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Mate swapping (colloquially known as swinging, partner swapping or wife swapping) is a non-monogamous behavior, in which both partners in a committed relationship agree, as a couple, for both partners to engage in extramarital intercourse and othe sexual activities with other couples as a recreational or social activity.[1] Swinging can take place in a number of contexts, ranging from a spontaneous sexual activity at an informal social gathering of friends to planned or regular social gatherings to hooking up with like-minded couples at a swingers' club and can involve internet-based introduction services.

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 prevalence of safer sex practices during the same period.

The term wife swapping, once considered to be equivalent to "swinging", is now criticized as being androcentric and not accurately describing the full range of sexual activities in which couples may take part, but the term continues in use, and reflects the origins of the concept whereby husbands were viewed as initiating an informal partner swap.


As a general rule, swinging couples engage in conventional sexual activities, but with other partners. Penetrative sex by a swinging partner is referred to as a full swap; while non-penetrative sex, such as oral sex, is referred to as a soft swap. New swinging couples often choose a soft swap before they are comfortable with a full swap, although many couples stay "soft swap" for personal or safety related reasons.[2] Soft swinging occurs when the couple engage in sexual activities while two or more other couples perform sex acts in the immediate vicinity.

Reasons for swinging

Couples engage in sexual activities with others for a variety of reasons, and the reasons are not necessarily the same for both partners. Some partners engage in these activities to add variety into their otherwise conventional sex lives or for curiosity. Some regard such activities as social interactions. Others treat such activities as a means of satisfying their heightened sexual desires.


16th century

A formal arrangement was signed by John Dee, his wife Jane, 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.[3]

18th century

The only group that was known to openly practice wife-swapping were European intellectuals. Even to this day, Europeans and American intellectuals try to find instances of open extra-marital sex of religious groups of the Abrahamic faiths. According to certain of these intellectuals, two related messianic Jewish sects of the eighteenth century, the Frankists, followers of Jacob Frank, and the Dönmeh, followers of Shabbetai Zvi, were alleged to hold an annual springtime 'Lamb Festival,' which consisted of a celebratory dinner that included a ritualized exchange of spouses.[4][5] These reports should be considered very cautiously, as they may simply be defamatory propaganda of the time against heretical groups, particularly since the groups involved were secretive and even deceptive about their beliefs, aims, and practices.

19th century

The sobriquet "communist" has sometimes been applied, especially in Germany during the mid-19th century, to people who advocate spouse-trading. In fact, communist philosophy is rather anti-sexual[citation needed], especially in the case of religious communists like the Shakers.

In The Communist Manifesto (1848), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels suggest that the allegation of communists practising "community of women" 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."[6]

20th century

Online swinging took off in the late 1990s due to the rise of the Internet and became more prevalent towards the latter half of the decade. According to swingingheaven[7] over 400,000 people in the UK were estimated to have used the Internet at the time to organise or take part in swinging activities.

Modern swinging

According to Terry Gould's The Lifestyle: a look at the erotic rites of swingers,[8] swinging began among American Air Force pilots and their wives during World War II. The mortality rate of pilots was high, so, as Gould reports, a close bond arose between pilots that implied that pilot husbands would care for all the wives as their own—emotionally and sexually—if the husbands were away or lost.[9] This is debatable, however, since it would have been unusual for wives to accompany their husbands on foreign tours.[10] 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.[citation needed]

Some swinging sexual activity can take place in a sex club. To some extent, in the United States, these clubs are associated in the North American Swing Club Association,[11] as an umbrella organization for swinging clubs to disseminate information about swinging across North America. Many Internet websites that cater for swinging couples now exist, some boasting hundreds of thousands of members.[12]

In the UK, swinging became popular to some extent in the mid-1970s.[13]

In February 2010, Christoph Büchel and the Secession contemporary art museum in Vienna, Austria invited a local swingеrs' club to hold orgies and display related paraphernalia in the building where Gustav Klimt's famous Beethoven Frieze had prompted substantial outrage and media attention in 1902.[14][15][16]


Research has been conducted in the United States since the late 1960s. One study, based on an Internet questionnaire addressed to visitors of swinger-related sites, found swingers are happier in their relationships than the norm,[1].

