Sunday 22 October 2017

Everything you ever wanted to know about swinging but were afraid to ask...

Catherine Murphy

'You could say it's cheating, but it's cheating while your partner is in the same room having sex with someone else. So it's cheating together. It's a freedom we give each other and that's very liberating".

So says the thirtysomething female swinger.

"Watching your girlfriend having sex with someone else gives you an adrenaline rush, it's very erotic. This might sound odd, but it's like having a really great car and watching yourself in the mirror as you drive down the street," so says the swinger's boyfriend.

"It's not about showing off what you have, it's about getting a different perspective on what you have. Swinging gives you a different perspective of your partner, of sex. The sex we have together after a party is great."

The couple met in New York, have been dating for a year and are currently exploring Ireland's swinging scene.

He's a successful 37-year-old businessman with a penthouse apartment in south Dublin and a robust social life.

She's a good-looking, high-end auctioneer who is so interested in swinging that she's taken 'threesome negotiation' classes in New York.

They talk about high sex drives in the same way that the rest of us talk about high calorie counts, and they consider themselves to be sexually liberated.

Not liberated enough to use their real names in an article, but they say that's down to the stigma that still exists around swinging Ireland, not their own conservatism.

Swinging -- where couples and singles play with or have sex with other people at private parties -- is a burgeoning scene in all corners of the country.

It's still a highly secretive scene, but it's also now considered by many to be a simple fact of Irish life, a relatively cheap hobby for recessionary times and a common lifestyle choice.

While dinner parties that develop into sex parties are still a major feature, the 1970s suburban custom of throwing your keys into a bowl and pairing off with whoever's keys you pick -- whether you fancy them or not -- isn't.

In particular, women treat swinging parties as they do a day at the races; a special occasion to dress up in their finest or most outrageous heels and lingerie.

These days, aficionados develop networks of swinging friends by going into chatrooms on websites and introducing themselves to other couples or single men and women.

Once they've posted photos of themselves (which ideally should show their faces) and have been 'verified' as serious about swinging, they start attending 'meet and greets' -- social preambles that are often held in mainstream hotels in Dublin and are attended by hundreds of people, sometimes in aid of charity.

Next, they're invited to a small party where other swingers will suss them out. As newbies, they won't be obliged to join in sex games but are welcome to just wander around and watch.

Parties are held in hotel suites, suburban houses, manor houses, isolated farmhouses, loft apartments or on boats.

'Destination parties', which are often held in warehouses in industrial estates on the outskirts of towns, are also a growing trend, with a new dedicated swinging club, The Venue, recently opened in Blanchardstown in Dublin and another two clubs reportedly due to open in the coming months.

For single men, it's almost impossible to get an invite to a swinger's party without a female companion.

Single women are always welcome, as are couples.

Many of the women who attend parties will either be bisexual or bi-curious, but straight couples, bisexual couples and couples that are a mixture of straight and bi are among the norm.

Spanking parties are becoming popular and more women are getting into having male slaves, whom they parade at fetish/swinger parties.

"My first ever swinging experience was pretty horrendous," says businessman Ian (not his real name). "We went to a sweaty club in Manhattan that was full of overweight men and women -- you know, the mafia-moll types; all bad skin and too much make-up.

"Ourselves and another couple were jumped on from all sides. We ran out of the place and said to each other afterwards, 'Did that really just happen?'"

Ian later discovered there were other clubs with stricter entry.

"But then we found the more exclusive clubs, membership-only clubs like Taste Experience, where you're vetted before you can join and pay a couple of hundred dollars to attend each party.

"The parties are generally quite spectacular, with Cirque-du-Soleil type performers and lots of very good looking couples. They're also very secretive -- you won't find any information about them online; it's about knowing and talking to the right people."

Ian has found differences between the Irish and US swinging scenes.

"In Ireland, unfortunately, a large part of the scene consists of jaded couples who've been together for a long time and want to spice up their sex lives.

"We try to avoid those couples because it's obvious that they're sick of each other and want to do a straight swap -- to have sex with anyone other than their partner, they don't actually want to swing.

"We're a young couple that wants to have fun with other sexually liberated couples. For us, it's not about desperation," he explains.

And then there are the drawbacks of the scene generally.

"There is also a seedy sub-culture to swinging that we're very conscious of," Ian says.

"Older guys hire prostitutes to bring to parties. If we see that going on, we don't play -- that's not a good scene in our view.

"We might go to a party and not fancy anyone or we might go to a party and have sex with five or six different people," he adds.

Twentysomethings also represent a growing presence at swinging parties.

"They may be sexually inexperienced and literally go to the parties to get educated or they may just be very confident sexually, far more than we were at that age," says Ian.

