The Swinger Lifestyle: What You Need To Know

Here’s what experts have to say about the lifestyle.

The Swinger Lifestyle: What You Need To Know

The Swinger Lifestyle: What You Need To Know

The Swinger Lifestyle: What You Need To Know

Published
July 30, 2021
— Updated
Medically Reviewed by
6 minutes

Swinging can be a fun way to explore your desires, connect with new people, or deepen your relationship with a partner. But it’s not as simple as just showing up to a swingers party, getting on a dating app, or finding another couple to play with. Swinging takes intention and effort and it can be helpful to know exactly what the swinger lifestyle is and how to partake in a healthy, positive way before you dive in.

What is swinging?

Swinging, also known as “the lifestyle,” is a kind of consensual, open relationship where there is “sexual play between couples,” Jess O’Reilly, PhD, tells O.school. O’Reilly is a Toronto-based sexologist and host of Sex With Dr. Jess Podcast, Swinging can involve two couples swapping partners, a couple having sex with another person or another couple, or one person watching their partner engage in sexual activity with someone else. 

There are a few different terms that fall under the umbrella of swinging. For example, O’Reilly says a “soft swap” is “playing between partners/couples that doesn’t include P-V intercourse.” She notes that this is very heteronormative take, as many people who identify as swingers and use this term are male-female couples. Of course, this is not always the case and couples of any gender and orientation can partake in the swinger lifestyle. A soft swap might include kissing, manual play, oral play, play with toys, etc.” A “full swap,” on the other hand, is when partners engage in intercourse with other couples.  

There are also things like “hotwifing...orgies, group play, vacation swinging, one night stand swinging, [and] pants on/off friend swinging,” Cate from Wanderlust Swingers Podcast tells O.school. Cate’s podcast is an exploration of sex positive, shameless non-monogamy, open relationships, and swinger events/resorts. 

The definition of swinging and what sex acts a couple considers to be part of swinging is different from person to person. Cate tells O.school that their personal definition of swinging is “having an open minded view and interest in exploring your sexuality with people other than your primary partner.” 

Why do people become swingers? 

There are many reasons why one might choose to engage in the swinger lifestyle with a partner. Cate tells O.school that “some of the most common [reasons] are to explore your own sexuality (perhaps you are bisexual), to try new things with your partner, to meet new people, to be around sexy open atmospheres, and yes, sometimes the occasional ‘to fix’ relationship might even dip their toes in swinging.” 

O'Reilly says that people might also choose swinging because they have “the desire to make new friends and build community.” A 1998 review published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior Journal found that the most commonly reported reason for joining the swinger lifestyle was to meet new people and to get involved in the social life that comes along with swinging. 

This review also found that people chose to become swingers because they were interested in having a variety of partners and experiences, and because of the pleasure and excitement of swinging. 

Ultimately, the reasons a person might be a swinger with their partner is personal and based on the couple’s specific needs and desires. There isn’t one “right” reason to become a swinger. If you’re thinking about swinging, you might consider why you want to try it and what you and your partner hope to get out of the experience. 

How common is swinging? 

Depending on your friends or community, swinging can be a taboo topic that’s not openly discussed. It might seem like none of your friends participate in the lifestyle, but you might be surprised by how common the practice actually is.

While research on the prevalence of swinging is a bit outdated — most of it is from the ‘70’s — recently, there has been much more research on how many people partake in consensual non monogamy (CNM). A study published in 2016 by the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy with a representative sample of 8,718 adults found that one in five American have tried some sort of CNM relationship. 

Another study published in 2019 in the Journal of Sex Research surveyed 2,003 Canadian adults and found that 12 percent considered open relationships the ideal arrangement. Interestingly, this study found that there was no significant difference in satisfaction levels between people in monogamous relationships versus CNM relationships. The study did, however, find that, “Having a match between one’s actual relationship type and one’s preferred relationship type was associated with greater relationship satisfaction.” 

What are the rules for swinging? 

Like many other aspects of swinging, the rules for swinging are personal and different for each couple. O’Reilly says “There are no universal rules” in swinging, and that “couples often come up with their own rules and communicate those rules to those with whom they play. For example, some couples only play when they’re together and others will play separately or in separate rooms. Some couples play often and others reserve it for special occasions (e.g. vacations).” 

