You're at a party. You notice it's not your typical social gathering as soon as you walk in. In the front room, men and women are laughing, flirting, some dancing, a few making out, squeezing a nipple here, a tush there, like any other hot party, except a bit more sexually blatant. Well, maybe a lot more. Most of the partiers are semi-clothed, in lingerie or wearing nothing but a damp towel. On the coffee table is a bowl of dip, a bowl of chips, a bowl of condoms, a bowl of lube packets. Off to one side is a big jacuzzi where people are soaking, drinks in hand, smiles on faces, erections between legs--for the men, of course. As for the ladies, well, it's never easy to tell just by looking whether or not a woman is truly aroused, but these gals seem unusually open and free, proud of their sexuality and downright lusty toward the men and other ladies.
You wander down the hall, past a couple of closed doors marked "Private." You stop and cup your ear to the wall, eavesdropping on the sounds of passion, heavy breathing, cries, sighs, howls and grunts like animals in heat. You step further down the corridor, up to an open door marked "Group Room." Mattresses line the edges of the room, and in the center, several mattresses are joined together. The lights are dim, the air heavy with the warmth and aroma of intense human activity. You squint through the soft light and see naked human bodies, couples and clusters of three or four in different positions, two couples side by side, one in missionary, one with the woman on top. Two women drinking each other thirstily. A man entering a woman from behind as another woman licks and fondles them both from underneath. In the central area is a group of who-knows-how-many arms, legs, mouths, heads covered with damp hair, genitals, breasts, buns--all tangled up in love--well, lust. They seem like a single creature, a great pagan monster-god with many heads, limbs and genitals, undulating ecstatically. Off to the side, a couple of single men masturbate, watching the scene.
And remember, you're watching too.
I don't know if you're aroused or disgusted by this scene. But I do know you're fascinated. Such is the power of Swing, and I don't mean Big Bands. I mean spouse-swapping, playcoupling. Partying with a capital P. Lifestylin'.
I remember the first time Max and I went to a Lifestyles Convention several years ago. Everybody knows "lifestyles" is code for "swinging." Even my mother knew. So when we told Mom where we were going, she said, "Lifestyles? Oy vey, I've seen those people on Oprah. They were booed and hissed by the whole audience." Mom knew. Ever since Gay Talese wrote Thy Neighbor's Wife (almost ruining his reputation and losing his own wife in the process), swingers or lifestylers have been booed, hissed and dissed by Middle America. The funny thing is, swingers are Middle America.
Somewhere between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party lies the Swing Party.
Most playcouples are into family values and everything. They go to work and backyard barbecues and PTA meetings and…the occasional Saturday night orgy.
About 1500 playcouples attend the annual Lifestyles Convention, now an American Rite of Summer. The North American Swing Club Association estimates there are over 5 million active swingers in America. The term "swinger" may be an archaic holdover from the '70s that makes mainstream media people snicker and even its most avid practitioners cringe, but the fact is that at the turn of the 21st century, there are more couples sharing sexual experiences with other couples than ever before. Even the term "swinger" itself is getting back in the swing of things, accepted as a valid, vibrant tributary to the mainstream of American society.
Why do so many people swing, try it, or at least fantasize about it? Canadian journalist Terry Gould's new book The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers is the best, most comprehensive examination of the subject. But, to encapsulate: Some couples swing because it allows them to explore the excitement of having sex with other people right in front of each other, which feels healthier, or at least more honest than cheating. Many folks actually get aroused by watching their spouse have sex with other men or women. Most enjoy the intimate camaraderie that swinging fosters. For them, sex and socializing go together. Many delight in the sheer orgiastic atmosphere of a swing environment. I sure do.
Humans, like other animals, experience a high level of sexual energy in a place where they see, hear and smell others having sex.
Modern group sex may awaken primitive sense memories of prehistoric times when families and even whole tribes lived and slept together in giant caves. Ancient religions held fertility orgies in the midst of the Dionysian, Bacchanalian, Carnival and May Day festivals, celebrating the mysteries of sexuality and giving widows, homely virgins and spouses of infertile mates a chance to conceive. Modern swingers don't swing to get pregnant, of course, but the desire for a transcendent, orgiastic experience remains. Many don't even go "all the way." They just watch, or have sex with their partners in the midst of all the collective aphrodisia.
