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Swinging Married Couples -- A Good Thing?

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It seems like swinging is the new black. But before you judge swinging married couples, it turns out their behavior may have some benefits.

couple in hot tub

Dr. Michelle Golland: I keep hearing about married couples who "swing" -- and I don't mean at the park! Maybe it began with Oscar-winning actress Mo'Nique sharing with Barbara Walters about her "open" marriage. I have also had my share of clients disclosing that they swing within their marriages. So I started to wonder if all this swinging could possibly be a good thing in a relationship ....

In our American culture, swinging, or "mate-swapping" -- engaging in sexual activities with people outside your marriage -- is mostly seen as strange or deviant. But is it? And is it always a bad thing, or a sign of "trouble" in a marriage? Free love and sexual experimentation were pushed to the forefront in the 1960s, and we have all heard of the "key parties" of the 1970s. The current studies on swinging do not vary much from the studies of the past: Married couples are still swinging for the same reasons, and both the benefits and negative effects don't seem to have changed much at all over the decades.

So who is doing all of this swinging? Studies have shown that demographically, swingers cut across all political identifications, come from the middle- to upper-class, have a higher degree of education, have white-collar jobs and are white and middle-aged.

The benefits of swinging include increased marital satisfaction. In a 2000 online survey of 1,092 swingers, Bergstrand and Williams found that communication, independence and relationship-revitalization were reasons people gave for why they continued to swing. The swingers studied also seemed to have higher general satisfaction and more excitement in their lives than non-swingers.

In 2007, de Visser and McDonald found that couples who swing successfully have increased communication abilities due to the challenges that this lifestyle inherently involves (such as jealousy). Each member of a swinging couple constantly needs to make sure the other partner is getting what they need, both out of the marriage and from the extramarital sexual experience.

The men in couples who swing more often experience jealousy. Their jealousy centers primarily around the issues of sex and men desiring their wives; women who experience jealousy are more concerned with their husbands leaving them for one of the swinging partners.

Guilt is another issue that swinging couples must deal with -- and it's often what leads these couples to seek therapy or to divorce. What can happen is that one partner becomes dissatisfied with the swinging lifestyle but feels pressured to continue it to save their marriage.

It can also be challenging for swinging couples to seek marital therapy because they fear being judged as deviant or socially unacceptable. In my therapy practice, I have worked with couples who are living this lifestyle in a successful manner and managing the emotional challenges. These couples have created strong boundaries around the sexual experience with other partners that include only swinging with other married couples, never separating from each other during the sexual experience and always arriving together and leaving together. It seems that having well-defined and clear boundaries around the swinging experience helps these couples keep jealousy in check.

I have also dealt with the damage that this lifestyle choice can create when one spouse no longer desires multiple sexual partners but wants a monogamous life. In these situations, the couple has divorced.

What do you think of married couples swinging? Would you ever swing??

next: Small Bracelet, Big Trouble
25 comments so far | Post a comment now
Reese April 2, 2010, 10:52 AM

I don’t see any problem with married couples swinging as long as both parties set boundaries and stick to them.

Kris April 2, 2010, 11:15 AM

Many a people I have known have divorced after swinging. I mean if all parties can be adult about and not go behind their perspectives partners back and have sex with the swinger without their partners knowledge then great but always remember that the third or fourth wheel in the party is not obligated to play be the rules set especially when feeling began to become invovled they can always renege and go for what they want causing damage to you and your families life.

Black Iris April 2, 2010, 12:10 PM

No! Don’t do it! For most people, it is a huge risk to take in your marriage.
The study you discuss sound badly biased and mislead. They looked only at couples who have figured out how to swing. They left out the ones who tried it and either stopped or broke up.
One book I read (Triangles) cited a study that found a 75% divorce rate for couples with “open marriages” back in the 1970s. That’s a lot higher than our already high divorce rate (probably 50% back then).
The study also sounds like it was looking for good results.

