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What is Swinging ?
Swinging or partner swapping (sometimes referred to as the swinging lifestyle or simply the lifestyle) is a non-monogamous  behavior, in which partners in a committed relationship agree, as a couple, for both partners to engage in sexual activities with other people, sometimes referred to as recreational or social sex. Swinging can take place in a number of contexts, ranging from a spontaneous sexual activity at an informal social gathering of friends to a swingers' club and can involve internet-based introduction services.
The phenomenon of swinging (or at least its wider discussion and practice) is regarded by some as arising from the upsurge in sexual activity during the sexual revolution of the 1960s, made possible by the invention of the contraceptive pill and the prevalence of safer sex practices during the same period.
The term wife swapping is now criticized as being androcentric and not accurately describing the full range of sexual activities in which couples may take part, but the term continues in use, and reflects the origins of the concept whereby husbands were viewed as initiating an informal partner swap.
As a general rule, swinging
couples engage in conventional sexual activities, but with other partners.
Penetrative sex by a swinging partner is referred to as a full swap; while
non-penetrative sex, such as oral sex, is referred to as a soft swap.
New swinging couples often choose a soft swap before they are comfortable
with a full swap, although many couples stay "soft swap" for
personal or safety related reasons. Soft swinging occurs when the couple
engage in sexual activities while two or more other couples perform sex
acts in the immediate vicinity.
Couples engage in sexual activities
with others for a variety of reasons; and the reasons are not necessarily
the same for both partners. Some partners engage in these activities to
add variety into their otherwise conventional sex lives or for curiosity.
Some regard such activities as social interactions. Others treat such
activities as a means of satisfying their heightened sexual desires, or
to satisfy a partner's hypersexuality.
A formal arrangement was signed
by John Dee, his wife Jane, his scryer, Edward Kelley and Kelley's wife
Joanna on 22 April 1587, whereby conjugal relations would be shared between
the men and their spouses. This arose following seances which apparently
resulted in spirits guiding Dee and Kelley towards this course of action.
The only groups who were known
to openly practice wife-swapping were European intellectuals; most notably
Mary Shelley, the author of "Frankenstein", and her husband
Percy Shelley. Usually European, and American intellectuals,enjoy even
to this day, trying to find instances of open extra-marital sex of religious
groups of the Abrahamic faiths. According to certain of these intellectuals,
two related messianic Jewish sects of the eighteenth century, the Frankists,
followers of Jacob Frank, and the Dönmeh, followers of Shabbetai
Zvi, were alleged to hold an annual springtime 'Lamb Festival,' which
consisted of a celebratory dinner that included a ritualized exchange
of spouses. Two contemporaneous Turkish Muslim sects, Kizilbash and
Alevi, were also alleged to hold similar celebrations. These reports
should be considered very cautiously, as they may simply be defamatory
propaganda of the time against heretical groups, particularly since the
groups involved were secretive and even deceptive about their beliefs,
aims, and practices. It should be noted that Purim, the Jewish holiday
whose date is close to that of the Lamb Festival, is traditionally celebrated
with costumes, masks, drunkenness, and eating sweet baked goods, often
containing seeds and fruits. These practices resemble (and may have been
borrowed from) similar early springtime festivals celebrated in the region
at this time, such as Nowruz, Hidrellez, the Feast of Fools, and Carnival.
They also resemble more ancient pagan springtime festivals.
The sobriquet "communist" has sometimes been applied, especially in Germany during the mid-19th century, to people who advocate spouse-trading. In fact, communist philosophy may be anti-sexual, especially in the case of religious communists like the Shakers.
In The Communist Manifesto
(1848), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels suggest that the allegation of
communists practising "community of women" is an example of
hypocrisy and psychological projection by "bourgeois" critics
of communism, who: "not content with having wives and daughters of
their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes,
take the greatest pleasure in seducing each other's wives.". However,
this can be seen as political rhetoric against criticisms from the bourgeois,
rather than having an anti-sexual quality.
According to Terry Gould's Book The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers , swinging began among Air Force pilots and their wives during World War II. The mortality rate of pilots was high. Gould reports that a close bond arose between pilots, with the implication that husbands would care for all the wives as their own, emotionally and sexually, if the husbands were away or lost.
This is debatable, however, since it would have been unusual for wives to accompany their husbands on foreign tours. Other sources point to U.S. Air Force test pilots in the California desert as the original participants. Though the beginnings are not agreed upon, it is assumed American swinging began among American military communities in the 1950s. By the time the Korean War ended, swinging had spread from the military to the suburbs. The media dubbed the phenomenon wife-swapping.