A couple’s rules can vary based on what they want to get out of swinging. Cate says each couple often has their own boundaries and that the couple decides what those are. Boundaries are “things that might ‘flex’ depending on the desires or interests at that point in time, whereas rules are things that shouldn’t be altered without extensive discussion. For example, a rule might be to use protection at all times and a boundary might be that you only play in the same room.” Because boundaries are negotiable, in this case, you and your partner might decide at the beginning of an event that you’re open to having sex with a new partner in a different room. 

Cate says, “Many couples have these rules and boundaries discussed before they join the lifestyle and they might review [them] on a regular basis or as new desires and interests arise.” 

If you’re thinking about swinging, consider what your rules and boundaries are and why they are important to you. Communicate with your partner about them to discuss how they do or don’t align with theirs. As Cate says, it’s important to have these discussions before trying to swing. 

How to be in a healthy, successful relationship that involves swinging 

While each couple needs different things in order to be successful, there are some universal things that can make swinging work a little better. Cate says that good communication and being non-judgemental toward your partner are extremely important. Cate tells O.school that it’s a red flag if you find yourself “not paying attention to partner’s wants/desires” or “being more interested in sex with other people than exploring your own relationship.”

It’s also important that all partners involved are on board with swinging. If your partner is not interested in swinging, you should not try to push their boundaries or change their mind. While it can be difficult to want or need different things than your partner, it’s important that you don’t force them to try the lifestyle if they don’t want to. 

To successfully find couples or people to play with, Cate says that “[it’s] another thing entirely! You are dating all over again and so having the ability to have an interesting conversation, being witty, great sense of humor, and, of course, some attraction are definitely going to help you ‘make friends.’ ”

Is swinging cheating?

On O’Reilly’s podcast, she says “No, swinging is not cheating. There is a definitive, categorical difference between cheating and having some form of an open relationship or swinging.” The main difference between cheating and an open relationship is consent

“Cheating refers to going behind your partner’s back without their consent. Whereas some sort of an open relationship involves coming to an agreement with regard to what degree of monogamy or non monogamy is expected in the relationship” says O’Reilly. In swinging, the couple has come to a consensual agreement about the kind of sexual activity they can have with other people. Often, swingers have extensive conversations about what they feel comfortable doing with other partners.

Is swinging a good idea for a marriage? 

Swinging is going to impact every marriage differently and whether or not swinging is good for a marriage completely depends on the people involved. Swinging “is not the answer to a failing monogamous relationship” says O’Reilly. “It won’t eliminate common relationship stressors.” And in some situations where swinging does not work for a marriage, it can exacerbate existing relationship problems or even create new ones, like jealousy.  

However, some of the benefits of swinging are “expanded support networks, alternative openings for personal growth and an emphasis on exploration over restriction,” says O’Reilly. It can also “lead to more voluminous communication which has the potential to increase intimacy and decrease tension.” 

If you’re thinking about trying swinging with a spouse but are not sure how it will impact the relationship, it could be helpful for you and your partner to talk to a couple’s counselor first to hash out any anxieties or excitement around trying the lifestyle. 

Where can I learn more about swinging?

To learn more about swinging or find other swingers, check out these resources: 

  • Wanderlust Swingers provides a list of resources on the lifestyle. 
  • Bed hoppers is a UK-based podcast hosted by a couple who shares their journey exploring the lifestyle.  
  • We’ve Gotta Thing is a resource created by a couple who has been married for 30 years and swinging since 2013. They offer courses on the lifestyle, a podcast, a blog, and a membership community for swingers. 
  • Swingers Help is a website filled with resources on how to swing and find other swingers. 
  • Swing Life Style is an online platform that is popular in the United States for meeting other swingers and is described as the world’s largest swinger community.  
  • Swinger Date Central is another popular site for meeting other swingers.

The bottom line

Swinging is more common than you might think and can have many positive benefits to a relationship. However, it’s also not going to make problems in a marriage disappear. The lifestyle takes honesty, communication, and real effort. If you’re thinking about swinging, consider what you are hoping to get from it, talk honestly with your partner about it, and continue to learn more about the lifestyle.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Ella Dorval Hall (she/they) is a white, eating disorder recover-er, sex and pleasure educator. She's worked at a national sexual health organization, Healthy Teen Network, training educators how to teach evidence-based sex education curriculums. Ella now hosts workshops, writes, and does 1:1 education that brings people the information and skills they need to actually enjoy sex. You can find more of Ella’s work on Instagram @unlearnings3x.

Join our newsletter

Do you know the biggest myths about sexuality? Learn what others think about sex. Sign up for a free newsletter with answers to weekly anonymous polls about "how important is an emotional connection when you’re having sex?" and more!