I’m bringin’ sexy back–Justin Timberlake, “Sexy Back”
Them other boys don’t know how to act
I think it’s special, what’s behind your back
So turn around and I’ll pick up the slack
Hey, my Kinky, Polyam Peeps! I’m writing this article from sunny Florida as Panda and I are on vacation with her family. It’s funny how her mother has a timeshare membership that will let us stay virtually ANYWHERE in the county, and yet, for some reason, we keep coming back to The Hellmouth (If you live in Florida, I apologize… that you have to live in Florida).
So, I was at my local swing club last month, and while I’m there semi-often (about once every other month), it got me thinking about all the unique quirks, rules, and customs these types of places have. While I consider myself a “regular”. there’s often people that are their for their first time, or maybe their second of third, so there’s always discussion about education, policies, and the laundry lists of do’s and dont’s. Since my last polyam article was on rules for your first Polyam Meet & Greet, and this blog is TECHNICALLY about all sorts of non-monogamy, not just polyamory, it made sense to discuss how to handle your first trip to a swing club. More than that, because we don’t talk about swinging much here, I thought this could act as a good “primer”, so we’ll discuss the history of swinging, it’s culture and rules, and finally what you need to know before you head out the door for your first adventure!
As usual, before we get started, it’s time for the resource dump…
For this blog piece, I pulled information from this 2010 piece from Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, this 2016 piece from Open Love 101, this blog entry from Fantasy App, this 2022 piece from O.School, this 2016 article from Vice.com, this 2020 survey from Swingers Help, this 2023 article from Bed Bible, and finally, the Wikipedia page on Swinging.
While anyone who’s ever read The Bible knows that nonmonogamy has been around for thousands, if not tens of thousands or years. The concept of “Swinging” or “Wife Swapping” if we want to go by the patriarchal, cisheteronormative term, at least here in the States, has a much shorter history. According to Terry Gould’s 1999 book “The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers”, the practice first gained popularity in the early 1950’s on U.S. military bases during the Korean War. Rumor has it, as fighter pilots were being sent off to war with the very real possibility that they wouldn’t return, they would make a pact with each other to “take care of each other’s wives” in the event of the unspeakable. As a way to cement this arrangement, the would engage in swinging as a way to accustom all four people to what may eventually come to pass in the future. After the war ended, military families left the bases, moved to the suburbs, and over the next fifteen to twenty years, the “Swinging Sixties” and era of “Free Love” helped to propagate the concept.
In terms of demographics, swingers are overwhelmingly white, married, and cisgender. The largest age cohort, representing about 40% of the community are individuals in their 40’s with individuals in their 30’s and 50’s representing another 20% each. While the Swinger’s Help survey showed 2/3 of community members are men, this is believed to be the result of a “gatekeeping” effect where men will be more active in the community and on online sites, and their partners only enter the equation once a suitable couple to swap with has been identified. Straight and bisexual individuals make up 90% of the community with women being three times more likely to be bisexual than men.
Swinging is often seen as the “gateway drug” to nonmonogamy with nearly 80% of swingers never having any nonmonogamy experience before their first “swap” and discussing the proposal with their partner for nearly a year before taking the first steps. Swinging is also seen as a very “rule heavy” activity with couples setting specific agreements before their first engagement. Rules can range from practical, such as requiring the use of protection with play partners or not playing on a first date, to more couple specific, such as no kissing or no one-on-one communication with other play partners. While nothing is written in stone, it’s these complex sets of rules that separate swinging from other types of nonmonogamy and that one must have a general understanding of in order to have a successful first trip to a swing club.
The journey to the club starts before you even step out the door of your home. NEVER show up to a swing club without reservations because they won’t let you in the door. While I can’t speak for every swing club in the country, every one I’ve ever been to or even heard of require reservations. Some of the higher-end clubs in the larger cities may also require some form of vetting, which could include a recommendation from a current member. Regardless, make sure to call the club or check out their website at least a few days in advance of your visit to reserve your spot. Don’t wait until same day because clubs may have capacity limitations and you might miss your chance.
When you first contact the club, it’s not uncommon for them to have some sort of “Member profile” that they’ll need you to complete. It will contain the standard demographic information (name, address, gender), it may ask for birthdate, and will probably ask for you to agree to a list of club rules. When you first arrive at the club, it’s standard practice to make a photo copy of your driver’s license or other form of identification, typically for security purposes. Given the nature of what happens at these clubs, if there were to be some sort of harassment, or God forbid an assault, management will need to quickly identify the perpetrators and assist law enforcement should the victim request it.
