To prevent their relationships from foundering, some couples permit each other to have sex with others, subject to rules, such as telling each other and every encounter.
Negotiated fidelity is the subject of The Velvet Pouch, the third book in an erotic trilogy by Australian author, Holly Hill, whose Sugarbabe and Toyboy memoirs enraged prudes and monogamists.
There’s nothing prudish about monogamy, but while it’s blissful for most couples, it’s monotony for others. “Fifty per cent of men cheat on their wives and 40 per cent of women cheat on their husbands,” says relationship expert, David Kavanagh. “If swinging was the norm and everyone could have sex with everyone else, there’d be chaos. Not everyone can handle that amount of power.”
That’s no deterrent to the 13% of adults who are in open or swinging relationships (according to a survey by the She Knows website). There has always been talk of celebrities who boosted their sex lives by swinging.
Earlier this year, Jada Pinkett Smith spoke amid rumours she had an open marriage with actor, Will Smith. But she muddied the waters more: “Will and I both can do whatever we want, because we trust each other to do so,” she said. “This does not mean we have an open relationship ... this means we have a grown one.”
Brittney Jones, who claimed she had an affair with Ashton Kutcher, also said Kutcher told her that he and Demi Moore had an open marriage. But Ashton wasn’t supposed to act without Demi — she wanted to be involved too. Though the couple — now split — never commented on the claims, many high-profile relationships are under pressure to keep the passion high, and conform to the public image.
But can an ‘open’ attitude be the downfall of a couple? “I’m not a swinger, nor am I judging those who swing, but it’s naive for couples to think they won’t develop feelings for anyone they meet this way,” says Kavanagh.
“We can’t really separate sex from emotion, although porn makes us think we can. Couples who swing play with fire. If an insecure man sees his wife having an amazing time with someone else, he may have sex with four women to get his own back on her.”
While most of us would be hard-pressed to name anyone who swings, there’s plenty of it about. Swing4Ireland.com is just one of the websites catering for Irish demand. That site boasts 130,000 members and 300 newcomers each week.
You don’t have to join a swingers’ site to swing. But unless you initiate the game or are invited to play, you’re unlikely to know who in your circle is part of the scene.
I learned that one evening in Dalkey.
I was leaving a house-party with a friend when the hostess, a pretty blonde I barely knew, called me aside and indelicately enquired as to whether I might like to visit again soon, this time to engage in some nameless fun with her and her husband.
The idea seemed hilarious for the obvious reasons, but the fact that her husband was a dead-ringer for Rick Moranis, the guy who played the creepy, geeky lead in the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids movie, made it farcical.
It would have been needlessly impolite to say that, so I offered some banal excuse and fled.
The matter was never mentioned again. It would have been unsporting to discuss it with mutual friends, so I never did. It seems rude to discuss the sexual peccadilloes of those we know. Provided they’re lawful and consensual, what matters?
Yet, silence builds secrecy and lack of information builds myth. “There’s a belief that swinging parties are orgies, but this isn’t the case,” says Philip Moore, founder of the irishswingers.ie website.
“There’s a perception that swingers are sex maniacs,” says Steve Montague co-founder of swing4ireland.com. “In reality, there’s no requirement to remove your clothes or to have sex with anyone. Those who come purely to socialise are welcome, provided they’re not there to judge others.”
However, sometimes ‘the best laid plans’ go out the window, says Kavanagh. “In social situations, we behave like the crowd, and while we may not be attracted to anyone there, we may still have sex, if that’s what’s expected of us.”
One trait that’s not expected of swingers is jealousy, and while you’d imagine it occurs between swinging couples at least occasionally, Montague says it doesn’t. “If it becomes an issue, they should quit.”
“Swinging is mostly driven by men, and while some women do it to please their partners, there’s no sign that they’re being physically forced to participate,” says Moore.
But it’s more complex than that, says Kavanagh. “Bullying and harassment may come into it. Women may be told ‘If you don’t come with me, I’ll go on my own’.”
As for the benefits of swinging, Kavanagh says it may provide those who are potentially bisexual with an opportunity to express that side of themselves. “If they do that, they have to be prepared for the implications their behaviour may have on their partners and on their relationships.”
Swinging isn’t for everyone. Despite working in the business for years, neither Montague nor Moore are, or ever have been, swingers.
As for why people swing, Moore is philosophical: “Sometimes, love just isn’t enough.”