The true origins of swinging might never be discovered; with much of the history of this sexual practice being lost to time. However, there are some things we do know about the history of swinging, and it is clear that it has been part of our culture since the beginning of human history.
Ancient Spouse Swapping
Swinging, in some form or another, might have been part of human history for thousands of years. Although it would have looked very different to the type of spouse swapping events we have today, ‘formal polyandry’ (where two or more men share a wife) may have been prevalent since the Stone Age.
In more recent history, the remains of a socialist community that promoted a utopian town without money, marriage, or monogamy, were excavated in the Cambridgeshire countryside. The Manea Fen community was set up in 1838 by a farmer and Methodist minister William Hodson and had up to 150 members at a time. This type of utopia commune has been repeated all over the world, and there are some that are successful and still survive today.
Separating Fact from Fiction
In the modern-day West, the history of swinging is highly contested. Author Terry Gould’s claims in his book ‘The Lifestyle: a look at the erotic rites of swingers’ that the swinging lifestyle started with some adventurous American Air Force fighter pilots & their spouses during the 1940s. It is theorized that with the high mortality rate of fighter pilots during the war years, close supportive bonds were fostered between the young couples so if a spouse was widowed, the network of swinging friends would help assist the widow and her family.
Though a romantic idea, this origin story is likely to be fabricated, and more reliable sources suggest that swinging evolved later. It is probably accurate to say that partner swapping was being practiced by some military couples during the 1950s while the Korean War was going on and continuing afterwards as it slowly started to spread into the suburbs. For more accurate information, try reading Swingers’ Little Helper book.
The Swinging Sixties
The most likely origin of swinging in Europe and the United States comes from the era nicknamed the swinging sixties. This was the time of the sexual revolution. After the invention and wide availability of the contraceptive pill combined with new treatments and cures cropping up for many sexually transmitted diseases, people were able to enjoy sexual liberation and explore their desires with greatly reduced potential of bad consequences.
The ‘Free Love’ movement made swinging more popular across all social classes and various age groups, though it remained considered an ‘alternative’ lifestyle (and perhaps still continues to be viewed like this by wider society.
These first swingers parties would not have been like the organized events at special swinger clubs today. They probably started out with key parties. Key parties are the most common type of swinger party represented in mainstream media (though they’re not very popular with swingers these days). Traditionally, at these parties all male partners would place their keys into the same bowl, and when everyone was ready to pair off with a partner, the women would randomly select a key from the bowl and pair off with the key’s owner.
After the sixties, swinging dipped in popularity, but had another surge of popularity due to the rise of the Internet in the late 1990’s.
Today, the practice of swinging itself remains a fringe activity. However, non-monogamy generally is certainly on the rise and increasing each year. As attitudes towards sex and relationships continue to evolve and develop, modern societies are moving towards a freer attitude to these relationship. The rise of swinger dating websites and smartphone applications means it is easier than even before to find like minded people with the same sexual interests. Many mainstream dating sites now support non-monogamous dating profiles.
Swinging around the World
It’s not just the West that practices non-monogamy. In fact, it tends to be more widely accepted in other parts of the world.
Informal polyandry (two men or more sharing a female partner, but not involving a marriage) is a feature of some hunter-gatherer societies, including the Inuit of northern North America and the Yanomamo of the Orinoco river basin in South America. The Inuit take a unique approach to polyandry; inviting male guests to sleep with the lady of the house. If the offer is accepted, it is expected the guest share’s his own spouse.
On the other side of the world, two indigenous African tribes (the Ovahimba and Ovazemba) that settled together in Namibia around the 16th century, also practise this type of wife swapping. The Okujepusa Omukazenda tradition sees husbands offering their wives to male visitors, and allowing him to spend a night in his house while he stays somewhere else or sleeps outside the home. If the visitor has arrived with his own wife, the two men can decide if they want to wife swap.
Within the last twenty years there are has been a vastly expanding number of swinger aka libertine sex clubs & resorts opening up all across the Caribbean, Europe, Canada and of course the United States. Swinging might still be a minority of relationships but it is a billion dollar minority when you count the revenue of the worldwide swinger clubs & resorts.