Clubs will typically charge two fees to members: A membership fee and a door fee. Membership fees are paid once per year and, obviously, make you a member of the club. They provide you with a membership number (used for future bookings) as well as typically some sort of identification, usually a card with your membership number on it. Door fees are good for that night only. They are the price you pay each time that you want to attend the club, and hence are typically much lower than the annual membership fee. This means that for your first trip, you’ll need to essentially pay twice, once for the membership, once for the door, so budget accordingly.
When making reservations, one thing that might immediately jump out to newcomers is the gendered pricing that many of these clubs utilize. When making reservations, you’ll be asked to sign up as either a couple, single male, or single female (my apologies for the cisgendered language, there’s going to be A LOT of it in this post). Typically, single men will be charged the same rate as couples, and single women will be offered a deep discount, if they are charged a door fee at all. While this process comes off as discriminatory, there’s a logical business reason behind it.
It’s no secret that cis men are far more open to anonymous sex than cis women. We’ve spoken about this concept before. Even if we just consider basic biology, there’s a different cost/benefit analysis between the sexes that make cis women more cautious when it comes to sexual intercourse. In addition to this, 80% of the men who attend these clubs are heterosexual and 60% of women are bisexual. I like to say that, as a cishetero man, you’re not just “competing” against other men, but other women as well. Add it all up and, in order for the system to work, there needs to be a disproportionate number of women who attend these clubs as compared to their male counterparts.
The easiest way that clubs can ensure that there is at least one woman for every man who walks through the door is gendered pricing. For instance, my local swing club charges a door fee of $50 per night for couples, $50 for single men, and $10 for single women. While Penguin and I have a couple’s membership, at $10 per night, it’s not uncommon for her to go out to the club by herself (having a couples membership but going as a single person is a bit of a quirk when it comes to swing clubs, and I’ll elaborate on that later). If she can go for $10 per night, the marginal cost for me is an additional $40 ($50 for couples minus $10 for her as a single woman), so as one can see, it becomes pretty expensive pretty quickly for me to join her every Friday night. Some clubs may even put a cap on the number of single men who can RSVP on any given night. By making it cost-prohibitive for men to go, it prevents the club from turning into a “sausage party”.
Because of this heavy bias towards cisgenderism and heterosexuality among men, it also explains why most clubs are not hostile to the transgender community, but not exactly welcoming either. One thing I have always found fascinating is the interaction between the swinger and kink communities. Because of the high overlap between kinky people and monogamous people, swing clubs, like my local one, may hold an occasional “kink night”, where they invite their kinky brethren to partake in many of the same activities they would experience at the dungeon. Because BDSM is more about power exchange and less about the physical sex act, gender and sexuality become less of a determining factor in who you play with, and hence things like gendered pricing and the lack of gender-neutral restrooms can sometimes “throw kinky people for a loop” when they patronize these venues.
Finally, when signing up for a membership, from my experience, it is more common than not that the membership you sign up for is tied to the specific people on the membership. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s say that Panda and I have a couple’s membership to a specific club, but that night I want to attend with Penguin. Because my couple’s membership is with Panda and not Penguin, the membership may not be “transferrable” meaning the club would charge myself and Penguin the single man and single woman rates respectively, if not make us sign up for whole new memberships to get in the door. This policy just goes to reinforce how, while swinging is considered part of the nonmonogamy umbrella, it still focuses quite heavily on the concept of a largely monogamous couple. If you are looking to bring someone other than your “primary” or your spouse to the club, make sure to the check with the rules before attending.
So now that you’ve made your reservation and the big night has arrived, what should you wear? It goes without saying (at least I hope it does) that you shouldn’t show up to the front door in your sexiest lingerie. These clubs are commercial businesses and are often located near other commercial businesses with their own patrons. Consent is a key part of “the lifestyle” and strangers didn’t consent to see you half naked. By all means, feel free to bring those clothes as the club should have lockers and a changing area. At the same time, you should be dressing to impress. The club will probably have a rule against sneakers, jeans, tank-tops, and other “streetwear”. My experience has been that your best bet when entering the club is to go for business casual. For masc-presenting people, this means slacks, either a dress shirt or a polo and nice shoes, and for femme-presenting people, a dress or maybe a blouse and a skirt. Once you arrive at the club, if it’s your first time, you’ll often be given a tour by a “host couple”. These are tenured members of the community who have been instructed to act as a trusted resource, much like Dungeon Monitors in BDSM dungeons. The club will probably have a strict policy limiting cell phone use to certain areas, if they allow them through the front-door at all, so a best practice I have found is to just leave your phone in the car. If there’s an emergency, you can always run out later and get it, and honestly, you’re not there to play Candy Crush.