"Swinging will become much more mainstream for their generation -- social networking is their thing and they're the first generation of Irish people not to have the Catholic sexual hang-ups that we did."

For the same reason, Ian and his girlfriend tend to hang out with swingers from Northern Ireland.

"They're better looking and they have fewer hang-ups," he says bluntly.

Getting into swinging in Ireland takes time, he says. "You've got to be patient because there are a lot of messers online or people who think they want to try swinging but don't ultimately have the nerve.

"For the first while, no one would even talk to us online because they didn't know us, so there was a catch 22. Then we started going to meet- and-greets and getting to know people.

"The scene is quite cliquey; people form their own groups of swinging friends that they don't move outside of," he continues.

"All the usual suspects are there -- the solicitors, barristers, high-court judges, media types, entertainment types, the middle and upper-middle classes.

"There's a very secretive, higher level of swinging that we haven't accessed yet: the hardcore who don't bother with meet-and-greets; the ones who host very exclusive mansion parties," Ian adds.

The next time you're out, Ian reckons you might even be able to spot a swinging couple.

"If you go to a wine bar or restaurant in town and see two couples having what seems to be like an awkward first date, then the likelihood is that they're swinging couples meeting for the first time to test the water, to see if there's any chemistry between them," he explains.

Ian calls swinging a "social set with benefits".

"You go to these dinner parties in quite luxurious homes where the guests are well-educated and worldly wise.

"The level of conversation will generally be very high. Everyone has a few drinks and after dinner, the clothes come off and it turns into a full-blown orgy.

"We went to one party in a farmhouse in the midlands, a group of us banged each other senseless that night, then went out and helped to milk the cows the next morning," Ian says.

So how did his interest in swinging come about?

"I'm not the possessive type," Ian says. "And I wanted to try swinging for years. I don't mean to sound trite, but I don't believe one person can own another person.

"I went to a university in England that was just a shag fest from start to finish. Those aristocratic, toffee-nosed types are very sexually liberal. That's probably where my interest in swinging first began."

As a rule, he says, his swinging friends and his real friends don't mix.

"A basic rule is that your legacy friends (old friends) don't meet your swinging friends. We did introduce a swinging couple to our friends once and it was awful. My male friends were all over the woman who was into swinging and the wives were seriously unimpressed," he says.

For most people, the idea of having sex with someone other than your partner while he or she is doing the same thing in the same room or in a room nearby is a step too far.

For many women, swingers' parties conjure up the idea of having to have sex with someone you don't fancy -- ie, the bald fat man in the corner.

Then there are all the status anxieties: am I good-looking enough, am I too fat to strip off in front of a party full of strangers, am I good enough in bed, can I keep an erection long enough to have sex with more than one woman?

Is it safe -- will I have to have full-blown sex with someone if I don't really fancy it?

Do I trust my partner not to leave me for someone he or she has sex with at a party, can I really be sure that I won't get jealous of my partner playing with someone else? And so on...

"You do have to dig deep for confidence to go to a swinger's party," says Ian. "Everyone is nervous at the beginning and has a few drinks, but not too much because you're there to have sex and too much drink and sex don't really go together.

"There is the whole issue of performance anxiety, but you just have to learn to be really zen about that.

"I'm straight but in the heat of the moment, I will play with a man, I just think, 'to hell with it, it's about new experiences and living'," he adds.

Swinging couples turn the issue of trust in relationships on its head. "The rule is," says Ian, "that we always play together. We don't contact people we've had sex with separately, we don't go to parties separately.

"I can live with that rule -- for me it's a no-brainer. We do it together as a couple and, as such, there's a lot of trust involved.

"Not that our relationship needs to be re-affirmed, but that's the effect -- after a party we spend hours talking about what we got up to the previous night. It's great fun," he says.

Interestingly, both Ian and his girlfriend Maria agree that swinging is driven in part by its female participants.

"Most men will basically shag anything," says Ian, "so it's up to the women to set the ground rules. If a woman doesn't really want to swing, you're in for a pretty horrible experience."

Maria, who's American, took 'threesome negotiation' classes in New York, which taught her that in threesomes or foursomes, women are the ones who do the negotiating and set the rules of play.

"The classes teach you how to negotiate, how to please more than one lover at a time, how to get rid of fears or anxieties," she explains.

"A couple can't go swinging if the woman isn't into it so, for that reason, women usually negotiate the terms."

Maria began swinging before she and Ian started dating. "The first few clubs I went to, I went as a single woman," she says. "But I went online first and chatted to women to see who would go with me," she says.

