Ask the Loveologist: The Effects of Swinging

My wife and I tried swinging several years ago. It was exciting and fun to plan dates and it brought up surprising aspects of our sexuality. It also brought up some powerful emotions, which we were able to work through, although after some of the couples we were dating dropped us, the experience hit my wife really hard and we stopped not only swinging, but having sex altogether. Slowly we have re-built our sex life. Now she often uses our past experiences as fantasies when we have sex, but says she isn’t interested in the lifestyle anymore. It is like she is a different person while having sex. I would be curious to try it again, but she won’t even talk about it. Any ideas?

Thanks for bringing up this question about the swinging lifestyle. For clarification purposes, swinging is unlike the open marriages of the 70s or the more recent version of “polyamory” that supports intimacy and love with multiple partners. Swinging, by contrast, refers to non-monogamous sexual activity, treated much like any other social activity that is experienced as a couple. Emotional monogamy and primary commitment to the love relationship with one’s marital partner is the base rule. Swinging sex is usually done in the presence of one’s spouse and requires the consent of both partners. Although swinging couples often become close friends with other swinging couples, there are rules restricting emotional involvement with non-spousal partners. That said, the relationships that form between couples can easily and often become as emotionally complex as that of the married partners.

Although swinging involves having sex with people other than one’s spouse, people who choose this lifestyle report that the practice enhances their relationship both sexually and emotionally. They say that the communication, openness and sharing of their natural desires for sexual variety allows them to explore their fantasies together without deceit or guilt. While this intense sexual openness can instill higher levels of trust and openness within your relationship it can also inadvertently create emotional vulnerabilities that neither of you may be aware of.

Swinging, as you have seen, can be a double-edged sword. Still largely viewed as deviant social behavior, it is perceived as a threat by the majority of couples and institutions.  Most swinging couples feel that they need to guard their lifestyle choices closely so that ironically, while they have greater openness between them, they also struggle with secrecy and vulnerability within their families and communities. Although recent media exposes about swinging has piqued the curiosity of many couples, recent studies show the population that has engaged in this practice is less than 5% of all couples.  The North American Swing Club Association claims that the population of participants is much higher at 15 percent and reports that there are organized swing clubs in almost all states and in many international communities.

It is not uncommon for couples to pull out of the swinging lifestyle and have to rebuild their own intimate life. That said, many couples stay with this practice for many years and report high levels of marital satisfaction, although with the small sample sizes and limited research on the topic, it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions. I was recently contacted by a couple who just launched the site because they felt like the web lacked resources for swinging couples, including themselves. Many proponents of the swinging lifestyle say that it is a healthier way to deal with the sexual boredom that many couples struggle with and that the honesty and communication required actually make marriages stronger.

Some of the most challenging aspects of this or any sexual practice that includes multiple partners are the human tendencies toward jealousy, the associated guilt and the compromised trust that are inherent in these complex relationships. Many people go into these relationships not fully appreciating the level of communication skills and the commitment required to hold the unpredictable results of mixed pair bonding.

Your wife’s use of her memories to heat up her sexual experiences with you is in its own way a very responsible and mature response to something that clearly worked for her on some levels, but was too much to bear on others. Awakening to a different part of oneself is in many ways the mystery and the journey of discovering our sexuality. Having a rich store of memories and experiences that fuel a passionate life for the two of you could well give you cause to celebrate.


Manning J.
Manning J.3 months ago

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Lucy B.
Past Member 8 months ago

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Gia Hammond
Gia Hammond3 years ago

In my experience, no matter what rules are set, one person becomes more enthusiastic than the other and jealousy and insecurity result, decimating the marriage. People enter into the lifestyle for "presumed exploration," but what I find is that it's really just a way to cheat and also a way to satisfy an addiction. Sometimes both people are sex addicts, but usually it's one person and the other attempts swinging to go along, to appease the other person. I have not seen swinging create trust or anything beneficial to a marriage/relationship. My ex-bf, was married three times. All of his relationships failed because he could not stop. If this does not scream of addiction, nothing does. He chose variety and "exploration," over intimacy, trust and honesty. Also, there is a possibility that he may be carrying a serious STD. He is still on several sex sites and "plays" anyway. Why anyone would trust and "friend" a swinger is crazy. You are playing with your life!

Jennifer U.
Jennifer A3 years ago

If you're jealous of your partner being with someone else, doesn't that show you that it isn't for you? As for being honest and communicating with your partner, why can't you do that without having sex with someone else? If a couple is bored and too familiar with each other, why not try talking about stuff, it's better to cause a little drama over something that's been bothering you for a while as opposed to sleeping with someone else (even if your partner consents to it).

