Darwin believed that jealousy was widespread and natural... but how do swingers cope with it? Read on
Jealousy and swinging
" … for hardly any other cause, except the scarcity of women
seems sufficient to break down the natural and widely prevalent
feeling of jealousy, and the desire of each male
to possess a female for himself... "
I. What is Jealousy?
Darwin believed that jealousy is widespread and natural. He also gave it a possessive connotation of mate owning mate. Maybe it is, but it is not an unmovable force of nature, it is just a human emotion, and as such, it is influenced by our gender, social surroundings, values, attitudes and behavior patterns. Swingers as caring individuals have learnt to manage the negative emotion of jealousy as we will prove below.
Jealousy is an emotional state, provoked by the idea that somebody else has taken an object (in general, a ’love-object’) which by right belongs to the individual, or at least that one has to share the object with another person30.
II. Monogamy and jealousy.
Monogamy apparently promotes secure relationships eliminating jealousy. Being paired off on a one-to-one basis, there is certainty (if affairs are excluded) of exculsivity in sexual access within each couple. This exclusivity eliminates a potential factor of jealousy, promoting a feeling of security, intimacy, and stability in relationships.
It can be said, using Darwin’s posture that monogamy equates marriage with mutual possession: spouses ’belong’ to each othe and thus the risk of any third party taking one of them is minimized.
However, not only does external threats provoke jealousy, it has been proven21 that there is a positive correlation between jealousy and insecurity in men, and jealousy and low self-esteem for both sexesm also the idealized notion of romantic love may also lead to jelousy. All of these are subjective events that have no real existence outside of the jealous person’s mind. So even in the apparent safety of a monogamous relationship, jealousy can and does appear due to internal emotional and entirely subjective causes.
III. Alternative relationships.
"If You Love Somebody Set Them Free"36 Sting
"...A lack of sexual exclusiveness in long-term relationships...in addition to the central primary relationship, ...recognises other less permanent, sexual or non-sexual relationships, which may in themselves be mutually rewarding and self-fulfilling"35 & 31. As mentioned in other articles (The Joys of swinging) swinging offers spouses the opportunity to combine the novelty of sex with other partners with the stability of a loving relationship.
Conventional society views open marriages and innovations in traditional monogamy, such as swinging, as problematic, asserting that they "...have proven disruptive to the marriages of most of those who have practiced them, and [are] too threatening to the majority...".
The fact is that people innately need a binding emotional tie with someone else (love) and "...since for most people sex is so closely bound up with deep emotions, extramarital sexual acts are severely threatening to the emotional identity and security that marriage seems to offer" 31 & 34. In other words, these alternative marriage styles are not suitable to all. The great majority of humans have difficulties in coping with them since they are likely to promote feelings of insecurity, resentment toward outside parties, and sexual jealousy32.
Those that do explore open marriage alternatives with an open mind and a primary relationship based on communication, love and honesty, have in general, happy and stable open marriages. It has also been suggested that open marriage relationships are based primarily on liking rather than on idealized romantic love and that way avoid jealousy. In other words, love, as a romantic ideal is not a valid paradigm for swingers, liking, enjoying and sharing each other, beyond ownership or posession are the values of swingers (be with me because you really love me).
Nevertheless, it is a fact that sexual non-monogamy proves to be too difficult for most couples to cope with31.
It is these changing attitudes of a vast number of people, that are making society re-examine long-held ideas regarding jealousy, sexual exclusivity and the notion that a sexual partner is a possesion, a belonging.
Also, and this is very important, the idea that jealousy is a sure sign of love is also falling into disrepute20, in other words, love is not about possessing people, but granting freedom and respect.
IV. Gender differences in jealousy.
Q: Sex or Love what makes people jealous?
A: Women: love. Men: both (depending on your culture).