"A buddy system is very important. Going to a swingers' party alone as a woman is risky because you don't know what's going to happen at the end of the night -- you're opening yourself to new and sometimes weird experiences and you want to know there's someone watching your back.

"The first party I ever went to, this guy kind of followed us around. he was respectful but kind of creepy," Maria adds.

So what are the rules?

"The rules in swinging are clear," Maria says. "It's the ladies' choice and no means no. Don't be offended if someone doesn't want to have sex with you at a party -- move on.

"You do have to be self-assured to swing," she adds. "I'm very slender, but the first few times, I stood there holding my tummy in. You do learn to chill out about taking your clothes off as time goes by."

For Maria, there are rarely awkward moments when it comes to turning down a potential swinging partner.

"The idea of having sex with someone you fancy doesn't arise. I'll sometimes go to a party and not fancy anyone, so I either don't have sex with anyone or just play a little with someone to take part and make it nice for everyone else -- it's not the worst thing in the world," she says.

"You can say no. I'm bisexual, but some women who swing are straight or bi-curious, so they'll kiss other women but nothing more.

"Everything goes -- you can say no if you're not comfortable or move on to the next level if you are," she adds.

If you're new to swinging, Maria has words of reassurance.

"You don't walk into a party and get jumped on straight away," she says, "although that has been known to happen.

"If you walk in and people are sprawled out on a bed, it's your choice as to whether you want to be turned over and sprawled out on the bed with them."

Maria explains how swinging has added to her relationship with Ian.

"Ian and I both find swinging very liberating. It's a chance to try things that you might not otherwise; you feel dirty and sexy at the same time.

"But I have seen incidents at parties here where men have got aggressive with each other or someone has become jealous of what their partner is up to.

"That's the one thing you don't want to happen."

Basic rules help to make swinging comfortable for both her and Ian, Maria says.

"One of our biggest rules is that we play in the same room. So I'm not standing there while Ian disappears off into another room with another woman.

"In some cases, parties will have a main bedroom and a number of other bedrooms, or just one big room with beds and couches."

Trust and openness are other important elements, she explains.

"Swinging does involve a lot of trust and open communication. Although we're playing in the same room, I can't hear the conversation between Ian and other women, I have to trust him," says Maria.

"We have joint access to our swinging accounts and I can pick up his mobile phone any time and look at it -- we don't hide anything from each other.

"There was one occasion where we were at a meet-and-greet. I was chatting to a girl, I turned around and Ian was kissing a woman," she continues.

"I thought, 'Dude, what are you doing?' More because you're not supposed to do that at meet-and- greets -- they're social occasions that you use to hook up with other couples."

On this occasion, Maria did start to have brief doubts about swinging.

"You're standing there thinking, 'I've given him the freedom to do all of this stuff, but have I given too much freedom?' I'm quite happy for him to go to a party and f**k her, but kissing at a meet-and-greet is not something you do," she explains.

"Apart from that, I think swinging is a long-term lifestyle choice for us. We know one couple that have gone off the scene because they're getting more serious in their relationship and want to have children.

"As I see it, that's what nannies and babysitters are for. Why should having children stop you swinging?" Maria adds.

On some websites there are forums dedicated to dogging, a sexual hobby that many swingers are curious about at one stage or another.

Dogging involves the art of having sex in your car or outdoors while other people watch you or join in.

Dogging fans say it takes its name from the phrase 'I'm just taking the dog for a walk, dear', but it's more likely to come from the act of doing it like dogs, in public.

It's another scene that's flourishing in this country, with dogging locations everywhere and anywhere you could possibly think of.

Think Phoenix Park, the old Airport road, Dollymount Strand sand dunes, Pigeon House, the Forty Foot, any supermarket forecourt in the country, Donabate, Brittas Bay, shopping centre toilets, the occasional graveyard, and so on.

Many meets take place at night, but some couples enjoy dogging in daylight, usually near beaches or in woods.

While some swingers consider dogging to be too commonplace and blue-collar to lower themselves to, it's happening regularly at a location near you -- you just don't see it.

Like swinging, dogging has its own rules and etiquette. One woman who has tried both dogging and swinging is 29-year-old actress and singer Dawn (not her real name).

Dawn looks like a sweet little thing; she has the cheeky voice of a 16-year-old and Marilyn Monroe curves.

"But I'm like a dog," she says. "Very curious and with a very high sex drive.

"I tried dogging a couple of times with an ex-boyfriend. I was just in a phase where I was very curious. We drove down to the Pigeon House and started getting kinky in the car.

"Basically, you turn your lights on in the car if you want to be watched. If you want someone to get into the car to watch, touch or join in, you flash your lights," she explains.

As animalistic as it sounds, Dawn says that there is a strict code.

