In the Bedroom
Swingers Open Up about Marriage
What it’s like to invite others into your sexual relationship
-The Betty Editors
Think that swingers went away as the dawning of the Age of Aquarius turned to dusk? Think again. Open marriages, swinging, call it what you will, is alive and well today–from the city streets straight out to suburbia.
We hear about it here and there–online, from friends and acquaintances, hints of it dropped into conversations–often enough to know that it is happening, probably more than we know … and among some of the most unexpected people. While no one has a good reading on just how many marriages are open today, some estimate it to be close to 10 percent of couples. (Quick, think of 10 couples you know–could one of them be swinging?)
We’re quite fascinated by the topic, we must admit, and were let down harshly when the brilliant series Swingtown was cancelled. So we sought out some real-life swingers for some insight:
*Steve is a 40-year-old executive at a Fortune 500 company.
*Shannon is a 30-something stay-at-home mother living in the suburbs. (She is not married to Steve.)
Here’s what they had to say about bringing others into their married relationship …
Betty: How long have you been married?
Steve: Over 10 years.
Shannon: Going on 14 years.
Betty: When did you first start considering an open marriage?
Steve: First, I wouldn’t say we have an open marriage. When I hear those words I think of each of us coming and going with other people as we please. That’s not what we do. We do like to bring other people into our lives in a sexual way from time to time. This could be as little as dancing with strangers in a club, to heavy and obvious flirting, to touching and kissing, to full-on sex. As far as when we started, I think we always were into flirting with others people right from the start. That just sort of built until we ended up having sex with another couple a few years into our marriage.
Shannon: I would have to say year five of our marriage.
Betty: Did you or your spouse embrace the idea first? Did one have to convince the other?
Steve: We’re both very sexual people, so I guess I think the idea was always there. Just because you get married doesn’t mean you stop noticing others in a sexual way. We both sort of started talking about it at the same time. There was really no convincing. We were both excited about the prospect but unsure of what to do about it.
Shannon: I can’t remember exactly but I think he asked first if I would consider the idea based upon my attraction to other women and fantasies that we would have alone together about other women…
There was no convincing me to have another woman, but the first time we met another couple it did take some convincing because I wasn’t really into the other guy–just the girl … so I did feel a little pressured.
Betty: What was your first experience like? How did you meet the other people?
Steve: We put an ad on an internet site for swingers and found a couple in our city. We swapped some G-rated pictures and had a phone call or two. We met out for dinner one night. They seemed real enough. We made plans for another dinner date, then ended up at a swinger club, dancing and getting a little more advanced. The night ended at their place swapping partners.
Shannon: It was fun. We met the other couple out for dinner, had drinks and then went back to their place and one thing led to another. We met through–corny–a swingers’ web site from the metropolitan area we were living in.
Betty: Do you actively seek out other people, or do the situations just evolve?
Steve: When it’s right, you know almost immediately. We do this on the down low, so it’s not like we’re walking around looking for someone all the time, but there are just people you meet that give off a vibe. There have been times when we both come home after a night out and talk about getting a vibe from a certain person. You kind of have to decide what you’re looking for. Do you want a repeat engagement or a quick and anonymous encounter?
Shannon: The first time we actively sought out another couple–but as I said it was fun–it was also weird. Since then, there have been a handful of other times and situations have just evolved. We are still friends to this day with some, and with some that era has ended … meaning it’s not ongoing; it’s sort of fizzled out and we’re platonic friends….
Betty: How do people react when the issue is brought up?
Steve: Everyone in our place in life is subtle about it. You’ve got to be clear on what the rules are so nobody gets hurt. We’re all grownups, and people act like it.
Shannon: I never bring it up. I have with a few close, lifelong friends; and they have expressed that it is not for them but tell me they don’t judge me (that’s what they say anyway). In my daily life I am a great wife and mom living in suburbia who volunteers at the school, coaches my kids’ sports teams and minds my own business.
Betty: How often would you say you and your partner have sexual relationships with others?
Steve: If you measure “sexual relations” as anything from a passionate kiss with another person all the way to intercourse, I’d say that in more than 10 years there have been around 10 to 12. If you’re talking sex, that number is around 4 to 5.
Shannon: In the 10 years we have had the idea, it has happened a handful of times. It is not something we actively seek out, but if the opportunity is presented and we were both into it, then we’ll explore it.
Betty: Do you try to keep it even–always with couples only? Or if one of you has a relationship with someone, then does the other feel he or she needs to?
Steve: It’s hard to keep it fair because more than likely someone is always getting the short end of the stick. Maybe he is hot but she is a dud, or the other couple doesn’t want to take it as far as you do. My wife is into women so that makes it a little easier if it’s just one extra person to decide on. To be successful, everyone has to get what they want sooner or later.
Shannon: Having an outside relationship with another person would definitely be considered cheating–we are always together. There has been another time when we weren’t together, and I did not enjoy myself. I like that if we choose to do something, then we are together, enjoying it together, and my spouse agrees. To be honest, I am mostly attracted to other women, and I would prefer to be with another woman over another man.
Betty: Does it contribute to any jealousy in your relationship?
Steve: Sometimes it can go too far. When you see the other person enjoying themselves a lot you have to remember that you’re trying to be happy that they are having an awesome moment. If you forget that, you can feel left out and envious. I think it’s important to always channel that sexual energy back into your own relationship. That way you both can live the experience. If you’re holding back and keeping the experience for yourself, then that’s a problem.
Shannon: No, I think we are both strong people who are very confident in ourselves and our marriage. We love to experiment, and that includes sex.
Betty: How do you feel it benefits your marriage?
Steve: Forever is a long time. Anything you can do to keep the fires roaring is a good thing. It’s just hard to imagine that our bodies and minds were meant to be satisfied by only one person for the rest of our lives.
Shannon: We are not just open in our marriage, we are open in all aspects of our lives. I feel it allows us to be free to express ourselves in any way we choose. And it enhances our sex life together.
Betty: What are the drawbacks?
Steve: Privacy is key. You don’t want to be known as “that” couple. Also, sexual incompatibility. You find you’re with a couple/person you really like but the sex is not really worth it. It’s hard to wiggle out of that. And being out of sync – when one person is into it and the other is not it can cause issues.
Shannon: Judgment–I think by and large most Americans are involved in church values, monogamy, non-nudity, conforming to their churches. (Which I believe is hypocritical, but that’s another conversation….)
Betty: What would you say to people who find it wrong?
Steve: To each his own. We don’t flaunt it, so it’s none of their business. Everyone has some dark interest behind closed doors.
Shannon: It’s my life, and you get one shot at it–be happy.
Betty: Do many people in your life know about this choice? if so, what have their reactions been?
Steve: Nope. Only the people we’ve been with, and they feel the same as us. I’m sure there are people who suspect. In the ‘burbs there are always rumors going around.
Shannon: No. Those that do haven’t expressed judgment to me personally so I can’t really comment on that.
* Names have been changed to protect privacy.