Researcher from Minas delves into the Swing universe and finds much more than the couples swap
‘Oftentimes, there is more respect to the woman in Swing Houses than the ordinary nightclub’, says Maria Silvério, who interviewed swingers from Brazil and Portugal. Far from being an orgy fest, the lifestyle includes many rules — and some prejudices. Testimonials show that not everything is perfect, but swing can indeed be a sea of roses for those who do not see eye to eye with monogamy
Automatically associated — in the minds of many — to orgies or lack of respect for ‘social’ rules, the swing universe can be a fertile ground for the analysis of stereotypes, clichés and new questions over conjugal relationships, gender and sexuality. Fueled by that, journalist and master in anthropology Maria Silverio has investigated in depth the aspects surrounding the activity — which may have become simple practice for some, but a lifestyle for others. She has just published the book “Swing: Me, you…them…”, by Chiado Publishing House, which gathers interviews made in Brazil and Portugal, where she lives. Next Tuesday (22), the book will debut in Rio de Janeiro.
In Portugal, this was the first research dedicated to the theme. In Brazil, there are a few works on it (read To know more, below), but the researcher wanted to go beyond, comparing diverse realities and situations. “There is lack of knowledge. There are many taboos regarding the practice of swing, almost automatically associated to the orgy and utter lack of respect. However, due to its participants own profiles, we see this is a misconception — these are people over 35, married or in a long lasting relationship, most of them with a stable financial and professional life and with children”, explains Maria Silverio.
Between Brazil and Portugal — also taking into account statistics of studies made in countries such as The United States, Belgium, France and Italy — Maria hasn’t spotted gross differences. “It’s the same dynamic, with few changes to the house rules when it comes to crowd control”, she resumes.
This dynamic includes the types of swing — hard and soft — and many rules, which repeat in the many houses visited during Maria Silverio’s master’s degree. “There’s no such thing as walking in and ‘doing whatever you want’. When a couple approaches another, the do’s and do nots are decided on the get go”, she clarifies.
Learn the difference between hard and soft swing; learn some of the rules often mentioned by its practitioners. (infographic: portuguese)
Prática não é apenas orgia ou troca de casais. Conheça as regras e modalidadeswww.em.com.br
Types and rules of Swing
According to the author of the book ‘Swing: me, you…them’, Maria Silverio, the practice is divided in two types — hard and soft — and includes several rules. Swing is neither a lawless orgy, nor a simple couple swap.
Hover the mouse over the images to learn more…
1 — The couple must be simultaneously interested in two other people from the opposing couple. For instance, if only the husband shows attraction to another swinger’s partner, the swap usually does not happen.
2 — Swingers separate sex from love
Many consider themselves amorously monogamous and sexually polygamous, which constitutes a crucial difference between the swing practice, open marriage and Big Love.
3 — Couples of convenience
Friends or acquaintances that schedule to go together to the house, but have no loving relationship — are neither mistreated nor thrown out. But more experienced swingers declare to avoid interactions with such profiles. More so, they say the type is very easy to identify.
4 — No means no
There’s no need for justification. Wants and decisions of others are always respected. One must deal with rejection and not be insistent.
5 — Single women are seen with less reserve, for they offer more possibilities, such as the ménage a trois
Unlike men, who always have to pay extra to access swing clubs; they even get promotions — with the exception of Italy, which vetoes the presence of ‘singles’ under the argument of restraining prostitution.
6 — In the case of private rooms, a closed door means that group has already decided who will take part in the activities. Quick sneak peeks are tolerated, but an interruption is not welcome.
7 — In a collective environment, the person outside the sexual practice can only join in if verbally invited, or even through a glance. No one can simply choose a couple and jump in.
8 — SOFT SWING: Couples may change caresses freely, including masturbation and oral sex, but penetration is permitted only by the original partner, that is the husband or wife.
9 — HARD SWING: Penetration may happen freely, as with caresses. “The best part of swing is to be able to fulfill our fantasies and sexual desires beside the person we love” says one of the informants interviewed in the book.
10 — Some couples permit the involvement without the participation of the spouse — in a separate room of the house, for instance — but everything must be warned beforehand, and have the approval of the other partner. No lies.
11 — Exhibitionism and voyeurism are part of the swing universe, and very welcome
Even if there is no actual couple swap per se, husband and wife may share an exciting scene as it is “starred” by another couple.
12 — Single man are viewed with a great deal of distrust
According to the researcher’s informants, they don’t always follow the rules, not treating women with the ‘due respect’ they are owed as the ‘family mothers’ that they are. Some interviewed stated they avoid participating in nights where there are many ‘singles’ about — be them male or female.
13 — No one is forced to take part in sexual activities, just by being in a swing club.