"People watching are supposed to stand a certain distance away. If they get too close without permission, couples will start their car up and drive away."

Despite being used to being on stage for her job, Dawn discovered that this sort of performance wasn't for her.

"There is an exhibitionist element for the couple having sex, obviously, and a voyeuristic element for those watching. But it wasn't really for me," she says.

"Although I'm an actress, I wasn't altogether comfortable with guys standing outside our car masturbating while they watched us having sex.

"I actually felt sad for the men who watched us," she continues. "They always seemed to be older guys who don't have access to much sex, and they're standing there wondering if you'll let them in to get some that night. It was a bit pathetic."

As with swinging, there is a darker side to dogging. "It could be quite risky," says Dawn. "One night, there were five guys outside the car, knocking on the window saying, 'Can we come in?'"

"You wouldn't want to be easily intimidated. People set up dogging meets online but at the end of the day, how well can you vet someone who's standing outside your car door in a dark place? How do you know that if you let someone into your car, they're not going to pull a knife on you?

"Quite apart from the fact that having sex in a public place is illegal and you could be caught by the gardai. It wasn't for me but I'm glad I tried it, and got it out of my system," she adds.

Dawn has also been to a number of swinging parties.

"A male friend brought me after I had been through an illness, was depressed, had lost my confidence and wasn't having any sex," she says.

"I met some really nice people at swinging parties, a few guys who wanted to get into relationships with me, and I had sex with some really good-looking guys.

"On the other hand," she continues, "I also saw couples fighting at parties when jealousy became an issue. They would have to be asked to leave by the organisers."

As Dawn discovered, the swinging world is one that has few social boundaries.

"I've been to parties in very luxurious apartments and ordinary suburban homes," she says.

"I met nice people, but in the end I lost touch with them. I got tired of young couples emailing me looking for threesomes. It was something I wanted to try but not a lifestyle choice for me".

While swinging is something that many Irish couples talk about trying, it remains a fantasy for most -- and with good reason.

"It starts out as a great idea," says Tony, who's well known on Dublin's swinging and sex-club scene and used to organise parties himself.

"But in a lot of cases, one partner is more interested than the other, and it's usually the girl who's being dragged along by a boyfriend, who's maybe a bit older and wants to try it. To me, that's a kind of abuse."

With this in mind, Tony tries to help people at parties who give the impression they don't want to be there. "I help out at parties and often chat to couples as they arrive," he explains.

"If I get the sense that a woman doesn't really want to be there or isn't ready for it, I'll say to her, 'this is not the place for you, go home'.

"On the other hand, more single women are now swinging because they feel it's a more honest, simple way of having sex without the emotional abuse that they've received from men in the past.

"They go to a party, have great sex, then go home and forget about the people involved," he adds.

And it's not just curious young couples exploring the scene.

"Then you get the people who are getting a bit older and worried that they're losing their looks," Tony explains.

"They feel they need to spice up their sex life and think swinging is the way to do it. The thing is that if you're not totally comfortable with your sexuality, swinging is a minefield.

"Some people can go to a party, have sex with lots of different people and think nothing of it but not everyone can," he adds.

Far from being a thriving social event, Tony says that the lack of emotions involved can, ironically, make it harder for first-timers.

"There can be a coldness to the scene that doesn't sit well with everyone. If you're new to it, the rule is that you're not obliged to take part in gang bangs or one-on-one sex, but of course the men just want to get the women into bed as fast as they can, so there can sometimes be pressure.

"I see what's going on at parties and I'll say to the women, 'Go for that guy over there, he'll take his time with you and give you what you want'.

"So many Irish men, even men in their 40s, are clueless about making love to a woman -- they barely have the basic skills at a stage in their lives when their love-making skills should be finely honed," Tony says.

Sexual health can also be an issue, with contraception not always to the fore in participants' minds.

"Everyone talks about swinging being all about safe sex, but the reality is that after a few drinks and in the heat of the moment, people do silly things," Tony says.

"Some people on the scene are particularly known for not using protection at parties -- it would be wise to avoid them."

So what are the biggest risks for swingers in Ireland? For Tony, familiarity is a problem that can ultimately spell a recipe for disaster for a couple's relationship.

"On an emotional level, the biggest risk with swinging is that, as a couple, you have sex with the same person or couple more than once," he says.

"Ireland is a small country, people get to know each other on the scene and the more times you have sex with someone on that scene, the greater the likelihood of emotional attachment because not everyone can separate the notion of love and sex.

"There are rules with swinging but rules are made to be broken, and, eventually, one partner goes off with a swinging friend without telling their partner, jealousy comes into the picture and, before you know it, the relationship is broken up."

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