Mr Natural April 2, 2010, 9:28 PM

Swinging can keep a couple together if and only if they both really want to do it. Often one of the swinging couple does it only because the other wants to. When that one changes their mind marital discord can increase. As for jealousy that can break a marriage even if both partys are faithfull. It is rare in most animal species to have only one sexual partner. When a couple allow each other what is only natural they tend to bond closer emotionally. In the 70’s there was still so much guilt over any out of marriage including premarital sex to be able to use those studies and statistics with any reliability. Were less judgemental over premarital sex or any sex now. Society norms still make swinging somewhat deviant but mother nature says go for it

Black Iris April 3, 2010, 10:46 AM

I have to disagree with you, Mr. Natural. Mother Nature is 100% against swinging when it comes to human animals. There is a huge diversity of mating patterns among male animals, everything from mating once and being eaten to waiting for your chance to overthrow the pack leader and have a mate. Chimps and bonobos are the closest to us genetically. They travel in groups who take turns with a female when she goes into heat. This is nothing like human societies. Humans are pretty clearly monogamous pair bonders based on our history and societies around the world. This is actually what evolutionary biologists say. They are arguing that people cheat, not that they are made to swing. Polygamy occurs, but is basically a privilege powerful men take for themselves. Most men don’t get to be polygamous and women never did.
Many species of birds are also monogamous pair bonders. They are a good natural example to look at when thinking about humans. Birds are jealous and chase away rivals. You can see this throughout human history and societies as well.
So, you may want to swing. Some couples manage to work it out. But it is not natural to humans.

Black Iris April 3, 2010, 10:51 AM

The research used for this article is absolutely awful and unscientific!! Someone took an online survey of swingers. Of course they said that they were happy and liked to swing. Why else would they be filling out the survey? You have to get a random sample that includes people who don’t swing or have swung in the past to be scientific. And you have to control for things like income and education. I’m sure middle-class educated people in general are happier with their marriages and have more excitement in their lives.
As for the second study, maybe couples swing successfully because they have good communication skills. No doubt the ones with poor communication skills can’t survive the strain and break up.

weenie April 4, 2010, 8:14 PM

No mention about having children and the impact on them.

Swing club Owner April 5, 2010, 2:50 PM

Since I own a swinger’s club, I get to see all range of people involved in this lifestyle. There are many, many couples that I know from all walks of life that swing successfully, enjoy themselves, and stick with the limits they have set for their particular brand of swinging. Over the years I have also seen it negatively impact several lives. In those cases, it seems that the couples were already in trouble in their relationship and using swinging as a last ditch effort to “save” their marriage. Sometimes it was like a bandaid on a traumatic wound. Maybe it helped a little for a while, but I’ve never actually known it to SAVE a marriage. From my unique point of view I’ve been able to observe several thousand swingers couples, some of them over the course of 10 years, and I’ve never known of swinging to cause problems for swingers that have well defined and agreed upon boundaries, and employ communication with each other and with their swing partners. It’s that simple. When the swing partners KNOW that they are swinging with a close couple that have definite boundaries, then there are rarely any serious issues. I cringe when brand-new couples come out to the club though, especially if I can tell that one is very enthusiastic and the other is not. That never ends well! I feel the same about any couple that says they are wanting to swing to “spice up” their marriage. In almost every case, only one person in that couple feels the need for more “spice” so again you have the situation where one is enthusiastic and the other is blase at best. This creates tension and pressure on the person that doesn’t want to be there and frustration from the other partner who can’t understand why their partner is letting “opportunities” slip by. If both people are not equally interested in this lifestyle, then the couple needs some serious work on their relationship. Swinging is not an answer to relationship problems. It can be a fun supplement to an already healthy relationship however.

debbie April 6, 2010, 5:46 AM

My husband decided to start swinging without telling me about it. Most of his friends are swinging and I found out when we were all together. I think it is ok, if both people are interested in doing it, but there is no turning back once the memory of being with someone else is there.

