Sex

A Beginner's Guide to Swinging

Navigating the delicate and smutty social ballet of foursomes takes planning ahead, especially if you and your partner are brand-new to group sex.
May 21, 2021, 4:50pm
Four people sit on the couch on a double date
Photo by Westend61 via Getty Images
Advice on the finer points of having great sex.

Maybe you and your partner are curious about hooking up with another person and their partner. Maybe you’ve fantasized about it, have even started talking about it, and are now wondering: If you’ve only ever been in monogamous relationships, how do you begin the process of opening up as a couple? How do you talk to your partner about it as you go? How do you meet other couples who might be into you—and when you do, what do you say to them, and then how do you actually, you know, fuck them? 

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To help navigate this delicate and smutty social and emotional ballet, I’ve enlisted the help of sex educators, seasoned coupled-sex-havers, and relationship therapists to give you a guide to getting it on in groups. Here’s how to pair off, times two.

What should my partner and I do before we venture out into (what we’re truly hoping is) the wild and sexy world of swinging?

So maybe you and your partner have generally agreed you want to swing with another couple. Great! Even if you think you’re on the same page: Have several conversations with your partner to make sure, and do that way before you sign up for apps, attend sex parties, or chat up people about a potential foursome sitch—that way, you have time to think things over and change your mind, if you want. Talking about every little detail in advance might feel like overkill, or uncomfortable—but that signals that finding out the information at hand by having it unfold in the moment would feel quite a lot worse.

“Know what's on the table, and what's off the table—don't guess, or question after the fact,” said Avry Todd, a psychotherapist who works with couples and individuals. “Talk through scenarios, circumstances, and scenes that would be the most comfortable, appropriate and enjoyable,” Todd said. 

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Get ready, because here’s a frankly massive list of some of the questions you’ll probably want to consider: 

  • Are there sex acts/positions/scenarios that you’re uncomfortable with?
  •  What turns you on most about trying this?
  • What would make you feel amazing before, during, and after this experience?
  •  How do you feel about condoms and other forms of birth control? 
  • What concerns do you have about STIs? 
  • What are your boundaries around kissing, cuddling, oral, penetrative sex, anal, BDSM, dirty talk, sleepovers, sharing a bed, flirtatious texting? 
  • Are there acts, toys, or positions you want to keep just between the two of you? 
  • If one or both of you become jealous or wants to stop, how are you going to deal with that? Will you have a signal to convey these feelings? 
  • Do you want to be open about this, or keep it on the DL? 
  • What plans do you have to check in after sex itself?

Sassy, a sex educator, communication facilitator, and steward of the all-girl orgy Girl Pile, suggested that both members of a couple “fill out a ‘yes/no/maybe’ chart to explore what activities (and relationship options) are on the table.”  (Sassy’s last name has been omitted here for privacy reasons.) Yes/no/maybe charts are popular in kink circles as a way to suss out what sex acts and scenarios a person likes/kinda might like, in the right circumstances/hard passes on. (Google “yes no maybe chart” to see more examples.) Think about not just sexual activities, but all activities surrounding sex.

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Ask each other, in broad strokes, who you’re looking to hook up with: Are one or both partners queer, and do they want to explore sex with people of different genders than their primary partner’s? When it comes to the participants, this is the one zone where it might not be best to zero in on the exact person you’re fantasizing about right away—check with your partner about the level of detail you’re each comfortable with. 

As you mull the people you’d potentially like to get involved with together, sex educator and self-identified “queer polyamorous slut” Reid Mihalko proposed you and your partner ask each other, “‘What do you need to feel physically safe? What do you need to feel emotionally safe? And then: what's going to turn you on? Would you feel safer sleeping with somebody you know, or sleeping with a stranger?’” 

Mihalko pointed out that going with people who you both already know might “feel emotionally safer” to some people, but that others might insist, “‘It has to be somebody we don't know, like, I do not want to be running into this person we slept with at a PTA meeting,’” or any other anodyne place where you don’t want to be confronted with your sexual adventures. Understandable!

Of course: Even if your preliminary conversation is exhaustive and detailed, a successful communication plan here isn’t a one-and-done chat. Opening up your relationship is a big shift, and you’ll want to make space for all the feelings that are bound to arise—the good, the bad, and the dirty. Above all: Sassy stressed that couples work from a solid, stable, and trusting place. And if one person—or both—is reluctant or uncomfortable, just don’t swing. You don’t have to swing!

Cool, but we want to—we talked through it, and we’re sure! How do we get going with finding other people? Are there apps for this kind of arrangement?

Once you’ve talked with your partner and figured out what you’re both looking for, and what your turn ons and boundaries are, the hard part becomes finding people you’re both attracted to, who also want what you want. For many couples, this is the part that requires the most patience: Just as it likely took time and effort and many blah dates before you found your current partner, the same is true for finding a pair you click with. 

You don’t have to leave things to chance, just hoping you happen to meet a pair of cool swingers somewhere along your path as you bop through life. There are many, many places to actively look for another couple. 

