There is no doubt that swinging, also known as recreational sex, the "scene" and "lifestyle" can be a lot of fun. It can be exciting, it undoubtedly widens your sexual experience, it can open your eyes to a whole new world, it can add a lot to your existing relationship, it can allow you to have lots of sex.......but it can also be very damaging and even destructive, if you are not careful. So here is my guide for couples who are thinking about swinging.

What are my qualifications for writing this piece? Well, I have been involved with the swinging world for about four years, I also have some good friends who have been involved for something like 25 years, and I have talked to several people about their experience and perception of swinging. It does not make me an instant expert, but it certainly makes me a lot more qualified than a journo on a red top newspaper!

First of all, swinging is not going to repair a relationship that is already damaged. If you have problems with your relationship, you need to sort them out first before you so much as put one toe into the water. I know of one couple for whom swinging was a major reason for their splitting up - not swinging in itself, but because they had gone into it with very different agenda. Yet I know another couple, now in their 60's, who decided to start swinging after 25 years of marriage, simply to broaden out their sex life by including other people in it....and they are happily married still, and still swinging. The difference was that they were both clear about their motivations before they began, and they had crystal clear ground rules as well.

Anyone contemplating going swinging should be doing so from a position of strength within their existing relationship. And the very first thing you do is talk about it with your partner. If he or she expresses horror and revulsion at the very idea, I suggest that you don't pursue it further. One rule that most of the sensible swingers I know always observe is that both parties must be in total agreement about what they are going to do. If you go swinging as a couple, you play together or you don't play at all.

Assuming that both of you are happy with the idea of swinging, what do you do next? You talk. You talk about what your limits are, what your expectations are and what you will and will not do. Do you want to soft-swing only? Do you want same room fun or to separate room play? Do you want to save full intercourse for your partner, or are you happy to swap partners completely? Do you intend to have group sex or play as couples, in the same room or apart? Do you want sexual involvement with a member of the same sex, or are you strictly straight? These are just a few of the issues you need to sort out before you start.

Most people start out with soft swing. This can range from simply playing with your own partner in the same room as one or more couples. Playing can be anything from heavy petting to oral sex to intercourse. There may be some limited interaction with other people - touching, stroking - or there may not. There may be oral sex between different people, or there may not. It may indeed be that matters progress from there quite naturally, if all parties are comfortable with it. However, if anyone is unhappy, then no pressure should be put upon them to go any further. The key to successful swinging is that everyone is fully signed up to what is happening. You may be quite excited at the thought of having sex with a new person, but you should also think how your partner will feel about it.....and about how you will feel when you see your partner engaged sexually with someone else (or more than one person). If you really cannot hack this, then you need to draw back a bit, maybe re-negotiate your boundaries.

How do you meet new people with whom to start swinging? There are contact magazines, and of course the internet has dozens, if not hundreds, of contact sites. You can post an advert and contact other people free of charge on some, on others you may have to pay. It's worth scouting around a few first. There are also clubs all over the country where you can go to meet like minded people.

It's always best to swap a few emails or even letters, followed perhaps by a phone call or two before you meet. Some people insist that the women speak to each other on the phone first - this is often to establish that the couple concerned is a genuine couple, and not a hopeful single bloke looking for a threesome! Many people like a purely social meeting first, probably in a local pub, where they can chat, see what each other looks like, see what everyone wants to do, agree the ground rules and so on. Sometimes people then go back to someone's house, or even a hotel to continue the evening in a more intimate fashion; but quite a number prefer to go away and think about it. It may be that one or both parties will back off at this stage, and if that happens, you just have to shrug it off. It may seem a bit insulting - or you may be relieved - but usually no offence is meant, and people accept that for whatever reason, it wasn't quite what the other party was looking for. If you have any doubts at all, or if your partner seems at all unhappy, then you should turn the other people down, politely and nicely of course. It's an absolute no-no for one person to secretly approach the others afterwards, because remember, you should be doing this as a couple, openly, and together, and not behind each other's backs. (When this happened to me, and the male half of a couple we met approached us for a threesome, our response was a firm "no".) It's generally accepted that the woman has the final say when it comes to swinging encounters, so please respect that.

Swingers' clubs abound, and they can provide a good introduction to the world of swinging. They vary a lot, and it's not my intention to go into them here. It can be a bit of a shock to walk into a room full of people having sex, but I can promise you that once the initial shock subsides, it all becomes amazingly normal! More of that later......

It does not matter how nice other people seem, safe sex should be an absolute given, especially if you go for the full swap. Pregnancy is not the only thing to avoid, there is a whole raft of sexually transmitted diseases out there, and you don't want to have to take a trip to the local clap clinic, do you? Anyone who advertises "bareback sex"should be avoided like, well, the plague.

In the 1970's, swinging was known as "wife swapping" and seemed to be a fad of the suburbs. I've no idea how widespread it was, but most people have heard of the knickers in the tumbledryer or car keys in the fruit bowl game at parties, the latter being used in a car advert in recent years. Swingers vary widely, in age, size, looks.....and most of them are perfectly normal people who have normal day jobs, homes, families and so on. They come from all walks of life, and you probably pass a few in the street every day.

Swinging as a single person is possible, of course, but it's a whole different ball game. So to speak.

Always keep in mind that the preservation of your primary relationship should be the main aim. Swinging should be an exciting add-on to your sex life, not a substitute for something you think is missing. It should be something that brings pleasure to both partners. After each encounter, you should discuss it - how do you both feel about it? Were you happy, do you want to go further next time, do you want to change anything? It may seem terribly earnest to say that you must keep on talking about what you are doing, but it really is the key to success.

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