Stacey and her boyfriend Matt are perched on bar stools, holding hands, in a popular bar in Fitzroy, Melbourne. They both have excited butterflies. It feels like their first date all over again! Only it’s not. They are in a long-term, committed relationship. But tonight, they are planning on having sex with another couple. And it’s certainly not their first time.
They have been using an app called Feeld (formerly known as 3nder), to meet other open-minded singles and couples to have threesomes and group sex. Tonight, they are meeting up with a couple that they have been flirting with online for a couple of weeks. If all goes well, they plan on inviting the couple back to their apartment to enjoy a few more drinks, a carefully prepared cheese board and a night of group sex.
Stacey tells me that the notion of including other people into their sex life was introduced early in their relationship. They both describe themselves as sexual people and having dappled in threesomes previously, they knew that it was an activity that they wanted to explore and share together.
Listen: Porn star Madison Missina and self-proclaimed prude Carla G talk about threesome etiquette. (Post continues.)
I can’t imagine that it is particularly hard for them to find other people who are keen to jump into bed with them. They are both in their early thirties, have good careers and are both good-looking. And while Stacey tells me that there is no shortage of other young, good-looking couples interested in swinging, it seems that the process is much more involved than I would have thought.
Stacey says, “it takes ages to find other couples that you connect with. And once you do meet a couple you like, there needs to be long discussions about boundaries and comfort zones. It is really important that everyone feels comfortable.”
Stacey and Matt feel that swinging is healthy for them as a couple and that it keeps their relationship fun and exciting. Stacey says that swinging is about “practicing being open and accepting of your partner”. From chatting with her, it certainly seems that, as a couple, they have a wonderful willingness to communicate, trust each other and to open themselves up to vulnerability.
Swingers are leading the way in healthy relationships. At least according to Sex therapist Dr Cyndi Darnell. In a recent interview with ABC reporters Richelle Hunt and Kerri Sackville, Dr Darnell discussed how couples that swing are better able to navigate their own emotions, and those of their partner, in a way that demands resolution. She argues that swingers have been navigating vital relationship issues such as discussing consent and prioritising emotions and empathy for decades. Issues that are only now receiving mainstream attention.
Hunt, who recently published an article on the swinging scene in Australia, agreed. She found that, during her interviews with swingers, the one thing that surprised her was the emphasis being focused more on communication rather than sex. She found that a lot of emotional energy was invested in communication and discussions around boundaries and consent, as well as extensive briefings and debriefings.
“These couples are constantly managing their feelings,” Hunt reports.
While very little scientific research exists about swinging, there is some evidence to suggest that, in some populations, it can lead to greater relationship satisfaction than monogamy. Polyamory researcher, Elisabeth Sheff, has found that there is no difference in the functioning of relationships between monogamous and non-monogamous couples, but rather, that people in consensual non-monogamous relationships have higher levels of trust and sexual satisfaction with their partner.
This evidence, whilst not conclusive, certainly indicates that there can be beneficial attributes to a swinging relationship. And while, personally, I am not convinced enough to be suggesting it to my husband as a Valentine’s activity any time soon, I am open-minded enough to see that it can be a fun and healthy activity for couples to participate in if they are so inclined.
I think it is a bit of a stretch to say that swingers have healthier relationships than monogamous couples, but I do think that they can have equally healthy relationships. Their willingness to communicate and participate in an ongoing dialogue about their feelings is something that any relationship could benefit from.
What do you think? Are their attributes of swinger relationships that monogamous couples could learn from?
*Names in this article have been changed for privacy.