I hate to say it, but sex for the first fifteen years of marriage with my husband was not great. We met in college and married in our early 20’s. Our backgrounds in terms of religion, sexual openness and comfort, and family communication style were very different. We had regular sex, but we did not talk much about it and fell into a pretty traditional (missionary position once or twice a week) routine very quickly. I knew I wanted to have sex (it was important for a good marriage, right?) but it wasn’t a top priority. I didn’t really not enjoy it and I had trouble reaching orgasm.
Fifteen years and two children later, we finally began talking about sex as my husband approached his 40th birthday. He brought it up in a way that was not accusatory or blaming and started us down a path of exploring that has progressed further than we would have ever thought possible. We read books like She Comes First and Come as You Are. I learned how to mentally prepare myself for sex, to take the time needed to shift from “mom-mode” into “lover-mode.” I learned what turned me on, and how to give myself permission during play (as we started to call it) to just receive pleasure without thinking every second about what I “should” be doing in return. I learned how to orgasm from oral, which took feeling comfortable and relaxed enough to allow all the time I needed to get there. We explored different positions, ordered sex toys, tried bondage, restraint, and impact play, learning along the way what I really liked and how sex was most pleasurable for me – which, in turn, made it more pleasurable for him as well.
I thought, I love my husband. Our marriage is awesome. We’re having the best sex of our lives after 20 years of marriage. Why would I want to swing?
We started listening to sex positive podcasts, and through these, heard the terms “swinging” and “lifestyle.” By the time we learned enough about swinging to become somewhat interested, I was more than a bit skeptical. I just wasn’t sure what I would gain from it. I had an open mind, was curious, but honestly wondered, “What would I get out of this?” I had finally reached a point where I was really enjoying our sex life together. It had taken several years to learn what I liked, and to feel comfortable expressing that. Why would I want to try to figure that out with other partners when it was working so well with us?
That was my first mistake – thinking that swinging was for people who were not having great sex with their partner and wanted to find great sex with others. After several years of exploring “swinging” (or ethical non-monogamy) and meeting many other couples in the “lifestyle,” I now know that having great sex together is a critical factor to successfully opening up a relationship to play with others. If we had opened up our marriage when we were not having great sex, I believe it would have been a catastrophic failure. For us and many couples, swinging can only succeed if exploring from the security of a strong relationship and sexual foundation with one’s own partner(s).
At this point, I knew I wasn’t going to have “better sex” or feel more sexual pleasure with someone else. My desire, sexual response, and arousal patterns are complicated (as they are for many women). I was pretty sure a new partner would not be able to quickly figure out all my “buttons” in the way my husband had after years of play and exploration. And, yes, I had come to better understand what I like and what is pleasurable, but I thought that would still be difficult to communicate with a new person in a new situation where I would likely find it hard to relax and focus on my own pleasure.
But, I was open to the idea. We were listening to some excellent podcasts hosted by couples who discussed swinging and how the increased trust and communication involved strengthened their own marriage. I was interested in learning more about how that might happen. We took a big step and went to a clothing optional, lifestyle friendly resort. We did not play with others that week but met such nice, friendly people and learned more about the lifestyle world. A few months later we decided to try a lifestyle hotel takeover. We thought the likelihood of a play experience with others was low but had not ruled it out. We had basic ground rules in place (same room, soft swap only) just in case we decided to try something out.
It had been over 20 years since I’d kissed anyone other than my husband. To kiss and touch someone new was exciting and fun. It gave me those butterfly feelings in my stomach that don’t often happen with a long-time partner.
We had connected before the event with a couple online and started messaging. They were experienced, used to “newbies,” and good at asking questions and sharing their own story. We met them at the event and did, indeed, have our first soft swap play experience. There’s a lot to that story, but the important part here is that it was during that first experience (and the week that followed) that it started to “click” for me. I suddenly understood why swinging was fun and why women might enjoy it, even when already having great sex at home. It was such a thrill to physically connect with someone different. It had been over 20 years since I’d kissed anyone other than my husband. To kiss and touch someone new was exciting and fun. It gave me those butterfly feelings in my stomach that don’t often happen with a long-time partner. I felt desirable and attractive in a way that was empowering and confidence building.
And then the after part. We talked about it non-stop on the 4-hour drive home. We’d taken a risk together and everything had gone well and felt great. We felt like a team, closer and more intimate than we had felt before the experience. Wow! I’d heard others talk about that but could not really believe it until feeling it myself. The next week I think we had more sex together than we ever had in a 7-day stretch of time. We were so charged up, kept talking about the experience and had amazing sex with each other.
So what made it so good? If you’re thinking about trying some sort of swinging or opening up in your relationship, what are some tips for success?
- Make sure your relationship and sex life with your partner(s) is solid and strong – insecurities in this area can be magnified by opening up a relationship; start from a solid and strong foundation.
- Talk ahead of time about what you are each comfortable with and set some ground rules. Know what the boundaries are for the first experience and stick to them.
- Go the pace of the “slowest” person. I was nervous and unsure if this was something I would like. My husband never pushed or made me feel any pressure or expectation that we would do anything. If I had felt that, I likely would have backed off.
- Find a couple (or single if that’s your interest) you feel comfortable with and who will respect your boundaries and understand that this is new for you. The key part for me was knowing the couple we were with had a strong and solid relationship together. They were clearly on the same page and strongly connected. It was evident that they loved and respected each other. I was also lucky to connect first with a man who was really good at reading my signals and able to help me feel comfortable and safe.
- Talk and reconnect afterwards. Talk about what you each liked, what could have been better, if anything made you feel uncomfortable or what you might like to do differently. Hopefully it sparks great sex between the two of you and take the time to enjoy that!
A few years down the road and I am enjoying the fun of continuing to explore non-monogamy. We’ve learned a lot, had some great and not-so-great experiences. But all of them have brought us closer together, enhanced our sex life as a couple, and strengthened our communication. I am so happy I took that first step and kept an open mind to the possibilities.
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