By Michael Carey
According to the folk histories I’ve heard, the modern American culture of swinging developed among U.S. Air Force fighter pilots during World War II. (This story is reported in investigative journalist Terry Gould’s book The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers, and swingers themselves certainly seem to believe it.) Couples would engage in “wife swapping” with the understanding that they were developing intimate bonds; wives whose husbands died in combat would be taken care of, financially and emotionally, by the surviving men and their wives.
The community of swingers has evolved away from those roots in some ways. Many modern participants in “the Lifestyle,” as they sometimes call it, specifically value the chance to get sexual variety without emotional entanglement and without needing to have their other partners around on a daily basis, interfering with their ability to pass as vanilla. On the other hand, some features have been retained—in particular, swinging remains primarily centered on swapping among couples. Basic vocabulary for a swing club includes differentiating between a “soft swap” and a “full swap.”
You’ll find a surprising number of self-identified conservative Christians at swing clubs and parties, and even the occasional wife-swapping pastor. I hope they have wonderful, fulfilling marriages, ’til death do them part … just as long as they aren’t hypocritically enforcing stigma against anyone else’s sexual choices. In the same way that gays who’ve been indoctrinated with religious self-loathing are often among the most virulent homophobes, you’ll occasionally run into swingers who are vocal about judging promiscuity. I’m never quite sure whether to be mad at, or sad for, such mixed-up people.