, connection, and engagement.

Blaine: ENM with my long-term partner. Currently we are only playing together, but we have played separately. It’s a work in progress. There are certain boundaries we’ve each set, like no cuddling with others, no repeat play dates, no unprotected sex. We’re not on a set schedule, but we’re always on the lookout, so when we do play it tends to be when an opportunity presents itself.

Gary: My partner and I like to say that our bedroom is wide open, but our relationship is not. We’re currently into other sexual partners, but not other romantic ones. Aside from rules in the bedroom regarding play, our two biggest (and probably only) rules are playing together always; separate rooms are okay, but always within the same area. And no taking one for the team. I have to be into the F, and she has to be into the M and the F. We meet [with partners] every few weeks, depending on our work schedules. It’s less of a priority, more of a bonus.

How do you typically meet partners?

Aaron: Most couples have been met on Feeld, [but] I have met most of the married women on Bumble and Tinder. There are a few organizations in [NYC] that I have meet people at; those have been the best, as it takes a lot of the long-winded talkers and flakes out of the interaction quickly.

Blaine: We’ve met most play partners online.

Gary: We generally meet new couples off either 3Fun, Feeld (our favorite), or through mutual friends.

How did you first get into swinging?

Aaron: Just kinda fell into it. When I was younger, a partner enjoyed talking about the possibility of this happening, but in those days, we didn’t know where to go for it, so it was just talk—and I really enjoyed it.

Blaine: After a long monogamous marriage, I met my current partner and we were both open to it. She had experience, so we just started doing it.

Gary: We both had friends introduce us to swinging in our past relationships. It only felt right that we kept the tradition going, since we both love it.

What’s stuck with you the most from your very first swinging experience?

Aaron: I was in a bar with a woman I was seeing, and another couple came up and asked if we wanted to play darts with them. (There was no one in the bar.) We said yes. Lots of chatting happened, and they asked if we wanted to keep drinking. The bar was closing, so we went back with them, and the next thing we know, we are playing strip Jenga. We were so green, we didn’t see what was happening. The biggest thing that sticks out is the husband couldn’t get it up, so it turned into a threesome for me.

Blaine: The reality isn’t what I expected in fantasy. The other partners are real people, too, with their own desires and their own agenda. It never goes as planned. You have to be clear about boundaries and enforce them if necessary.

Gary: The excitement, LOL. Everything was so intense and brand new. It was a kid-in-a-candy-shop energy, and we loved every moment.

Can you describe the feeling of seeing your partner with someone else?

Aaron: Pure joy. I love seeing my partner pleased. Knowing that she is getting a new experience, and we are sharing it together, is a powerful connection.

Blaine: The sexual brain is turned on. The logical brain is jealous. What looks hot in the moment can be difficult to process after you’re out of the zone.

Gary: It’s a turn-on for the both of us. Luckily, we have no jealousy issues, so for us it makes us happy knowing our partner is being pleasured in whichever way.

What challenges have come up between you and your partner, and how have you managed them?

Aaron: Too many to talk about, but comparison is the biggest issue, mostly around body or moans made from me. Lots of pre-talk and post-care connection is the best way [to manage these issues]. We use a Red, Yellow, Green Light [model] to talk about what’s off the table, what’s possible, and what we want.

Blaine: Challenges have come up in a couple of areas, emotionally and physically. Emotions come up, like jealousy and insecurity when she is getting tons of interest online or at a club, and I’m not finding anyone interested. This is especially difficult when someone matches with me just to get to her. Also, when she’s found a partner and is flirting and dirty talking, the anticipation of what might happen and what impact it can have can be nerve-wracking. This also applies to the aftermath of a play date, when the other party wants to continue corresponding and play again.

The physical acts have been okay, but there’s always someone better looking, more experienced, more dominant, “bigger”, etc. This has led to insecurity and inability to perform at times. You need a partner that can support you and has your back when you feel like this. How we’ve managed is slowing down. We started by diving in head-first, down for anything. We backed off from that and have looked for encounters that are less involved and smaller scale just to have less to process until we develop a comfort zone.

Gary: We haven’t faced any, luckily. We’ve been extremely transparent with this lifestyle and it’s been amazing thus far.

What challenges have come up between you and other sexual partners, and how have you managed them?

Aaron: Too much time shared with other partners in a group setting, like drinks or play. [We’ve managed this through] communication and [having a] set time to connect before or after, along with affirmation.

