Swinging (sexual practice)
Swinging, sometimes called wife swapping, husband swapping or partner swapping, is a non-monogamous behavior in which both singles and partners in a committed relationship engage in sexual activities with others as a recreational or social activity. Swinging is a form of open relationship. People may choose a swinging lifestyle for a variety of reasons. Many cite an increased quality, quantity, and frequency of sex. Some people may engage in swinging to add variety into their otherwise conventional sex lives or due to their curiosity. Some couples see swinging as a healthy outlet and means to strengthen their relationship.
The phenomenon of swinging, or at least its wider discussion and practice, is regarded by some as arising from the freer attitudes to sexual activity after the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the invention and availability of the contraceptive pill, and the emergence of treatments for many of the sexually transmitted diseases that were known at that time. The adoption of safe sex practices became more common in the late 1980s.
The swinger community sometimes refers to itself as "the lifestyle", or as "the alternative lifestyle". Depending on the culture and the context, the practice has also been called "wife lending", "wife sharing", a "community of women" or similar terms. Another term, “hotwife / hotwifing” specifically refers to a married woman who often has sexual relations with different men, with the approval of her husband.
- 1 Description
- 2 Prevalence
- 3 Effects
- 4 In Western society
- 5 In other societies
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
John Stossel produced an investigative news report into the swinging lifestyle. Stossel's report in 2005 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."
Swinging can take place in a number of contexts, ranging from spontaneous sexual activity involving partner swapping or adding a third or more participants at an informal gathering of friends to planned regular social meetings to "hooking up" with like-minded people at a sex club (also known as a swinger club, not to be confused with a strip club). Different clubs offer varied facilities and atmospheres, and often hold "theme" nights.
Swinging is also known to take place in semi-public venues such as hotels, resorts, or cruise ships, or often in private homes. Furthermore, many websites that cater to swinging couples now exist, some boasting hundreds of thousands of members.
In 2018, a study of the prevalence of nonmonogamous practices in the United States estimated that 2.35% of Americans currently self-identify as swingers and 4.76% had identified as swingers at some point in their lifetime. The study solicited respondents through Amazon Mechanical Turk and weighted responses to increase representativeness.
Research on swinging has been conducted in the United States since the late 1960s. One 2000 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, which only polled self-identified swingers, is of limited use to a broader application to the rest of society (external validity) owing to self-selected sampling.
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%.
Sexually transmitted infections
Swingers are exposed to the same types of risks as people who engage in casual sex, with the main concerns being the risk of pregnancy and of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Some swingers engage in unprotected sex, a practice known as barebacking, while others follow safe sex practices and will not engage with others who do not also practice safe sex. Swingers may reduce the risk of STI by exchanging STI test results and serosorting. Proponents of swinging argue that safe sex is accepted within the swinging community and the risk of sexual disease is the same for them as for the general population – and that some populations of sexually non-monogamous people have clearly lower rates of STIs than the general population. Opponents are also concerned about the risk of pregnancy and STIs such as HIV, arguing that even protected sex is risky given that some STIs may be spread regardless of the use of condoms, such as Herpes and HPV. In a 1992 study, an overall 7% of swingers had quit swinging because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It was also stated that 62% of swingers changed their sex practices, by becoming more selective with partners or by practicing safe sex.
A Dutch study 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. However, this study has been criticized as not being representative of swinger populations as a whole: its data was formulated solely on patients receiving treatment at an STI clinic. In addition, according to the conclusions of the report, the STI rates of swingers were in fact nearly identical to those of non-swinging straight couples, and concluded that the safest demographic for STI infection were female prostitutes. According to the Dutch study, "the combined rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea were just over 10% among straight people, 14% among gay men, just under 5% in female prostitutes, and 10.4% among swingers."
Although there is a risk of pregnancy, they are the same as monogamous sex and can be minimized. Solutions include a tubal ligation (female sterilization), vasectomy (male sterilization), or having a group entirely made of menopausal women. Other solutions include using condoms or the pill. Proper use of a condom with an effective birth control method minimises the risk of pregnancy and transmission of STIs.