Cassandra Holly
Casian Holly5 years ago

Here's one point Deborah and I agree on. Whether the person is claiming monogamy or looking for non-monogamy, you should always practice as safe sex as possible and don't be afraid to ask about their sex practices and even to see a clean bill of health. Anyone can lie and worse yet, anyone can be ignorant. Without ever realizing that they are at risk, a person can spread STIs because someone cheated on them or because they were tested too soon or not often enough or simply because they were never properly educated about sexual health and safe sex practices. Regardless of your relationship style, take responsibility for you own sexual health.

Cassandra Holly
Casian Holly5 years ago

Thanks Deborah for letting me know, but for sake of the people who might be misled, I'll continue to point out the flaws in your posts. You don't need to read them, of course.

Plenty of people get into marriage or have children for the same reasons and so it's a good idea before making any serious life decisions to evaluate your reasons and your position. If your marriage is rocky, adding more people won't fix it. If on the other hand, you're secure in your marriage and looking for excitement, not the sort to get jealous and both agree to it, swinging can be a great addition to a marriage.

Alcohol and drugs can alter anyone's inhibitions and make them susceptible to poor decisions they'd not otherwise make. You probably should avoid alcohol and drugs when making any major life decisions as well, since most would benefit from having all their faculties when making important decisions.

Anytime you enter into a relationship with another person, they can lie. It's good, whether that relationship be physical only or emotionally intimate to know a bit about the person and make sure you're not exposing yourself to someone who is lying to you or could be putting you at risk.

Deborah R.
Deborah Richards5 years ago

Hey C,

Not reading your posts- Told you - DONE! Look it up in a dictionary.

Deborah R.
Deborah Richards5 years ago

For anyone who wants to consider more of the possible consequences of this "lifestyle choice". It may not be just a style, but a life affecting choice

* Some people enter into it unwittingly, to try to preserve a relationship. They can regret it later and be traumatized by the experience.

*Sometimes what is needed is not more people to have sex with, but to work on yourself and/or your relationship. More of anything, especially for the wrong reasons, can desensitize or humiliate, instead of heighten.

*Alcohol and drugs can be popular, as in other situations, where people need to be free of inhibitions in order to participate in something that they can't quite bring themselves to do otherwise. If you need to alter yourself to do a thing, should you do it at all?

*Sometimes these groups are not merely couples interacting with couples. Some of them allow in single people, many who are married or attached and are there for the thrill. So now you have non-consenting spouses or others, (perhaps even unborn) exposed to this "lifestyle" unwillingy.

*There is no guarantee that anyone, anywhere, practices safe sex.

Cassandra Holly
Casian Holly5 years ago

And bad for the environment? Really? In Tibet, the practice of polyandry (women with multiple husbands) was actually very good for the environment as they could support each other, have fewer children and everyone benefited. In modern application, the same principle often applies. When more than two adults share a home and family, they pool their resources and use less than were they living separate. Their children can have the benefit of a stay-at-home parent and multiple incomes. Really, it seems better for the environment when you look at it that way.
Of course, abuse happens. Just like the octo-mom or the 17 kids and counting, there are polygamous families that end up doing more damage than good. Really, I'd say the environment isn't necessarily benefited or worsened by either monogamy or polygamy.
Oh, and one last flaw in your argument, I don't practice monogamy either and yet I defend the rights of monogamous couples to practice it. I'm not seeking out a gay marriage and yet, I will fight for that right for every American. I know swingers who are very happy with their marriages. I've seen it work. It doesn't work for me anymore than monogamy. However, I support that we all have the right to form whichever relationships between consenting adults we chose. While I'm not taking your criticism of swingers personally, being polyamorous I get plenty of flack from people that get their panties in a wad over how other consenting adults chose to form their relationships.

Cassandra Holly
Casian Holly5 years ago

Marriage, as a construct, has evolved along with the societies that have come to recognize women and equal to men, to be a very different thing. Why would you assume that this could not apply to polygamy as well? About six years ago, polygamous unions were given legal recognition in the Netherlands (one of the first countries to recognize same-sex marriage rights.) These polygamous people weren't dominating women or controlling reproduction. They simply decided that they happened to love and want to share their lives with more than one person. Even without legal recognition, polyamorous people have been forming similar families in this country for many years. Women are just as free in those families to seek out other partners as men are. There is no domination -unless they're into that sort of kink ;)- and it has nothing to do with controlling reproduction either. Marriage, at least in most developed countries has grown past those dark times when it was all about controlling women and ownership.