Blaine: If you’re lucky, you find the woman who is down for a hookup. Most of the time, they want more than just a play date. I’ve found it difficult to find female partners that want no strings attached. I’m not okay with lying or misrepresenting, so it’s hard. But even if they’ve agreed to the terms, sometimes they seem to want more after the fact. Being honest is all I can do.

Gary: The only thing I can think of is one time where the other couple didn’t like to kiss on the lips, and they weren’t vocal about it. It created a bit of weirdness, but once we all chatted it out, we moved on from the situation. Aside from that, we are very good at putting [things] on the table in regard to what we like and dislike in the bedroom. It creates less opportunities for miscommunication and slip-ups.

close up of couple about to kiss

Inti St ClairGetty Images

Who in your life knows? If you’ve told people—how did you explain it?

Aaron: Only a few friends that are already in the mix of the Lifestyle. I don’t have a need or want to share or explain with people I’m not super close with.

Blaine: Only a couple of close friends. I just told them we have an open relationship. They’re not in the Lifestyle, so they bring their own interpretation to what that means. If they really wanted to know, I would explain the nuances to them.

Gary:
We don’t hide the fact that we’re swingers, but we don’t volunteer the information, either. Family is off the table, but with friends, we don’t mind discussing it or admitting it if it comes up in a conversation. We love answering questions and giving people some insight on swinging, since there are so many misconceptions surrounding it. We give them examples of our experiences, and one of the biggest things we love to share is the fact that you can take it at your own pace. Just because you’re a “swinger,” it doesn’t mean you need to full swap. There are so many ways to enjoy it that people aren’t aware of.

Has swinging helped you and/or your partner explore new kinks or other aspects of your sexuality?

Aaron: 100%. I’m lightly exploring rope play now. And I used to question my sexuality, but after about four or five three-ways with adding men, it’s just not my thing. I will enjoy them with my partner for her sake, but it’s not really my cup of tea, hence why we just did couples.

Blaine: Yes. For kink, I’ve experimented as Dom, since she’s a sub. We’ve also gotten into rough play, flogging, and rope. We’ve even done some modest public display stuff at a club. I’ve also gotten to explore some bisexual tendencies and interests. It’s a much more open and non-judgmental scene than my normal routine.

Gary: I don’t know if it’s helped us explore as much as it’s helped us enhance.

What misconceptions does the average person have about swinging, and what would you say to correct them?

Aaron: [People think swinging means] you don’t find your partner attractive anymore, and that’s not the case. Any partner I have swung with, I find it the sexiest [thing] that I can give her amazing pleasure and she can get it while I get mine. Shared experiences are powerful, and the fact that you have to really kill the communication game [makes your] connection stronger.

Blaine: This isn’t easy. It takes a lot of work to find compatible partners. Just when you think you’ve found one, they flake, or they’re not what they portrayed, so you start the search over. For men, I think they imagine they’ll be able to sleep with anyone they want, and they’ll be hooking up every weekend. It’s not that easy. You won’t get laid as much as you think. But your partner will; if she wants to, she will be able to find someone any day, any time. Brace yourself. I also think the average person doesn’t know that you can set boundaries—that it doesn’t have to be a free-for-all. Also that there’s aftercare, where you and your partner reconnect and sooth each other.

Gary: People new to the scene always assume it’s full swap right off the bat, but that’s completely untrue. We always let newbies know that there are tons of ways to enjoy: You can just watch, soft swap, same room, etc.

Have an all-time favorite/funny/awkward/amazing swinging experience you’d like to share?

Aaron: I met this woman online while I was overseas. We had chatted a bit, and when I flew back, she asked to meet me for a drink in Soho, while her husband was hanging with friends at a pizza shop near Ludlow. We hit it off, and she called her husband to come pick us up. He drove us back to where they were staying (hospital housing, as they both were doctors). As we were driving up, she came in the back seat and sat on my face. Then he filmed. I found out she was a squirter, and soaked their back seat. Needless to say, the rest of the night was magical, and he had amazing filming skills.

Gary: I think the most awkward situation we’ve ever been in is the first time we had a mini-orgy. There were five of us in total (MMFFF), and the guy got so nervous that he overdid it on his “partying” and couldn’t stay hard for very long. The ladies tried a few different ways to keep him hard, but in the end it was an awkward goodbye and rush out of our place.

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