anonymous on September 12, 2011

My wife and I are swingers...but lately she seems very interested in one other person. How do I talk to her about?

My wife and I have been involved in the "swinger" scene for some time now. It's been a wonderful way to express our sexuality as a couple over the years. However, I've sensed she has had more than a fleeting attraction to one of the other husbands we've been playing with in the last month. I'm somewhat surprised because we've always been so open with one another, but I don't know how to even bring this up. How can I address this with her without her feeling like I don't trust her? I don't want us to have to change our lifestyle.

answered by Annette Fuglsang Owens, MD, PhD on September 12, 2011

Thank you for your thoughtful question that I’ll do my best to address.

First, a reminder of what swinging really is…the term describes couples who decide, together, that having sexual relationships with other people for recreation is an acceptable and fun thing to do. For couples who swing, it's about sharing the physical activity of sex with others…which is seen as separate from their primary relationship to each other, based on love and emotions. In the best case scenario, love and sex are separate.

If you and your partner are swingers, is there still such a thing as cheating? Cheating has to do with deceit. And assuming love, respect, honesty and communication in the primary relationship, true swinging is not deceitful.

But there’s usually some negotiation that occurs in a swinging relationship. Many couples maintain superior communication as a result of needing to establish boundaries while swinging. They discuss what behaviors are and aren't acceptable, who they choose to play with, as well as when and where. Over the years, these boundaries may change with the needs of each person in the couple.

Swinging implies acting on your attraction to – and sharing your sexuality with – other couples. From what you describe, however, your wife might be crossing a boundary that’s uncomfortable for you, and that’s outside the previous standards of behavior that the two of you might have established over time.

That said, feelings for other people inevitably come up. One way to deal with these feelings is to bring them into the open so you can discuss what they mean in the context of your relationship. I would therefore encourage you to speak with your wife in a constructive way that allows you both to negotiate this issue…just as you likely negotiated with each other in the first place, about what swinging means to you as a couple.

By freely asking each other questions, and really listening to each other’s answers, you’ll hopefully reach a new understanding about your relationship, and perhaps re-negotiate your lifestyle as swingers.

For starters, you may want to ask your wife to clarify whether her feelings for the other man are strong enough to interfere with your primary relationship…and, if so, what to do about it. You and your wife may also want to consider speaking about the situation with the other couple, assuming there’s trust on all sides.

A sex therapist can help, too. If you and your wife find that you could benefit from the support of an expert who specializes in helping couples navigate and resolve similar concerns, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists may be a useful reference for you.

One more thought for your consideration...although research on the swinging lifestyle is thin, some of the most recent studies (like this 2011 study published in the Canadian Journal of Nursing Research) have found that many couples who visit swingers clubs engage in unprotected sex. Indeed, having multiple sexual partners is considered a risk factor for STD transmission.

So, if you and your wife don’t know the STD status of the people you’re having sex with (including vaginal, anal or oral sex), I would encourage you both to get tested for STDs as a routine part of your healthcare.

See our Expert Guide to STD Basics for more information about common STDs…including prevention and safer sex practices, and testing options.

Thanks again for sharing this sensitive matter with us, and I wish you and your wife the best of luck in hopefully strengthening your relationship through this experience.          

Related info:

Annette Fuglsang Owens, MD, PhD

Dr. Owens is an AASECT-certified sexuality counselor. Her areas of expertise include the medical aspects of human sexuality and sexual problems, as well as the impact of STDs ⎼ and other diseases, illnesses and disabilities ⎼ on sexuality. Dr. Owens was educated at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

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