A Beginner's Guide To Swinging & How Couples Can Get Started
Have you ever been curious about what swinging is and if it might be something that could work for you? Whether you're interested in trying swinging for yourself or just want to understand more about this form of nonmonogamy, here's everything you need to know.
What is swinging?
"Swinging is a social practice involving sexual contact between consenting adults, which can involve swapping sexual partners or engaging in group sexual activities—but often is done in the context of a coupled relationship," explains Lori Lawrenz, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with the Hawaii Center for Sexual and Relationship Health.
Swingers engage in sexual activities outside of their main relationship as a shared bonding experience with their partner. This means that most extra-relational sex that swingers engage in happens where their partner can see and/or join in with it.
Many swingers refer to themselves as being in "the lifestyle," which essentially means that swinging (and often other behaviors such as kink and BDSM) are an integral part of their sexual identity and inform the way that they organize their lives.
Myths about swinging.
Importantly, swinging is not cheating or an affair, despite what people often might think. Swinging is based on a foundation of consensual nonmonogamy, which means that everyone involved has full knowledge of, and approves of, the sex that occurs outside of the main pair bond.
"Most swinging is not a sexual 'free-for-all,'" Lawrenz says. "Rather it is an orchestrated manner of like-minded sexually curious individuals engaging in activities as a means of enhancing their relationship."
There's a misconception that swingers are people who "are unable to commit, do not know how to create boundaries, or are in troubled relationships," says AASECT-certified sex therapist Janet Brito, Ph.D., LCSW. Another misconception is that it can help save a dying relationship, adds sexologist Shamyra Howard, LCSW. The truth is, in fact, the opposite.
"Swinging is not prophylactic for troubled relationships. It won't prevent cheating, and it won't save a relationship. Swinging is only recommended for couples who feel secure in their relationships," Howard says.
Swinging vs. open relationships.
Swinging is often confused with having an open relationship, but the two terms are not entirely synonymous.
While all swingers technically have an open relationship (i.e., the permission to have sex with people outside of the relationship), not all people in open relationships are swingers. People in non-swinging open relationships often engage in their extra-sexual relationships without their partner present and sometimes even have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding hookups. In swinging, couples do a lot more sharing of the sexual experiences and sharing stories with each other about any extra experiences, because this is erotic and exciting for people who like to swing. Some swinging couples also may only be "open" to outside sexual partners in specific situations, i.e., when the couple is jointly entering into a specific swinging experience together.
Swinging is also not the same as polyamory, as polyamory involves the creation and maintenance of romantic as well as sexual bonds with multiple people. "Unlike polyamorous individuals, swingers are not actively looking for other people to form romantic relationships with," says sex therapist Aliyah Moore, Ph.D. "Typically, swingers are only looking to have sex with others with no or limited strings attached."
Swinging is strictly sexual, and swingers often have minimal contact with and no romantic feelings for the people that they swing with.
What binds together all three concepts, however, is that they are all forms of consensual nonmonogamy and require a great amount of trust, communication, and honesty, says Brito.
Signs you might enjoy swinging:
- You fantasize about engaging in sex outside of your partnership.
- You get turned on by the idea of seeing your partner have sexual contact with other people.
- You're generally turned on by novelty and adventure.
- You and your partner are good at communicating and know how to work through any issues that arise.
- You are able to separate love and sex.
- You like to watch porn featuring group sex, wife swapping, or voyeurism.
- You and your partner trust each other completely.
- You and your partner sometimes dirty talk about group sex or partner swapping.
- You've had group sex in the past and thought it was hot.
- You're generally open-minded and sexually adventurous.
Important things to know before trying it:
Get to know the lingo.
Swinging comes with its own vocabulary. For example, one common form of swinging is for two couples to come together and "swap" partners for sex. You can engage in a "soft swap" or a "full swap" when you swing. A soft swap refers to engaging in anything up to oral sex with a person who isn't your partner, and a full swap refers to intercourse.
It's also worth knowing that a "unicorn" is a single woman who is open to sex with heterosexual couples (here's our full guide to threesomes, btw), and that "closed door" refers to being OK with your partner having sex away from your line of sight.
Talk about expectations with your partner.
Make sure to have a detailed talk with your partner about what you will and won't engage in when you swing together. Will you only engage in group sex together? Or will you swap partners with another couple? What are you looking to get out of swinging? Make sure that you both have the same goals and reasons for opening up.
It's really important that you don't coerce your partner into going along with what you want, Brito adds. Swinging will only be enjoyable if both parties are enthusiastic and informed.
Think about what safer sex precautions you'll need to take.
It's essential that you have a conversation beforehand about what forms of protection you'll use and what level of risk you're OK with. Using barrier protection methods such as condoms can lower your risk of STIs and pregnancies, but no protection is 100% secure. Therefore, you should discuss what you will do in the event of an unplanned pregnancy or a positive STI test.
Plan a check-in.
After your first time swinging, you're going to have a lot of emotions! Hopefully they'll all be positive, but it's very likely that you might feel confused, guilty, or overwhelmed along with all the excitement.
A top tip is to put aside some time for you two as a couple to reconnect and check in with each other after the experience. You can discuss how the experience was for you, what went well, what was challenging, and anything you might like to alter if you try the experience again. Enlisting the help of a sex-positive therapist who specializes in consensual nonmonogamy can also work wonders in this situation.
Connect to a network.
Ready to dive in? "You can start off by attending a swinger's club and watching before interacting," suggests Howard. Check for local clubs in your area, and be sure to read the guidelines before showing up, she says. Make sure to practice good consent practices and be mindful of other people's boundaries.
How to bring up the idea with your partner.
Telling your partner that you're interested in swinging might feel like a little bit of a challenge. After all, the norm of monogamy is very strong, and even people who are turned on and excited by the idea of swinging might have some complicated feelings in the beginning.
To set the best base for a successful conversation, make sure to bring it up at a time when you know your partner will be in a relaxed mood with no pressing tasks to attend to.
"Gently bring up the topic by adopting an open and curious approach. Use 'I' statements to show ownership of your desires," recommends Brito. "Ask questions to learn about your partner's values, and practice nonjudgment if your partner is not on board. If this happens, agree to table the topic, and circle back at another time."
In short, make the conversation a true conversation, and not just a statement of what you want. Really listening to what your partner says, and responding to it from a place of love rather than defensiveness, can take you a long way.
Once you have opened up the conversation, you can suggest that the two of you research swinging together. Framing it as a mutual exploration will make your partner feel more secure.
"If you're the partner who initiates the conversation, make sure you get a clear 'yes' from your partner," Moore adds. "Both partners in the relationship need to be at the same interest level when it comes to swinging before trying it.'
The bottom line.
Swinging, like all forms of consensual nonmonogamy, can bring a wide range of satisfying and exhilarating encounters that can deepen the bond between you and your partner. As long as you and your partner are both on board and in agreement about what swinging means for you, you can look forward to many happy, sweaty nights together!
Kesiena Boom, M.S., is a sociologist, writer, and poet. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Manchester and a master’s degree in Gender Studies from Lund University. Her work has been featured at Slate, Buzzfeed, Vice, Autostraddle, and elsewhere. Her writing focuses on sex, pleasure, queer experience and community, feminist theory and practice, and race and anti-racism.