According to the researcher, the attitude in Italian houses, forbidding single women to enter; and the difference in behavior regarding unaccompanied men and women show the difficulty in society to bypass the cultural ambivalence between the image of the ‘family mother’ and that of the ‘whore’. “There are also important indications as to the naturalization of human sexuality, and society’s control over female sexuality”, she considers. And also that of men’s, as we well see further on.
Small clothes, big respect
Maria Silverio tells that, as she did not know what to expect within each house, she did not adapt her wardrobe to its patrons’ habits. “It was far too different from my standard, which is more serious and less revealing”, she explains. Dresses and short skirts, stockings and garters in plain sight, cleavages and fabrics that cling to the body are common for women. “One of the patrons I spoke to jokingly said that there was no purpose in going dressed to such places because, not only did it get in the way, it was also troublesome to look for clothes around the room afterwards”, she tells.
In any case, the choice of clothing is not used to qualify a woman as a ‘whore’ or ‘easy’. “This is a judgment that takes no part in swing”, points out Maria Silvério. The same way personal details stay on the outside. Where do you work? Where do you live? “That type of conversation does not happen in most cases. It’s a way of preserving the identity, while keeping an overvalue trait amongst swingers — discretion. Talks revolve around sex, politics, soccer, economic crisis, houses the participants have visited, and so on”, she details.
There are cases where couples end up becoming friends and seeing each other outside the club, scheduling trips and dinners, getting to know families. More so, it is one of the reasons given by interviewers as to why they’ve experimented swing: the will to widen their social circle, mainly among older couples, whose children have already left the household. “Their main reason is the variety of experiences and partners the practice enables. To meet new friends shows as the third or fourth reason [to swing] in many studies around the globe”, points out Maria.
An example is shown by a Portuguese couple of 56, married for 36, together since their twenties. The man had been the woman’s single experience throughout her whole life, whereas the husband had cheated her countless times. After both children left the household and their dog died, they felt the need to seek something that would pull them from the routine. “They told [me] they went to a gay club for the first time in their lives, taken by one of the couples they met at swing. They were feeling alive again and had filled a hole in their daily lives. A void caused by routine, and not the lack of love” says the author of Me, you…them.
Not all are flowers
Such friendships may in fact be a complicating factor in the lives of several swingers. For more than one couple, the involvement with people beyond the club has brought unforeseen consequences. “Both cases involved female singles. One of them fell in love with the man in the original couple, which was not corresponded. In the other case, the husband fell in love by the new participant in their sexual relations. And, in both cases, the adventure ended and the couples walked away temporarily from the swing universe”, the author reports. The informants that lived through these situations considered them an opportunity to better learn and assess those which one should involve with.
Maria says that, as she interviewed her sources within the swing houses, they had the tendency to point out their positive aspects. But there are not so pleasant aspects, other than the complicated friendships. First time jealousy and next day fright were a few of the noted difficulties. “Couples spend, in average, a year talking between each other and researching all the implications, before they go to a house for the first time. It’s a process that gains force with time, with many opportunities to talk of yearnings, fears, wills and rules. Most times, the first visit is only as an observer”, the Brazilian researcher explains.
Some say there can’t be jealousy, while others ponder it’s impossible not to have it. “A frequent explanation is that they transform jealousy into a source of excitement — ‘if I see my partner with pleasure, it fuels me’. But there are many who categorically state — ‘I am jealous on the day to day, but in here, I am not’. These people consider jealousy as an obstacle in the house dynamics”, she elaborates.
Many informants say they are more threatened by the prospect of infidelity outside of the swing environment, rather than in it. “It’s easier to control the other from within the house. As incoherent as it may seem, feelings of possession are not totally forgotten in swing”, completes Maria Silverio.
Such aspect has led the researcher to question over what is ‘natural’ and what is culturally learned. “In societies that do not value the myth of romantic love and possession over the other, jealousy has no value as well. In the case of the interviewed swingers, members of the western culture held that myth. What happens is most of them can transform this acquired jealousy into something positive for the relationship”, she analyzes.
The concept of cheating threads the same line. In the swinger’s environment, to cheat is to become emotionally involved. Sexual involvement, if kept within the pre-established rules, does not mean infidelity. It is within the household that the couple maintains fondness, love, affection. In the house, there is space for other feelings. “The affective involvement means a break in a trust pact”, the researcher points out.
Another point seen as ‘cheating’ is deceit. For a couple that allows the spouse to visit other swing houses alone — when in a business trip, for example — the rule of thumb is everything must be shared afterwards. “If [the person] does not share, disloyalty ensues. Above any and all jealousy, there must be respect”, resumes the author of the report-book.
Natural segregation and relative freedom
Interactions take course naturally in the houses, but that includes segregation. With the rise in younger couples, in their 20’s, two groups have been formed — the oldest, which distrust this ‘gang’ and consider them not to take the lifestyle seriously; and the youngest, oftentimes not attracted to older people. There are many exceptions to the rule, but the tribal divide still exists.
