The Swinging Lifestyle:
To the majority of people brought up in western societies in the last century, a couple engaged in a relationship that does not espouse monogamy is an oxymoron at best, hypocritical at worst. The traditional modality of a relationship entails the promise to be faithful and sexually exclusive to a single partner for the duration of the relationship. Swingers take an alternate route the above, however it is one that can engender more trust and honesty than traditional monogamous relationships do.
Swingers are couples (both straight and gay) who have made a conscious, consensual decision to partake in a committed relationship that allows the exploration of recreational sex with other couples and individuals.
The core of a solid swinging relationship is the openness, communication and trust that are required from both partners to be able to discuss matters such as fantasies and desires openly. These are further necessitated when it comes to acting out such fantasies within pre-agreed boundaries. Sex is therefore a very small part of the Swinging relationship. "To swingers, physical acts of sexual pleasure with someone you respect, just for pleasure, and making love to one's lifetime partner are two distinctly different things". This form of sexual identity is clearly outside the norm, and pushes the envelope as to what most 'normal' couples would consider acceptable. The question arises - Does Swinging merit the same recognition as other minority sexualities?
As found in many types of sexuality, swinging assumes a few common forms or variants:
- Soft swinging is possibly the most common form of swinging relationships, and refers to watching, being watched, mutual masturbation, petting and possibly oral sex but without changing partners for full sexual intercourse.
- Closed swinging (the probable origin for the term 'wife swapping') is a common form of swinging in which partners swing in separate rooms.
- Open swinging refers to couples swinging in the same room and possibly bed. This satisfies the individuals desire to watch and be watched, as well as that of watching their spouse with another person. It is also common practice that bisexual women wish to enjoy themselves together whilst their men watch.
- Group swinging refers to an orgy situation, notwithstanding that this term is not very popular with swingers, many swingers find that this form of swinging simultaneously satisfies their desires for exhibitionism and voyeurism.
Regardless of the form of swinging a couple is engaged in, the common rule that runs through all swinging relationships is that 'no means no'; and that any behavior that brings discomfort or crosses any boundaries is anathema to the lifestyle. It is also an established expectation that a couple should have discussed their boundaries prior to trying swinging. Another pillar of swinging is that polite acceptance and refusal are paramount to maintaining a healthy atmosphere in any swingers club or relationship. This draws parallels from the gay cursing scene, where no always means no, and that a polite decline should never be taken personally. The clandestine nature of swinging and the swinger's community seems to have created an etiquette that all but expunges the possibility for violence or acrimonious conflict. This etiquette creates a situation where women enjoy a degree of sexual confidence, freedom and power that is rarely found in the outside world. This more fluid version of monogamy can be seen as a sexual power shift in favor of women within the traditional monogamous relationship structure.
The concept of monogamous sexual relationships has been inexorably tied to the institution of marriage (as well as that of relationships in the 'commitment' phase). It is noteworthy however that monogamy is required for neither of the above, rather, it is society that assumes that the former cannot exist without the latter. Swinging and swingers are not hell bent on destroying either marriage or relationships in their more general scope. Rather, the distinguishing that the imposition of monogamy onto their relationship is purely societal allows swinger couples to maintain relationships that mature to a point where the aforementioned sexual power dynamic is fluid and re-negotiated at a subconscious plane. This practical arrangement supplants the socially arbitrated and pre-determined convention of monogamy.
A consistent point that emerged from research by Thomas & Terry Gould, is that in nearly each and every interview held, it was the man that first suggested swinging to the woman. However, it was then the woman that made the effort to maintain the practice. Swinging offers women more than sexual freedom. It offers them the opportunity for self-discovery. This is demonstrated by the very high levels of bi-sexuality found in swinging women, but that fact that bi-sexuality in men in all but abhorred in the swinging community. This may be tied to the fact that society deems it far more acceptable for woman to engage in relations with another woman for her and her partner's pleasure, than for the same couple to swap partners. Whatever the reason behind this trend, the swinging lifestyle is one of the only possibilities for modern women to explore all the facets of their sexuality in safe and comfortable environment.
