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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
Lauren March 15, 2011, 11:32 AM

My husband and I are swingers, we have clear boundaries and we always stay together. We never play alone and we are always in communication and checking with each other. It has been fun, liberating and exciting. He is the absolute love of my life, a wonderful father to our children, and my best friend. We don’t have communication issues, because we can talk about anything together. We have a very wonderful and happy marriage. But, I do believe you have to have a solid marriage before you start swinging. Swinging will not fix an already broken marriage…it will make it worse. As far as children go, this is not our “life”. It is a part of our life that we indulge in from time to time. Our life is our family - our children and our marriage. Swinging is just a small aspect of it that we enjoy occasionally.

Joe March 20, 2011, 5:00 AM

first of all you have to have a strong marriage and a spouse who desires the lifestyle too. If you are neither of these you will experience problems. Having clearly difined wants and desires and rules to swing by is a must. If you think this will save a failing marriage…guess again.

Aspen April 3, 2011, 1:48 PM

Everyone is able to make their own choices here. It is hard to fathom that one person can be everything to another. If a relationship is healthy and you both agree, then great. As for all the talk on biblical standards have you not read the old testament? God said go forth and reproduce, God gave many of his favored people multiple wives and slaves. Women were bought back then too. The Bible looks at men as gods and women as objects, as it is said in Exodus 6, “The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful.”

jez and jaime April 20, 2011, 4:42 AM

We are a married couple and visit our local sex club about once a month. Weve been married for 10 years and have an incredible sex life! with oureselves and other couples.
swinging is extremely exciting and is a totally natural activity, if all concerened understand their bounderies and all have respect for each other. This is what it all comes down to. Your primal need as a man to have sex and watch your wife be satisfied with her fun!
respect,respect,respect are the 3 key words. Should you have these, your fine.

Swinger-curious couple April 22, 2011, 10:20 PM

my gf and i love each other so much. we talk about getting married and having kids. but we also talk about each other’s fantasies. we’ve grown to be more open with each other now, and we have not yet swung, but our boundaries ‘if we have gone through with it’ include us both in the room. we are both bisexual, so i don’t mind if a group of guys pleasure her, as long as they are bisexual ;) we also want to try girls as well. we are very curious, but also a bit cautious… we don’t know what will happen, but i have a feeling it will happen sooner or later.

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