Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

Today's Alternative Marriage Styles: The Case of Swingers

Academic journal article Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

Today's Alternative Marriage Styles: The Case of Swingers

Article excerpt


The results of a national on-line survey of 1092 swingers are discussed. Questions from the General Social Survey are used to compare political, social, and sexual attitudes of swingers with the general population in the U.S. Measures of marital and general life satisfaction from the G.S.S. are also used to compare the groups. A preliminary attempt is also made to determine the level of childhood abuse and family dysfunction in the backgrounds of swingers. It is concluded that swingers surveyed are the white, middle-class, middle-aged, church-going segment of the population reported in earlier studies, but when it comes to attitudes about sex and marriage they are less racist, less sexist, and less heterosexist than the general population. Swinging appears to make the vast majority of swingers' marriages happier, and swingers rate the happiness of their marriages and life satisfaction generally as higher than the non-swinging population. Implications of the study and its limitations are also included.


In the fifties the media referred to it as "wife-swapping." Today it's called "swinging," but regardless of its name this alternative lifestyle seems to be increasing in popularity among mainstream, middle-aged married couples in America. The popular media, GQ, (Newman, 1992); New York, (Gross, 1992); Los Angeles Times, (Mahrer, 1998); Mademoiselle, (Chen, 1998); are paying increasing attention to the phenomenon, often putting a positive spin on the effects which swinging has upon marriages. The North American Swing Club Association (NASCA) claims there are organized swing clubs in almost all states as well as Canada, England, France, Germany, and Japan. These clubs are lucrative businesses which provide all levels of social activities for swingers including vacation plans, special vacation sites for swingers, and yearly conferences and seminars. Lifestyles, Inc., a swingers travel agency, booked 700 couples at a resort in Jamaica in January of 1998 (Los Angeles Times, 1998; Jenks, 1998).

What exactly is swinging? Unlike "open marriages" of the 1970's which promoted non-possessive love and tolerance of infidelity in their spouses (O'Neill and O'Neill, 1972), or "polyamory" (Wesp, 1992)--the love of many people at once--swinging is non-monogamous sexual activity, treated much like any other social activity, that can be experienced as a couple. Emotional monogamy, or commitment to the love relationship with one's marital partner, remains the primary focus. Swinging is usually done in the presence of one's spouse and requires the consent of both to the experience. Although swingers often become close friends with other swinging couples, there are rules restricting emotional involvement with non-spousal partners. While swinging involves having sex with people other than one's spouse, its adherents claim that it enhances the relationship of the swinging couple both sexually and emotionally. By removing the secrecy and dishonesty inherent in one's natural desires for sexual variety, the couple can explore their fantasies together without deceit or guilt. By removing the necessity for deceit from the relationship, a new level of trust and openness about all of one's feelings is supposedly achieved without the destructive baggage of jealousy. (McGinley, 1995)

Swinging as an alternative lifestyle is of both practical and scholarly interest because the attempt to combine sexual non-monogamy with emotional monogamy is fundamentally "deviant" from the western model of romantic love which assumes that sexual and emotional monogamy are mutually reinforcing and inseparable (Boekhout, Hendrick and Hendrick, 1999). It has yet to be demonstrated empirically whether this alternative lifestyle actually strengthens or weakens marital relationships, but in an era where 37% of husbands and 29% of wives admit to having had at least one extra-marital affair (Reinisch, 1990), where divorce rates for first marriages are approaching 60% (Jones, 1995), and where family instability and parental neglect of children has become a major national concern (Wagner, 1998; Lowe, 1996; Jones, et al, 1995), any attempt to redefine "love" and strengthen the marital bond is worthy of our attention. …

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