Swingers clubs in general range from nightclubs catering exclusively to swinging couples (and single women looking to join the couples), to events held in hotels and rented locations. The latter are referred to as off-premises, and have the same function as a speed-dating event in that couples attend to meet other likeminded swingers, there is however no swinging on site, and whatever happens after the event is at the discretion of the swingers in question.
Swinger parties in private homes generally come with the implication that some sort of swinging will occur. These swingers' parties are generally labeled 'on premises' - which can also refer to a public nightclub, these, however, tend to have various playrooms that offer a degree of privacy and levels of intimacy.
Swingers clubs have oft faced harassment by authorities that perceive the swinging lifestyle to be 'devious' or that it 'endangers' societies moral values. These misconceptions have lead to incidents such as the harassment of the Lifestyles Organization Ltd. (LSO) of California in 1997, that found itself harassed by the Alcohol Beverage Control Board. The oddity being that the LSO did NOT have a liquor license of its own, and relied on that of the hotels and convention centers in which it operated. These establishments found themselves under scrutiny for the mere offence of accepting the LSO's business. After a grueling court battle the law came down in favor of the LSO. The fact that the LSO was targeted by the ABC despite not having a liquor license and not offering sex on premises was considered as a given, considering that the underlying intention of the event was that sex would occur, somewhere, and it would most probably be occurring between married individuals who were not married to each other.
A more worrisome assault on swinger clubs was held in Phoenix Arizona, where in 1998 the city in question passed an ordinance that would allow the closing of all swingers clubs. This would follow the declaration that swingers clubs are"A disorderly house and a public nuisance per se which should be prohibited" and that they"contribute to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases", and"are inimical to the health, safety, general welfare and morals of the inhabitants of the city of Phoenix"
The above attack on the swinging community came from an organization entitled the National Family Legal Foundation; the primary argument in their case being that public morality and safety were at stake. With morality being a subjective matter, the swinging community based it's defense on the matter of STD transmission. Many speakers were called in, all of whom quoted low HIV/STD risks in swingers clubs, indicated high condom use and the seriousness with which swingers regarded personal safety and health. It was further proven that the infection rate was significantly lower than that found in other sexual pursuits such as cheating, prostitution or bars.
Despite the arguments set forth being baseless, the ordinance was unanimously passed by the city council. Significantly, the ordinance did not put an end to swinging in Phoenix, as many swingers clubs and organization currently operate openly. Club owners are legally exposed to being charged with a misdemeanor, it seems however, that the ordinance was passed as a 'moral token gesture' to show that the city was morally against the swinging lifestyle, and that there was no intention on enforcing it at all. The hypocrisy of passing a law, only for it to be ignored, but simply to prove a moral point seems to be lost on the crusading Christians, it is however a perfect example of the moral conflict surrounding the swinging lifestyle. Staunch supporters of the traditional model of monogamy in relationships may find it morally and sexually offensive, whist swingers find the traditional model to be almost unnatural.
The above moral conflict beggars the question of weather swinging could be compared with other sexual identities, such as homosexuality. The polarizing aspect of the morals in question indicate that this is indeed so. The opposite is indicated by the fact that swingers appear to do their utmost to keep their sexual lifestyle within the confines of the bedroom, swingers club or lifestyle resort. Swingers do not flaunt their sexuality in the same way that many homosexuals do, and most swinging couples do not tell their family or friends about their sexual identity in the belief that what goes on in the bedroom stays in the bedroom.
Swingers consider the lifestyle a choice that each person (and couple) should make for himself or herself. The fact that a person swings in a previous relationship does not necessarily mean that they would swing in all subsequent relationships. A high profile example is the head of the NASCA and Lifestyles Organization, Robert McGinley, who does not swing with his current, long term partner. This goes on to prove, that swinging, as a sexual identity is not an inexorable part of someone's sexual orientation, but rather something that can be brought to the surface if it is fitting to the current relationship. Furthermore, this contradicts the long time belief that sexuality is something that pervades all other areas of a person's life.
On the other hand, whilst there is no golden rule that states that a person's sexual identity should consume, or bear itself on other non-sexual aspects of that person's life, many swinger couples might subconsciously be attracted to the swinging lifestyle as a method of subtle subversion to societal norms. Since the status quo of western society dictates that sexual matters are private and should remain in the bedroom, swingers adopt this mentality and turn it against the society that espouses it, and regard swinging as a personal matter that they keep to themselves, with no shame in keeping their sexual preferences to themselves. A public sexuality is regarded as no more 'shameful' than a private on. The choice of publicizing one's swinging is down to the whims of the person or persons involved.