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While it can be annoying to others to flood mainstream dating apps with couple-seeking-hookups profiles, some apps and websites specifically focus on group sex:

  • Feeld. Originally a threesome app, Feeld has since expanded into a dating app for couples and singles that’s largely used by non-monogamous people and people into kink. It has a big membership base, is popular with couples, and is inclusive of all genders.
  • Swingery. One of the more popular apps for those “in the lifestyle,” and for those seeking threesomes. It’s similar to other dating apps in that you can match, message, share photos, and so on.
  • Kasidie. Those not wanting to go the app route might try this membership site for swingers, kink enthusiasts, and other sexually adventurous people. A pro: It has a bulletin board for swingers events all over the world. A con: Many of the features cost money.
  • SLS. One of the oldest sites, SLS has been around since 2001! It boasts a large and active user base, plus swingers events and clubs, groups, forums, and dating profiles.
  • FetLifeFetLife is a social network primarily focused on kink. It’s not a dating site, though people do use it for that. It points people to tons of sex-positive events, parties, and social activities. You can also join groups depending on what interests you sexually. The downside is it’s kind of hard to search for people, aside from what their kinks are.
  • Adult Friend Finder. AFF is open to all kinds of arrangements: swinging, polygamy, and even monogamous dating—just, you know, casual. It also has a large membership base and acts as a social networking site.

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You should treat your couples profile similarly to how you’d treat a solo dating profile: Be upfront about what you’re looking for in a person. (Don’t treat them like a sex toy, though—more on that below.) When I say, “be upfront,” I don’t mean including a laundry list of your kinks (unless your particular kink is very specialized and rare and you really, really want to meet people who share it). Imagine meeting someone in person and launching into a speech about how much you love pegging, covering people’s nipples in raspberry jam, and the Anxious Manatee position. It’d be… a lot. Don’t be that guy. 

Post photos that are recent and accurately reflect what both of you look like. Don’t just post pictures of the woman, if you’re a hetero couple. It’s weird! And makes people wonder why the man is hiding. And don’t be afraid to show some personality! The more quirks/hobbies/interests people have to connect with you about, the easier it’ll be to strike up a conversation.

If you have a little more time, you can look into Facebook communities in your area that focus on swinging, polyamory, poly, or open relationships. (You can even use those exact keywords, or even be more specific, depending on what you’re into. If you’re a “queer poly anarchist seeking radical couples,” there’s probably a group for you.)  There’s often a vetting process with these groups, so be on your best behavior. Meaning be polite, courteous, and non-spammy.

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OK: Let’s say you match with the couple of your dreams. It’s tempting, especially if you’re in an online space that’s more sexually permissive, to express every filthy desire right off the bat. I’d caution against that, in a similar sense that you wouldn’t tell a near stranger about, like, your financial problems or your recent bout with indigestion. Treat people like people. As Sassy cautioned, “Be careful with language: Don't objectify people (unless you know that's their thing and it's at least a second date), and if they're a different race, gender, or ability than you, educate yourself so you don't accidentally do several kinds of harm at once.”

Once a flirtation and rapport has been established with a couple, Sassy recommended asking open-ended questions to get to know them a little better. “Don't make a script in your head and expect them to know their lines. Prepare a few key questions and then follow the conversation,” she said. Things like: Do you want to go on dates, or keep it strictly in the bedroom? Are all parties looking to bang all other parties, or will only certain genders be engaging in certain activities? If both couples are hetero, are there rules around what’s OK and what’s not with the same-sex people? What are your fantasies? What are one or two things you’d love to see or have happen? (This is where you’ll be glad you filled out that yes/no/maybe chart earlier.) 

In the case that you’re not quite comfortable putting yourself out there online, or it just isn’t for you, don’t despair: You never know when or how you’ll meet people, even if it takes a little longer! Think of these sites as tools—not the be-all-end-all of dating possibilities.

Yeah—meeting potential hookups in person feels more like our speed, and we maybe even think we know couples that might be into it! How should we feel out people IRL to find out if they’re down to swing?

Mihalko suggested choosing people who have experience with group sex already, though he admitted it’s not always easy to find out that information, as one can’t just make a social media post asking, “Who’s had a bunch of threesomes?” If you’ve developed mutual trust and intimacy with a couple more generally, then intimate discussions might feel easier in this sense, as well. “Start with the common ground—your relationship as it is—and go from there,” Sassy said. If you’re very close with a couple, you can probably rest assured that asking won’t jeopardize your friendship, even if it’s a no. 

As with your own relationship, it’s best to approach people whose relationships with not just you, but each other, feel solid. Granted, you may not know, since many couples don’t tend to air their dirty laundry in public, but: Are they affectionate? Loving? Do they make eye contact and generally boost each other up? All good signs that getting involved with them doesn’t carry a particularly high risk of drama. (Although drama is sometimes unavoidable here! But you can do your best to mitigate it beforehand.)

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If you have no clue whether a couple might stand on the topic, but you have a hunch they’d be at least chill about turning you down without their feeling too weird, bring it up with both of them in conversation in a neutral way—in the same tone you’d use to solicit their thoughts on brunch places or the best sweatpants, e.g., lightly, and without any pressure or leading questions suggesting that anyone needs to respond a certain way—and see how that goes. 

