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Swinging or (rarely) partner swapping is a non-monogamous behavior, in which singles or partners in a committed relationship engage in sexual activities with others as a recreational or social activity. Swinging can take place in a number of contexts, ranging from spontaneous sexual activity at informal gatherings of friends to planned regular social meetings to "hooking up" with like-minded people at a swingers' club. It can also involve Internet-based swinger social networking services online.
The phenomenon of swinging, or at least its wider discussion and practice, is regarded by some as arising from the upsurge in sexual activity during the sexual revolution of the 1960s, made possible by the invention of the contraceptive pill and the emergence of treatments for many of the sexually transmitted diseases that were known at that time.
The swinger community is sometimes referred to as "the lifestyle", or as "the alternative lifestyle". The term "swinging" has largely replaced the older term wife swapping which has been criticized for being androcentric, for presuming that the partners are a married heterosexual couple, and for presuming that it is the male who is in control of the sexual activities. Additionally, the term "wife swapping" or "partner swapping" is criticized for not accurately describing the full range of sexual activities in which both singles or couples may engage, which is not limited to conventional sex with a person other than their regular sex partner.
People may choose a swinging lifestyle for a variety of reasons. Many cite the increased quality, quantity and frequency of sex. Some people 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. Others regard such activities as merely a social and recreational interaction with others.
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 term "swinging" would have no counterpart or meaning in many cultures and civilizations in history in which monogamous relationships was the norm or which had religious or social prohibitions against such sexual practices. It is a term that is best understood as being fairly modern and Western in its expression.
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. Such reports should be considered very cautiously, as they may simply be propaganda of the time intended to defame groups the ruling elite considered to be heretical, particularly since the groups involved were secretive about their beliefs, aims, and practices.
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 in the 1940s during World War II. 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. This origin story fails to take into account that during WWII military families did not deploy overseas in the UK or elsewhere along with the service member. 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 "The Swinging 70's", swinging activities became more prevalent, but were still considered "alternative" or "fringe" because of their association with non-mainstream groups such as communes.
Swinging activities had another surge in interest and participation in the late 1990s due to the rise of the Internet.
According to 2005 estimates by the Kinsey Institute and others, swingers account for two to four percent of married couples with numbers in excess of 4 million people in North America. As of 2011, some experts believe that there are as many as 15 million Americans swinging on a regular basis.
Swinging sexual activity can take place in a sex club (also known as a swinger club, not to be confused with a strip club). Swinging is also known to take place in semi-public venues such as hotels, resorts, or cruise ships, or often in private homes. Different clubs offer varied facilities and atmospheres, and often hold "theme" nights. Furthermore, many websites that cater to swinging couples now exist, some boasting hundreds of thousands of members.
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.
Sixty percent said that swinging improved their relationship; 1.7 percent said swinging made their relationship less happy. Approximately 50 percent of those who rated their relationship "very happy" before becoming swingers maintained their relationship had become happier. Ninety percent of those with less happy relationships said swinging improved them.
Almost 70 percent of swingers claimed no problem with jealousy; approximately 25 percent admitted "I have difficulty controlling jealousy when swinging" as "somewhat true", while 6 percent said this was "yes, very much" true. Swingers rate themselves happier ("very happy": 59 percent of swingers compared to 32 percent of non-swingers) and their lives more "exciting" (76 percent of swingers compared to 54 percent 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 percent) 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.
John Stossel produced an investigative news report into the swinging lifestyle. Stossel reported in 2005 that more than four million people were swingers, according to estimates by the Kinsey Institute and other researchers. He also 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."
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. And the economic approaches which seem best suited to capture the empirical data are those based on the concept of hedonic adaptation. These approaches suggest that it is consistent with maximizing swingers’ strategy to begin from "soft" swinging and only later engage in "harder" swinging, and that also the search for ever new sexual experiences delays long-period hedonic adaptation and hence increases swingers’ long-period wellbeing. Both these theoretical predictions seem to find confirmation in the empirical data on swinger behaviour.
Some swingers engage in unprotected sex, a practice known as barebacking. Some couples can reduce the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) by exchanging STI test results and serosorting. Some swingers engage in safe sex practices and will not engage with others who do not also practice safe sex. Proponents for swinging point to the fact that safe sex is accepted within the 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 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.
A study done in the Netherlands 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 percent among straight people, 14 percent among gay men, just under 5 percent in female prostitutes, and 10.4 percent among swingers."
Some people object to swinging on moral or philosophical grounds. Some believe that sexual relations should only occur between marriage partners or within a committed relationship. Some argue that if sex becomes the main reason for swinging, then the act of sex may become mechanistic and less satisfying than the intimacy experienced by monogamous couples.
Western societal norms for many people argue that any sex is wrong outside of marriage, even if the spouse is accepting and gives permission. Those who object on moral or philosophical grounds to the basic principles of swinging often define sexual relations as singularly within the purview of a marriage, or, at least a committed long-term monogamous relationship.[original research?]
Many couples enter swinging while in secure relationships, providing added motivation to avoid excessive health risks. Though some sexual affairs outside relationships may be in "the heat of the moment" without regard to consequences, swingers maintain that sex among swingers is often more frank and deliberative and therefore more honest than unfaithful.
Many swinging clubs in the US and UK do not have alcohol licenses and have a "bring your own beverage" (BYOB) policy. Also, it is not uncommon for experienced swingers to remain sober to preclude any sexual performance problems. This counter-argument suggests that such swingers take a safer approach to sexual health than comparable non-monogamous singles (who ostensibly have impaired judgment from becoming inebriated).
Condoms are often highly encouraged and readily available at many swinging clubs and parties. In addition, many swingers rely on frequent STI testing to ensure their safety. A small portion focus on massage and other activities unlikely to transmit STIs; However, most participants acknowledge they are accepting the same risks that any person does who is sexually active outside of a strictly monogamous relationship.
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 will minimize the risk of pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted infections.
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 percent of husbands and 29 percent of wives admit at least one extramarital affair (Reinisch, 1990), and divorce rates for first marriages percent approached 60 percent.
As one study asserted:[which?]
According to King (1996) sexual habituation leads to changes in interaction with partners. At three to seven years into a marriage, it takes increased stimulation to produce the sexual excitation previously obtained by a glance or simple touch. A couple receptive to new and different sexual experiences will begin to explore different avenues of shared sexual fulfillment to continue to grow together. At this stressful point infidelity increases and the divorce rate peaks. Couples who find a way to reconnect physically and emotionally are more likely to make it through this period. Swinging may be one solution – it provides sexual variety, adventure, and the opportunity to live out fantasies as a couple without secrecy and deceit.
Many swingers report that their relationships are strengthened through swinging, and say their sex lives are more intimate and satisfying. Jealousy can occur, but proponents of swinging assert that jealousy is mainly couples whose relationships were already unstable. The effect on unstable relationships has yet to be determined.
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 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 are practiced among the Inuit:
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."
Among the Bari tribe of Venezuela, when a woman becomes pregnant, the women often take 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.