In order to avoid the need for a liquor license, it’s not uncommon for these clubs to be B.Y.O.B. As part of your tour, your host couple will show you to the bar, where you can drop off any beer, wine, or spirits you may have brought. The bar will typically stock itself with both soda and mixers. Usually these are free of charge (covered by the door fee), however, as is customary with any hospitality establishment, tipping is appreciated.
In addition to the bar, there will probably some sort of large congregation area, such as a dance floor with a DJ and probably some small tables and chairs as well as lounge furniture. Since these clubs are open from the early evening until the early hours of the morning, they may have a dinning area with complimentary food that can range anywhere from pre-packaged snacks to fully cooked meals. As you move past the food and drink, there might be other common areas for lounging usually with televisions or video screens showing porn, and finally you will come to the play rooms.
Depending on the club you’re attending, the play rooms can look like anything like an ordinary bedroom to a fantasy suite. There’s obviously a bed and may contain an end table or two with lighting. Some clubs may have “theme rooms”, such as “The Jungle Room”, “The Princess Room”, or “The Dungeon”, where the room is decorated in a manner to convey a specific type of atmosphere. There will be some sort of system, explained by the host couple, to dictate to the staff that the room has been used and is ready for cleaning. Often it could be turning a specific light on or flipping the corner of a bed sheet. If you come across a room that has not been cleaned, don’t use it. If it remains uncleaned for sometime, don’t be afraid to notify the staff. There may also be an “orgy room” with an extra large bed for group sex.
Now that we know the lay of the land, how do we go about engaging with other swingers once we’re there? I mentioned earlier that swinging is very “rules heavy”, which is interesting because each couple tends to have customized rules that could possibly conflict with your own rules (more on that later). The one rule that every swinger seems to be able to agree on is that consent is key. “No” means “No”, and if it isn’t a “Hell, yes”, than it’s a “Hell, no”.
A word of caution on the atmosphere around consent. While swingers preach consent, and I personally believe they see it as critical, the cishetero environment in which swinging culture lives has provided me with the personal experience that they do not take it quite to the extent of other parts of the nonmonogamous community. Do they recognize that “No” means “No”? Absolutely. At the same time, I have witnessed more instances of implicit consent being utilized instead of explicit consent. A swinger won’t force you to kiss them, however, they may lean in and try to kiss you without asking permission first. While this behavior is certainly problematic, I view it arising more out of a lack of education than malice, so be aware and forewarned and do your part to reiterate the importance of Enthusiastic Positive Consent.
Along the lines of consent, another area in which swing culture deviates from polyam and kink culture is the use of alcohol at their events. There’s nothing wrong with having a drink and enjoying yourself. At the same time, alcohol is a depressant and limits inhibitions. We tend to do things after drinking that we normally would not do. When we mix alcohol and sex, there is the potential for lines to be crossed. This is why most kink events are dry. You don’t want to be mixing drugs, even alcohol, with whips and chains. If you are going to drink, please do so responsibly and know when to cut yourself off before you do something you will regret later.
I mentioned above that while swingers are very into rules, the rules can vary from couple to couple. This, unsurprisingly, can lead to some frustration. Let’s say you or you and your partner see someone from across the bar and want to engage in conversation and possibly play. How do you approach them? What do you say? I know it sounds silly, but this is a dance that must be carefully executed because sometimes even a small misstep may diminish or even ruin your chances.
It’s interesting who you speak to or which article you read, because there are some things that I believe swinger culture will just never agree on. Call it their “Does Pineapple Go On Pizza” arguments. One of these is who should approach who to discuss play. I heard strong opinions on both sides that the men or the women should approach each other first. What both sides can agree on is that a major faux pas is that the man of one pair should approach the woman of the other. In fact, according to the Swinger’s Help survey, one of the more common rules (with nearly 40% of couples holding it) is that there should be no one-on-one communication with other couples and a man approaching a woman can be seen as just that. So how do we resolve this conundrum? In my experience, I’ve found the best way to do this is to approach the couple AS A COUPLE. It reinforces the idea that you’re in this as a team and it removes the “threat” that one member of the pair might be moving in on a member of the other pair.
