Written by: Serafina Angeles
All around the world in every culture, people have to follow certain prescribed rules of social conduct and personal behavior. These prescriptions can be laws put in place by governments and societies. Additionally, they can be rules of moral conduct established by religious institutions, communities, or the family unit. We all learn at an early age what is acceptable and unacceptable social or personal behavior within our given society or social milieu.
These rules also extend to the area of human sexual behaviors and practices. Historically there has been a tendency in all societies to control the way in which humans experience and express their sexuality, particularly outside of marriage. As such, most religions tend to emphasize the repression of sexual urges and expression and forbid the utilization of sex solely for pleasure. According to Murray, Ciarrocchi, and Murray-Swank (2007), religion can also be viewed as positive tool to assist societies control powerful human sexual impulses. Psychologically though, it may also cause a great deal of shame or guilt on the part of the religious believer when it comes to sexual expression or experimentation.
As someone who was born and raised in the Catholic religion, I can attest to the feelings of shame and guilt when it came to expressing my sexuality. It was not until a very late stage in my life that I came to figure out that sex was not just an act, but also a part of being human. Moreover, that I did not have to feel shameful or guilty because my body was able to bring me sexual pleasure. Although I was becoming more aware of my sexuality, it was still difficult to rid myself of all the taboos that were put in place by my religious upbringing, family, and culture.
Because of this yearning on my part to understand myself and at the same time others around me, I began to question the meaning behind taboos. They place a moral restriction on certain actions because of people’s belief that it will result in negative consequences. I agree that some taboos are put in place to protect certain individuals and societies. However, there are taboos that do not put any individuals at risk yet, perhaps due to religious upbringing, culture or families of origin, they are looked down upon in disdain.
My upbringing has a great deal to do with my choice to do an experiential paper. It is a way for me to stretch the limits of my boundaries and come out of it, hopefully with a little more understanding, while at the same time indulging in a pleasurable experience. One particular taboo that I have judged others negatively for in the past has to do with swinging. I thought of them as adulterers, people that do not care about each other enough to stay monogamous in their relationships. It did not dawn on me until I questioned my beliefs that these moral prohibitions I had placed on this lifestyle was not coming from my own feelings about the behavior, but from my religious beliefs about it.
What is swinging? I always thought it was a bunch of people wanting to have sex, while at the same time intimately cheating on their partners with other people. I was surprised when I started to do the research on various websites, that it was more than just about sex. The usual slang definition for swinging is someone who actively looks for excitement and moves with the latest trend. Another way to look at swinging is married couples who exchange sexual partners. Throughout most of the websites, one major theme stressed is as a lifestyle taken up by mature adults, which emphasizes sex as recreation. Furthermore, they warn against couples entering the lifestyle if they do not have a strong relationship or engage in active communications about their sexual fantasies and activities.
What is it about swinging that places it in the arena of a taboo? Most societies reward monogamy and punish cheating. Clearly though, a swinging lifestyle is not about cheating, but supposedly about being able to explore your sexuality and fantasies along with an intimate partner but still holding on to the committed relationship. They place a high value on honesty and openness with their partners and they abhor cheating in their committed relationships. Cheating to a swinger, is more about going behind your partners back and lying.
To me though, it tends to bring up my feelings of insecurity and jealousy at the thought of watching my partner being sexual or becoming attracted to another person. Other issues that I would consider are its effect on my relationship. Would my partner become jealous or insecure? Alternatively, will my partner understand and similarly be excited about the thought of sharing in the experience? How would being open and exposing my sexual desires be received?
Aside from my own personal feelings and questions, it would also bring about thoughts of condemnation because I live in a society that finds the behavior unacceptable, immoral, a taboo. In turn, would feel shame and guilt at the thought of engaging in an act, which is both socially unacceptable and immoral by society’s standards?
With these questions in mind, I spoke to my partner about the class project I was researching. I mentioned I was researching the topic of swinging since it is a big taboo for me. My partner’s reaction surprised me. We began sharing our fantasies with each other. There was a long conversation as to what would be a boundary and what we would be willing to engage in. I had never spoken so openly about sexual desires to anyone else in my past. It was exciting to share my sexual thoughts and feelings with my partner without thinking I would be judged or lose love.
My partner suggested we visit a swing club so I can see for myself. I had to think about it twice. I was skeptical that it would be a good idea and I thought he had ulterior motives for suggesting it. However, I was the one that broached the subject, so I forwent my doubts and agreed we would visit a swing club. Although we were both in agreement to the experience, we both still had our fears therefore; we made sure we spoke about our thoughts and feelings before we went.
My partner and I agreed that if we felt uncomfortable at any point in the night we would leave. We also gave each other code words to let the other know that we were uncomfortable and we needed the situation handled. We spoke about what we expected from each other. I was clear that I wanted to be there as an observer and not a participant. I was excited to be embarking on an adventure with someone that actually trusted and was comfortable enough in the relationship that we could experience this as a couple.