There are as many explanations for swinging as there are swingers. As any swinger will tell you, the Lifestyle is not for everybody. Probably not for most couples. Swinging won't turn a bad relationship into a good one. In fact, if your relationship is fairly weak, swinging can destroy it in less time than it takes to make a Daisy Chain . But if it's already pretty strong, and if the two of you have cravings for adventure and sex drives like bunnies, it can be the ultimate extracurricular activity.
If you're NOT into swinging, you probably think of it as a man's domain. And in the old days of wife-swapping, it usually was. But that's no longer true. Now, women rule American Swing. In a typical couple, it's the man who's initially most excited about swinging, often to the point he has to cajole, encourage, beg, bribe or trick his wife or girlfriend into trying it. But if she does participate, after a while, the wife often gets even more involved than her husband. Then what might happen? Any number of possibilities, the worst of which involve hubby fuming jealously as wifey basks in the glorious newfound attention of several sensual men and women.
For the most part, nowadays, American Swing is a femalist sexual paradise. Single women are welcome at swing parties, single men usually are not. There are sensible reasons for this: single guys tend to be more aggressive and thus troublesome. Also, while most swinger women are bisexual, most swinger men are not, at least not actively. Group sex presents women with certain benefits that neither dating nor relationship sex offers. Some ladies use swinging to experiment with different forms of sex, such as sex with women or with more than one man. They can explore playful erotic encounters in an environment where there is little need to worry about rape, physical abuse or being vilified as a "slut." A good swing party is a femaleist sexual paradise.
I consider the best swingers to be the bonobos of humanity. They're highly sexual, remarkably peaceful, and women are in charge.
Which tends to be good for the gals as well as the guys. Since women rule, much of what comes under the label of "swinging" or the Playcouple Lifestyle doesn't even involve sexual intercourse. Consider the Lifestyles Convention itself, three days of fun, sun, art, outercourse , massage, swimming, seminars, demonstrations, fetish games, parties, shows, exhibits and exhibitionists. The climax is the Erotic Masquerade Ball, which I call the Night of 1000 Breasts. Actually, I've never gotten a body count, or a boobie count, but it seems like over 3000 people are there, more than half of whom are women, many gloriously bare-breasted. All types of mammaries make appearances--big and small, young and old, firm and flabby, natural and silicon. All kinds of people of all ages attend: buff jocks and tattooed rockers in their early 20s, grandmas and grandpas in their late 70s, the PTA-&-BBQ crowd in their 30s and 40s, judges and executive-types in their 50s, farmers and professor-types in their 60s, people with gorgeous bodies, lousy bodies, funny bodies, humongous bodies, seemingly bionic bodies, the young and firm mixing cheerfully with the old and wrinkled, everybody decked out in their erotic fantasies of angels and devils, kings and queens, showgirls and superheroes, masters and slaves, wild women, natural men, lions and tigers and horny old bears. Even the hotel workers with their cute uniforms seem to blend with the Felliniesque crowd, until you notice the bemused, amused and rather confused expressions on their faces as they watch the swingers watch themselves.
Who are these people? Maybe your neighbor. Maybe your doctor. Maybe your president.
As to whether or not Bill and Hillary actually swing, I have no idea, but I'm sure stories will be circulating at this summer's Lifestyles Convention. Rumor has it among certain swing circles that the Clintons are, or at least were, into the scene while in Arkansas. If so, that could explain a lot about their relationship. Not that Ken Starr would appreciate it, but perhaps some folks would quit calling Bill a "sex addict" and Hillary an "enabler," if they knew they were swingers, and if they understood something about swinging, truth and human sexuality.
Natural human sexuality is the jungle--wild and free, dangerous, out of control. Monogamy is a garden-lovely but controlled, a little boring perhaps, but secure, serene. The happiest playcouples seem to be gardeners who like to swing through the trees every so often. Ideally, in between their adventures in the wild, they cultivate their garden together.
But, whether their marriages are rock-solid or their relationships change as frequently as bonobos eat bananas, all swingers are attempting to deal with their desires in a relatively open, honest manner. Through their burgeoning conventions and private threesomes, they are evolving beyond the deceitful cheating and debilitating repression that pervades most American marriages. They are helping us all to swing into a new era of sexual freedom, honesty, tolerance, peace and understanding.
P.S. If you need to talk about swinging or other sexual issues in your life, call me at 213.749.1330. Maybe I can help. You can also talk with any of the other excellent telephone sex therapists here at the Dr. Susan Block Institute, anytime 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including holidays.