Taken from: Sydney Morning Herald
Q: Kim and I have been in a monogamous relationship for 12 years. We've often shared fantasies about threesomes, group sex, and so on. More recently we have discussed the idea of dabbling in something like swingers' parties, but aren't sure how to proceed. The 1960s stereotype of a party where couples put their car keys in a bowl and partner off that way is not appealing. Have these kinds of things evolved over time? Are there safe, tasteful options to be explored?
A: Monogamy poses a challenge for many people living in long-term relationships, as Dr Esther Perel explains in her TED talk, The Secret to Desire in Long-term Relationships.
Some people employ a range of strategies to deal with this, with varying degrees of success. This can include agreeing to practise conscious, consensual non-monogamy.
One form of this to have an "open relationship", in which each person is free to see other people. Often, these connections are intended to be ancillary to the core relationship. Another alternative is polyamory. For many polyamorists, there is no hierarchy of relationship, and each partnering is given equal weight.
Another option has traditionally been dubbed "swinging". As you say, this practice had its origins in the swinging sixties, and the sexual revolution. Also known, in those days, as wife-swapping, couples would hold parties at which they would have sex with each other's partners. The method of choosing a partner could be as random as selecting a car key. The idea was to enjoy purely physical, "no strings" sex without endangering the relationship.
This concept has evolved over the years. More modern swingers' parties are often held in suburban homes, and are run as a commercial venture, with an attendance fee. These can be limited by an age range, be couples only, exclude single men, or cater to a range of sexual preferences.
Swingers use contact magazines and websites, such as Adult Matchmaker and Red Hot Pie, to find partners. Melbourne also has its long-running Saints and Sinners erotic fancy-dress balls, where a wide range of like-minded individuals can connect.
Parallel with the development of this scene has been the evolution of the "sex positive" tantric spiritual sex community. It is also rooted in the sexual revolution of the '60s and '70s, especially in the hippie, Eastern mysticism, yoga and meditation scene. For these people, sexual ecstasy can be a spiritual, enlightening experience, leading to personal growth and a deep connection with nature. Sexual pleasure can be more profound than the thrill of a transgressive coupling.
Some people who are attracted to this concept choose an ascetic and disciplined, purist practice; for example, some eschew ejaculation. Others take all that they find best in these concepts, but expand and adapt them in order to embrace diversity, and free the ideas from rules and rituals. An example of this can be seen in the Urban Tantra books and workshops by Barbara Carrellas.
This year, something new has flourished in Melbourne, an event called Discovery (www.discoveryworkshops.com.au). I spoke to one of its founders, Roger Butler, whose background is in counselling and running educational workshops on a range of sexual, relationship and self-development topics (www.curiouscreatures.biz).
He said: "Discovery has taken the swinging attitude of the '60s and coupled it with more modern thinking around consent and sustainable individual and relationship development."
A team of facilitators who do not participate, or use the event to form their own connections, runs Discovery. Butler says they monitor the activities, and work together to provide a safe, inclusive, diverse, and secure environment.
New participants are required to attend an afternoon workshop where they participate in exercises and learning activities around topics such as consent, communication, boundaries, etiquette, and safer sex protocols.
In the evening, there is a "play party" where participants can engage, to whatever extent suits them, in sexual activity.
Next day, participants regroup to debrief. "The Sunday sessions allow folks to process what they have learned and experienced," Butler says.
Having done the workshop once, people can go to the parties and Sunday integration sessions as often as they like, meaning that change happens, hopefully, at a rate that is sustainable for individuals and their relationships.