The first swingers' organization was the Sexual Freedom League, which was formed in the 1960s in Berkeley, California by Robert McGinley, in the sexually liberal San Francisco Bay Area. McGinley later formed an umbrella organization for swinging clubs called the North American Swing Club Association (now NASCA International)  to disseminate information about swinging across North America. Many internet websites that cater for swinging couples now exist, some boasting hundreds of thousands of members.
In February 2010, Christoph
Büchel and the Secession contemporary art museum in Vienna, Austria
invited a local swing?rs' club to hold orgies and display related paraphernalia
in the building where Gustav Klimt's famous Beethoven Frieze had prompted
substantial outrage and media attention in 1902.
Research has been conducted in the United States since the late 1960s. One study, based on an Internet questionnaire addressed to visitors of swinger-related sites, found swingers are happier in their relationships than the norm.
60% said that swinging improved their relationship; 1.7% said swinging made their relationship less happy. Approximately 50% of those who rated their relationship "very happy" before becoming swingers maintained their relationship had become happier. 90% of those with less happy relationships said swinging improved them. Almost 70% of swingers claimed no problem with jealousy; approximately 25% admitted "I have difficulty controlling jealousy when swinging" as "somewhat true", while 6% said this was "yes, very much" true. Swingers rate themselves happier ("very happy": 59% of swingers compared to 32% of non-swingers) and their lives more "exciting" (76% of swingers compared to 54% of non-swingers) than non-swingers, by significantly large margins. There was no significant difference between responses of men and women, although more males (70%) than females completed the survey.
This study is of limited use due to self-selected sampling. Self sampling procedures create a potential for bias. For instance, swinging couples who had stronger relationships may have been more motivated to complete the questionnaire. Alternatively, because swinging may cause stress on a marriage, perhaps only those with higher than average commitment are able to remain married. Couples who have jealousy or strife issues caused by swinging might not persist in the activity and could therefore be less likely respondents. Additionally, couples that would be negatively affected by swinging may be less likely to try swinging in the first place.
ABC News reporter John Stossel produced an investigative report into the swinging lifestyle. Stossel reported that at that time, more than four million people were swingers, according to estimates by the Kinsey Institute and other researchers. He also cited Terry Gould's research, which concluded that "couples swing in order to not cheat on their partners." When Stossel asked swinging couples whether they worry their spouse will "find they like someone else better", one male replied, "People in the swinging community swing for a reason. They don't swing to go out and find a new wife;" a woman asserted, "It makes women more confident - that they are the ones in charge." Stossel interviewed 12 marriage counselors. According to Stossel, "not one of them said don't do it", though some said "getting sexual thrills outside of marriage can threaten a marriage". Nevertheless, swingers whom Stossel interviewed claimed "their marriages are stronger because they don't have affairs and they don't lie to each other."
According to economic studies on swinging, the ICT revolution, together with improvements in medicine, has been effective in reducing some of the costs of swinging and hence in increasing the number of swingers. And the economic approaches which seem best suited to capture the empirical data are those based on the concept of hedonic adaptation. These approaches suggest that it is consistent with maximizing swingers strategy to begin from "soft" swinging and only later engage in "harder" swinging, and that also the search for ever new sexual experiences delays long-period hedonic adaptation and hence increases swingers long-period wellbeing. Both these theoretical predictions seem to find confirmation in the empirical data on swinger behaviour.
Some couples engage in sexual activities at sex clubs, some of which cater for the swinging lifestyle. Most major cities in North America and western Europe have sex clubs, many in a permanent location, but they often keep a low profile. Over 3,000 swinging clubs are believed to exist worldwide, with slightly over 1,000 having an online presence, but there are believed to be many other small neighborhood clubs, which are known among members of the lifestyle community, without a website. The rules of these clubs vary considerable, and admissions are not necessarily limited to married couples.
In the US, many off-premises swinging clubs follow a bar or nightclub format, sometimes renting an entire existing bar for scheduled swinging events. Consequently, on weekends in suburbia, bars in large industrial parks that attract a mainstream clientèle during weekdays and would otherwise sit empty or closed on weekends (when business offices are closed) are likely locations for a takeover. Memberships must be obtained and rules followed at these off-premise locations.
On-premises clubs usually have
a similar format to off-premises clubs. Most on-premises clubs do not
serve alcohol because of legal prohibitions on the sale of alcohol where
sexual activity takes place. However, some permit guests to bring
their own alcohol. Also, the vast majority of swinging clubs in the US
do not advertise as such. The largest swinger society in North America
is NASCA International. NASCA is an association of clubs, websites, publications,
travel agencies, and events catering to the swinging lifestyle community.