60% said that swinging improved their relationship; 1.7% said swinging made their relationship less happy. Approximately 50% of those who rated their relationship "very happy" before becoming swingers maintained their relationship had become happier. 90% of those with less happy relationships said swinging improved them.

Almost 70% of swingers claimed no problem with jealousy; approximately 25% admitted "I have difficulty controlling jealousy when swinging" as "somewhat true", while 6% said this was "yes, very much" true. Swingers rate themselves happier ("very happy": 59% of swingers compared to 32% of non-swingers) and their lives more "exciting" (76% of swingers compared to 54% 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%) than females completed the survey.

This study is of limited use due to self-selected sampling. Self sampling procedures create a potential for bias. For instance, swinging couples who had stronger relationships may have been more motivated to complete the questionnaire. Alternatively, because swinging may cause stress on a marriage, perhaps only those with higher than average commitment are able to remain married. Couples who have jealousy or strife issues caused by swinging might not persist in the activity and could therefore be less likely respondents. Additionally, couples that would be negatively affected by swinging may be less likely to try swinging in the first place.

ABC News reporter John Stossel produced an investigative report into the swinging lifestyle. Stossel reported that at that time, 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,[17] the ICT 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.

Controversy and debate

See also: Sexual norm and Casual sex

Health risks

Some swingers engage in unprotected sex, a practice known as barebacking. Some couples reduce the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) by exchanging STD test results and serosorting. The majority of 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 STDs than the general population.[18] Opponents are concerned about the risk of pregnancy and STDs such as HIV, arguing that even protected sex is risky given that some STDs 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 STD prevalence was highest in young people, homosexual men, and swingers.[19] 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 STD clinic. In addition, according to the conclusions of the report the STD rates of swingers were in fact nearly identical to those of non-swinging straight couples, and concluded that the safest demographic for STD 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, they found." [20]

Religious and moral objections

See also: Religion and sexuality

Those who object on moral or philosophical grounds to the basic principles of swinging may urge that sexual relations should only occur within a committed relationship. Some argue that if sex becomes the main reason for swinging, sex may become mechanistic and less satisfying than the intimacy experienced by monogamous couples. Many people argue that any sex is wrong outside of marriage, whether it be with the spouse's permission or without it. Those who object on moral or philosophical grounds to the basic principles of swinging may insist that sexual relations should only occur within a committed relationship.

Common responses to objections

Many couples enter swinging while in secure relationships, providing added motivation to avoid excessive health risks. While sexual affairs outside relationships may be in the heat of the moment without regard to consequences, swingers maintain that sex among swingers is a more thought-out and practical affair.

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; these individuals may state that they take a safer approach to sexual health than comparable non-monogamous singles (who ostensibly have impaired judgment from becoming inebriated).

Condoms are often required at many swinging clubs and parties. In addition, a minority of swingers rely on STD testing to ensure their safety. A small portion focus on massage and other activities unlikely to transmit STDs; however, most participants acknowledge they are accepting the risks that any sexually promiscuous member of society does.

Although there is a risk of pregnancy, there are ways to minimize the risk to almost zero. Solutions include a tubal ligation (female sterilization), vasectomy (male sterilization), or having a group entirely made of menopausal women. Other solutions include using condoms with another form of non-surgical birth control such as using the pill. Proper use of a condom with an effective birth control method will minimize the risk of pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted disease.

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% of husbands and 29% of wives admit at least one extramarital affair (Reinisch, 1990), and divorce rates for first marriages approached 60%.

As one study asserted:

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.