When given two dilemma’s in forced-choice questionnaires, such as: "imagining your partner forming a deep emotional attachment to a person" [emotional infidelity] or "imagining your partner enjoying passionate sexual intercourse with that other person" [sexual infidelity], the responses given by those polled are consistent and interesting, even across different cultures37:
Significantly more men than women report that the thought of a partner’s sexual infidelity is more distressing than the thought of a partner’s emotional involvement11.
Men were always more upset by sexual infidelity than women: 51% versus 22% of the women in one questionnaire (see Table below), and 38% versus 13% of the women in another.
A majority of women are very upset by male emotional infidelity (between 95% and 68%).
Percentage choosing sexual infidelity as more upsetting in different surveys
Taken from Buller David J. A Skeptical Look at Evolutionary Psychology, provides data from Buss et al. 1992, Geary et al. 1995, Buunk et al. 199637.
Jealousy in Men. Implicancies regarding swinging.
The data shows that as Buss proposes, indeed, on average, half of male subjects chose sexual infidelity as more distressing than emotional infidelity but it is equally valid to assert that the other 50% chose emotional infidelity as more distressing than sexual infidelity.
It is among these men, who care about emotional aspects, not sexual ones, that we will find the swinger males (those who do not feel jealous about their partners having sex with other people).
Those men who are distressed by sexual "infidelity" will be too jealous to participate in the swinging lifestyle, and as mentioned above, should opt for a monogamous relationship.
So, most of the American (US) or Korean more males, that find sexual infidelity to be more upsetting than emotional infidelity (76% and 59%) and those Chinese and German men (21% and 28%) who find sexual infidelity more hurting will not be swinger.
However, the others, those that are not upset by sexual infidelity: 24% (Americans), 41% (Koreans), 79% (Chinese) and 72% (Germans), if they view swinging as a non-emotional matter (because, emotional involvment distresses them), may not feel the pangs of jealousy and are potential swingers.
Men do get excited imagining their partners having sex with other males: A study by psychologist Christine Harris37 found that, men who were asked to imagine their partners’ having sex with another male showed greater physiological arousal than those who were asked to imagine their partners’ forming an emotional attachment to another man. Sexual infidelity aroused them more than an emotional on (to be fair, men were equally aroused when asked to imagine themselves having sexual intercourse with their partners and an imagined sexual infidelity), maybe men are aroused by sexual imagery whatever its content, however when enacted in real life, many are turned off.
So it is the husbands, who being more prone to arousal, are more likely to initiate swinging: in a Canadian swinging group surveyed husbands initiated swinging activities 58.7% of the time, and wives initiated it 12% of the time27 & 26.
Jealousy in Women. Implicancies regarding swinging.
Regarding women, the data is inequivocal, a great majority (78 to 87% depending on the survey) of them are emotionally jealous, but not distressed by sexual infidelity, so also, should be prone to swinging. Nevertheless, as other studies5 however showed that women experienced more distress over all conditions of infidelity (sexual, emotional, and the combination of sexual and emotional) than did men, we must consider the potential quantity of swinger women, as much lower than 78-87%.
Women, regarding jealousy may appear more realistic regarding jealousy as they also feel less responsible for their partner's disloyalty than men do.5, yet they are more jealous than men, this was revealed by a study of Dutch people who were or had been in sexually open marriages. In that study variables such as self-esteem, age, emotional dependency, and marital satisfaction were only weakly related to jealousy if at all, so other elements must be factored in to the jealousy equation29.
Women are introduced in swinging by their spouses, and while many wives are initially rather reluctant to get involved in swinging (perhaps fearing their spouses or their own emotional involvement), once they do, they accept initial experiences more successfully than males, who may be turned off by the experience and feel jealousy (of the sexual kind).
Women on the other hand are more drastic, they either become enthusiastic converts or are completely turned off by the experience.
V. Coping with jealousy in swinging.
Coping with jealousy.
Jealosy is totally ineffective, as it merely acts externally and can have little or no real influence; the jealous person seldom makes himself more lovable by his jealousy and frequently is much less lovable. The main effect of jealousy is to increase and even enhance the causes for jealousy, and at the same time to encourage hypocrisy7.