This also goes to male homosexual practices. Sexual involvement between two men is frowned upon, in the eye of other swingers. “It’s a non-explicit, veiled rule. While women are encouraged to involve with one another, without their sexuality questioned; men have that possibility vetoed”, she points out.
According to Maria Silvério, the manifestation of desire towards another man makes he who manifested it and his mate to be shunned by other couples. “Identity, gender orientation and sexual practice are more flexible for women, who can experiment new pleasures — even if by manly convenience. The taboo of male homosexuality ends up making men live the very same experiences they already have on the outside. It’s a very relative freedom”, she describes.
The research done by Maria also shows that, in most cases, the first incursion into the swing world happens as a result of the man’s will and initiative, often moved by the fantasy of the ménage à trois, but many women keep at it because they have discovered new forms of pleasure. “For many of them, when receiving oral pleasure, for instance, it does not matter if it’s a man or a woman giving it. What matters is the pleasure of the moment. It’s a very interesting ingredient: although the woman is led to swing by her husband, the sequence of facts ends up shedding her of many taboos”, she reflects.
The author goes beyond. “Women perform such controlled roles in society. Many of them don’t consider other possibilities for their social and sexual lives. The possibility of giving leeway, by their own volition, to desires and imagination requires growth. It depends on an internal reflection that not all women have. Culturally, we are educated to ‘be afraid’ of ‘becoming’ a lesbian, to be disgusted, to repress”, she diagnoses. The tropes of the “womanizer-stud” and the “man-eater-slut” also reflect that control over each role. “ Which we oftentimes absorb without giving it second thought”, Maria Silverio adds.
History and ‘trouble’
By being a practice common to a private setting, it is hard to precise its origin — when, where and how did the swing appear? Those questions, fundamental to journalism, posed a challenge to Maria Silvério in her book-report. “Swing may have originated by other names which we do not know. The most dispersed version links its origin to the north-American soldiers in the 50’s, after World War II. Couples used to meet via ‘key clubs’. The woman would raffle a house key our car key from a jar, and its owner would be her company for the night”, the author tells.
But, of all others, would it flourish in a sexist environment such as that of the United States military in the 50’s? “Sociological studies suggest this is justified by the low life expectancy. A soldier living in the reality of the American occupation after World War II bore in mind the possibility of dyeing at any moment. One is not sure, but evidence shows this may have been the motivator for them to open up to new experiences”, she completes.
In her doctors degree, Maria intends to analyze the so-called Big Love and the open marriage, completing the triad of non-monogamist models, along with swing, most common in western societies led by Judeo-Christian values. “If we think about it, we see that the divorce has shaken the indissolubility of marriage. The union between same sex peoples has modified standards pertaining to heterosexuality. But monogamy is a much more resistant pilar/taboo. It is one of the few values that are still attached to marriage”, the researcher from Minas analyzes.
In theory, that is. In practice, indexes from several researchers suggest said value might be indeed subject to questions. “About 70% of men confess they have cheated before. Between women, the index is 60%. At the same time, a cheating spouse appears as one of the three main causes of divorce. Is it more important to value this ‘feigned’ monogamy? Or to negotiate and share real feelings?” Maria Silvério questions.
With light an informative language, the book goes beyond swing to discuss many aspects of human and social relations that are often hidden from view.
Or, when researched, do not leave the walls of teaching institutions. “I hope to contribute in the shattering of prejudices. I was treated with much more respect in swing houses — whether I was with my boyfriend or not — than when I was in ordinary clubs, where women have to face aggressiveness when saying ‘no’. I’ve heard jokes and snide comments from my own colleagues — ‘will you be a participating observer, Maria?’ and even my family found it a strange choice of subject. But later on, these feelings were replaced by those of support, comprehension and admiration”, the soon-to-be doctor celebrates.
“A certain night, a couple of informants encouraged me to spy on the only of the four suites that was closed. When I opened the door, I was faced with an image that would most likely envy any artist or photography director; such was its aesthetic preciosity. On the bed to the right, three couples were having sex, each in a different position. On the one to the left, another couple and a ménage between a woman and two men. The half-light and the purple wall contributed to the warm, sensual aspect of the scene. The naked bodies moved in sync, as if they comprised of a living work of art…” (excerpt from Swing: me, you…them; p. 99)
Swing: Real stories, fictional names
Read the testimonies of people that are just experimenting and of those who already see swing as a way of life
As in other stories in which Saúde Plena has studied the nuance of human sexual behavior, society’s moral restrictions determine that the interviewers are remained in anonymity. The will to defend a cause or to wholeheartedly speak about something ends up supplanted by fear.
The testimonials that follow were collected in two Brazilian swing houses, in Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro; and in a virtual group. The chat room is also secret; it cannot be found in web searches and must be accessed after personal admin approval.