Ethnology of "swinging"


Temporary spouse-trading is practiced as an element of ritual initiation into the Lemba secret society in the French Congo through "wife exchange"[21] : "you shall lay with the priestess-wife of your Lemba Father, and he shall lay with your wife too."[22][23]

New Guinea

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."[24] 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."[25] Furthermore, "There have been other similar movements ... near Jayapura. These are popularly called Towel Religion (agama handuk) and The Simpson Religion (agama simpson)."[26]

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.'"[27]

Inuit and Aleut

"Inuit wife trading has often been reported and commented on ..."[28]

Temporary "wife-lending ... was apparently more common among the Aleuts than Eskimos". Several motivations for temporary spouse-trading are practiced among the Inuit:[29]

  • at the instigation of an aŋekok (shaman), as a magical rite to achieve better weather for hunting-expeditions;
  • as a regular feature of the annual "Bladder Festival";
  • for a man visiting without being accompanied his wife, under the promise that he will in the future make his own wife sexually available to his host whenever the host will himself come visiting his erstwhile guest.

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 specific terminology and language describing the complex relationships that emerged from this practice of wife sharing. A man called another man "aipak" if the man had sex with his wife. Aipak means, "other me." So, in their conception, this other man sleeping with one's wife was just "another me."[30]

South American Indians

Among the Araweté (Asurini) in the state of Pará, Brazil, "spouse-swapping" is practiced.[31]

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.[30]

