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 lifeontheswingset.com 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.