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What I wish I knew before swinging

What I Wish I Knew Before swinging. A *lot* more couples are doing it than you probably realize.

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When I first floated the idea of an open relationship to the man who is now my husband, I had no idea what to call it. Let me paint the scene: We were in college, eating at our favorite sushi buffet—I was 19, he was 21, and we had been together for four years—and although I felt totally secure in broaching the subject, I didn’t exactly know how to phrase it. Eventually, I blurted out: “What would you think about us staying in a relationship but also seeing other people?” Fortunately, Michael’s first reaction was mostly curiosity, as we had talked a lot over the years about whether we were missing out on life-changing experiences by being together from such a young age. My proposal—to go outside our relationship without actually giving up on what we had—appealed to him. What I wish I knew before swinging is that it is a journey, a path not a destination.

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With both of us on board, we soon realized that—lol—we actually had no idea what we were doing. We knew we wanted to experiment sexually with others, but no one had ever admitted to me that they were non-monogamous (a term I only learned many years later), so we had no choice but to stumble ahead without any labels or mentorship.

Now, 11 years and countless hookups outside my marriage later, I can confidently say that I’m in a position to help you navigate the world of ethical and fluid non-monogamy. If I had known from day one what being a “swinger” was actually like, I could have started having fun a lot earlier. I just want you to have as much earth-shattering sex as your schedule allows, okay? Let me save you some time. If you’re interested in swinging, here’s what you need to know.

Feeling Shame or Guilt the First Time You “Do It” Is Totally Normal

It took months before I worked up the courage to actually try anything. While backpacking through Europe that summer, I let a cute Australian boy kiss me (badly—way too much tongue, yuck), and then spent the next hour weeping on the phone to Michael, consumed with shame. Monogamy was the only relationship model that had ever been shown to me. Even though smooching the Aussie felt right (and was fully consented to by all parties beforehand, including Michael), cheating was the closest approximation to what I felt.

Michael, as usual, was supportive and caring, calming me down from across the world with reminders that this was what we had set out to experience. I was scared that he would change his mind about being with me after I followed through with it, a feeling that took years to subside. The idea that monogamy was the only moral approach to relationships was so deeply ingrained in me that even his heartfelt insistence that everything was fine couldn’t comfort me. TBH, I dealt with these feelings of guilt and shame for about 10 years after we opened our marriage until a couples therapist helped me work through them.

You’ll Probably Try Things at the Beginning That Aren’t Really Your Cup of Tea.

Without a clear picture of what we wanted, I got us involved in the BDSM scene in San Francisco. Sometimes both of us (but usually just me) would meet strangers at social gatherings called munches and play with lovers and friends in dark clubs full of St. Andrew’s Crosses and other scary-looking paraphernalia meant to deliver pain and discomfort. But after a year of trying to navigate the confusing social hierarchy that punished members in the BDSM scene for not being experienced enough, I realized power exchanges and submitting to unworthy men who were just in it for the conquest was so not for me.

You and Your Partner Might Not Be Totally Balanced When It Comes to Hooking Up With Other People, and That’s Okay

I’ll admit it: My motivation for joining the BDSM scene wasn’t pure. It offered the privacy I craved to mask the shame I felt for participating in something society told me was wrong. I thought I could protect my identity as a “normal” person—which at the time meant a monogamous person—by not allowing my “regular” friends and family to see the whole me. Michael was happy to support me in exploring my sexuality, but generally, he wasn’t interested in playing with others as often as I was.

This definitely bothered me—shouldn’t it be equal? Eventually, a few friends from the BDSM community sat me down and told me that I couldn’t force this lifestyle on him. I needed to believe him when he said he was cool with our dynamic—that I was hooking up with more people than he was. At Some Point, It’ll come dawn on You That a Lot More Couples Are Sleeping Around than You Realized

Would we have had such a rocky start if I had known 1 in 5 American couples were happily engaging in some form of ethical non-monogamy? Probably not. (One in 5 Americans owns a cat, but imagine being the first person you’ve ever known to adopt a kitten.) Now that I’m open (heh) about the fact that Michael and I swing, a lot of people in my life—friends, family members, coworkers, even potential employers—have shared that they too are practicing ethical non-monogamy.

Swingers Aren’t Just Boring Olds Who Have Been Married for Decades.

Just as we were about to bid goodbye to the orgies, one-night stands, and Devil’s Threeways (this just means a threesome with two guys and one girl—moi!), we discovered swinging. Specifically, by splurging on a $5,000 trip to Young Swingers Week at Hedonism 2 in Jamaica. In all honesty, I knew about swinging solely from the punchlines of sitcom jokes, as the wacky solution for failing marriages. Up until that point, I thought swinging was only for (weird!) older people with nothing to lose. When I finally did embrace swinging, I found a warm, welcoming community of people my age—which was a totally validating reminder that relationships are never one-size-fits-all.

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Swinging is a journey to transparency


Let me back up for a sec. Swinging, which falls under the non-monogamy umbrella, means swapping partners or playing with your own partner while others play nearby. It can happen between couples you already know or couples you meet specifically with the intention of swinging. If Michael or I, aren’t there while one of us is playing with someone new, it’s not swinging (but in our relationship, it’s still allowed). I think about non-monogamy as a relationship enhancer, not a tool to resolve issues. When I’m playing with someone alongside Michael, I still feel totally connected and attracted to him.

Non-Monogamy Requires a Lot of Un-Sexy Logistics, and I wish I knew before swinging 🙂

But it’s worth it, I promise. Managing a calendar to balance multiple lovers and learning how to communicate openly and honestly with your partner takes time and practice. I once tried to have five boyfriends at the same time, which totally overwhelmed my schedule, and I should have used a time-management app to make things less hectic. No matter how long Michael and I have been at it, I know that swinging will always require clear communication and a bit of organization.

If I’m being honest, I wish it hadn’t taken us so long to find our groove. I spent *years* working through the deeply ingrained societal shame and coping with heartbreak alone to avoid judgment before I could wholly embrace this part of my identity in a way that made sense for me and my marriage.

The Overall Impact Has Been Positive, I Don’t Just Mean the Spankings, and I wish I knew before swinging.

Thanks to ethical non-monogamy, Michael and I are excellent at identifying and resolving conflict in all aspects of our lives. We’ve been able to reach a point where we don’t even have to establish any rules because kindness comes first in every decision we make—from choosing to kiss a new lover to borrowing each other’s car. Having an entirely transparent relationship has helped us avoid a lot of the headaches we see monogamous people falling into regularly, particularly when it comes to communication. I really believe that every relationship deserves to have all partners as committed to openness and honesty as your average swinging couple.

These past 11 years have been a j-o-u-r-n-e-y. I’ve gone from being deeply ashamed of my sexual predilections to out and proud about the abundance of love I’ve been lucky enough to give and receive. So ignore the TV show tropes, the pathological prude, and anyone who tries to convince you that monogamy is the “right” way to be. Cheesy as it sounds, I’ll tell you the only thing you need to know to become a swinger: It’s completely okay to be yourself, and I wish I knew that before swinging.

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