Many things can lead to jealousy: as already mentioned, a feeling of lack of confidence or insecurity. In the swinging lifestyle, there are plenty of factors that can cause these feelings: a partner seeing his spouse engaging in sex and trying something new, doing more than previously done inside the relationship, going a little further, enjoying it, clicking nicely with some third party, or any subjective sexual factor. These are distrubing factors that can fuel jealousy.
A shaky relationship is a sure road to jealousy. Broken communication lines, frequent rows, are an alert sign. Spouses should try to find out what the real issue is, and then solve it. This can only be done by talking and listening to each other, and it will help ease the painful feelings of jealousy and also help improve the basic relationship.
The basic "swinging rules" that both partners have agreed upon are key to avoiding jealousy: some examples reported in the swinging world are, for instance, only kiss your spouse, or if coming, only look in her/his eyes. Each partner knows what are the important "things" so, they reserve that intimacy for each other and avoid the things that may hurt each other15.
Those who can’t cope: Dropouts.
Swinging only works if both spouses want the same mix of novelty and predictability in their sex lives, so a delicate balance must be struck between spouses, and many can not cope33, 31 & 28.
These couples who can not cope with jealousy are "Dropouts" of swinging, and have reported problems with jealousy, guilt, emotional attachment, and perceived threat to the marriage. We have not been able to find studies comparing dropouts and those who do enjoy and continue swinging26 & 24.
If jealousy appears, it should be talked about. As soon as either spouse feels the negative emotions of jealousy she or he should talk about it with the other partner.
Swinger drop-outs, are those that could not cope with the lifestyle. Research done in the US (1974)24 asked therapists about patients that were former swingers, trying to find out why did they stop swinging. Although these couples were in therapy (there is no comparison to those who swing and do continue in the lifestyle without dropping out), and the information was second hand (which flaws the study), it gives an insight into the pangs of guilt and jealousy. The results showed that quitting was due to:
15% Threat to the marriage
12% Development of outside attachments
11% Boredom with swinging
7% Disappointment with swinging
6% Divorce or separation
6% Wife's inability to "take it"
3% Fear of discovery
It seems that nearly half (48%) dropped out due to jealousy or inability to cope with lifestyle (either by not being able to do so or by the couples’ cracking relationship: divorce or creating "bonds" outside of the marriage). The other 52% left the lifestyle for other reasons.
VI. Swingers’ attitudes towards jealousy.
Q: Are swingers as a group, jealous?
A: They are not.
A study (see following Table) have revealed that nearly 68% of swingers say that they have no problem with jealousy, while nearly 26% said that they did have some difficulty in managing jealousy while swinging, while 6% were much more jealous2. So it seems that swinger lifestyle couples are not so affected by jealousy.
Another paper indicated that swingers, compared to nonswingers, perceived themselves as less jealous than non-swingers and that non-jealous swingers were more liberal than non-jealous non-swingers on a number of attitudinal items3.
Q: Why are swingers not jealous?
A: Because they communicate.
A paper that looked into lack of jealousy among swingers concluded that although jealousy is a common and acceptable response to a romantic partner's real or imagined infidelity, swingers manage jealousy by discussing and negotiating, building a shared couple identity, common rules and boundaries that let them enjoy swinging free from guilt. Instead of eliminating jealousy, swingers may manage these feelings and even increase their sexual excitement and arousal6.
Data showing Swingers’ Responses To the Question: "I have difficulty controlling jealousy when swinging."
Yes, Very Much
Not At All
Total (N= 1015)
Q: Are swingers as a group, more or less jealous than non-swingers?
A: Less jealous.
Other research, has also shown that jealousy is almost never an issue with couples who do swing: "... people in open marriages or people in group marriages usually experience lower levels of jealousy than those in monogamous relationships" and that "There is jealousy in or out of a marriage, but it is not as high because it's seen as something both people can enjoy"17.
