Swinging: A very Swedish pastime or the last taboo?

Swinging: A very Swedish pastime or the last taboo?
Judging by the number of column inches devoted to the subject in recent months, one would be forgiven for thinking that partner-swapping had become the noughties equivalent of the Tupperware party. But is swinging really Sweden’s new favourite hobby?

“It’s fun and I like to have several men at once,” says Annika, a 41-year-old shop assistant from Stockholm.

“I started swinging just for another experience,” she says. “I don’t have a boyfriend, but several lovers instead. So when I go swinging, I just take one of them along with me.”

“Things can get pretty ‘interesting’ at times,” says Leif, organizer and owner of Svenska Swingers. “At our ‘relax’ club night, anyone can come – there is no restriction in terms of sexual orientation: bisexuals, homosexuals, transvestites, transsexuals – everyone is welcome.”

And according to Leif, “if you don’t like it, look somewhere else”. It is this philosophy that encapsulates the medical professional in his early forties, who goes on to detail his events and members with a frankness that would make even the most open-minded liberal blush.

But is the country ready for the moral reality of women who want ‘several men at once’ and aren’t afraid to ask for it?

Annika certainly thinks so: “Sweden is very open-minded – there has been a big increase in swinging over the past 10 years.”

But Linda Unnhem, editor of the sex and relationship section for women’s magazine Hennes, is a little more conservative in her estimation:

“I wouldn’t say swinging is the new stamp collecting, but from the number of articles recently being written on the subject I would definitely say that it is a growing interest – or curiosity, at least, among Swedes.”

As Unnhem points out, Sweden’s international image as a beacon of enlightened sexuality differs somewhat from the day-to-day morality of ordinary Swedes:

“Talking about sex, and your own sex life in particular, is still very taboo in Sweden. As a sexologist I once interviewed put it:

You can sit with your work mates and tell them what a wonderful dinner your partner made you this weekend, and what an amazing wine you were drinking – but have you ever heard someone saying:

‘And then we had this fantastic sex! I have always been fantasizing about trying bondage/swinging/role plays – and he made my dreams come true!’?

No? I thought not. Even if sex is one of the most natural parts of our lives (perhaps the most natural) it is still a very private area. Especially when it comes to our fantasies.”

The Svenska Swingers website was launched in 1999 and currently has over 7,500 members, who reputedly include celebrities, judges, policemen and politicians. The Gothenburg-based organization holds an event once a month for about 50 to 60 people.

However, competition to get in is steep, with at least 150 people requesting a place at each ‘party’ and members applying months in advance in order to secure a spot.

Does this popularity mean that the Swedish public is opened minded about sex? “Absolutely not,” laughs Leif, “we cannot be public about what we do in any way.”

“It’s hard enough to just go to a nudist beach and tell your friend and colleagues without them being horribly shocked,” says Leif.

Leif explains that one of the most common questions he receives from new members is, ‘what will I do if I meet my neighbour?’

“People feel a shame connected with swinging, many may talk about it, but few actually do it. Swinging is not socially accepted at all. People condemn it as if it’s some sort of disorder.”

Leif goes on to comment that some of his members have suffered discrimination owing to their lifestyle choices. One female swinger received threats of redundancy after her boss saw pictures of her on the internet:

“She was interviewed as part of programme about sexuality on a well known TV channel and excerpts of the show were also posted online.

“The photo wasn’t graphic, but she was in a full leather outfit detailing her love of swinging. Her boss saw the article and told her quite clearly that if the picture was not removed from the web immediately, she would lose her job.”

“There is a real double moral in Sweden. Freedom of speech and expression is held in such high regard for issues such as religion, but when it comes to sex, you cannot be public in any way.”

If this is the case, then surely the only people attending the ‘parties’ are porn stars and perverts? Not so, says Leif. Normal people of all ages come to the Svenska Swingers events, although most are within the 35-45 age range.

The only restriction is that the club doesn’t admit any men under 25. Apparently, “they get too overexcited and just run around the place chasing orgasms.”

The club does have some young women members though: “They call themselves ‘nymphos’. These girls say that they need massive amounts of sex, but don’t want the hassle of relationships. Some of these girls have ‘parties’ with multiple men at once on a weekly basis.”

In a society where young women may be stigmatized for going out and looking exclusively for sex, Leif argues that the parties give them a non-judgmental and relatively safe way of having attachment-free sex.

Safety is an important issue for the club, which also helps people who would like to host their own parties at homes to manage any financial and security issues. “We are highly legally regulated,” explains Leif:

“Anyone who attends has to be a full member, which entails submitting all personal details and a photo. This information is kept confidential by the club, but is does help to regulate who comes and the safety of our members.”

Mutual respect is also vital to the society: “No means no. No one is allowed to just jump on you. If you cross that line, you will be thrown out and always excluded from then on,” says Leif.

What about the personal relationships of the couple’s involved – can swinging really be seen as a healthy part of a relationship?

“Yes,” Leif answers, without a second’s hesitation. “A friend of mine said that he thinks every couple should try swinging at least twice. The first time can be a bit of a shock, so the second visit is a must.”

Unnhem emphasizes the importance of engaging in a thorough discussion before going swinging with your partner:

“I think you have to be very confident in your own sexuality and feel secure with your partner. If you don’t trust each other it could be troublesome and a bad experience.”

Furthermore Unnhem urges couples to talk about “what is OK to do and what is not OK? How do we cope with jealousy? Is this really something I want to do, isn’t it just an exciting fantasy?

“However, if you are open-minded and have thought it through carefully, I’m sure it can spice up the sex life for certain people.”

So, for some, swinging could be just the ticket to spice things up in the bedroom, although it would be fair to conclude that it has a long way to go before entering the mainstream.

But as Unnhem comments: “From what I have heard the number of swingers’ clubs (and members) has increased. so maybe this is about to change.”

Certainly, many see swinging as a very important aspect of their personal identity and sexuality. As Annika asserts:

“Swinging really enriches my life. I’ve been doing it for 18 years and I certainly have no intention of stopping now!”

Linda Unnhem’s novel ‘Swing it!’ (Swedish) is available now and explores the world of swinging from a fictional perspective.