Swinging, sometimes referred to in North America as the swinging lifestyle or simply the lifestyle (although this simplified term is also used by people into Leather and BDSM), includes a wide range of sexual activities conducted between three or more people. Swinging activities can include watching others have sex; having sex with your partner while being watched; kissing, stroking, or having oral sex with a third or fourth person (called soft swinging); or having penetrative sex with someone other than your partner (Full Swap), which is the commonly understood definition of swinging. Typically swinging activities occur when a married, or otherwise committed, couple engages with a similar couple or a single individual. These acts may or may not occur in the same room. Sex on these occasions is often referred to as play. The phenomenon (or at least its wider discussion and practice) may be seen as part of the sexual revolution of recent decades.
Some lifestyle activities are highly organised. There are at least 400 swingers clubs in the USA and over 600 in Europe. Most major cities in North America and western Europe have at least one swing club in a permanent location although they often keep a low profile to avoid negative attention. Swingers also meet through lifestyle magazines, personal ads, swinging house parties, and the Internet.
Clubs are typically divided into "on-premise" clubs, where sexual activity may happen then and there at the club, and "off-premise" clubs where sexual activity is not allowed at the club, but may be arranged at a near-by location.
In North America swingers clubs have a body called NASCA (North American Swing Club Association) that organises membership exchanges, conventions and group holidays. No such body exists in Europe. However swingers from all over the continent congregate in July and August in the nudist town of Cap D'Agde in the South of France where there are around 8 swinger clubs. Cap D'Agde has a population of 30,000 at the height of the season.
To many couples, the lifestyle and the clubs can be at least as much a social venue as a sexual one.
In the USA, many off-premise clubs follow a bar or nightclub format, sometimes renting an entire existing bar for scheduled events. This often relegates these activities to suburbia, where bars in large industrial parks which attract a mainstream clientÃ¨le during weekdays would otherwise sit empty or closed on weekends when offices shut down.
In Europe off-premises clubs are rare. There are three standard formats: the bar/nightclub, usually smaller, in city centres and focused around a dance floor; the spa format which has pools, jacuzzis, saunas and steam rooms and where people strip on entry; and the country club format, which is out-of-town, usually serves a free buffet and may include elements of the first two as well as offering large play spaces.
According to Terry Gould's The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers (ISBN 1552094820), swinging began among U.S. Air Force pilots and their wives during World War II.
Scientific research into swinging has been conducted in the USA since the late 1960s. It has consistently found that swingers have better pair-bonds than monogamous couples. The most recent and most thorough study, based on an Internet questionnaire addressed to visitors of lifestyle-related sites, found swingers are happier in their relationships than the norm. 60% of swingers said that swinging improved their relationship and only 1.7% said it made their relationship less happy. Half of those who rated their relationship very happy before becoming swingers maintained it had become even happier. 90% of those with less happy relationships said swinging improved them. Almost 70% of swingers claimed no problem with controlling jealousy, around a quarter admitted "I have difficulty controlling jealousy when swinging" to be somewhat true but only 6% said this was "Yes, Very Much" true. Swingers rate themselves happier (59% against 32% very happy) and their lives much more exciting (76% against 54% exciting) than does the rest of the population, by surprisingly large margins. There was no difference between the responses of men and women, although more males (70%) than females completed the survey. (Bergstrand & Williams, Today's Alternative Marriage Styles: The Case of Swingers, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Vol.3, 10 October 2000 ). However it should be noted that this study may be biased in terms of its sample (i.e. potentially those swinging couples who had stronger relationships would be motivated to complete the questionnaire, or alternatively the stress that swinging may place on a marriage means that only those with higher the average levels of commitment to their partners are able to remain married whilst swinging).Due to the risks of jealousy, swingers most often prefer the lifestyle be something to be used as an enhancement to an already-stable relationship. In the words of one in the lifestyle:
"if the marriage is in need of repair, I wouldn't suggest this is the time to explore swinging."—
Few major public health concerns are associated with swingers according to lifestyle advocates. Condom use between new partners is strictly enforced by many swingers clubs. In addition, a minority of swingers rely on STD testing to select for partners less likely to have different STD's than they themselves have. A substantial portion of swingers focus on massage and other activities that are unlikely to transmit those STD's that are most difficult to treat.
Some swingers consider the Lifestyle to be a distinct subculture.
The 'prime directive' in swinging is "No means no". This signifies that rejection of a sexual proposal does not require justification and must always be respected. Violation of the ground rules can occasion immediate expulsion. Other hard and fast rules at many swing clubs include the use of condoms and changing condoms between partners.
