I had always considered myself on the adventurous end of the sexual scale. I have a hearty appetite, I’m willing to do anything normal and, honestly, I’ve had a difficult time finding men who could keep up.
Then I met my boyfriend.
My boyfriend was raised by swingers. When I met his parents, the first question his father asked me was how I was in bed. His parents often share stories of their sexual escapades when they were younger. Sexuality was always very open in their home.
I was raised by prudes. My parents’ sexual encounters were so infrequent that my mother can pinpoint the exact moment I was conceived. She was a virginal bride. My father, a retired Marine who had served in war-torn Third World countries, blushes during conversations about sex and was so uncomfortable he couldn’t have “the talk” with my brother.
The more time I spent with my boyfriend, the more I realized my experiences paled in comparison to his. I described him as sexually deviant to my friends; he described me as vanilla. I blushed while he told me stories of his sexual experiences with his ex-wife.
And then he suggested swinging.
My boyfriend and I met on Craigslist with pretty much one reason in mind. We had both freshly escaped from bad relationships, and even though neither of us was ready for another commitment, we clicked so well that first night we decided to get to know each other better.
When we started dating, I told him I wanted to be monogamous. I knew about his lifestyle with his ex-wife, but it wasn’t anything I was comfortable with. When he suggested we try it together, I tried to shrug it off, but it bothered me. Past experiences taught me that anytime someone has to look beyond their partner for sexual satisfaction, there were serious problems within the relationship.
I chalked it up to my own insecurity, dwelling on my past marital baggage, or paranoia that so good a relationship was doomed to die. After all, his ex-wife’s suggestion of swinging was little more than an excuse to run off with her new boyfriend.
I began to wonder—what is the difference between cheating and swinging?
When I asked my boyfriend, he told me one scenario is consensual while the other isn’t. But if they both involve sexual activities without your partner, isn’t it basically the same thing?
Not satisfied with his answer—“No, it isn’t”—I ventured to the Green Door adult social club, in the Commercial Center strip mall, to ask couples who live this lifestyle for a fuller explanation.
I arrive early on a Friday night, around 11 p.m. Frankie, the club’s general manager, meets me at the door. He’s a teddy bear of a man, warm and inviting, gracing employees and club members with a big friendly smile. As we walk in, an older woman in a black mesh top tells me I’m cute. I smile and thank her for the compliment before Frankie politely shoos her away. After a quick tour and several warm introductions, he leaves me to mingle.
Nancy and Dominique have been married for 10 years, but they dated for three years before that. They started going to the Green Door around eight years ago, after moving to Las Vegas from California.
Nancy has long blond hair pulled back from her face, and a cigarette never seems to leave her hands. Dominique has short, kinky black hair, a broad smile and a demeanor that makes him easy to talk to.
Dominique tells me they’ve been swinging for about 11 years. “We got involved knowing this is how we want to live.” They describe themselves as ordinary people who like sex, and express a profound lack of jealousy in their relationship.
“She’s my best friend, literally,” he tells me. “We don’t lie.”
“Nope, no reason for it,” Nancy adds. “Everybody says they want our relationship because we don’t get jealous.”
Nancy and I sit on a cushioned bench against a mirrored wall while Dominique wanders over to a crowd across the room. After a few minutes, a woman—probably in her late 30s or early 40s, wearing panties, stilettos, a black leather vest and not much else—starts dancing on a pole a few feet from us. A thin man in jeans and a blue button-up shirt pulls up a chair to watch her.
Nancy tells me they have a variety of regular sex partners, including couples and single men and women. “It’s more comfortable when you know who you’re with,” she says. “Nobody gets hurt. It’s just sex. We enjoy sex. We’re probably wilder than most people.”
“So how is this different from cheating?” I ask her.
“Because it’s not cheating,” she explains. “He knows what I do, I know what he does, and at the end of the day we tell each other. Cheating is when you’re married and you’re not in the lifestyle, or even if you are, you go and do something your partner doesn’t know about that would hurt them. Cheating is not just sex. If you’re forming an intimate relationship with another person and your partner doesn’t know, that’s cheating.”
She tells me about her previous marriage to a man who accused her of having an affair while he was unfaithful. “He thought I was going out and having sex with everybody, and I was so loyal. He went out and had sex.”
Dominique stresses the importance of trust in the relationship. “It’s not an easy lifestyle. You can come in here and get your feelings hurt real quick.”
Nancy agrees. “You have to be secure in yourself and your relationship. It’s not easy for a lot of couples. We’re comfortable with our sexual appetite. It’s fun. This works, but you have to find your match.”
In the bar I talk to May and Derrick. They’ve been married for six years, and started swinging four years ago. May is slender, with almond eyes and bobbed hair. Derrick has no hair and soft eyes. I’m sandwiched between them, awkwardly perched on a stool while my feet dangle. I sip on a bottle of water while we talk.
Derrick describes swinging as “a bunch of dirty little secrets you share with your significant other.”
May tells me mutual trust is a must. “This is such a healthy lifestyle, but you have to be absolutely 110 percent secure in your relationship, or it will ruin it in the end.”
“Trust eliminates insecurity,” Derrick adds. “Although we swing, we swing together.”
He explains the rules different couples have. “Some couples don’t kiss—it’s too intimate—or they only have sex in certain ways.” Slow couples will start with a soft swap, which does not involve penetration, or have same-room sex.
“Everybody has their own timing,” May says. “We dove in and then we talked about it. ‘Well, what did you think?’ You find a lot of people who want to take it slow, ease into it.”
Again, how is this different from cheating?
“Cheating is when you’re trying to hide. This is out in the open,” she tells me.
“Being so open with your spouse or significant other is liberating,” Derrick explains. For instance, if someone attractive is walking down the street, you don’t have to hide your attraction to that person. Instead you can look at that person and talk about it together. “You don’t have to pretend not to look.”
“We don’t ever ever ever have to worry about cheating,” May adds.
“We don’t have to,” Derrick says. “If I meet a girl anywhere, I can bring her home and we’re intimate together. We do it together or we don’t do it at all.”
On my way home I called my boyfriend. He knew I had been out working on a story, but not what it was about or who I was going to interview. I had still been struggling with my own feelings, and after experiencing the openness of the other couples, it kind of felt like I was sneaking around.
“How did your interview go, baby?” he asked me. I told him where I had been, and braced myself for hurt feelings. Instead he asked me what I thought. I described the couples I met and the affection they had for each other, the way everyone stressed the importance of safe sex, and the way some members were so comfortable with their bodies they walked around naked as if they were fully clothed.
A few days later, I looked up a website Derrick had told me about, a place where people in the lifestyle can connect with other couples. I searched for my boyfriend’s screen name and found the profile he and his ex-wife had created.
“Couples that play together stay together … at least that’s how we see it,” is written at the bottom of their profile. I find it ironic that swinging is how my boyfriend’s ex-wife found her new boyfriend, and bittersweet that he loved her and trusted her enough to let her pursue whatever sexual avenue she wanted.
And I realized how much he trusts me to suggest swinging, after the experience he had with his ex-wife. If he was looking for an excuse to have sex with other women, he’d be doing it without telling me. Instead he wanted a way for us to be closer. And every time we talked about it, he told me he was more than willing to leave that part of his life behind if I never wanted to try it.
It’s sweet, and now that I understand more about the lifestyle, I find it touching that he trusts me as much as he does.
But I still want to stick to the monogamous thing.