Editors’ Note: Due to the nature of this article, many sources have requested the use of first names only. While this is not a typical TBG practice for attribution, this has been allowed to protect the privacy of the sources in these circumstances.
Theirs is a subculture comprised of exclusive Web sites, small clubs and quiet groups. Every day, they go to class and work with you, some of them go to church, or maybe they are sitting in the corner office down the hall. They are swingers: married couples who choose to have sex with people outside their marriages.[loser11]
John and Laura, both 28, have been married for four years. They are the sole caretakers of Laura’s eight-year-old son, have professional careers and live in a nice neighborhood in St. Joseph, Mich. John is listed as “in an open relationship” on Facebook, and Laura would say the same. They each have sex with friends, acquaintances and co-workers (even while the other is asleep in bed next to them), and as long as they tell the other, they don’t consider it cheating. They don’t get jealous, and they don’t develop serious feelings for others.
“Everyone we sleep with knows we’re not available for personal relationships. It’s something that feels comfortable with us, but it’s not something that works for everybody,” John said. “There are a lot of couples who want to try it but wouldn’t be able to pull it off.”
It may sound bizarre, but John and Laura are not alone. “Sexual desire is a very powerful force. It is not something that is easily denied or ignored,” said Bill Donahue, an interpersonal communication professor. A swinging married couple engages in multiple, consensual, sexual relationships with other couples. John compares swinging to renting porn to keep things exciting, and said his wife encourages him to have sex with other women because it turns her on.
Swingers have been around for ages, but with the acceleration of the Internet and new groups and businesses targeted at this “alternative lifestyle,” couples have new ways to make it happen. John and Laura meet other swinging couples through swingers clubs, Craigslist and adult dating Web sites. The Swingers Social Club of Michigan is a Lansing-based group of about 150 married couples who throw parties at a privately-owned gymnasium off Lansing Road. The parties are similar to high school dances, John said, and there is nothing sexual about them. If the party-goers decide to take things further, they move to a hotel near by. Couples pay $50 per event and sign a list of rules to keep things consensual and safe.
[billy]Several other groups and businesses in Michigan cater to this sort of lifestyle. Cherry Lane Nudist Resort, south of Jackson, encourages swingers to camp in one of their sites and partake in dances, parties and other activitiesï¿½naked. Strict rules are in place, as one could imagine, for safety and hygiene. Like most swinging establishments, Cherry Lane has a list of “40 Commandments” guests must agree to before camping. Everyone must have a towel with them at all times (to sit on) and no open sex acts are allowed on the grounds.
The Westside Lounge is a restaurant in Ionia that includes an exclusive private downstairs bar catering to swingers and the like. Attendance at the private bar is limited only to those who say the code words “adult party” to the bouncer. Maxxx & Cassie’s in Battle Creek calls itself “the future of alternative lifestyles” and offers adult movies, “discreetly taken” photos and toys and lotions for purchase. Adult Great Lakes Boating hosts nude boating out of Crystal Bay on weekends during the summer. And The Meeting Place near Kalamazoo is one of the few “on premises” venues, meaning guests are allowed to engage in open sexual activity while there. The place features an eight-person hot tub and encourages people to dress down to their lingerie. Single males are mostly not allowed at swinger events to avoid sexual offenses, but single women are always welcome.
A myriad of online swinging databases exists to allow singles or couples to network and meet people with similar sexual interests. The site Xmatch.com, which calls itself the world’s largest classifieds for adult dating, swinging and pornographic photos and videos, boasts 393,356 users in Michigan alone. Anyone may register for free, but an annual fee is required to see user profiles or other content. Registering means answering if you are married, single, hetero-, homo- or bisexual, and whether you want to participate in sex or watch your spouse have sex. Once registered, you may then search for people with similar interests and desires, see their photos (which are usually explicit) and e-mail or message them only after you pay for an “advanced membership.” [couple]
Most swinger database Web sites are under the same money-making regime, so when Dominic, 24, started the Myspace group “Swingers for Beginners” as a joke after a drunken conversation between 20 or so friends, it didn’t take long to get going. After about six months others joined, and he soon found out just how serious they were about swinging. He and some of his female friends received messages from group members inviting them to swinging events. His friends stopped using Myspace, so Dominic transferred the group to Facebook under the same name and immediately real swingers joined. “It surprised me how much demand there is for it really. They needed an outlet,” he said. [piano]
There are about 550 members in the Myspace group and 300 in the sister Facebook group. Dominic, who is a student at Brighton University in London, said he isn’t worried about the social stigma attached to administering the groups, but when he gets a full-time job, he’ll give the reins to someone else. “I don’t see why I should stop other people from doing what they want to do,” he said. “If they want to have multiple sex partners, it’s perfectly fine by me.”
Most of the people in Dominic’s Facebook group say they are “in an open relationship,” but not everyone listed as “in an open relationship” identifies as a swinger. One girl said she was in an open relationship with her stuffed bear, and many people were in open relationships with friends as jokes.
Alex, 20, and Kaylee, 19, have been dating for five years. A year and a half ago, just before they moved into their joint-owned home in East Lansing, they decided there might be other people out there for each of them, and (with the help of Facebook) agreed on the phrase “in an open relationship” to define their status as a couple. Since then, Alex said, they have developed a stronger identity and trust. Kaylee is bisexual, and at one point, they were dating the same woman. At other points, they went on double dates, and as of now, they’re focused exclusively on one another. “It’s about making sure that since we’re young, we’re not limiting ourselves to just one person,” Alex said. “We’re not perverts. We’re just people who are honest about our lives.”
Similarly, Andrew and Nichole, both 19, decided to take a step back from the constraints of an exclusive relationship after about three years of dating. “We grew together and figured things out as we went along. This is what we came to,” Andrew said. Andrew goes to MSU and Nichole lives in Pinckney, Mich. He said Nichole is currently dating another person, but it doesn’t bother him. “It’s a happy arrangement. You always have your needs taken care of and you never feel lonely.” But no one said an open relationship would be easy. At first, Nichole had a hard time sharing her man, but she got used to it over time. “It requires a lot of communication and there has to be a lot of trust,” Andrew said.
[feet]You can say that again. “Intimacy is very important in a relationship. To play with it is like playing with fire,” Donahue said. “Both partners have to readily embrace it.” One could only imagine the possible and likely trouble with jealousy in an open relationship.
Though many swingers are happy with their choices and ready and willing to talk about it, the majority of people involved in this taboo lifestyle keep it on the low. Most pictures on swinging online databases show only bodies, making it difficult to identify faces. And the names of some people in swinging groups on Facebook are hardly believable (like “Mercedes Love,” for example.) Those who weren’t willing to dish on their alternative sexual or dating lifestyle for this article were probably afraid to go public, worried what their bosses, families, neighbors or children might discover or think.
Although it may be hard to believe, swingers are more common than you think. They’re students, professionals and happily married couples, and their underground culture of businesses and clubs is successful and thriving. The stereotypical boyfriend-girlfriend, husband-wife, sexually exclusive relationship can be blurred, and the new growth of online databases and groups can make the definition of “relationship” even fuzzier.