If polyamory has entered its cultural adolescence, swinging is its elder cousin who has long outgrown the kids table at Thanksgiving. The swinger lifestyle is probably the most normalized form of non-monogamy with its own reality TV shows, all-inclusive resorts, and origin story lore that includes World War II Air Force pilots. And no, the upside-down pineapple thing was not a widespread supermarket swinger symbol, but, yes, at this point it’s become a cheeky, unofficial logo of the lifestyle.
So you and your partner want to be swingers? Here’s a beginner guide for curious couples!
What is swinging?
Swinging is traditionally defined as couples swapping partners with other couples or consistently bringing other singles ('thirds') to bed. Often, swingers seek what they call soft swaps and full swaps. Soft swaps are when you switch partners for sex acts except vaginal and anal penetration. Full swaps are when you go "all the way." Old school swingers would stress that partners are involved in the sex together, but there are many dynamics that include sending your significant other off to fuck other people and hearing about it when they come home.
A discerning characteristic no matter who you ask seems to be romantic exclusivity. Because of this "a lot of people in the swinger community can be judgmental [of polyamory,]" one polyamorist named Brian shared on an episode of my show, The Manwhore Podcast(opens in a new tab). "A lot of them just can’t imagine having feelings outside of their primary relationship."
Want more sex and dating stories in your inbox? Sign up for Mashable's new weekly After Dark newsletter.
Swinging has its own colorful jargon. "Bulls" are single men who join couples. Couples seeking bisexual women or men are "unicorn hunters" or "dragon slayers," respectively. Cuckolds like to feel humiliated by their "hot wife" having sex with other men, and stags enjoy their vixens’ extramarital affairs from a cockier, more dominant perspective. Women who enjoy people desiring their men are called "cuckqueens". And having sex in the same room as another couple is called — wait for it — "same room sex".
Should we get into swinging?
Is swinging right for you? First ask yourself why you want to open your relationship. Second, ask yourself if the relationship feels secure. Swinging can save a dead bedroom, but it will not fix a bad marriage. "This is the worst thing you can do for your relationship if you’re just trying to save it," emphasizes Brenna, co-host of the Front Porch Swingers(opens in a new tab) podcast, which offers a blend of seasoned swinger tips with sexy storytelling.
Is swinging right for you? First ask yourself why you want to open your relationship.
Now, one of you will have to be the first to bring this up — and that can be very scary. "It’s possible your partner has never thought of this," says Brenna. "Be prepared for surprise or even anger" due to deeply programmed monogamist views. It may take your loved one "time to process" you even raising the subject.
Kenzie co-hosts a swinger podcast with her best friend Madison called Friends with a Twist(opens in a new tab). At first, she struggled with shaking that societal programming. She would hear a little voice in her head screaming, "This isn’t what people do when they’re married!" With a little time, she realized it’s "not very realistic that one human is going to fulfill your every last desire and fantasy."
Doc hosts the Bulls and Queens Podcast(opens in a new tab). Seven years ago, his wife approached him about opening their marriage. "I was offended, initially," chuckled Doc, 43. But he then realized "it works out pretty well for" him enjoying sex "with other beautiful women." Now? He loves to see her "go out there and be happy."
When you approach your loved one, invite them to a conversation rather than a request. A request involves acceptance or rejection. A conversation is just a conversation. Reassure them that wherever it goes, you still love them and you still want to be with them. (If that’s not the case, go back four paragraphs and reread what Brenna said.)
Swinger starter tips
So you’ve decided to become swingers. What now? Start slow. "Swinging to me is like adding salt to a recipe," shares Brenna, 32. "You can always add salt — but you can’t subtract it."
Podcasts are a fantastic medium for researching best practices and exciting ideas. Hosts often speak from their own experiences using storytelling, humor, and eroticism. "Listen to episodes on your own or together, and then talk about what you each thought," suggests Kenzie. Front Porch Swingers, Friends with a Twist, Bulls & Queens, The Black n Kinky Lifestyle(opens in a new tab), The Manwhore Podcast, and The Venus Cuckoldress Podcast(opens in a new tab) are all great shows to add to your queue.
"Swinging to me is like adding salt to a recipe. You can always add salt — but you can’t subtract it."
Kenzie, who started swinging with her husband to meet new people after losing touch with old friends, also recommends watching some porn or reading erotica together. "That gives you a conversation starter" about what you each liked (and didn’t like) about it. Anything that gets you talking about what you might want and what you might not want is a good idea.
You should also discuss and confirm how you want to handle STIs and birth control. Are you using condoms with other people? Are you getting tested after every encounter? How will you handle the testing status of potential partners? Hint: You don’t just ask, "Are you clean?"(opens in a new tab) Be specific to avoid miscommunication.