The day we were going on or adventure started out as a normal one. We went about our business running our errands and enjoying the day. When it was time to get ready to go to the swing club and we both got into the car, things changed a little. I saw the nervousness in my partner’s eyes. I tried to allay the fears away by stating our agreement and the fact we were going to observe and not participate. This did not seem to help. My partner asked my why I was not nervous. My response was simple, I did not know what to expect and I was not going to ruin my experience by thinking something negative was going to happen. Well, I guess that was not the appropriate response because we began to argue. I do not even remember what the argument was about, but I immediately suggested that maybe this was not a good idea if my partner was feeling uncomfortable or any doubts about me or my intentions. My partner insisted that it would be fine and kept driving anyway.
When we finally arrived at the club, it seemed like a normal dance club to me. They had a DJ and dance floor, nice décor, tables and small couches surrounding the dance floor. They even had a buffet for anyone that was hungry. There were some differences though such as, porn playing on some of the television screens. Couples were freely touching each other in all sorts of sexual manners and exposing intimate body parts. Additionally, half-naked women walked around the club exposing their breasts, wearing nothing but their underwear. I lived on South Beach for six years so seeing scantily dressed people roaming around was not a new thing for me. What did surprise me was the fact that the majority of the people in the club acted as if this were a normal everyday thing.
I was amused and in awe at people’s comfort with the whole scene. I was not feeling at all nervous or uncomfortable; my partner on the other hand was still feeling uncomfortable. I tried to discuss the situation and to figure out what were, if any, the fears. Although I did not feel as if anyone was looking at use, my partner stated he was feeling as if we were on a stage and everyone was watching. After a bit of an argument in which I snapped back at him for feeling uncomfortable, we both went on the dance floor and began to dance. The tension automatically dissipated as we both enjoyed each other and the music. After that, we had a fantastic night dancing and watching the scene.
Towards the middle of the night, I commented to my partner that this was a bit boring. I mean, I was expecting more than what we were watching. He leaned over and informed me that this was not all. He had been watching people go to the back and come out wrapped in towels. He stopped and asked another couple what was in the back. They told us the rooms in the back were for people who wanted to engage in or watch others having sex, but the only way you could enter the rooms was if you disrobed and wore a towel. Naturally, we spoke about it for a while. I was not sure if I wanted to enter the rooms. I definitely was not sure if I wanted to take off my clothes and only wear a towel. My fear was that someone would want to touch me or have sex and I would not know how to handle it. My partner assured me he would not let anyone touch me and if I felt uncomfortable, we would immediately leave. Therefore, we decided to go to the back. Now I was the one that was nervous. Various thoughts rushed through my head. What if someone tries to touch me? What will other people think if they knew? How would I feel watching other people? What if I actually enjoy watching? How would I feel afterwards?
There we were in our towels walking towards the couple’s area. Wow, is all that popped into my head when I went in. There were naked couple’s laying everywhere, touching, kissing, and caressing all nonchalantly. We walked even further towards the back rooms. There I really was in shock. Against one wall was a row of beds with naked couples engaged in coitus. On the other wall were rows of couches with other couples sitting watching. I made a joke to my partner saying I could not help thinking of the old bible tail of “Sodom and Gomorra.”
I was fixated, I could not stop watching and the more I watched, the more excited I felt. My excitement came from the idea that people were engaging in sexual acts in such a natural way and no one was judging, criticizing, or telling them to stop. In fact, people were enjoying watching. They were taking pleasure in seeing other people enjoy themselves sexually. The more I watched and the more I thought about what must be going through people’s minds, the more comfortable with the scene I became. I can understand why people enjoy it. Sex is a natural part of being human and watching others sexually express themselves is freeing. At least for me it felt that way.
Afterwards, when we had watched enough, I asked my partner if we could go home because I was excited and I wanted us to engage in some sexual exploration by ourselves. Watching others sexually engage so openly was very erotic, sensual, and exciting to me.
The next day, we both spoke about our experience the entire day. The more we discussed what we were thinking and feeling, the more sexually excited we became for each other. I began to understand why some couples engage in this type of activity. It can help couples in the sexual exploration of their fantasies. It can bring some excitement into their sex lives. It can create a level of eroticism that can be discussed and enjoyed. I think I walked away from this experience with a new understanding of sex, intimacy, and love. I learned a lot about my fantasies, including what boundaries I was willing to stretch. It assisted me in freeing myself further from the religious notions that sex is only for procreation and should not be enjoyed. Furthermore, that you can share all those things with your intimate partner and become even closer as a couple.
Murray, K.M., Ciarrocchi, J.W. & Murray-Swank, N.A., (2007). Spirituality, religiosity, shame and guilt as predictors of sexual attitudes and experiences. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 35 (3), 222-234.
Dark Geek (2004). About Swinging. Retrieved on March 22, 2009, from www.about-swinging.co.uk.
Swinger Personals, (2009). Beginners guide to swinging. Retrieved on March 22, 2009, from http://www.swinger-personals.co.uk/beginners-guide-to-swinging.html
Actual Swingers, (2005). Actual Swingers. Retrieved on March 22, 2009, from www.actualswingers.com.