WTF is monogamous non-monogamy?

From Mormon MomTok to your friends down the street, swinging has become increasingly common — here's how you get it right.

by Beatrice Hazlehurst
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13 July 2022, 6:45am

Threesome (1994)

‘Swinging’ often brings a familiar image to mind. The 70s-style conversation pit, a bowl of keys, maybe chocolate fondue. As partners interchange and steadily peel off for playtime, there’s one confounded couple — suddenly aware they’re at no ordinary party. Now, the duo must make a choice: to remain monogamous, or decidedly mix things up.

The decision to open up is confronting for any couple. For some, it’s a matter of necessity, maybe a last-ditch effort to ‘cheat’ before being cheated on. For the more libidinous among us, it’s fundamental to maintaining a long-term relationship. For the Mormon moms on TikTok who “soft-swapped” spouses before divorcing, it might have been a matter of boredom, religious expression or simply belonging to an unusually hot friend group. Whichever the case, adventuring sexually outside your partnership (with or without consent) more often than not bodes poorly. But young people are manifesting a new kind of monogamy, where the couple who play together, stay together.

Jessica* and her boyfriend Max*, two Los Angeles-based creatives in their mid-twenties, are in one such partnership. They met in college, and over the span of eight years, moved in together and adopted two pets. Their sex life was never approached as a point of contention, but more so an education. The early stages of their “awe-inspiring” sexual relationship involved toys, handcuffs and acting out various fantasies. Soon, they would discuss threesomes, a point of interest for Jessica, who’s bisexual. Now, the pair’s sex is decidedly collegiate — they organise DIY sex parties with another monogamous couple.

“We had met them on an app and after going out for a drink, knew that we all vibed really well together,” Jessica recalls. “They had been together for over a decade and had a slew of experiences with threesomes, other couples and sex parties. It was amazing to have a more experienced couple to do this with for the first time.”

Connecting with experienced couples is a key entry point for those looking to explore monogamous non-monogamy says “sex hacker” Kenneth Play, international educator and best-selling author of Beyond Satisfied: A Sex Hacker’s Guide to Endless Orgasms, Mind-Blowing Connection, and Lasting Confidence. Kenneth founded Brooklyn’s first sex-positive intentional home, Hacienda, where curious couples and singles alike can enjoy group intimacy. Newer members, he says, will often seek out healthy couples who’ve practiced everything from non-monogamy to relationship anarchy, so they don’t feel isolated “in a world dominated by monogamous relationship structures”.

“I think swinging is a safer strategy for people who have higher needs for security because the base agreement is to not get romantic, so it's more likely to protect the primary relationship from harm,” Kenneth says.

Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, PhD, is a professor of human sexuality at NYU, and creator of Open Smarter: an online course aiding individuals and couples in safer, more pleasurable ventures into non-monogamy — which can be broken down into several categories. “Open monogamy” is where partners agree to maintain “romantic/emotional exclusivity” while exploring sexual non-exclusivity; while “swinging” is mostly, or exclusively, playing with others together as a couple. Then there are open relationships, wherein “extradyadic activity” (aka sex outside of a relationship) includes playing with others separately as individuals. “Monogamish” couples, a term coined by relationship and sex columnist Dan Savage, share a deep emotional bond while partaking in sex with other partners or group sex. It’s important to note the distinction between these shades of non-monogamy and polyamory, which involves an emotional connection with multiple partners.

 “[This generation] is more sexually liberated, informed and connected than ever before,” Dr. Zhana says. “There are more temptations today than ever before; it's harder than ever to resist — why couldn't we have our cake and eat it too?”

Jessica and Max left their first group sex session “happy, exhausted and extremely horny, despite the hours of hooking up”. Nonetheless, there was no shortage of preparation involved. This liaison was the product of years of discussion covering boundaries, Jessica’s identity as a queer woman and the couple’s comfort levels. The duo used Feeld, an app that encourages users to join “solo or with a partner to find lovers and friends”, one of many structures supporting non-monogamy that’s gaining in popularity. Then, of course, there are those facilitating couple connection IRL. Such is the case for Claudia and Pepe Guirre, who combined their shared experience in travel and hospitality with an affinity for swinging, creating the Miami-based Luxury Lifestyle Vacations (LLV) business, which facilitates erotic adventures — from cruises to workshops to hotel takeovers — all around the world.

“Three years ago, LLV was the only one setting sail internationally and today we’re seeing more and more sex-positive travel excursions,” Pepe says. “We’ve also had our members tell us that our trips have saved their relationships or awakened something new in their relationship that they never knew they needed and couldn’t live without.”

Of the LLV event attendees, 75-80 percent are generally repeat customers. Now, according to Claudia and Pepe, the demographic is skewing younger than ever before. “Younger generations have grown up with a lot more sexual freedom than any other generation,” Claudia says. “This means sexual experimentation and bi-play are not as taboo as they once were. We used to think people would want to explore the clubs and private parties first before a commitment like a lifestyle trip, but younger generations are more willing to invest in their pleasure. They’re not afraid to jump right in.”

“In 2022, non-monogamy is on the rise and becoming accepted by more and more people,” adds Kenneth Play. “People are questioning if monogamy is the only sustainable relationship structure. What's surprising to me is that, based on studies, the success rates for monogamy and non-monogamy are about the same.”

Engaging in external intimacy has had an immensely positive impact on Jessica and Max’s communication as a couple. Primarily, their sessions have served as a reminder of “how much fun” they have together. “This is not something we could do if our relationship was not in such a stable, loving and supportive place,” says Jessica. “Pleasure is so important to me and orgies as an experience are simply a very hot way to experience immense amounts of pleasure with the partner who I hope to spend my life with.”

“Young people are doing it without labelling themselves as swingers. They just do it,” Pepe says. “It’s come a long way from the 'wife-swapping’ days — there are many variations of swinging: from soft swap to full swap, from voyeurism to exhibitionism and everything in between.”

The connecting thread in each scenario is that partners are typically involved together, Pepe says, adding that many sex positive voyagers developed lifelong friendships with other couples. To his point, Jessica and Max have not only built platonic relationships with “lovely folks” who are as great outside of bed as they are in it, but emerged more connected than ever. It’s a trajectory that bodes well for the future of fidelity — a true generational evolution that Dr. Zhana can only explain in mixed metaphors.

“Now [young people] know that sexual and romantic fulfilment is within their reach,” she says. “The cat is out of the bag — and there’s no putting the Genie back in the bottle.”

*name has been changed

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