How to meet other couples
Couple-swapping in the modern age involves the internet (sorry!). "We don’t recommend going out to a vanilla bar and trying to hook-up with people," says the other half of podcast Friends with a Twist(opens in a new tab), Madison. "It doesn’t usually work." Madison, 33, met her husband at a swinger house party surrounded by like-minded people, not at the local dive.
"Some sites are more reputable than others," warns Brenna. Everyone stressed to me the importance of investing in your sex life. "Paid sites are going to be better than [free] sites. Part of that paid service is weeding out the fakes and flakes," she continued. Paid subscriptions help with quality control. This is not where you want to cut corners in your budget.
Paid sites also battle against bots overtaking the platform. And though there is nothing wrong with sex work, if you wanted to hire an escort, you’d likely browse a different site.
Everyone seemed to recommend Kasidie(opens in a new tab), SLS(opens in a new tab), and SDC(opens in a new tab). Feeld, Fetlife, and Reddit are less swinger-focused but also useful for connecting with like-minded people.
Getting back on the apps
"People have no idea how much time and effort you’re going to put in looking for dates," reveals Brenna. There’s a "stereotype that swingers will just sleep with anybody," adds Kenzie. "Swingers are much more selective now [because of technology.]" It’s become much easier since our parents did it. But what do you put on a swinger dating profile?
"Make yourself as sexy as can be," suggests Doc. Have well-lit photos. Use couple shots over group shots. Each picture should serve a purpose. Put the fish down. It’s not much different than any other online dating profile photo guide — except now it’s two of you.
Many in the lifestyle are discreet about their extracurriculars and don’t want their bosses or pastors to find them out (then again, those people would have to explain why they were on the same swinger site as you). It’s perfectly reasonable to save your faces for the DMs once you’ve established attraction and connection.
Your bio should be more than a one-liner but less exhaustive than a job application. Be a little saucier than OkCupid but more composed than the Pornhub comments. And "be upfront about what you’re looking for," reminds Doc. You don’t need to unload all of your fantasies in the bio, but if you specifically want full swap vs. soft swap or bisexual cross-play, include that.
So much of the lifestyle is making friends that you fuck. So, be interesting! There are plenty of people who want to get straight to the point, but you’ll notice that many want to have something in common to latch on to — even if just for a night. The friends with a twist always recommend, "Make friends out of swingers, not swingers out of your friends!"
Now, one of you might be tempted to hand your more enthusiastic partner the password and say, "You pick ‘em. Just let me know when we’re meeting." But Brenna warns that that can easily lead to "disaster." Doc adds, "Both parties need to be involved," even if one partner takes the lead for efficiency. Make sure everyone has read the messages before a date. It’s super awkward when the other couple pulls out butt plugs they thought you both agreed to and your husband makes that weird grimace emoji face. 😬
What to do on a first date
You’ve both screened, flirted with, and approved of your prospective playmates. It’s now time to go on a first date. Some of you may not have done this in years. It’s okay to be nervous! Keep the plans simple and low-stakes. Coffee or a cocktail is less of a commitment than dinner or club-hopping. Make it easy to escape if the chemistry isn’t there. You don’t need to get all the sex in that night. A great first date with another couple can end with some heavy making out as you part ways excited to meet up again (and then you can take your excitement home to bang your boo’s brains out).
If you do end up going to bed together, make sure you’ve all discussed green and red lists. What do people definitely want to experience? What is off-limits for Carol? You’re now dealing with three or four (or more!) people’s preferences. There are many more opportunities for miscommunication. It can feel really awkward to be the person to bring it up, but if you keep an excited smile on your face while you do it, you come off as safe and responsible and fun. Remember: Discussing boundaries is just discussing how everyone can have a really hot time. That’s awesome!
How to have sex with other people
You and your significant other are in bed with this attractive couple. You’re touching and licking and stroking and penetrating all sorts of body parts. Maybe you’ve fully swapped and you’re in a passionate embrace with this hunky new lover or bodacious babe. Don’t forget who you came with. Trust is at the core of a successful swinging relationship, and no one wants to say, "Honey?" and not be heard.
Doc and I discussed different ways we’ve checked in during group sex verbally and non-verbally. Sometimes you’ll literally just ask, "Hey babe, having fun?" Or if she’s getting spanked and you’re not sure if those noises are happy or hurt, "You okay?" We always talk about creating space for people to state their boundaries, but it can still be scary to speak up to request a softer swing or ask for more lube. A verbal check-in reminds them they have support.
Nonverbal signals are more discreet ways to check in on or reassure a loved one. Making eye contact — on top of being so sexy — is an opportunity to receive a head nod or head shake. A back rub or hand squeeze or quick kiss are also great ways to let them know, "I’m still here. I didn’t forget you. And I love you."