Loving Denver April 6, 2010, 7:56 AM

Opinions are like a**holes, we all have one. Here’s mine. For all you swingers out there…you can make attempts to justify “swinging” for any excuse you so desire…whatever it takes to get you through the day for doing it. Regardless that you do have your spouse’s seal of approval, which is really pathetic, bottom line, it is nothing but outright cheating. Why get married? Mr. Natural, seriously, dude, you should leave Mother Nature out of this one. Swinging is an activity that doesn’t involve lending out spouses for self-sexual gratification purposes. Oh, one more thing. Read the first line of my comment. So, please don’t bombard me with your bulls*** ones.

starlight0997 April 30, 2010, 6:43 PM

Funny how I read based on the ever popular site Wikipedia that 70% of couples say that swinging has improved their relationship. The obvious bias here? The fact that a couple wants to swing in the first place. Just as Mr.Natural said, it really only works if both people in the relationship want to do it. If one really doesn’t want to partake in in, and/or even worse the spouse doesn’t get notified… then yeah it’s basically cheating at that point. I will never so swinging not because of religious or moral values (I’m not even super religious anyway), but because it really does defeat the purpose of marriage. And yeah, focus on the word “marriage.”

christina erickson May 17, 2010, 12:12 AM

This is really very Nice. But i was reading one interesting story. So, I am sharing with you. Swinging movement is not conventional by each person it is fun for a number of and ridiculous or revolting for a lot of but then each one have his own way to take pleasure in his living without hurt anybody.

Rob July 30, 2010, 8:46 AM

@Black Iris…

You state that being with more than one person is not natural to the human species, well this is incorrect. Humans for the most part are monogamous just because society dictates it. If natural law prevailed, human men would be going around trying to impregnate everyone they see. Trust me. Here is a fact for you… I know you shouldn’t use the word “most” when making an argument but most men have had sex outside of the marriage. We may be perfectly content in our marriage but that desire to have sex with other women never goes away. Sure your husband may tell you he doesn’t desire other women but he is only saying that not to hurt your feelings and avoid an argument. I guess where I’m getting at is that two part answer. In a way I guess we are emotionally monogamous but sexually…NO WAY

Curtis November 12, 2010, 12:10 PM

If a woman asks her mate if he has any desire to have sex with another woman, and he says no, he is either gay or a liar (you choose which you prefer). If he says yes, he is honest and brave!!

Theron November 15, 2010, 5:45 PM

Did you guys miss sex ed? This is not just a matter of different strokes for different folks. Um hello? What about pregnancy and disease. No contraceptive is 100% effective. Sex is a risky endeavor, and it should be respected as such. HAVING NUMEROUS PARTNERS IS RISKY BEHAVIOR. PERIOD. It’s called public health. Look it up.

We don’t tell adolescents “if it feels good do it.” Quite the contrary. We warn them of the risks and encourage responsible behavior. But you guys are actually advocating promiscuity. Is that what you would teach to your children? (Have you seen “The Ice Storm”)

Moreover, when I hear people talking about love and sex as entirely separate entities, it sounds alarms, and makes me think that there are underlying intimacy issues. I don’t see how just getting your kicks can compare to the level of physical and emotional intimacy that one experiences with a significant other. How could a one night stand possibly be better than making love? IMO, sounds like a lot of risk for glorified masterbation. Is it really that important?

Yes we are animals. Yes we have fantasies, but if we acted on all of them, we would live in a world infinitely more screwed up than this one.

FunTimes November 19, 2010, 10:51 AM

My husband and I went to a sex club for the first time last weekend. We both openly discuss our fantasies, in and out of bed, and my fantasy has always been to have a three-way experience with him (with another woman). We did some research for the last year and settled on a club nearby. We both decided to just check it out and see what it was like. A fantasy is different from real life, and we wanted to take it slow.

We did not end up socializing with any of the patrons, or having sex with them, but we had an absolutely fantastic night watching and then letting our exhibitionist tendencies come out. It was such a turn on with people all around us, watching us and getting turned on in return.

Is it for everyone? I agree with the comments that an alternative sexual lifestyle is not to be used to “save” a marriage. We have been married for 17 years, and this probably would not have been healthy in the beginning when we still had insecurities about each other, and ourselves.

Now that we feel safe with each other, are confident in the love that we have for each other, and both recognize that sex does not have to equal love, we are more open to experiences that might seem non-conventional.