“Gee, seeing me here today, all happy, you can’t even imagine how much I’ve suffered, in this very house. I’ve only accepted to come, for the first time, because my husband has threatened to take ‘drastic measures’. What are drastic measures, you ask? Divorce, finding a lover… He said he didn’t want to take such ‘measures’ because he loved me. After much fighting back, we came. I was jealous, crying in secret, I don’t even like to talk about it.
One day, we met a very nice and patient couple. To me, it was a discovery. Of love and of sex. I hadn’t gotten married at a young age, but I am married for 18 years now, and didn’t even stop to think I was stuck to routine. I simply didn’t stop. I think many people don’t try swing because they don’t have the time to stop and think about it. Today, I am the one who calls the shots. I decide when we go, which house we go to, which couple we’re staying with, for how long, what are the rules. He only obeys. He likes being bossed around when we’re here. Out there, it’s a different story, that’s true. He still needs to feel like he’s the provider. But it’s the balance between both saucers on the scale that keeps us in love”. Isaura, businesswoman, 51 years old, a swinger for 4, Rio de Janeiro
“Why am I here? Do I really need to answer that question? Look around you, this is heaven. Women of all styles, ages and ways. My fiancée may choose whomever she wants, as well. I don’t believe in monogamy. But I do want to get married, to have children, to give my parents grandchildren, to fulfill my role in life. On the straight and narrow, just as life oughta be. In here I get the best of both worlds”. Policarpo, businessman, 31 years old, swinger for 2, Belo Horizonte
“Since my husband and I walked into a swing house for the first time, our relationship have changed a lot. For the better, of course! What would I be doing here, if it weren’t for the better? I believe it worked because, before we tried it, we talked about it a lot. I mulled over if it was really what I wanted. Nothing was imposed, for any of us. I was even more curious than him.
But I’ll tell you something only a few people know: this will most likely be our last night in here. We’ve started a steady relationship with another couple and a single woman, whom we’ve met right here. And it’s not just the sex anymore, that’s the thing of it. I like going to the movies with them, shopping for clothes, spending the night in bed just with the girls. Simply because we can. What they’re doing in the moment doesn’t matter. I also like being with the guys, together or separate. Today, I love my husband even more than the day we got married.
Some may say we live the polyamory, isn’t that the fad these days? But our thing has nothing to do with fad. I don’t know what name it has. Do you see those three over there, impatiently looking our way? Excuse me, me and my husband need to go. I’ve said too much, and this is our farewell night. I think”. Lucíola, college teacher, 43 years old, swinger for 8, Rio de Janeiro.
“You know what I wanna talk to you about swing? That nothing that happens in here is wrong. Write that down. Nothing. Everything happens with respect towards the other person and everyone fulfills their obligations, pays their taxes, are good citizens. So, that being said, it bothers me that all this needs to be kept secret, hidden, as if it were something to be condemned. I guarantee you, it is not. These are just people being happy the way they are, without affecting our lives out there”. Cecília, civil servant, 37 years old, swinger for 2, Belo Horizonte.
“This is our second time in a swing house. We’ve been to another, about two years ago, but the crowd was way older and didn’t please us. For now, only the possibility of showing ourselves and being watched were enough to break our routine. Our life as a couple has improved a lot, I don’t even know if we’ll need to advance to the couple swap per se. In fact, I feel very jealous every time we get another couple’s invitation. She seems to be more at ease with it than I am, and that bothers me. But the tally so far has been good”. Bento, business administrator, 28 years old, Belo Horizonte.
To know more
Mineira from Montes Claros, the author has travelled to Europe, initially to study English, after a few years working as a journalist. There, she wound up discovering the line of masters in multiculturalism and migrations, in the Lisbon University Institute (ISCTE-IUL). “Since adolescence, I’ve developed questions pertaining roles attributed to women in society. Having many male and female friends, I’d notice how they dealt differently with relationships. Those patterns intrigued me”, she reveals.
In Brazil, such as with other countries, there are no precise data regarding populations adept to swing houses. Anthropologist Olívia Von der Weid, in her work Consented adultery: gender, body and sexuality in the practice of swing (2008) have identified 55 establishments created for the couple swap, mostly located in the South and Southwest regions of Brazil — 47 in total. Together, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro focus at least 31 of such establishments.
Swing: Me, you…them
By Maria Silvério
Publisher: Chiado Editora
Suggested price: R$ 50,00
Scriptum Livraria (99, Fernandes Tourinho str. — Savassi)
Albuquerque Newsstand (645, Antonio de Albuquerque Str., corner with Alagoas str.)
Café com Letras Café (781, Antonio de Albuquerque Str. — Savassi)
Soon, in virtual stores of Livraria Cultura and Saraiva and also in the Leitura Franchise, in Belo Horizonte.