And yes, some couples do come up with safe words or hand signals for when they want to get the hell out of there.
After you’ve survived your first swing, the last bit of work left to do is to debrief. It doesn’t have to be on the car ride home — it can be a day or two later — but you should definitely discuss what was hot, what could have been better, and any feelings that came up. If you plan to see this couple or special guest star again, be clear on if you’re only going to communicate with them in the group chat or if it’s safe to have one-on-one text threads.
Swinger parties have come a long way since the long-ago days of key parties. Nowadays, they’re much more organized than reaching into a bowl and having sex with the owner of those keys. In addition to the sites mentioned above, you can find events on FetLife (though your mileage may vary). Unless you’re established in the lifestyle, you’ll have a tough time finding a good party offline. So, make friends!
Many of the tips I could give are covered in my beginner’s guide to sex parties. But I must repeat this one, especially for the men: Dress to impress or attempt the theme if there is one. "I cannot tell you the number of events I’ve gone to where the women are in these impeccable dresses and heels and look amazing," bemoans Brenna, "and the guys show up in t-shirts and jeans." I do not care if it’s Versace and has rhinestones — it’s still a t-shirt, dude.
Everyone I spoke with stressed that newbies should go in with low expectations. For example, try watching your partner dance and make out with someone else. "Dancing can be foreplay," says Kenzie. "We can grind a little bit on the dance floor to make that connection" before taking it to a play space. It’s also a low-level activity to test your tolerance for non-monogamy. Remember what Brenna said earlier about salt? If you can’t handle seeing a dance floor make-out, you probably won’t be able to handle seeing their face full of someone else’s genitals.
If you can’t handle seeing a dance floor make-out, you probably won’t be able to handle seeing their face full of someone else’s genitals.
Brenna also hates to see newbies come from a place of scarcity. "Couples with kids and a lot of obligations think they need to get all of the swinging done on this one night they had free that month." In reality, plenty of swingers only attend a couple of events per year. ‘Cum’ from a place of abundance and don’t stress if you ‘only’ play together in front of an eager audience. Enjoy each other. This is about inviting others into what you two share, not just getting some permissible stranger.
Biphobia and transphobia in the lifestyle
I’d be remiss to skip over a controversial topic in the swinger community: queerness. Despite a rising, more accepting generation of lifestylers, there are still old school swingers with a prejudice against bisexual men and transgender people (while cis bi women are both celebrated and objectified like some sexual Holy Grail). If the male half of a couple has bi in his profile, he may run into problems, and trans people face stigma and sexual violence for merely existing at disproportionate rates(opens in a new tab). There are still swinger clubs where men could be asked to leave if they blew each other during a foursome with their wives. "There’s a total double standard," admits Madison. "It’s a barrier we need to break."
Brenna, who frequently speaks at swinger conventions and throws parties(opens in a new tab) with her partner Brian, assures me that strides are being made in the scene. "Lifestyle events and conventions and workshops are starting to include more queer male voices, which is leading to a shift."
And hey, if seeing queer sex at a party turns you or your partner off, just look away.
What about jealousy?
The number one question I hear is: What if I get jealous? "You probably will at some point," promises Madison. "You have to be prepared to have those tough and awkward conversations." You are not responsible for your partner’s jealousy, but that’s not an excuse to tell them, "Tough shit. Deal with it." Be kind with your lover and with yourself. You two — we assume — love each other. Remember that.
Kenzie, who has been in the lifestyle for about 13 years, laughingly referenced yelling at her husband out of jealousy at times. But that doesn’t mean non-monogamy doesn’t work just like yelling about the dishes doesn’t mean a marriage is in shambles. You talk through it.
In a new book, Multiamory: Essential Tools for Modern Relationships(opens in a new tab), the author-podcasters recommend a process called R.A.D.A.R.(opens in a new tab) On a regular basis (monthly is a great start), couples should review, agree to an agenda, discuss, incorporate action points, and reconnect at the end on a positive note. The framework can make check-ins feel less ad hoc and more egalitarian.
It’s also okay if you realize that swinging isn’t for you! Couples close their relationships because they don’t have the time to attend parties or sort through profiles, and reopen again later. Sometimes you don’t have the bandwidth for the extra communication because work is too stressful. Maybe this experiment helped you realize you only need a sex party once a year when the kids are at camp. You also just might not enjoy sharing your loved one sexually — and that is totally fine.
"Nobody that is new is going to know exactly what they want until they jump into the pool," says Doc. "Once you jump into the pool, you’ll realize you like backstroke or doggy paddle (or style)." And it’s completely alright if you realize you just don’t like swimming.