It seems like swinging is the new black. But before you judge swinging married couples, it turns out their behavior may have some benefits.
I keep hearing about married couples who “swing” — and I don’t mean at the park! Maybe it began with Oscar-winning actress Mo’Nique sharing with Barbara Walters about her “open” marriage. I have also had my share of clients disclosing that they swing within their marriages. So I started to wonder if all this swinging could possibly be a good thing in a relationship ….
In our American culture, swinging, or “mate-swapping” — engaging in sexual activities with people outside your marriage — is mostly seen as strange or deviant. But is it? And is it always a bad thing, or a sign of “trouble” in a marriage? Free love and sexual experimentation were pushed to the forefront in the 1960s, and we have all heard of the “key parties” of the 1970s. The current studies on swinging do not vary much from the studies of the past: Married couples are still swinging for the same reasons, and both the benefits and negative effects don’t seem to have changed much at all over the decades.
So who is doing all of this swinging? Studies have shown that demographically, swingers cut across all political identifications, come from the middle- to upper-class, have a higher degree of education, have white-collar jobs and are white and middle-aged.
The benefits of swinging include increased marital satisfaction. In a 2000 online survey of 1,092 swingers, Bergstrand and Williams found that communication, independence and relationship-revitalization were reasons people gave for why they continued to swing. The swingers studied also seemed to have higher general satisfaction and more excitement in their lives than non-swingers.
In 2007, de Visser and McDonald found that couples who swing successfully have increased communication abilities due to the challenges that this lifestyle inherently involves (such as jealousy). Each member of a swinging couple constantly needs to make sure the other partner is getting what they need, both out of the marriage and from the extramarital sexual experience.
The men in couples who swing more often experience jealousy. Their jealousy centers primarily around the issues of sex and men desiring their wives; women who experience jealousy are more concerned with their husbands leaving them for one of the swinging partners.
Guilt is another issue that swinging couples must deal with — and it’s often what leads these couples to seek therapy or to divorce. What can happen is that one partner becomes dissatisfied with the swinging lifestyle but feels pressured to continue it to save their marriage.
It can also be challenging for swinging couples to seek marital therapy because they fear being judged as deviant or socially unacceptable. In my therapy practice, I have worked with couples who are living this lifestyle in a successful manner and managing the emotional challenges. These couples have created strong boundaries around the sexual experience with other partners that include only swinging with other married couples, never separating from each other during the sexual experience and always arriving together and leaving together. It seems that having well-defined and clear boundaries around the swinging experience helps these couples keep jealousy in check.
I have also dealt with the damage that this lifestyle choice can create when one spouse no longer desires multiple sexual partners but wants a monogamous life. In these situations, the couple has divorced.
What do you think of married couples swinging? Would you ever swing??