Perhaps it is a the swinger’s mental attitude that allows them to be less jealous: a study compared ex-swinger couples, current swingers and a non swinger control group, proving that swingers and ex-swingers (dropouts) share more in common than non swingers, having a more anti-establishment attitude, more autonomy and more interest in friends and relatives22.
Q: Why are swingers not jealous?
A: Because they have learnt that sex is sex and love is love.
Swingers as a group seem to show an apparent absence of jealousy.We must point out, curiously, that swingers often describe themselves as having been very jealous of their spouses, despite this, they seem to have mastered their jealous feelings in some special way and thus find swinging a pleasurable sharing experience despite its artificiality and lack of real intimacy25, we will deal with this in depth further on (Cheating & swinging).
The swinger group as opposed to most people, dont find that sex is closely bound up with deep emotions, so for them, extramarital sexual acts don’t threaten them emotionally.
Some swingers who have experienced jealousy opt to stick with it, and they say that jealousy actually makes them even more sexually charged up, as well as creates deeper interest in their mates23.
VII. Jealousy and new swingers.
Despite these findings, swinging can foster jealousy because it involves sharing with strangers, a very basic physical feeling (sex) and the person that you love and have chosen as your partner.
So, it is possible for jealousy to find its way into swinging. Many couples have only had one sexual partner since their marriage, and seeing their partner having sex with a new partner can be quite a turn on for both partners or it can get one or both partners very jealous.
As mentioned above17, 26 & 27: it is usually the male who convinces his partner to enter the swinging lifesyle, however, in some of these cases, the couple fails at swinging because the male gets jealous that his wife is having more fun (frail male ego's): "Many males sometimes actually hear sounds like she is going to have an orgasm and they get scared that their wives are having more fun than they are. It is up to this point where couples stop the lifestyle" .
These negative emotions are very likely to be felt when people start exploring the swinging lifestyle, and soon discover that they have an odd feeling akin to jealousy either during or after the action.
Usually the advice for new swingers, who are not sure how they would feel in this type of situations is to take things very slowly and enter the lifestyle at a slow and comfortable pace. Many couples are ready to jump right in, but each couple knows itself well, and should be their own judge on what pace to take.
As mentioned elsewhere, Rules and Boundaries, it is always a good idea to talk things over, and in depth, before exploring the lifestyle. For those swingers that have understood the "game" notion, jealousy will not crop up.
Of course, it should go without saying that both partners must agree completely on wanting to swing, before even trying to explore the lifestyle. Surely, if one partner wasn’t too keen in the first place, then it is very likely that accusations and jealousy turn up at some point. If either spouse has cold feet or second thoughts about swinging, then they should not go into swinging. It is very likely that couples that have jealousy or conflict caused by swinging will not usually stay in the swinging lifestyle for long, dropping out.
VIII. Swinging is fun, it is a game, it is playing together, sharing.
Sharing and playing are the two keys to happines in swinging and in any activity that a couple does together. The objective is to have fun and enjoy yourselves together8 &15.
Swinging is a great experience that can reinforce a strong relationship but also break down a weak one. It is an enriching experience that can deeply and positively enhance your relationship and sexual enjoyment5.
Nothing better than taking swinging with the PlaycoupleTM philosophy: Swinging is not about real relationships it is just a game, swinging is playing and, most important, it is OK to have fun19.
Swinging is all about having fun together, just connecting with people on a purely physical basis, remaining "uninvolved" and detached emotionally.
Jealousy is pointless if you take swinging as a game, as playing: you play the game, then you disconnect, go home and have more fun with your spouse.
Besides, swinging is about friendly yet impersonal recreational sex, not about bonding emotionally nor about personal sex (that is what you have with your spouse, on your own, in your private personal one-on-one relationship)15.
A playful couple actually encourages their potential for full and lasting enjoyment in each and every way. They feel comfortable with their sexuality and willingly explore new ways and travel new paths to heighten their sensuality. They are in love with each other and is one of life’s greatest joys. They value the intimacy they share with each other and those that they choose to play with. They have fun.
