We’ve all heard of swinging from the trees. But swinging under the trees?
By Fiona Zublin
Yes, swinging is back: A 2016 survey found that about 21 percent of American adults surveyed had been in a non-monogamous relationship. But more than that, partner swapping is finding its way to a younger crowd — and into outdoor activities, like camping and music festivals that reflect the wholesome, nature-loving vibe of modern swinging.
They used to say when you turn 40 you learn how to eat olives, how to drink gin and how to go swinging.
Mike Robertson, Swingfields
Swingers — they used to be called wife swappers, but the term indicates non-monogamous couples in general, particularly those who frequent events dedicated to helping them find new partners — have been around as long as there have been human beings. They never went away; even in the most buttoned-up societies people have always had sex in any number of ways. But in Western culture, swingers have long had a distinctly behind-closed-doors vibe in the public imagination — dark clubs, often literally underground, and couples looking to spice things up with key parties and dalliances with their neighbors.
Fun at the Festival: An Erotic Weekend
“They used to say when you turn 40 you learn how to eat olives, how to drink gin and how to go swinging,” says Mike Robertson, part of the volunteer management committee of Swingfields, a U.K. “lifestyle” festival aimed at swingers and the LGBT community. But now, he says, they get a lot more interest from young people who are attuned to music festival culture and are interested in swinging as well. Since Swingfields started in 2012, its attendance has soared from 200 to 750, with people coming from as far away as Canada and Hong Kong. Robertson says many would-be festivalgoers get turned away as organizers prefer to keep the event small and intimate. The festival has instituted a rigorous screening process — particularly for young single men — to try to make sure attendees are really part of the swinger community. They want people who’ll respect the festival’s emphasis on consent rather than tittering or expecting, as Robertson puts it, “some huge orgy.”
In fact, the desire to avoid rubberneckers led to a drastic decision this year: After what Robertson calls “hostile, nasty, vindictive press coverage” (since taken down) last year, Swingfields opted to go dormant for a year rather than deal with more negative publicity. It’ll return in 2018, but in a smaller form, with only about 500 people allowed in — which facilitates the rigorous screening process and emphasis on security and safety. “We could get 10,000 people there tomorrow,” Robertson says, “but they’d be nine and a half thousand of the wrong people.”
Slightly farther east, France’s échangistes (translation: swingers) have seen a resurgence too. At the newly designated Diamant Noir campground in the southern Dordogne region, couples can check into small cabins and spend their days enjoying the outdoors — and their nights at specially designated soirees that allow them to explore swinging with other consenting adults. While this is the first over-21 camping season for Diamant Noir, it’s already found its clientele: When the campground opened, 60 couples were present for the inauguration, and the campground averages about 30 couples per weekend.
Meanwhile, city folk aren’t short of ways to meet. Wyylde, a singles social network, launched a full rebrand in 2016 — previously it had gone under netchangisme.com for 15 years. Now it’s the largest “libertine” dating site in France, with upward of 3 million profiles. Benjamin Warlop, a spokesman for Wyylde, says that while the average age of France’s swingers is 40 to 45, about 30 percent of the site’s new members this year have been in their 20s.
To be sure, it’s hard to tell whether more people are actually trying swinging than before. Particularly in countries like the U.K. — where, Robertson explains, there’s still “an element of Victorian morality” — people have long been loath to admit what may be going on behind closed doors. Even Robertson doesn’t necessarily think swinging has become more common, but he does think people are being more open about it, even in the face of general public disapproval. A 2013 study from the University of Michigan found that swingers — that is, those who swap partners for sexual purposes only — are still perceived more negatively than polyamorous people, who have multiple romantic relationships.
“Is it a fad or a real trend? It’ll take several years to respond to that question,” says Warlop. Perhaps in years to come, swingers’ campgrounds and festivals will become the norm. As Robertson points out, people have sex at every music festival, “but the vast majority are off their tiny faces.” At a festival devoted to swinging, that sexual component is out in the open — but so are issues of consent and safety that allow a genuinely good time to be had by all.