NASCA was established as an umbrella organization with the intent of encouraging
the dissemination of accurate information about swinging lifestyles across
North America. It publishes a guide listing clubs and events in 43 of
the 50 US states and the District of Columbia, Canada, as well as 25 other
Attitudes to same-sex activity and bisexuality vary by culture and locale, and by gender.
As a rule, female bisexuality
and bicuriosity are common in both the "selective" (see below)
and traditional swinging scenes and tend to be the norm amongst participants;
by contrast, male same-sex activity has a wider variation in its handling,
and may be welcomed, accepted, frowned upon, or forbidden. One
source, covering "Chicago's first and only all bisexual [club]"
stated that in the founders' view "The lifestyle is pretty homophobic"
and "male bisexuality was erased", although an "underground
market" existed. Swing clubs and other facilities exist for gay
and bisexual interests for both genders, but differ for example
bathhouses and the like for gay males, sometimes described as being "controversial"
even in the gay community due to safer sex concerns, whereas women's clubs
are "comparatively rare" and tend to be organized as private
events, or niche clubs with high popularity for their events.
Traditionally swingers' clubs do not discriminate in regards to physical appearance or age, the average age of a swinger is 39, while the ages when people first enter the swinging lifestyle average 31 for women and 34 for men.
Younger swingers seeking peer group options find this is not always possible at conventional swingers' clubs. Similarly, those seeking to exclude the physically unappealing from their sexual ambit are often frustrated at conventional swingers' clubs because guests are not screened. Beginning in 1998 with Fever Parties  in London, this gave rise to exclusive parties and clubs that selected by looks and/or imposed an upper age limit. Within the USA the phenomenon translated first to Los Angeles, then Miami and eventually to New York City.
'Selective swinging' events include mostly childless, unmarried young graduates whose average ages are as low as the late 20s, whereas traditional swingers events have average ages in the 40s. Selective parties are sometimes referred to as "exclusive" or "elitist" amongst older swingers.
The acceptance of singles varies by area and event. Some clubs, parties, and private events allow only couples and single females, but some allow single men on selected nights. Single females are often admitted at reduced price. Because of the high proportion of female same sex activity (and interest), interested single females are called "unicorns" in the context of their existence being a fantasy, rather than a reality.
Reasons against single males vary. Most but not all of the people in swinger events are male-female couples more interested in couples or single women than single men. Thus, swinger events strive to achieve a balance between male and female participants or have a slightly larger number of females.
A complaint is that single
men change the tone of an event. While hostility towards single men is
rare an abundance of single males is not often looked upon favorably.
When single males are permitted, their numbers are usually limited by
higher fees or strict requirements.
Swinging is illegal in some
countries. In May 2010, Ma Yaohai, a 53-year-old Chinese
computer science professor, was jailed for three and a half years after
being found guilty of arranging swingers parties.
Some swingers engage in unprotected
sex, a practice known as barebacking. Some couples reduce the risk of
contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) by exchanging STD test
results and serosorting. The majority of swingers engage in safe sex practices
and will not engage with others who do not also practice safe sex. Proponents
for swinging point to the fact that safe sex is accepted within the community
and the risk of sexual disease is the same for them as for the general
populationand that some populations of sexually non-monogamous people
have clearly lower rates of STDs than the general population. Opponents
are concerned about the risk of pregnancy and STDs such as HIV, arguing
that even protected sex is risky given that some STDs may be spread regardless
of the use of condoms, such as Herpes and HPV. A study done in the Netherlands
that compared the medical records of self reported swingers to that of
the general population found that STI prevalence was highest in young
people, homosexual men, and swingers.
Objections pertaining to the
basic principles of swinging on a moral or philosophical basis may exhort
the view that sexual relations should only occur within a committed relationship.
Some argue that if sex becomes the main reason for swinging, sex may become
mechanistic and less satisfying than the intimacy experienced by monogamous
couples. Many people argue that any sex is wrong outside of marriage,
whether it be with the spouse's permission or without it.
Many couples enter swinging while in secure relationships, providing added motivation to avoid excessive health risks. While sexual affairs outside relationships may be in the heat of the moment without regard to consequences, swingers maintain that sex among swingers is a more thought-out and practical affair.
Many swinging clubs in the US and UK do not have alcohol licenses and have a "bring your own beverage" (BYOB) policy. Also, it is not uncommon for experienced swingers to remain sober; these individuals may state that they take a safer approach to sexual health than comparable non-monogamous singles (who ostensibly have impaired judgment from becoming inebriated).
Condoms are often required at many swinging clubs and parties. In addition, a minority of swingers rely on STD testing to ensure their safety. A small portion focus on massage and other activities unlikely to transmit STDs; however, most participants acknowledge they are accepting the risks that any sexually promiscuous member of society does.