In popular culture

  • The Blood Oranges (1997), two western couples, one with children, come together in the fictional Mediterranean village of Ilyria. The film was adapted from the 1970 novel by John Hawkes.
  • Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) is an American comedy classic that captures the sexual revolution of the late 1960s in the United States. It was nominated for four Academy Awards; Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Screenplay.
  • Brüno involves the protagonist being involved in a swingers' meeting.
  • Eating Raoul (1982) is a comic send-up of swinging stereotypes.
  • The Fourth Protocol (1987) shows a brief clip of four American women and an American airman naked in a room. The swinger overtones were very implicit.
  • The Ice Storm (1997) by director Ang Lee features a cheating husband, played by Kevin Kline, and his long suffering wife, played by Joan Allen, who attend a "key party" during a nasty ice storm.
  • The Rapture (1992). Mimi Rogers's character Sharon pursues an active swinging lifestyle with her 'partner', played by Rustam Branaman.
  • The Sex Monster (1999) is a comedy about a couple who begin a ménage à trois with another woman.
  • Swingers (2002) is a Dutch film that tells the story of a thirty-something couple and their first experiments with the swinging lifestyle.
  • Swinging with the Finkels (2010) features Mandy Moore and Martin Freeman as a suburban married couple looking to improve their sex lives through swinging.
  • Swingstock has been featured on HBO's Real Sex and Playboy Channel Sexcetera.
  • Zebra Lounge (2001) talks about swinging and its effects on the lives of a married couple with kids who seek some sexual adventures.
  • In John Irving's novel The 158-Pound Marriage, two New England college professors and their wives enter a ménage à quatre with disastrous consequences.
  • Harmon Leon wrote about infiltrating the world of swingers in his book, The American Dream. He went undercover and lived the swinger lifestyle.
  • In a 1972 episode of All in the Family, Edith befriends a couple whose names she finds in a "friendship" magazine and invites them over for coffee, not realizing that they are swingers expecting to swap spouses with her and Archie for the night.
  • A 2010 episode (118) of the series Criminal Minds featured an episode with a serial killer who met his victims in swing clubs and acted out because his wife got pregnant.
  • In an episode of American crime drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, "Swap Meet", a woman is found dead in the fountain of a gated community after visiting a neighborhood swingers party.
  • In The Hard Times of RJ Berger, RJ's parents are apparently swingers.
  • InJourneyman, the eighth episode "Winterland" shows Dan Vasser traveling back to 1973 along with Livia and finding themselves in a swinging party.
  • The short-lived 2003 series Keen Eddie featured a character Monty Pippin who, along with a female friend, pretended to be married in order to gain access to a swingers' club for recreational sex.
  • An episode of the BBC television programme Life on Mars featured the main characters infiltrating a swingers' club.
  • In an episode of his Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends series, the BBC2 interviewer and documentary maker Louis Theroux investigated an American Swingers group.
  • In an episode on the first season of the Fox series The OC, Sandy and Kirsten Cohen are tricked into attending a swingers' party on New Year's Eve.
  • In the second series of Sugar Rush (TV series) Stella and Nathan both experiment in the swinger lifestyle, ending in a visit to a club in Brighton.
  • 2008 CBS series Swingtown is a period piece which deals with social and sexual changes of the 1970s, including swinging.
  • In the Fox sitcom That '70s Show, the episode "The Good Son" featured Red and Kitty inadvertently attending a swingers' party.
  • Touch And Go, a 1998 BBC Two drama, focused on a young couple, played by Martin Clunes and Zara Turner visiting a swinging club in order to reinvigorate their marriage.
  • A 2000 episode of the series Yes, Dear ("The Good Couple") featured two of the main characters, Greg and Kim, inadvertently becoming social with a swinging couple.
  • A 2008 episode of the series Close to Home (Episode 4 of season 1) features main prosecutor Annabeth Chase handling a case related to the swinging lifestyle craved by the murderer's husband.
  • A 2011 episode of the series Law and Order: SVU features characters Elliot Stabler and Olivia Benson going undercover at a swinging club.
  • A 2011 episode of the series Body of Proof features character Dana Delaney investigating a homicide in a neighborhood in which all neighbors are in the Lifestyle.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bergstrand, Curtis, Blevins Williams, Jennifer (2000-10-10). Today's Alternative Marriage Styles: The Case of Swingers. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality 3.
  2. - Gentle Nibbles swinger blog article "Full Swap vs. Soft Swap" published January 2008
  3. The Queen's Conjuror; The life and magic of John Dee by Benjamin Woolley, Harper Collins, 2001, ISBN 978-0805065107, p292
  4. Why I Study Sabbateanism, Jay Michaelson,, June 07 number
    1. redirect Template:Cite web
  6. The Independent Article, Behind closed doors
  7. Terry Gould, The Lifestyle: a look at the erotic rites of swingers. Vintage Canada, November 23, 1999 ISBN 1-55209-482-0
  8. The History and Definitions of Swinging which is Couples Only, Liberated Christians, Inc.; History of Wife Swapping,
  9. What is Swinging?
  10. Springerlink: Conversation with Robert McGinley
  11. Official Swingers Online
  12. What is Swinging - History of Swinging
  13. Sex in an art gallery? Klimt would approve in The Guardian online, 2010-02-24
  14. Telegraph 24 February 2010: Vienna museum hosts swingers club to expose sexual inhibitions
  15. Austrian Times, 24-2-2010: Swingers' club at Vienna's Secession causes controversy
  16. Fabio D'Orlando (2010), "Swinger Ecomomics", in The Journal of Socio-Economics 39(2), pp. 303-304.
  17. Superior Court Quashes CAL-OSHA'S Attempt to Subpoena Confidential AIM Medical Records. AIM Medical. URL accessed on 2009-10-21.
  19. includeonly>"Disease risk higher for swingers than prostitutes", Reuters, 2010-06-23.
  20. Janzen 1982, p. 142
  21. Janzen & McGaffey 1974, p. 100b (.7.10)
  22. Janzen & McGaffey 1974, p. 116 (81)
  23. Fields 1998, p. 40.
  24. Fields 1998, p. 39.
  25. Fields 1998, p. 39, fn. 10.
  26. Gerard Zegwaard (transl. from the Dutch by Peter Mason & Ton van Santvoord): Amoko. Crawford House, Belair (SA), 2002. p. 203
  27. Hennigh, Lawrence. Functions and Limitations of Alaskan Eskimo Wife Trading.
  28. Do Eskimo men lend their wives to strangers?. The Straight Dope. URL accessed on 2009-10-24.
  29. 30.0 30.1 Ley, David (2009). Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and The Men Who Love Them, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.
  30. Eduardo Batalha Viveiros de Castro (transl. from the Portuguese by Catherine V. Howard) : From the Enemy's Point of View. University of Chicago Press, 1992. p. 127

External links

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