In the U.S. it is often regarded as impolite to touch without asking, whereas in Europe including the UK both touching and gently but firmly removing a touching hand are widely regarded as polite non-verbal communication in the swinging context although still frowned upon.
Traditionally swinger clubs have been accepting of all ages and body types. 'Urban swinging' began with Fever Parties in London in the late 1990s and involves affluent metropolitan young people, discrimination on the basis on looks and an upper age limit usually around 40. Urban swinging events include mostly childless, unmarried young graduates and can have average ages as low as the late twenties, whereas ordinary or 'suburban' swingers events tend to have average ages in the 40s. Urban swinging subsequently spread to Manchester (UK), Norway, South Africa and Sweden and the USA.
The critique of urban swinging among traditional swingers is that it is unethical to discriminate. For example the North American Swing Club Association (NASCA) does not accept into membership clubs which are not open to all and some couples may advertise themselves as "not Ken and Barbie" (referring to the Barbie doll and her boyfriend) as an implicit rejection of what they perceive to be a superficial ideal of youthful physical attractiveness.
The proponents of urban swinging claim an entitlement to peer-group options in this as in other leisure pursuits.
Female bisexuality is extremely common and tends to be the norm amongst participants.
Male bisexuality is less common and depending on the club may either be frowned upon, or openly accepted. Generally the community however is comfortable around bisexual men though will chose not to engage in sexual activity with them or with their partners.
Transgendered persons are relatively uncommon; such people make up a small percentage of the general population. Clubs for gay or lesbian couples, where available, operate quite separately from the broader swinging community.
Even where bisexuals are included, motives are often incompatible with those of other bi-positive groups. The polyamorous community differentiates itself from the swinger lifestyle by putting a greater emphasis on long-term relationships and sites such as  will indicate that the "poly group is NOT a contact organisation for swingers".
The organised gay community also attempts to be tolerant of bisexuality to some degree, but a heterosexual male trying to fulfil a fantasy of having two women would be out-of-place in the lesbian community. Claiming to be "female seeks female" where a "couple seeks female" categorisation is more appropriate may also draw negative reactions. Some bisexual groups within the organised gay/lesbian community, such as , therefore limit their membership to women only.
While most swing clubs have no place for single males, many but not all would readily admit single females - often at a reduced admission price.
One exception is prostitution; as soon as a woman asks for payment (in cash or kind), she is often no longer welcomed.
While there is a stereotype that sex is what women have and men want, the reality is that some single women have sexual desires that they satisfy at swing clubs. Nonetheless, for every 10-12 couples who express an interest, it may be possible to find one single female but up to a hundred single males. Demand for single males is very limited.
One club  states "We receive approximately 2 single females requesting to join our club for every 200 single males that request to join our activities...We will not take the time to match up single with singles and have only matched up a few couples with 2 singles in the past seven years!". Another says  "I am single and unattached. Can I join...? As a male, unfortunately No. As a female, Yes. Here's why. We are a couples club and it happens to be a fact that couples, when looking for a threesome to enhance their relationship, are looking for a female the majority of the time, not a male. In addition, the majority of the single women who have attended our functions have tended to be bi or bi-curious...As a single, male or female, you are able to obtain a subscription membership. As a single male you will be unable to attend the majority of club events".
Some oppose the involvement of any singles of any gender in swinging due to fear that they tend to split existing couples.
The lifestyle in film and entertainment
The random partner swapping "key party" depicted in Ang Lee's film The Ice Storm (adapted from the novel by Rick Moody) has been reported by someone who attended such parties in the American mid-west (Indiana) in the 1950's. "Key parties", according to this source, were small (3 to 12) couple events where everyone knew everyone else, so all combinations of partners were pleased to spend an evening with each other.
Another movie that talks about Swinging and its effects on the lives of a married couple with kids who seek some sexual adventures is Zebra Lounge.
Another movie involving swinging is The Blood Oranges, in which two western couples, one with children, come together in the fictional Mediterranean village of Ilyria. The film was adapted from the novel by John Hawkes.
Another novel that features swinging is John Irving's The 158-Pound Marriage, in which two New England college professors and their wives enter a mÃ©nage Ã quatre with disastrous consequences.
The movie Eating Raoul is a great comic send-up of swinging stereotypes.
The lifestyle was also the setting for a recent episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, a popular TV drama depicting forensic investigations. Episode #97, "Swap Meet", is about the investigation of the murder of a woman who had attended a "swinging party". Some of the key rules of the lifestyle are presented during the episode.
- Libertarian (UK)