What I Saw During 12 Hours On the Hook-Up Site Replacing Tinder
For 20 and 30-somethings looking purely for hook-ups, Fab Swingers is exploding in popularity as apps focus on relationships and websites lose their "personals" sections.
Photo: Chloe Orefice
It's 9PM on a Saturday when a 36-year-old woman writes, "Looking forward to my sexy meet tonight," pinging the message off to thousands of men and couples across London. A few dozen will reply, trying to convince her to meet them instead with either pick-up lines or, occasionally, money or drugs. Most, however, will put exclamation points on their messages in the form of dick pics.
Welcome to FabSwingers.com, a popular site among British swingers and an exploding number of 20 to 30-somethings who are abandoning the likes of Tinder in favour of the easy hook-ups it seems to provide. For an idea of what people come here for, here's a random selection of user reviews:
A basic website that seems to have not been updated since 1995, Fab Swingers is available in four countries outside Britain (including Ireland and the US), and despite not having an app has over 200,000 unique users a day, along with 30,000 online at pretty much all times. With user profiles and status updates, it's essentially Facebook with nudes – plus a little touch of eBay, insomuch as people leave reviews and verifications for other users, only these focus less on reliability or design, and more on stamina, girth or "smell".
Each user also has an "interests" section, where they can state what they're into – be it cuckolding, dogging or watersports – and using the site is free, though you pay for features like seeing who views your profile and HD photos.
At 10PM, a trans woman writes that she and a friend are at E15 Club – a gay sauna in Stratford – "looking for snow". Her profile pic is blurry, but that's not out of the ordinary amid Fab Swingers' universally poor photography.
Of course, most faces are hidden – reserved instead for private messages – though a surprising number do show theirs publicly, sometimes even attached to other people's genitals. The extreme close-up is the most common type of shot on Fab Swingers, with hairless labia and flabby penises dissecting screens like blunt penknives. In fact, the amount of dick pics on a profile is usually inverse to the amount of reviews, meaning that – no matter how pretty you think your cock is – photographing it from ten different angles predictably diminishes your chances of getting laid.
Unlike most women on Fab Swingers, one 23-year-old tells me that she doesn't see the problem: "We’re clearly on a site devoted to sex, so dick pics actually help me wade through everyone. I'm a bit of a size queen, so if a hung guy sends me a dick pic and he seems cute, then I take more notice over a guy with [no dick pics]."
Out of the thousands of messages she receives, she says, 85 percent feature cock shots: "Maybe that’s why other women find it bothersome, but it's not like the site is for meeting your knitting group, so why get offended?"
At 2AM, a 25-year-old woman writes that she's high and "looking for naughty company". Another common preference on here is that women want men to be "gym fit", which is fair enough in an economy of flesh, but not exactly a look most women on Fab Swingers have themselves. Luckily for those women – and unluckily for men who don't know what "macros" or "renegade rows" are – there are plenty of budget Dwayne Johnsons on here.
At 3AM, a man in Camden asks, "Can accomodate [sic] in NW5 have party stuff aswell [sic] who wants to play?"
Naturally, profile lengths vary, with some users writing one-line bios and others Proustian treatises – though judging by the amount of headings like "READ PROFILE FIRST", most go unread, with messages presumably dashed off in one-handed haste. Preferences are stated anyway; the most common for both sexes is no body hair, which is hardly novel.
For couples, the lure seems more about engaging in what we know as traditional swinging, where longterm relationships open themselves up in order to – theoretically – get stronger. Ironically, despite someone banging your significant other being more offensive to non-swingers than singles having casual sex, couples on Fab Swingers appear better-adjusted, safer and less prone to the site's downsides than others. This suggests that, rather than being byproducts of swinging, these downsides have migrated over with users looking for quick sex with no understanding of "the lifestyle". Many of these have come from Tinder and OkCupid, along with Craigslist's recently deleted personals section: all previous ports for people wanting to get it in.
"The main issue with Tinder is that, as its popularity grew, so did its functionality," one 27-year-old Fab Swingers user tells me. "It went from being 'booty call on campus' to a universal dating app."
He says that, since Craigslist deleted its personals section last March, users have scattered not only to Fab Swingers but also FetLife.com and Reddit. He also believes that traditional swinging has dwindled because of generational change: "Swinging isn't as popular with younger demographics due to poly couples becoming more commonplace. Casual sex [also] isn't as taboo as it was 20 years ago."
Most recently, he says, he's seen a huge rise in young women joining Fab Swingers because of what he calls "the normalisation of 'daddy' kinks".