Couples should discuss the "game" aspect. Feel it as a game, play and have fun.
After all, both of you know that you are having sexual experiences with other people, and yet, despite that, you still willingly and lovingly fall back into each others arms because you want to be together.
This notion, is crucial, it builds security, confidence and reassures both of you, after all, even though you are having sexual relationships with someone else, you come back to each other (love is love, sex is sex).
Besides taking it as a game, if the relationship is trusting, committed, both have an open mind towards swinging, and are communicating freely, it will help help vent hidden issues or potential conflict before they even become apparent. It improves the flow of feelings and emotion within the relationship4.
Watching a partner having sex, is an extremely erotic experience and sharing sex with others is highly exciting. These positive feelings offset and stifle jealousy, replacing it with a feeling of excitement, fullfillment and sensual well being.
If the relationship is strong, swinging is just another way for the partners to "play" with each other, it is another adventure that both are having together. And if both have always wanted to swing together and now are living out these fantasies, there is no room for jealousy.
IX. The case of triolism. Triolism’s (three-way sex) and jealousy.
Triolism. Sexual arousal through the sharing a sex partner with another individual and watching them have sex. It usually involves three persons -Threesome- (two men and a woman or two women and a man).
According to a study, in the US, "Eight million couples partak[e] in triolism annually..."10.
Positive: 80% of the couples described positive effects and only 20% described negative ones. The positive effects mentioned were sexuality (a generally improved sex life, wife dishinibitIon, a sense of excitement, variety and adventure as a couple), improved couple relationship.
Negative: Jealousy. These were 20% of those polled, husbands who had feelings of jealousy, hurt and anger.
Coping mechanisms. Some of these couples actively coped to prevent this (i.e. "We have an understanding that.. we would look upon it as if we were playing with a toy" (turning subject into object) or "differentiation was made between love and sex: while the husband is ’making love’ the other male is ’just having sex’..."9. These mechanisms were mentioned above: differentiation between physical and emotional aspects of pair bonding is a key issue in jelousy avoidance.
X. Cheating and infidelity.
Infidelity and jealousy. A paper6, links jealousy among the general population to infidelity, yet in the case of swinging the definition of infidelity is very particular and not what is usually considered as cheating.
Merriam-Webster OnLine dictionary defines Infidelity as "marital unfaithfulness", and unfaithfulness as "not faithful to marriage vows".
It should be noted that as swinging is a consensual non-monogamic activity and is practised together by both partners, this it implies an agreement and therefore, a new marital contract, that re-defines what the marriage vows really mean. Therefore for swingers, in swinging, there is no cheating or vow breaking and as infidelity does not exist, neither does jealousy.
Swinging is not cheating. Actually many couples who swing like the excitement of trying something new with different partners. According to research17, swingers do not see themselves as cheating on their mates.
So what is Infidelity for swingers: A romantic relationship or sexual encounter with an ’outside non-primary partner’, without the primary partner being present, would be considered cheating in the context of a swinger relationship.
Secret affairs are considered cheating to the swingers because the couples are honest and open about their relationships (in which they engage together). They can clearly see that ’Sex is sex and love is love there is a difference between lust and love". But, not many non-swinging couples can differentiate that.
As we have already mentioned, for swingers sex and love are not the same thing: a spouse can want to have sex with someone he loves (the other spouse), and can also want to have sex with someone that he does not love, some stranger, just for the sheer excitement of the experience.
This is possible because besides re-defining their notion of intimacy and faithfulness, swinger couples also have their private codes and boundaries and beliefs, which also cover what is cheating, and what is not: some think that coming inside another woman is unfaithful, other swingers (the majority) that not doing things openly, doing them behind your partners’ back is cheating16.
Cheating among non-swingers. Cheating is extremely common and fequent among married people (non-swinging).
