It’s been half a century since the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960’s, and yet many people still adopt an expression of blank confusion whenever I tell them that I’m a swinger. Those with zero exposure to—and experience with—“The Lifestyle” generally sink into their assumptions and try to change the subject almost immediately. People often assume that I bring up the subject because I’m subtly trying to rope them into my kinky sex life (which is only sometimes true, and only occasionally involves literal rope).
But the truth is that I’m passionate about building a sex-positive culture for future generations. I feel personally invested in the basic tenets of swinging and I think that western sexual repression is one of the most dangerous facets of the modern age. Swinging is more than a pastime, hobby, or fetish. It is an ideology. The Lifestyle is a way of being which is founded on, essentially, three crucial components: Communication, consent, and learning.
My first foray into The Lifestyle was a few years ago. As an east coast boy from Vermont, I had never really been exposed to the concept of an open relationship. As a young man in my early 20’s living in southern Oregon, I suddenly found myself surrounded by couples who identified their relationship as just that. And it wasn’t long before I found myself entangled in a kind of love triangle.
Let me provide some context: A couple years earlier I had been in my first domestic relationship. It is a gross understatement to say that relationship was volatile and ended very badly. I still feel a degree of shame when I admit that, having never fully explored my sexuality, I found myself cheating on my partner by engaging in illicit webcam conversations with strangers late at night. When she discovered it, my partner tried to understand and forgive me so we could continue our relationship. But the trust was broken and things spiraled downward until I was single and seriously questioning my desire to continue living.
I decided to stick to myself and see if I could figure out how to live with the person I had discovered inside me. I sought therapy, and it didn’t help. I used drugs to escape the reality I had created for myself. I worked over 70 hours a week to keep my mind off of the things I had done and the monster I perceived myself to be. None of it helped, and my mental and physical state gradually became worse.
Then along came Robin (whose name isn’t actually Robin). Robin was a friend and co-worker – a beautiful young woman who danced and drank whiskey just the way I liked. She was the first person after my previous relationship with whom I was able to flirt. We worked together and we both had a pension for dirty jokes and double entendre. I think part of the reason I felt safe flirting with Robin was because I knew she had a boyfriend, and I chalked it up to workplace entertainment.
Then one day, after some dirty joke between us, I said without thinking, “I don’t know how your boyfriend would feel about that.” I was cleaning out the dishwasher (we worked in a restaurant), and I remember the world freezing when I heard what she said next.
“You know we have an open relationship, right?”
Oh shit. Suddenly this wasn’t so innocent. Suddenly, we weren’t just flirting to pass the time, but there was an actual possibility that this slender young woman wanted me to hold her in my arms. Suddenly, not only did I have the chance to experience a human connection again, but I had the chance to do it with someone who genuinely didn’t see me for the demon I envisioned myself to be. Obviously, I lost my game instantly and became a bumbling, awkward fool. Luckily, she found it endearing.
I say that I am lucky for that because I ended up getting a firsthand experience of an open relationship. Robin and I established mutual interest and I began talking with her and her partner about getting in the mix, so to speak.
What do I mean by that? Well, Robin and I both liked whiskey, dancing, and writing. We would get together for these activities and I would spend time at her house, both in the company of her boyfriend and without. The two, and three, of us would have long, thoughtful conversations about intentions, goals, and life in general.
The conversations were the most prominent aspect of the whole experience. Robin and her partner had an understanding they would always talk about things before they made decisions without considering the other. They were very much still figuring out what an open relationship meant to them, but it was clear that communication was a top priority.
I can’t stress this enough, because in the years since, I have seen the same recurring theme in The Lifestyle over and over again. Effective communication is the most important thing in any relationship, but swingers seem to take this responsibility more seriously than most other couples. Robin and her partner were a bit too bureaucratic and ceremonious in the way they conducted their talks for my liking, and I eventually lost interest in being a participant. To be clear, I never had sex or became very physically intimate with Robin. But we did enjoy some wonderful dancing, lots of whiskey, excellent wordplay, and some delightful heavy petting together.
Later on, while still single, I found myself being invited over to couple’s houses for more than just drinks and dinner. I often took on the role of “bull” or “stud” in these situations, and I slowly began to discover that I kind of liked my sexuality, and that as long as I wasn’t being sneaky or lying, it was actually incredibly educational and comforting to explore that side of myself. This is where consent comes into play.
What people don’t understand about swinging is the commitment. Do you understand how committed you have to be to your partner in order to truly consent to them seeking intimacy of any kind from another person? Everyone I have ever met who truly understands the lifestyle understands that it is not for the faint of heart. Swinging requires a person to fully accept their partner for all that they are and want to be. I believe every person who enters The Lifestyle should take a solemn oath to never do anything without the consent of all parties involved. Consent is sacred and valued above all other things by those who embrace a sex-positive culture.
Agreeing to be in any kind of open relationship means that you embrace continued learning. People change over time, and that is true in any relationship. Whereas strictly monogamous couples often change over time and drift apart as they lose sight of the person they fell in love with, Lifestyle couples understand that part of the joy in a relationship means watching that person grow and change with time while accepting them and loving the person they become.
Swingers are not afraid of intimacy; they seek it out. They aren’t incapable of commitment; they’re actually masters of it. An open relationship doesn’t mean that the participants do whatever they want without considering their partner; it means they actually consider their partner’s needs above their own jealousy and possessiveness. Swingers are not sluts, fetishists, and sex addicts (unless they willingly and enthusiastically identify as such, of course!), they are individuals who recognize that the sexual revolution did not end in the 1960’s, but that it has actually only just begun.