One interesting feature of our modern culture is that people are increasingly willing to take risks and experiment with new sexual practices. Partner swapping or swinging is a new sexual behavior, which is emerging in many parts of the world. Currently, the concept is being practiced in most European countries, North-America, East-Asia, South-Africa, and Australia.
In my view, the contemporary sexual morality will inevitably change in the future. Nothing has ever remained static, and there is no good reason to believe that we have reached the end of the human history. We have moved from the idea that sex is exclusively for the purposes of procreation to the view that sex is fun and a private matter. It shall not surprise us, if the twenty-first century‚s sexual revolution takes us to new heights of liberation with more radical transformations in our sexual behavior.
Recently, a correspondence was published in the Norwegian national paper, Aftenposten, between an anonymous woman who had tried out swinging and a psychologist and relationship expert in Norway, Frode Thuen. The correspondence offers a clear and concise insight into some hurdles facing the pioneers of new forms of relationships and the advice on how to overcome these problems. I have translated the correspondence into English. The original can be found here, Å være med på leken:
I am a woman in my early forties. I live in a happy and harmonious relationship. I met my partner three years ago. We both agreed to take it slowly because of children from previous relationships and because we did not want another separation. It took us indeed several months before we had sex, and almost two years before we moved together. Luckily, this has contributed to a solid and secure relationship between us.
My partner has a big appetite for sex. I match his appetite and we have a wonderful sexual relationship. I know from hard experience that good sex has a very positive chain reaction for the whole relationship. We are both regarded as attractive and happy individuals. My partner likes to expand our sexual relationship and include others too. His big dream is to have [sex with] two women at the same time. The idea excites me, but I fear negative consequences. We have met a couple twice for uncommitted sex. It worked well and the chemistry was there. My partner likes to continue play this game. I feel some reluctance to do that. I fear for diseases and for shame and regret afterwards, but I am still immensely excited. I did not have any problems with those two incidents. I had worried a bit in advance, but there has been no jealously between us. He is remarkably good with loving words and he shows that he loves me.
In another incident, my partner met a woman when he had been in town with some friends some time ago. He had followed her to the hotel room and chatted with her for a little while before driving back home. He said it was hard, but he never could have done it without my presence. The strange thing is that I feel absolutely okay if they had done it. Am I emotionally blunted? Why do I feel this way? Would I have had the same [indifferent] feeling if they had done it? It is almost as if I had rather wanted them doing it. Shall I just enjoy the freedom, enjoy the passion, or shall I listen to my inner voice and say no? Are we abnormal?
Answer: to start with your last question first: what normal or abnormal is in relationships is highly disputable. The boundary for what is acceptable and normal changes over time. A typical example is that psychiatrists considered homosexuality a mental disorder until about thirty years ago. Today, you probably have to search long to find a psychologist or psychiatrist who holds this view. The question is therefore not whether your sexual behavior and passion is abnormal, but whether you as partners feel comfortable and secure in such a relationship.
If you are truly reluctant to expand your sexual relationship, as you have written, then it is this feeling of reluctance, which you have to scrutinize, not what is normal or abnormal. There is no right or wrong answer. You mention your fear for disease. Yes, it can be a risk, but if you practice safe sex, the risk can be eliminated or at least reduced to a minimum. You also mention your fear for shame and regret as an aftermath. It is hard to guard yourself against this. The fact that you have such feelings demonstrates that you have not quite succeeded in freeing yourself from the dominating sexual norms in our culture — at least, not yet.
If you truly succeed in doing that, you can possibly enjoy the passion and the opportunities of a freer relationship. So in a way, your challenge is to liberate yourself from what you are experiencing as social expectations, and to become confident about your own standards for what is acceptable. After all, as long as all partners know what they are doing and do it out of free will, there are no moral problems in practicing swinging.
However, it is my experience that not everyone clearly sees the consequences of what they are buying into. Especially, many women have joined activities they have regretted later, as they have been talked or pushed into of their male partners — or because they have underestimated the [negative] emotional chain reactions.
You write that you did not have any problems with those two previous incidents, but at the same time there is a voice inside you saying no to more. Does this mean that you are still not quite comfortable with what you have done? Or are you afraid of going any further than what you have already done? I believe self-deception can easily occur when one is experimenting with one‚s sexuality, like in the swinging environments. Therefore it is wise to examine one‚s feelings and reasons for one‚s interest for taking part in such activities. It could be difficult to do that with a partner. One should rather discuss the issues with someone outside the relationship — a close friend or a counselor before one does something one could regret later.
Another concern is that such activities are likely to cause addiction. Subsequently, one constantly needs to challenge the limits and expand the horizon in order to get turned on. Traditional sex with the partner could as a result be reduced to an uninspiring act of duty. It would therefore be a challenge to maintain a healthy relationship between you and your partner, if you decide to expand your sexuality. Good luck!