You might mention that you read this excellent article on VICE (*cough*) about how a couple might get it on with another couple, and it led to all kinds of fascinating discussions between you as partners. Or you might say a friend/an acquaintance has decided to dip a toe in these waters, and what do your friends think of that? A person or pair might (and, look, probably will) see right through this line of questioning, especially if they’re potentially interested, but the goal is to gauge their interest, hence, it’s OK to be a little obvious—and you still have plausible deniability, either way.

If the other couple mentions that they’re into it, or it’s a couple you know especially well, you could even be more direct about it and tell them that it’s something you’re considering as a couple. Ask them what their views are—again, in a non-pressuring way. By asking a potential couple for their opinion directly, you’ll know outright where they fall on the matter and can proceed (or not) accordingly.

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From there: Just ask if they’d ever be open to doin’ a swing with you, telling them outright that you don’t expect any one answer, and that you completely understand if they say no. If, however, you’re not as close, it’s best to tread lightly. 

If people are into it? Nice! Get ready for a fuckton more conversation. Basically, go through the first step here anew, since you’ll have four different sets of desires and boundaries to account for.

What happens when it actually comes time to have sex—or hook up in any way, shape, or form—with the people you’re swinging with?

You’ve talked, you’ve flirted, you’ve planned, and now the big event has arrived. What should you do? Well, in general: “Go slow—like, painfully slow,” Mihalko suggested. Meaning, you don’t have to go “all the way” right away. Or at all. Not only does going slow increase the erotic tension, but it gives everyone a little more room to breathe and feel each other out (and up).

Mihalko elaborated: “Maybe your first time, you actually get together with everybody and leave your underwear on. Or maybe you just make out and take your tops off, or maybe you all shower together,” and save more involved sex acts for a future encounter. “It’s better to get together more times, and work your way up to a point when everything's on the table, than to try to do it all at once and have it explode in everyone's faces,” Mihalko said.

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He also noted that group sex might feel a little more urgent at this moment in time, which every person involved should be aware of and account for as they go: “Everyone's starving right now for connection and adventure in a way we've probably never been before,” he said. “The bumper sticker adage of ‘Don't go food shopping when you’re hungry’ applies here”—don’t overdo it just because you’re feeling really turned on in the moment and are like, I want EVERYTHING, NOW.

All the experts and sex-havers that spoke to VICE agreed that each person, as well as each couple as a unit, should check in throughout the experience. “Take the temperature,” Todd suggested. “This would be a good time to remind your person that you care for them deeply, that you're excited to be having a new experience together, and you're excited to go home together and reconnect.” 

Sassy said that, when it comes to your partner, you should do “lots of watching for body language,” and that, for everyone, it’s best “not to be afraid to jump in with a clarifying question, or a paraphrase-and-reflect.” This might seem like a tall order when you’re trying to get your rocks off, but it’s pretty basic communication skills at work. For instance, it can be as simple as, you make eye contact with your partner while they’re thrusting, and they smile back at you. Bam, you’ve checked in. An example of a paraphrase-and-reflect might go like this:

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Person 1: “A little softer, please.”

Person 2: “Softer? Like this?”

Person 1: “Yes, perfect.”

Checking in also doesn’t mean you have to have a long conversation (for once!!). It can mean glancing to see if your partner is smiling, laughing, or moaning. Or are they shut down and/or laying catatonically while everyone else frolics? (I hope not! But if they are, stop.) If something seems or feels off to you, “Don’t be afraid to call a timeout,” as Mihalko put it. It’s better to go not far enough than it is to go too far.

Throughout your experience: Keep your expectations in check. People new to group sex tend to have ideas about what it should look like, usually from watching porn. “Group sex is a lot more awkward than any porn depiction, Sassy said. “If you can't laugh and also ask ‘obvious’ questions and work together to figure out where the heck that fourth arm should go in this position, it will be less than fun for you.” 

What happens after sex? 

Congratulate yourselves on having this new and, hopefully, superhot experience. Every couple processes a little different, but having an aftercare plan (that is, a plan to show your partner love, care, and affection, if they want it, after sex) in place is helpful. It’s an important and lovely part of reconnecting after a new or intense sexual experience that you can (and should) do anytime you want, not just when couple-swapping. 

Reconnecting with your partner is a must. “I encourage lots of communication that nods to the attachment you have to your unique partner,” Todd said. That might be words of affirmation, like saying how happy you are to have experienced this amazing, new thing with them, how much you love their openness, how much you trust them and love being with them, how hot they looked, and so on. 

You might want to recount the night in all its hot details. You might want to snug in silence. You might want some by yourself time to self-reflect. You might even want to debrief with the other couple, which Sassy is a fan of: “Involve them in the debrief! They should be included in ways that are mutually safe, awesome, and fun,” she said. 

The first forays into group sex are a lot like traveling to a very foreign place—you can’t really know what to expect, despite how much research and fantasizing you do—which is why you actually go in the first place! Also like that experience: A little preparation goes a long way, and especially when it comes to four-ways.

Follow Anna Pulley on Twitter.