Before you try swinging here are some things to consider and important conversations to have with the partner(s) in your life
Swinging can be a lot of fun if you go into it with your eyes open and for the right reasons. I know many couples who say it has enhanced their relationship, improved their sexual connection, and brought joy and pleasure into their lives in all kinds of ways that go beyond the sex itself.
Swinging is a form of non-monogamy that specifically involves casual sex. It is mostly practiced by couples in committed relationships who choose to also have sex with other people, either separately or together, by mutual consent. Some single people (particularly single cis men) also get involved with swinging, but this post is addressed to the couples who would like to try it together.
Does swinging sound like something that could be hot and fun for you and your partner? Perhaps you’ve already talked about it, fantasised about it, or thought you might like to give it a go. If so, make sure you have these conversations first.
“Why do we want to try swinging?”
There are lots of great reasons to try swinging, and some bad reasons, too. Everyone’s reasons will be slightly different, so make sure you and your partner are clear about what you want to get out of it.
Some of the common reasons people want to try swinging include a desire for sexual variety, getting out of a sexual rut, enjoying exhibitionism and voyeurism (consensually being watched or watching others have sex), enjoying group sexual dynamics, or simply feeling strongly that you are not built for sexual exclusivity. Swinging is also a common solution for couples where one or both parties is bisexual or bicurious, or where one has a sexual desire or fetish that the other can’t meet.
Some people get into swinging because they eroticise feelings of sexual jealousy. This is known as cuckolding or cuckqueaning. Some enjoy the feeling of seeing their partner made happy by interactions with other people. This feeling is called compersion.
Some bad reasons for getting into swinging include:
- You think one of you will cheat if you don’t.
- You think your partner will leave you if you don’t (or they have threatened to leave you).
- You expect a swing event or party to be a sexual free-for-all – it’s not.
- You are suffering from low self-image and think that sexual attention from new people will fix it.
- You are no longer attracted to your spouse or vice-versa.
It’s okay if you and your partner are coming to swinging for different reasons, but you should be clear with yourselves and each other about what those reasons are.
“How is our relationship doing?”
Opening up a relationship that is in trouble will not save it. I always advise making sure your relationship is in a good place before trying swinging or any other form of non-monogamy.
No relationship is perfect, of course. It’s normal to have struggles, to have things you don’t entirely agree on, and to fight occasionally. But if you are fighting frequently or one (or both) of you is seriously unhappy, it’s not the time to open up your relationship. Doing so is more likely to destroy than fix it.
The best time to open up a relationship is when you are generally happy together, communicating well, and enjoying a satisfying sex life or at least able to talk openly about your sexual desires. If you’re not there yet, consider doing some internal relationship work together and seeing a couples’ therapist, then revisit the swinging conversation in a few months.
“What rules and boundaries do we have?”
The biggest mistake couples make when they’re new to swinging is failing to set rules or agree boundaries. Perhaps you think the rules of engagement are so obvious you don’t have to state them. But this way of thinking is bound to lead to miscommunications, hurt feelings, and possibly even big blow-ups. People are not mind-readers and everyone’s idea of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour will be slightly different.
Instead, discuss your rules and boundaries before you try swinging. You should also be prepared to revisit the conversation as your journey progresses, as some of your agreements will inevitably shift over time.
I can’t tell you what rules you should have. Every couple is different. You should take your individual feelings, needs, context, and circumstances into account as you negotiate. Some common rules and agreements I’ve seen couples make include:
- No sex with others in our bed (or only when we’re together).
- We only play at swinging clubs, never outside of that environment.
- A specific sexual act (such as oral or anal sex) is reserved just for us.
- We always use barriers with other lovers. (See below for more on safer sex).
- No “taking one for the team”. (This refers to having sex with someone you don’t fancy in order for your partner to get access to them or their partner).
- We won’t play when drunk/high or play with people who are drunk/high.
- We always go to bed with each other at the end of the night.
“Do we play together, separately, or both?”
Though swinging is often an activity that couples do together, some couples agree that it is okay for each of them to play with others separately. There are lots of ways to structure this type of agreement. For example, you might agree that your bisexual partner can play alone with people of the same gender as they are, but not with people of different genders. Or you might agree that, if one of you feels like going to the swing club but the other doesn’t, it’s fine to go alone and have fun. You get to make your own rules and set your own parameters that work for you both.
Do you want to make space for the possibility of separate swinging adventures in your relationship, or is it a “strictly together” arrangement?
Don’t forget you can revisit this agreement from time to time. Your feelings may shift and change in either direction and how you feel now may not be how you feel in six months, a year, or ten years.
“How will we handle sexual health when we try swinging?”
Non-monogamous people are often unfairly stereotyped as unsafe sexual partners or spreaders of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, in my experience, your average non-monogamous person tends to be more cautious and more open about sexual health than your average monogamous person.
At a minimum, the vast majority of swingers expect to use condoms for penis-in-vagina and penis-in-anus sex, as these are the highest risk activities for STI transmission. Many also choose to use condoms or dams for oral sex and on shared sex toys. The most cautious people even go the extra step and use barriers such as gloves for hand sex.
Regular testing is also essential. Many STIs are completely treatable if caught, but can lead to complications if left untreated. Some STIs cannot be cured, but can be managed with appropriate medication. Knowing your status is vital and a lack of symptoms does not necessarily mean you are negative. If you have a lot of sexual partners, it’s smart to test (either at a clinic or with a home testing kit) every three months.
The most important thing is to set rules you and your partner are both comfortable with and stick to them. Don’t be pressured into taking higher risks than you feel okay with. If that hot couple at the club is worth having sex with, they won’t try to pressure you into going barrier-free!
Sex is never 100% risk free, and a higher number of partners does somewhat increase your risk profile. But if you take appropriate precautions and get tested regularly, your level of actual risk is low.
“How will we handle jealousy?”
Whether you consider yourself a “jealous person” or not, it’s likely that jealousy will rear its head at some point if you choose to pursue swinging or an open relationship. This is normal and it’s not something to be feared.
You can take a lot of the sting out of jealousy by acknowledging the possibility and talking about how you’ll handle it in advance. Tip: banning jealousy never works. This just makes whoever feels jealous less likely to talk about it.
Handling jealousy requires some self knowledge. You might already have an idea of the kinds of things that are likely to trigger it for you. You can decide whether you want to avoid these things or approach them carefully. But jealousy can also surprise you, so expect the unexpected. It might hit when you least see it coming.
You should talk about how you’d ideally like to express it when you’re feeling jealous. Shouting, slamming doors or making accusations is never a good approach! Instead, plan to sit down and talk about it. You might also like to agree on a kind of “safe signal” that you can use if you’re feeling jealous during play. Then your partner can either pause and check in with you, or simply make sure you are getting enough attention.
You should also talk about what you need to feel better when jealousy arises. Sometimes just talking it out is enough. Other times you might need specific reassurance that your partner loves you, values you, or finds you sexy. Understanding each other’s needs and wants ahead of time can help you successfully navigate any jealous feelings as they come up.
Having a successful non-monogamous relationship requires a lot of trust and mutual respect. These six conversations are a starting point, but you should expect to be talking, communicating, and adjusting constantly as you progress on your journey.
Amy Norton (she/they) is a sex writer, blogger, and pleasure product afficionado who has been running her site, Coffee & Kink, since 2016. She is a polyamorous, queer femme and lives in the UK with her nesting partner, cat, and frankly ridiculous collection of vibrators.