One of the questions I’m asked most often is if swinging is a male-driven and dominated endeavor, where husbands coerce their wives into this “degrading” situation. The assumption is often based on the premise that any “decent and self-respecting” woman would not agree to being “objectified” in such a way.
I hear this often from people who know of my research with the swinging population, which they consider deviant and suspicious. A colleague once commented that “swinging” wives are to be pitied since they have to “endure” these unrealistic demands from overbearing and oversexed husbands, and they should be viewed as victims of this male-dominated lifestyle.
According to my research findings, all of the above comments couldn’t be further from the truth. I have compiled hundreds and hundreds of hours of interviews with couples in the swinging lifestyle, and one of my first questions is, how did the couple get involved in the swinging lifestyle, and how is the wife handling it? Moreover, did the wife have a choice in the matter, or did she just go along to please her husband?
It seems that, indeed, the husbands most often suggest swinging (my research shows that 72 percent of the time the husband introduced swinging to the wife). However, once involved, things seem to change.
So what happens when a couple starts swinging? Do the women enjoy their consensual non-monogamous activities, or do their husbands coerce them?
To answer this question, I referred back to the hundreds of interviews I’ve conducted over the last 15 years with couples in the Swinging Lifestyle, as well as private interviews with the women involved. I put together a collage of some of the more relevant commentary from those interviews.
The following comments by the women reflect the opinion expressed by most of the women I interviewed: “The first time can be a little terrifying for the woman. Most women don’t know what to expect and they often ask themselves: Am I pretty enough? Am I sexy enough for anyone else to want me?”
Others commented on their expectations in the swinging context: “What kind of clothes should I wear? I don’t want to embarrass myself by looking too slutty or too matronly.”
Some addressed the concerns associated with jealousy and competition: “What if my husband finds other women more attractive than me? I don’t want to be alone sitting at a table while he makes out with someone else on the dance floor. Will I be jealous? Will he be jealous if I’m with other men?”
However, it doesn’t take long for most women to realize that how you look is probably only part of the process, and that, in the end, how they look physically isn’t that important at all: “Confidence is the most important feature of being sexy,” said another one.
Some women posited: “Being overweight doesn’t make you less sexy or less appealing. It’s how you think of yourself that is important.”
After the very first “swinging” experience, many women have stated that their husband looked at them with “ fresh eyes” and showed a higher level of sexual desire for them, that often rekindles the sexual spark and allows them to feel confident once again.
For women, feeling desired is a great confidence builder, and most women reported enjoying being seduced and desired. Considering that the great majority of women look at swinging as an opportunity for sexual variety, being seduced is part and parcel of the overall experience.
Ironically what started as a nerve-wracking challenge for many women becomes an emboldening opportunity to explore aspects of themselves that society has otherwise tried to control.
Countless women have expressed joy at finally being able to wear the sexy clothes they wouldn’t dare put on anywhere else in public. They talk about a boost in self-confidence, how they feel desire when men look at them approvingly. “Even husbands get involved in preparing their wives before going to a swinging event. Who cares if nipples are showing or camel toe is visible? It’s all part of the fun,” said one of my interviewees.
Now, to suggest that everyone is accepted at the same level in the swinging communities would be disingenuous. Societal perceptions that apply to everyday life still exist and exert an influence on the perception of beauty and body image.
In many swinging clubs, cliques form based on how one looks. Yes, there are still those that prefer the “beautiful” people.
Lately, age differences have also created a separation, as it were. Younger swingers tend to associated with each other, while older swingers form their own social groups. However — and this may seem strange — younger men are often interested in pursuing older women, just as older men may approach younger women. Moreover, swinging has a special attraction to women who want to experiment with bi-sexuality. At times, the preference for woman-to-woman play excludes not only men but also those women who have no bi interests.
It has often been said in the swinging community that women control what happens in swinging. Research validates that suggestion. After the initial nervousness wears off, it is the women who have the final say on who “parties with whom” and how (couples only, girl-on-girl, threesomes, group sex, including the enforcement of safe sex rules).
If the woman isn’t interested in an individual or a couple, a polite excuse is given. The man, most often, abides by the decisions of his female companion. For the most part, women are in control, according to data. Women in swinging score very high on the self-determination scale, meaning, they are in absolute control of their decisions and are unlikely to be easily swayed by others.
Rules: Every couple starts with rules that are generally designed to deal with each individual’s insecurities. However, as the comfort level of the couple increases, the rules seem to decrease as well. Over time, rules become no longer relevant or even obsolete.
The following are some of the rules:
- We must be in the same room.
- No kissing allowed.
- No anal sex.
- No sexual play with others without spouse consent or knowledge.
- No sexual play unless we’re both involved.
- No “taking one for the team”; no sex with single men.
- No social contact with sex partners outside of the swinging situation.
Generally, rules are modified after the couple's comfort and trust levels increase.
One of the most surprising, and apparently, benefits of swinging for women is trust. One study subject puts the rationale for trust in perspective: “Why would your husband go elsewhere for sex, if he can have access to other women in a stimulating environment with his wife’s participation and consent? And why would a woman look for a sexual tryst elsewhere when she can get everything she wants sexually from swinging with the consent and approval of her husband?”
However, I have found instances of “infidelity” among swingers, although these seem to be the exception.
Overall, swinging gives women confidence, freedom, and trust. Swinging provides women with a context in which they are free to be their own person, to be sensual, sexual, lustful, provocative, and explore same-sex interactions without fear of societal repercussions, criticisms, or stigmatization. It doesn’t matter if you have a slim, fit body, or if you qualify as big, beautiful woman; the sensual is valued higher over the “perfect.”
Women exert most of the control over the greater part of the swinging lifestyle, and aren’t afraid to express their sexual desires. David Ley, Ph.D., has written an interesting book on women’s desires titled Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and the Men Who Love Them. The book explores the concept of cuckoldry (still considered one of the different manifestations of the swinging lifestyle).
Finally, there are many couples for whom swinging does not work. People whose marriages were in trouble and tried swinging as a remedy soon found their marriages in shambles and moving towards a quick end. Swinging isn’t a panacea for marriages in trouble. Swinging does not “repair” marriages; on the contrary, swinging tends to expose most of the negative dynamics that undermine the relationship. Swinging only enhances those relationships that are strong and happy.
Fernandes, E. (2013). A Paradigm Shift: Swinging and the new consensual non-monogamous morality of Couples. Paper presented at the 6th annual alternative sexualities conference (caras), San Francisco, September 2013.
Fernandes, E. (2012). Understanding Swingers and the Swinging Lifestyle. Workshop presented at the assect 44th annual conference, Austin, Texas, June 2012.
Fernandes, E. (2012) .The Swinging Paradigm: Socio/Sexual Paradigm Shift. Paper presented at the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, Charlotte, NC, June 2012.
Fernandes, E. (2011). The Swinging Paradigm: The Shift in the Modern Concepts of Monogamy and Marital Fidelity. Paper presented at the Canadian Sex Research Forum Annual Meeting Vancouver, British Columbia, September 2011.
Fernandes, E. (2008). The Swinging Paradigm: An Evaluation of the Marital and Sexual Satisfaction of Swingers. The Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality. Vol. 12, 2009.