According to a survey12, 16% of U.S. adults say that they have been unfaithful (14% have had sex outside of that relationship and 2% who’ve had sexual activity but not intercourse. Regarding gender, men cheat more (or are more open to admit it): 21% of men say they've cheated, as have 11% of women.
A survey (Good Housekeeping, April 2003) found that 40% of women (not swingers) aged over 40 had been unfaithful to their partner. The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles shows that in the 35-44 age group, 10% of men and 7% of women have been sleeping with more than one partner at the same time18.
People who are not satisfied with their sex lives are most likely to have strayed, as are single men over 30 (that includes divorced, separated and widowed men, as well as never-marrieds). People 50 and older in general are more likely than younger adults to have cheated12.
Cheating: Who's Done It
Cheating: By age
18 to 29
Q: Why do people cheat?
A: 45% (mostly men) cheated to fulfill a physical desire, while 33% (mostly women) did so to fulfill an emotional need (these tend to be long term affairs with the primary emotional objective), other women in short term affairs do so for sexual reasons.
Q: Why do women cheat?
A: Frustrated sex drives.
A number of studies, conducted over decades, have consistently found that the leading factor causing women to engage in short-term extramarital sexual affairs is sexual dissatisfaction in marriage. Although women who are emotionally dissatisfied in marriage also seek extramarital emotional involvements, they are not more likely than satisfied women to have extramarital sexual affairs: only sexually dissatisfied women are more likely to have extramarital sexual involvements37.
Sexually dissatisfied women are over twice as likely as sexually satisfied women to have extramarital sex37.
Q: With who do people cheat?
A: 70% with a friend, 39% with a stranger they casually met, 37% a co-worker and 15% a neighbor (does not tally to 100% as multiple answers were allowed)12.
Men tended to cheat more with co-workers or strangers. Both men and women cheated equally with friends.
Cheaters are more sexualy experimenting than non-cheaters: they have had an average of 29 sexual partners, are more likely to have watched sexually explicit videos, paid for sex or had revenge or rebound sex. They are also more prone to approve premarital sex and to say it’s OK to have sex without an emotional relationship (45% of cheaters say so, compared with 19% of others).
Over 66% have had sex outdoors, 30% have had sex at work (more than double the overall rate), 30% have had sex in a threesome (twice the rate for all adults) and another quarter have fantasized about it12, this may help to explain where do many of the third parties involved in a threesome (man or woman) come from: a cheating spouse.
A European perspective. In Britain, 42% of men and 31% of women have kissed another person while in an ongoing, regular partnership; the national average is 36% of married adults have kissed someone else yielding a national average of 36 per cent13. The following table shows the incidence of oral sex and sexual intercourse among British cheaters, it also shows that Britons become more unfaithful as time progresses13.
Cheating: By age
had oral sex %
had vaginal sex %
18 to 29
This increase of infidelity both in US and UK, may be explained, in part, by the fact that many under-thirties will not yet have forged permanent partnerships, therefore their rates of extramarital sexuality will be lower, also, those who have already committed themselves to a partner may still find themselves in the first flush of romance, and be therefore more faithful13.
The striking issue is for the elder group, who in spite of the natural decline in sexual practices across the life cycle, are more likely to cheat.
There are regional variations not in the likelyhood of infidelity but in the activities: Northerners are slightly more likely to kiss, fondle and practise both oral and vaginal sex outside marriage, and Londoners are more likely to engage in anal sex outside marriage13.
Cheating and Fantasies.An article featured in the Los Angeles Times (2003) noted that sexual fantasies are almost always the trigger that leads to an affair. This may cause some concern considering the ammount of people who have extramarital affairs. The article also noted was that women had affairs more often in their first 5 years of marriage, while men are more apt to have affairs at two peaks in their lifetimes: the first 5 years and after 20 years. It is not currently known whether more sexual fantasies occur during these years14.
You can read more about Fantasies here.
To quote this article, please indicate the following:
A.W., Jealousy and swinging© SwingerTravel.com.ar (2007).
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