The economic independence acquired by households following the second world war allowed couples to expand their focus from purely 'living' to seeking happiness, intimacy and the experience and discovery of new sources of pleasure. This period of economic and sexual expansion facilitated the separation of sex and procreation. This allowed couples to create an individual sexual life that was distinct from their everyday one, and indeed, model their social live around their sexual preferences. This was the petri dish from which the modern swinging emerged and blossomed into the vibrant community it is today.
Whilst the above argument focuses on the ability of economic change to release sexuality in the average household due to previous economic boundaries, and allow for alternate forms of sexual lifestyles to emerge, this argument can be spun around with the establishing that most swinging couples found online are married or long term committed couples that maintain a comfortable lifestyle and have finished raising their children, or have actively decided not to have any. Swingers leverage the current economic conditions to allow themselves to explore their sexuality with the sole intention to increase personal pleasure and satisfaction. A trend emerges that tends to indicate that once the constraints of raising a family and starting out in life are overcome, couples actively seek out ways to seek sexual gratification, with one of the more practical ways being the swingers lifestyle.
Whilst Swinging does not seem to fit in to evolutionary or biological models, there does seem to be a compelling argument for swinging to make sense on in a cultural context. The fact that swinging emerged from our present culture seems to pass most people by, many sociologists seek to draw parallels from previous cultures where swinging a partner swapping was popular and acceptable. This is entirely unnecessary, and only confuses the issue. Swinging has become so popular as a lifestyle for the simple reason that modern day freedoms, liberal attitude and tolerant allowances of our society, facilitated by our capitalistic, economically sound society allows couples to have the peace of mind to explore the limits for their sexual personas at their leisure.
The irony that the same society that, for most part, looks down on and condemns swinging is the same society that allowed it to flourish is lost on most. A salient point that is not lost on most is the tacit agreement by most of the 'silent majority' that whatever happens in a couple's bedroom is private, and that despite swinging going against current social conceptions about sex and relationships, the option to swing within the privacy of ones house is sacrosanct.
"In like manner, silence and secrecy are a shelter for power, anchoring its prohibitions; but they also loosen its hold and provide for relatively obscure areas of tolerance (Foucault)."
As most Swinging couples belong to the upper, middle class, are married men and women that tend to occupy professional jobs, and, would swinging aside, represent the ideal model of community members; their devious sexual preferences reside in the most conforming of communities. As happened in the above case in Arizona, once the public condemnation for swinging clubs and swingers parties died down, the swinger's sexuality become private again, and the mist of silent tolerance returned the status-quo.
"(Personal choices about how to live and adapt - far from being reducible to the effects of rational and seemingly spontaneous exertions of an enlightened free will - are informed by powerful, culturally and historically inscribed subjectivities and desires, which form and transform over the course of development. (Herdt and Hostetler)." Whilst in the current times, swingers belong to two major catagories; 'married' or 'committed' and 'heterosexual'. Whilst swingers are indeed nonconforming to western sexual norms, there is a tacit acknowledgement by swingers that their relationships will do their best to mirror these, so as to be as unobtrusive to the public as possible.
"In other cultures, particularly, taxonomies of sexuality and gender are embedded in a framework of personhood that creates powerful incentives for conformity, but which may also provide for divergent lifeways, socially permitted or even sanctioned, at least among certain elements of the community (Herdt and Hostetler)."
At this juncture, support from local communities will be present, albeit in a muted form. This is particularly evident where business is concerned, Swingers form a significantly powerful consumer base, one that is not overlooked by entrepreneurs such as swingers resort and swinging club owners. Indeed, the market generated by swingers has blossomed into a multi-billion dollar industry. The availability of swingers resorts, swinging parties and events, as well as takeovers by swingers of otherwise regular hotels, indicates, that whilst the public regard the sexuality as divergent, they are in a position to relate with it. Swingers generally keep a segregation between their day-to-day lives, and their swinging. They are however ready and willing to travel, and pay for the use of appropriate locations for their sexual encounters. This is core of the swingers travel industry.