In Western society
It may not be possible to trace a precise history of swinging since the modern concept is so closely related to basic human sexuality and relationships, and they vary significantly across time and cultures. The modern concept of "swinging" is a recent Western phenomenon with no counterpart or meaning in many other cultures and civilizations in history in which monogamous relationships was the norm or which had religious or social prohibitions against such sexual practices.
A formal arrangement was signed by John Dee, his wife Lynae, 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 arrangement arose following seances which apparently resulted in spirits guiding Dee and Kelley towards this course of action. The arrangement ended badly and destroyed Dee's working relationship with Kelley.
It has been claimed that two related 18th-century messianic Jewish sects—the Frankists, followers of Jacob Frank, and the Dönmeh, followers of Shabbetai Zvi—held an annual springtime Lamb Festival, which consisted of a celebratory dinner that included a ritualized exchange of spouses.
One of the criticisms of communism was the allegation that communists practice and propagandize the "community of women". In The Communist Manifesto (1848), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels suggest that this allegation 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."
According to Terry Gould's The Lifestyle: a look at the erotic rites of swingers, swinging began among American Air Force pilots and their wives during World War II before pilots left for overseas duty. The mortality rate of pilots was so high, as Gould reports, that a close bond arose between pilot families that implied that pilot husbands would care for all the wives as their own – emotionally and sexually – if the husbands were lost. The realities of the demographics and basing of US Army Air Force (USAAF) pilots and crew suggest that this arrangement did not evolve during WWII, instead evolving later. US military personnel in WWII were not accompanied by their families (and many especially in the USAAF, were single) - the giant military bases where families live while accompanying a deployed soldier, sailor, aviator, or Marine are mostly Cold War creations. Though the origins of swinging are contested, it is assumed American swinging was practiced in some 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.
Later in the 1960s in the heyday of the Free Love movement, the activities associated with swinging became more widespread in a variety of social classes and age levels. In the 1970s, sometimes referred to as "The Swinging '70s", swinging activities became more prevalent, but were still considered "alternative" or "fringe" because of their association with non-mainstream groups such as communes.
A key party is a form of swinger party, in which male partners place their car or house keys into a common bowl or bag on arriving. At the end of the evening the female partners randomly select keys from the bowl and leave with that key's owner. Key parties are portrayed in Season 4 Episode 4 of Masters of Sex, Season 2 Episode 4 of the TV show Life on Mars (UK), Episode 14 of Life on Mars (US) and episode 8 of Journeyman, as well as in the film The Ice Storm.
According to economic studies on swinging, the information and communications technology 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.
Swinging activities had another surge in interest and participation in the late 1990s due to the rise of the Internet.
Religious and moral objections
Some people object to swinging on moral or philosophical grounds. Most religious communities and moralists regard swinging as adultery, not withstanding that it is with the knowledge, consent or encouragement of one spouse to the other. Some argue that strict monogamy is the ideal form for marital relationships and that sexual relations should only take place between marriage partners or, perhaps, between partners in a committed monogamous relationship.
In other societies
According to Mark Carroll, wife lending and husband lending was a Native American custom, especially within the family such as brothers. He says that anthropologists have characterised it as "anticipatory levirate" – that is, in anticipation of a future levirate marriage - of the wife to her brother-in-law.
Wife lending was a practice in pre-Islamic Arabia whereby husbands allow their wives to live with "men of distinction" to produce noble offspring. The husband, who abstained while his wife lived with the other man, would then be socially considered the father of the child. After the arrival of Islam this practice was forbidden and was considered a form of adultery.
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 toŋkat (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, wife exchange.'"
Inuit and Aleut
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 among the Inuit have been suggested:
- at the instigation of an aŋekok (shaman), as a magical rite to achieve better weather for hunting expeditions
- as a regular feature of the annual "Bladder Festival"
- for a man visiting unaccompanied by his wife, under the promise that he will in the future make his own wife sexually available to his host whenever the host will himself come visiting his erstwhile guest.
Among the Inuit, a very specialized and socially circumscribed 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[when?] specific terminology and language describing the complex relationships that emerged from this practice of wife sharing. A man called another man "aipak", or "other me", if the man had sex with his wife. Thus, in their conception, this other man having sex with one's wife was just "another me".
Indigenous peoples in South America
Among the Bari tribe of Venezuela, when a woman becomes pregnant, the woman often takes 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.
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