Curious About the Swinging Lifestyle?

Whether or not you agree with an open lifestyle it certainly piques people's curiosity. And instead of getting into a moral debate on whether this type of lifestyle is right or wrong, I thought a bit of history would be enlightening.

First, what is an open relationship? Wendy-O Matik, in her book Redefining Our Relationships, believes they are, "A radically different, re-defining relationship outside the status quo, where partners encourage non-restrictive paths of love while remaining seriously committed to their primary partner(s), friends, and lovers. In theory, open relationships seek a non-hierarchical form of love."

Put another way: both partners love each other and want to live together but also permit each other to have outside sexual relations.

There are many theories on how, when and where swinging originated. Anthropologists contend the ancient Greeks and Romans were familiar with the phenomenon. In Europe, there is reason to believe that it never died out even during the most sexually repressive eras.

Among certain American Indians and Eskimos, it was customary for husbands to offer their wives to their male guests. Many Polynesian men also followed this practice as well as granting their brothers the same privilege. In 18th century Europe's upper class, husbands often accepted their wives having an "official lover."

The practice of modern organized swinging has its roots in an elite group of U.S. Air Force fighter pilots during World War II.

These Air Force men were wealthy enough to have their wives close to base. Plus, men's fatality rate was the highest of any branch of service. It is believed that this mix of close quarters and impending death led to a culture in which it became acceptable for the pilots' wives and other pilots to have sex.

This belief system then extended itself to all Air Force bases throughout World War II and into the Korean War. When the Korean War ended, the military came home and the swinging groups went from the bases to the suburbs.

In 1957, a New York men's magazine called MR., wrote an article on this Air Force scandal and coined the term "wife-swapping." According to MR's Editor, Everett Meyers, this article caused the American floodgates to open for those curious about open relationships.
In fact, by 1960, there were over 20 magazines in the U.S. carrying personal ads for wife-swapping couples. Soon women became disgruntled with the term "wife-swapping" and "swinging" became the acceptable lingo.

The first known swing clubs started appearing in the late 1960s. Swinging started in bigger cities such as San Francisco, New York and Chicago. As their popularity grew, they started popping up in smaller cities and rural areas.

Interestingly, Dr. Edward Brecher in his book The Sex Researchers wrote how different areas of the country had different swinging customs, "The Los Angeles scene is reported to be quite different than the San Francisco scene, and neither resembles very closely either the Chicago or New York scene."

However, with the explosive underground proliferation there was very little organization. So in 1975, Dr. Robert McGinley founded the Lifestyles Organization and began hosting National Lifestyles Conventions. This then led, in 1979, to McGinley founding the North American Swing Club Association (NASCA), whose intent was to serve as a trade and standards organization for swing club owners across the U.S. and Canada.

The swing explosion came to a crashing halt in the 1980s with the reality of AIDS -- the swinging lifestyle as everyone had known it could no longer exist. Yet within a few years, strictly enforced condom and latex barrier rules were mandated within clubs. Today, 20-plus years after the original AIDS scare, swinging is still a popular pastime for many couples.

How many couples? Well, there is no concrete data as society's squirminess around the topic has made for very little scientific research. However, Canadian journalist Terry Gould, who wrote The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers, estimates that swingers represent 0.5 to 2 per cent of the total population.

This figure is consistent with Dr. McGinley's total estimate of three million people in the U.S., with just under a million in Canada.

Who are the people participating in swinging? According to the NASCA  website: "People who swing come from all economic levels. Every job classification, all races and nationalities are represented, though the majority are Caucasian, middle to upper middle socio-economic class, and married. Swingers, married and single, tend to be adventuresome, emotionally mature, and have excellent relationships with their mates and friends. Single people are involved in swinging but not to the extent of couples."

So now you know a little bit more about "the crazy" swingers. I'm amazed that, with the amount of people who participate in this lifestyle, it remains North America's best-kept secret.

Here's a sneak peak into how a swinging lifestyle vacation works from Canada's very own

About The Author

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Trina Read
Sexologist, Dr. Trina Read is the founder of The Business Of Sex Speaker Agency. She is a leading relationship and sexual health expert and educator; and is a best selling author, media expert, was a CBC radio Relationship columnist, syndicated blogger, international award winning speaker, newspaper & magazine columnist, and spokeswoman. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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