If you’re taking your first tentative steps into the world of swinging, don’t worry – you’re definitely not alone. Swinging might not be as talked about as it was in the 1960s, but it is still the most common form of non-monogamy and although the exact size of the community is difficult to track, it remains vibrant, diverse and constantly changing.
Most of the studies from the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality are from the 1960s and 1970s when swinging first caught the public interest. It is thought that this form of non-monogamy became popular after the free love movement of the 1900s, particularly between 1915 and 1925 in New York.
The most commonly cited origin of the modern swingers’ movement is found in World War II. US Air Force pilots in the 1940s were an elite group who shared close personal bonds. The chance of death following each mission over enemy territory led to high levels of intimacy between those who understood the risks and their need to blow off steam. They held parties in which they traded partners by placing their keys in a bowl for another pilot to pick at random.
The unique culture around not just servicemen, but their partners in the closed community of an army or airforce base – especially overseas where they are less likely to special social time outside of the base – continued, and anecdotally non-monogamy remains popular in the armed forces today.
In the 1950s, these parties spread from the base to the suburbs and became more common in wider society and across the States, and during the 1960s, interest in the movement reached its peak with couples swapping details through the personal ads in specialized magazines, or meeting in clubs and bars that had a reputation for being friendly to swingers. Research published in 1971 found that most swingers were professionals, with 42 % of men surveyed working as salesmen.
The term ‘swinging’ was coined in the 1970s and replaced the term ‘wife-swapping’. Swinging dropped from view in the following decades, but other forms of non-monogamy, like polyamory and open marriages, began to be explored.
Despite social mores changing over the decades, sharing sexual partners is still largely taboo and as a result, there have been few studies that address what percentage of the world practices swinging. This is largely due to the controversy around the subject, and most swingers are discreet about their lifestyle and keep it confined to the bedroom.
The most recent count of self-identified swingers in America, carried out by the Kinsey Institute, revealed that around 4 % (4 million) of the population put themselves in this category. If this percentage hasn’t changed, this would mean that the number of swingers today would be around 15 million. However, some studies suggest that the percentage might be even higher and a 2016 survey revealed that as many as one in five Americans admitted to having practiced some form of non-monogamy in their lifetimes.
Other figures include the statistics from the AdultFriendFinder website, which is the oldest and largest swingers’ dating site, which has over 27+ million members.
The demographics of swinging and non-monogamy are believed to have changed significantly in some areas too. Whereas the traditional image of swingers is of an older, wealthy heterosexual couple, today non-monogamous people are significantly younger and significantly more diverse. A 2018 comparison of monogamous and non-monogamous people revealed that only 36.4 % of the non-monogamous sample identified as heterosexual and a 2016 Canadian study of polyamorous respondents found that 75 % were aged between 25 and 44. What hasn’t changed, however, is that swingers are still well educated, as 62.5 % had a bachelors degree, 15.3% were students, and 17.4% worked in IT.
Finally, the most important thing is that the popularity of swinging and non-monogamy has by no means peaked. The community’s potential for growth is surprisingly big.
A 2016 poll found that 31 % of women and 38 % of men thought that their ideal relationship would be a form of non-monogamy, which is a large population of ‘swing curious’ people for you to meet. This number can be expected to grow as established trends show traditional attitudes to relationships relaxing over time in everything from same-sex marriage to divorce to cohabitation of unmarried couples.
A breakdown of attitudes by age in the UK shows that 53 % of 18-30-year-olds find non-monogamy morally acceptable, compared to only 21 % of the over 60s.
A further glimpse at the possible popularity of swinging can be seen in recent surveys of sexual attitudes and relationships. For example, in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, a paper titled “Heterosexual Young Adults’ Interest, Attitudes, and Experiences Related to Mixed-Gender, Multi-Person Sex” found that 82 % of men and 31 % of women were interested in trying a threesome, though only 24 % had actually tried it. Furthermore, OKCupid studied their members in a 2016 survey, which revealed 24% of their users were ‘seriously interested’ in an open relationship, and a further 42% would consider dating someone already in an open relationship
Though it can be hard to know for sure how popular swinging is at the moment, we do know that the future is a bright one for swingers, and the community just keeps on growing.