Will we go again? I think that we will, we both had a great time, but it wont be something that becomes a needed part of our lives. There was something desperate about some of the couples we saw…people looking for something to fill the void. Others seemed like us, out for a night on the town, looking to enjoy one another, and explore their own fantasies and hedonistic tendencies without jealousy or recrimination from their partners.

As for children, I am not sure why people would think that children are involved in this aspect of their parents lives at all. Just like we protect our children from our “normal”, married sexual activity, we protect them from this as well. Do I sometimes get concerned about the social and moral implications…sure. I do live in a society where a sex club is not something you brag about going to in polite company. Does that automatically make it wrong? I am also in a committed, interracial relationship, that until several decades ago was illegal and morally frowned upon…did that make it wrong just because society said so?

Bottom line…communicate with your partner. Share your deepest fantasies, and if both parties agree, even live out a few if you are both willing and have a safe environment. We are all adults here and have to live with the consequences of our own choices. Hopefully, the consequence for a non-traditional sex life is greater fulfillment, excitement and fun for couples who can handle it.

G-Man November 23, 2010, 10:52 AM

It seems there is one thing missing from this discussion. That is, the ability for humans to exercise free will. Just because I can choose to go out and have an affair, an open marriage or a swinging relationship does not mean that I have to. Just because I may have a desire to have sex with more than one woman does not mean that I have to. Marriage by definition is a commitment to one person. So, it is imperative that we are both on the same page. If either of us is not wanting this type of arrangement, we should choose to set that desire aside for the good of the marriage. We are not relegated to following all instinctual drives like other animals in the animal kingdom. We can choose our path realizing that every choice is a trade off. No matter what a person decides, it is a trade off. So what is more important, sexual variety or sexual intimacy? Choosing to be with multiple partners it seems to me would mean trading the intimacy of a completely committed relationship physically and emotionally for one in which that intimacy is not as deep or connecting.

I think it comes down to values. If you value an intimate relationship over everything else, you will do whatever it takes to protect that from anything that could get in the way. If you value sexual variety and having sex with multiple people then you will most likely choose that over the potential for the intimacy that can only come from a monogamous relationship.

G-Man November 23, 2010, 11:18 AM

If your values are such that you prefer sexual variety I would suggest you don’t get married. If you are married I would encourage you to think back to why you got married and see if there is a way to create the intimacy and enjoyment of a monogamous relationship. Choosing to go for variety if you are married may mean that you are settling for second best, ie swinging rather than doing the hard work it takes to keep a long term marriage full of life, vitality and excitement. This is coming from someone who has gone through challenges but ultimately has worked hard with his spouse to keep the marriage fully alive and our sexual relationship extremely satisfying for over 21 years.

Fred February 24, 2011, 12:44 PM

Sex is God’s gift to married couples. Swinging just degrades his gift. We are all sinners and God grace is given not earned. Pray that he will give you that grace. Look around at God’s creation and give praise. The closer you get to Jesus the further you will be from sin.
I do understand sin. Believe me I embraced it in many ways and had myself a big time till I came to understand the lie of satan that you don’t need God to be happy. Man can do it by himself. Now look at the world and how is that going.

Shelly March 1, 2011, 5:45 PM

First off how many people out there have only been with one person and only the one that you’ve married? Many people have premarital sex and with more than one person. I lived as a lesbian for 5 years. I lived with a transgendered / transexual female to male for about 4 years. I have always wanted a family and decided that I wanted the man that fathered my children to be apart of their lives. That is why I got married. After having my second child I went emotionally and sexually numb. I searched for a way to awaken myself. Masterbation and pornography helped. My husband wanted to experience a fmf threesome, what man hasn’t fantasied about such an experience. It is hard to find a single woman to join a couple, so we looked into swinging sites and club. Before we never had “make up” sex, but after an evening at the club and a full swap experience we had the best sex that we’ve every experienced before. We had open up a can of emotions and were able to express our true love for each other. I think that this lifestyle is not for everyone, but I have never walked in to a place and felt so accepted and welcomed as at the club.

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