For single men and single women, this obviously isn’t an option, as you’re there by yourself. For single women, it also usually isn’t a concern, since a couple will find you. Typically the woman half will approach you as, again, it’s seen as less threatening. For single men, if you want to play with a couple or the woman half of a couple, it’s best to approach the man first. Note that unless the man has a cuckolding or exhibition fetish, the couple won’t let you play with the woman alone, so you better be comfortable with the MFM threesome.
While cishetero couples (and especially single women) will have less of an issue with this, it’s important to keep in mind that disappointment will probably a key part of the evening. You will most likely meet a lot of nice and interesting people. That doesn’t necessarily mean they want to fuck you. If they say no to play time, thank them for the conversation, and feel free to move on. Don’t get angry or entitled. Your membership and door fee are for exactly that: Membership and entrance into the club. They are not a guarantee for play. Likewise, if someone propositions you and you don’t feel comfortable engaging in play, feel free to say “No”. The first time Penguin and I went to a swing club together, she was approached by a couple for play and didn’t know what to say. She ran over to me, unsure ofwhat do to do. I told her “If you’re not interested, politely say so”. She did, and the couple moved on. It’s really that simple. If for some reason, another individual chooses not to make it that simple, alert security at the club. They will deal with the problem immediately.
If you’ve found someone and agreed to play, the next step should be to discuss additional boundaries and rules. It’s very important to be specific during this conversation. Much like negotiations for a BDSM scene, this is where you lay out what you want, what you’re comfortable with, and what you won’t tolerate. Some couples may have rules that seem foreign or “silly” to you, (the “no kissing” rule always gets me) and try not to judge. These are what they have established to maintain their level of comfort. At the same time, if a rule seems like it might be problematic or raise a red flag, trust your instincts. Early in our ENM journey, Panda and I were in conversation with a couple who did full swap (penetrative sex) but only in different rooms (which is not uncommon). When I inquired to the other gentleman why this was his preference, his response was “If I see my wife with another man, I know I’m just going to punch him in the face”. Needless to say, that was the last conversation we had with those two individuals.
Negotiations can be as short or as extensive as you need them to be however, as ambiguity is where consent violations live, it’s better to ask about things than not to ask about them. Some common points that should be discussed is “Will this be soft swap (just oral), or full swap (penetrative sex)?”, “Will kissing be allowed?”, “Should protection be used (in my opinion, if the answer is “No”, this is a HUGE red flag)?” and “Will this be same room of separate room?” Again, consent is key and if you and the other couple can’t come to an agreement, there’s no shame in saying “No thank you” and walking away.
After the deed is done, you’ve redressed, and left the room to be cleaned, there’s always this brief moment of awkwardness of “What do we do next?” There’s no right answer other than feeling the situation out with the other couple. Many people have met long-term friends in the lifestyle and will play with them on a regular basis. In fact, one thing tenured members will often do is “Bring a friend to the club”, meaning treating the club as a date night, knowing you will be meeting a specific couple there for sex. This takes away the pressure of having to meet new people. You can socialize, and you know there will be at least two other people there that you can spend time with if you need company. If you do meet a couple and play with them for the first time at the club, it may very well develop into a long-term friendship and multiple future play dates. It could be that the other couple just wishes to have the event be a one-time thing and be on their way. If you are interested in engaging with them again, it’s perfectly okay to ask them to share a drink with you, or even swap phone numbers. If they decline, be polite about it, know it may not be personal, and move on with the rest of your night.
If I had to sum up this post in two phrases, it would be “Use common sense” and “Don’t be a douchebag”. However, forty-two years on this planet has taught me that common sense isn’t that common. When my local swing clubs has to specifically call out “Please don’t sit in the corner of the dance floor and jack off because that’s creepy behavior” in their rules, you know there’s always going to be that one person who tires to ruin it for everybody (I firmly believe every rule was written because someone, at some point, thought it was a good idea, which means someone, at some point in my club’s history ACTUALLY sat in the corner of the dance floor and jacked off, hence the rule…).
I don’t want you to think that a swing club is an inherently dangerous place. I do want you to recognize that a lot of personal, private stuff does go on there, so as long as you are courteous, respectful, and above all, recognize the importance of consent, there’s no reason your visit should be anything short of entertaining.
Until next time, stay kinky, my friends…
–The Bratty Cat