At 4AM, a couple in their late-thirties asks, "Who's around now SE9 for a 3 sum [sic]?" before giving out their Kik username – an anonymous messenger app used by many Fab Swingers members.
One downside is fakes, as despite most users being verified – if not by others, then by photographing themselves alongside their usernames – thousands are not. If a profile has no verifications and isn't brand new, something is likely afoot – especially when photos of a beautiful woman or impossibly large dick are involved. These fakes often invite unsuspecting users onto Kik, where they'll solicit face pics or videos before disappearing, having presumably gotten their kicks.
Though Fab Swingers claims to safeguard against this, Google image-searching someone’s photos before chatting is smart, as pictures are frequently taken from porn sites and social media.
Another downside is the prevalence of unprotected sex, as evidenced not only by photos, but profiles where interests like "bareback" and "cream pies" are explicitly stated. The sharp tip of this iceberg is "breeding", a growing fetish where people literally aim to conceive a child during no-strings-attached hookups.
Breeding is a common kink among dominant men on Fab Swingers, says the 23-year-old woman I speak to" "I get a lot of guys enquiring about it, and even offering to pay me to cum in my pussy. In fact, I've been getting close to a new dom who's very into the idea of breeding me. To him, the best way to make me his is to plant his seed in me. It’s about ownership and intimacy for some."
The 27-year-old guy I speak to, however, believes that Fab Swingers’ biggest downside is the lack of inclusion. "Fab offers people the opportunity to indulge in certain desires – however, it also highlights questionable personal values and cultural views," he says. "I'm bisexual. Some members from older generations or religious backgrounds refuse to associate or message someone labelled as such. Apparently hosting an orgy is fine, but the fact that you may have slept with the same sex is immoral."
Trans people get it even worse, he says: "The aggressive views people have towards [them] are far more openly hostile. Even having your profile verified by or linked to a trans person is a black spot to some."
It's 7AM now and the sun is rising on another cold Sunday in London. A guy with "creampie" in his username has evidently had a great evening, writing, "Wow what a night, another non-stop cum filling gangbang party with 2 girls going home dripping with warm cum."
When users meet, some prefer to have a drink first, while others like getting straight to it, with reviews rife with tales of women opening doors in lingerie. Generally, women and couples seem more open to accommodating, while men seem more open to paying for hotel rooms or having sex in cars. The reason for this, a cynic might argue, is that these men are cheating on their wives and girlfriends.
Horniness partly explains Fab Swingers' popularity. For women especially, the site is a stigma-free zone where heightened sexuality can be explored anonymously. Researching this story, however, and trawling through the site for many weeks, the amount of time users are spending on there became apparent. In London alone, hundreds of the same men and women are logged in all the time, while thousands of the same people log in multiple times an hour – not to mention many others doing this around the rest of the UK.
On the female profile I created to access men, dozens of the same guys messaged me morning, noon and night, despite me never replying, posting a photo or writing a single word on the profile. About a third of active users appear to have never met anyone, even though some of their accounts are over a year old.
This leads me to wonder if horniness is that big of a factor in Fab Swingers' popularity – or if, in fact, it's more about escapism. Though sexual fantasies lure people here, what keeps them coming back may be the site's constant activity, where things like messaging, searching and taking photos can turn one hour into five, and – like gaming, drugs and social media – offer mental relief from the rigours of everyday life.
Of course, nothing provides escape quite like casual sex, but on Fab Swingers, the quest for something that is, by definition, meaningless seems much more important than actually attaining it.
As the site explodes in popularity, then, what this reveals about users – and perhaps the intolerable nature of modern existence – goes way beyond their naked flesh.
"I do feel slightly addicted," says the 23-year-old woman, "especially when you get so many messages and positive attention. In my real life I’m a loner, so it sounds lame but it’s just nice to feel noticed, even though I worry about what that might mean for my self-worth. I've had a difficult year, struggling with [my] mental health alone, and places like Fab Swingers have served as a good distraction."
By 8AM the sun is almost completely up. Throughout London, Saturday night's festivities appear to have come to an end, with satisfied sighs echoing across Fab Swingers. "What a night xxx," writes one 37-year-old woman. "Well that was fun," writes another user in Clapham. Then, with the final layer of darkness evaporating upon the Thames, a 28-year-old gay guy signals that, on Fab Swingers, Sunday morning's festivities have only just begun.
"Free place," he writes. "Any hard cocks around?"
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.