Although there is a risk of pregnancy, there are ways to minimize the risk to almost zero. Solutions include a tubal ligation (female sterilization), vasectomy (male sterilization), or having a group entirely made of menopausal women. Other solutions include using condoms with another form of non-surgical birth control such as using the pill. Proper use of a condom with an effective birth control method will minimize the risk of pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted disease.
Some believe sexual attraction is part of human nature and should be openly enjoyed by a committed or married couple. Some swingers cite divorce data in the US, claiming the lack of quality of sex and spousal infidelity are significant factors in divorce. One study showed 37% of husbands and 29% of wives admit at least one extramarital affair (Reinisch, 1990), and divorce rates for first marriages approached 60%.
As one study asserted:
According to King (1996) sexual habituation leads to changes in interaction with partners. At three to seven years into a marriage, it takes increased stimulation to produce the sexual excitation previously obtained by a glance or simple touch. A couple receptive to new and different sexual experiences will begin to explore different avenues of shared sexual fulfillment to continue to grow together. At this stressful point infidelity increases and the divorce rate peaks. Couples who find a way to reconnect physically and emotionally are more likely to make it through this period. Swinging may be one solution it provides sexual variety, adventure, and the opportunity to live out fantasies as a couple without secrecy and deceit. Many swingers report that their relationships are strengthened through swinging, and say their sex lives are more intimate and satisfying. Jealousy can occur, but proponents of swinging assert that jealousy is mainly couples whose relationships were already unstable. The effect on unstable relationships has yet to be determined.
Ethnology of "swinging"
Temporary spouse-trading is
practiced as an element of ritual initiation into the Lemba secret society
in the French Congo through "wife exchange" : "you
shall lay with the priestess-wife of your Lemba Father, and he shall lay
with your wife too."
Among the Orya of northern Irian Jaya, the agama to?kat (Indonesian for 'walking-stick') cult "encouraged men to trade wives, i.e., to have sexual relations with each other's wives. This trading of sexual favours ... was only between pairs of families, ... adherents are now very secretive concerning cult activities and teachings." In this 'walking-stick' cult "the walking stick ... dute is the term men use to refer to the husband of the woman who becomes his sexual partner." Furthermore, "There have been other similar movements ... near Jayapura. These are popularly called Towel Religion (agama handuk) and The Simpson Religion (agama simpson)."
Among the Mimika of southern
Irian Jaya, temporary spouse-trading is said to have been originated by
a woman who had returned from the world of the dead : "The wife says
to her husband, '... tonight I will sleep in the house of the headman
..., and ... his wife, will sleep in your house. Because I have been dead
..., tonight I am going to do for the first time what people have been
looking forward to (for so long). I am going to institute the papisj,
"Inuit wife trading has often been reported and commented on ..."
Temporary "wife-lending ... was apparently more common among the Aleuts than Eskimos". Several motivations for temporary spouse-trading are practiced among the Eskimo:
* at the instigation of an
a?ekok (shaman), as a magical rite to achieve better weather for hunting-expeditions;
Among the Inuit, a very specialized
and socially-proscribed form of wife-sharing was practiced. When hunters
were away, they would often stumble into the tribal lands of other tribes,
and be subject to death for the offense. But, when they could show a "relationship"
by virtue of a man, father or grandfather who had sex with their wife,
mother or other female relatives, the wandering hunter was then regarded
as family. The Inuit had specific terminology and language describing
the complex relationships that emerged from this practice of wife sharing.
A man called another man "aipak" if the man had sex with his
wife. Aipak means, "other me." So, in their conception, this
other man sleeping with one's wife was just "another me."
Among the Araweté (Asurini) in the state of Pará, Brazil, "spouse-swapping" is practiced.
Among the Bari tribe of Venezuela,
when a woman becomes pregnant, the women often take other male lovers.
These additional lovers then take on the role of secondary or tertiary
fathers to the child. If the primary father should die, the other men
then have a social obligation to support these children. Research has
shown that children with such "extra" fathers have improved
life outcomes, in this economically and resource-poor area of the jungle.
* The Blood Oranges (1997),
two western couples, one with children, come together in the fictional
Mediterranean village of Ilyria. The film was adapted from the novel by
* In John Irving's novel The
158-Pound Marriage, two New England college professors and their wives
enter a ménage à quatre with disastrous consequences.
* In a 1971 episode of All
in the Family, Edith befriends a couple, inviting them over for coffee,
not realizing that the other couple is into swinging and are under the
impression that they are to swap spouses with her and Archie for the night.
* Contact magazine
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