Just what is a swinger?

THE recent publication of details of the private life of a Kildare man, supposedly “outed” as a “swinger,” raised a number of questions about the public and private sphere, writes Henry Bauress.

THE recent publication of details of the private life of a Kildare man, supposedly “outed” as a “swinger,” raised a number of questions about the public and private sphere, writes Henry Bauress.

Inevitably there are moral or legal questions but our views are likely to differ greatly on them.

Before those questions are asked, it would be useful to know what exactly “a swinger” is.

The term is associated with what is an early term for the phenomenon whereby couples meet other couples (usually) or singles, to exchange partners for sexual purposes, “wife swappers.”

According to arguably the best book on the subject of swinging, “The Lifestyle – A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers,” the origin of the term “swinging” is far from certain.

The book, first published in 1999, was written by Terry Gould, a Canadian investigative crime reporter, who took time out to write it following an article he was asked to write on swinging.

Gould’s book is not a salacious one for voyeurs but a serious look at non-monogamy which cast some light on a wide variety of areas of our personal lives.

Historically, he noted, a 1940’s study said that “extra marital liaison” was a socially approved custom in 39% of cultures studied.

The book starts with a look at the Lifestyle Organisation set up by a former airforce man, Robert McGinley, who was forced to leave his post, after US Air Force personnel, concerned he could be blackmailed, secretly opened his private letters and discovered he was in touch with a lady interested in swinging at the time he was going through a divorce.

Gould attended numerous conventions organised by the Lifestyle Organisation – and, incidentally, noted the economic boost to the hotel and tourism business.

The 1996 conference in San Diego hosted 3,500 people from 437 cities in seven countries.

Gould suggests that one of their international conferences was held in Dublin, remarking about “the stuffiness of Dublin.”

In 1998, the Jamaican Tourism Board sponsored a convention.

Gould and others say that those involved in the Lifestyle tend to be the better educated and surveys showed 40% of them described themselves as Catholic, Protestant or Jewish.

The term Lifestyle was adopted in the 1980’s to move away from the word “swinging” which had negative connotations for people who felt they had the right and were doing nothing harmful.

He quotes one person he interviewed: “We don’t threaten morality. We threaten immorality.”

For the most part, Lifestylers said that their hobby improved their marriage and was based on trust, and avoided “cheating” of those preaching strict monogamy.

Needless to say, the strong division of opinion on the morality of this, the biggest fear of Lifestylers was being outed in their own community and Gould outlines McGinley’s battle with the authorities over freedoms seen by many US citizens as fundamental.

Gould found that Lifestylers typically pointed out that outside of their large circle – it is estimated there are three million in the USA and Canada, judging partly by the clubs registered and monitored by the Lifestyles Organisation - jealousy and anger are much more associated with the monogamous world.

The book also notes that a Lifestyles party is not just about sex and that around 10% of those attending did not take part in sexual activity but were there to enjoy the atmosphere.

Those not able to respect personal boundaries would not be welcome.

Three types of sexual activity were roughly identified.

One was soft (massage and touch but not full intercourse), open (where spouses exchange for sex in an open area) and closed (where, swapping couples each retire to a private room.)

It is estimated that about 25% of Lifestylers are either more promiscuous or like group sex more.

To claims that marriages will be damage, Lifestylers told Gould that their activity will not make an essentially bad marriage good and people do separate.

The use of illegal drugs was also said to be a non runner.

Gould also found that while men tended to initiate their sometimes reluctant wives into the Lifestyle, women got to like it more.

Women adjusted better than men after the initial stages.

In the face of criticism that males wanted it first to enable them to have extra marital sex, Gould quotes the famous Kinsey said most husbands who encouraged their wives to join up did so for their wife’s sake.

The book takes quite a detailed look at previous culture and history of spouse exchange and current history, including Darwin’s theory of evolution as it applies to sexual practice and the “smoking gun” debate over the “natural” inclination of females to infidelity.

He also touches on the phenomenon known as polyamory, which is different to the Lifestyle in that more than two people form a household or marry.

He also refers to well known books among lifestylers or polyamorous, such as Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land or Rimmer’s The Harrod Experiment and the 19th century Oneida spouse sharing community.

As time has moved on, he argued, main stream media, much criticized by Lifestylers, have been warming to the idea as groups like McGinley’s and polyamorous groups like Loving More, have achieved increasing mainstream publicity.

Pressurised less by the norms of society, they tend now to cater more for the curiosity of their clientèle. He quoted the Montreal Gazette as commenting that the State “has no business intervening in the orgies of the nation.”

He also quoted McGinley thus: “The Lifestyle has nothing to do with overthrowing society – although that’s not a bad idea.”

Gould found that the benefit of the Lifestyle for those who were inclined towards it was positive feeling about oneself, one’s mate and relationships.

Against that, it is felt that those more prone to jealously, players of social games, those with a poor opinion of the opposite sex, those deeply religions and those with relationship problems may not be suitable.

Some argued that what was described as “faithful adultery” may not suit young couples under thirty who have just fallen in love as these could be incapable of combining it with the benefit of traditional fidelity.

While Gould did not mention it specifically, an earlier US report on swinging from 1978, Gilmartin Report, suggested that those born under the Leo, Gemini, Saggitarius, Acquarius and Aries signs were over represented among surveyed swingers, while those born under the Cancer, Pisces, Capricorn, Scorpio and Virgo signs are under represented.