As a sex therapist and relationship counsellor I see a lot of long-term couples who complain that their sex life has become boring. They want advice on how to make it more exciting and fun. One couple came with a specific question: what do I think about swinging, and should they try it?
So what is swinging all about? It's is a form of recreational sex between consenting adults, usually between two heterosexual couples or between a couple and a single female or male. Many couples find the thought of having sex with other people arousing and so swinging can be a catalyst for improving their sex life and relationship.
They like the excitement of an anticipated encounter with another couple or a single person. Swinging has a particular attraction for women who want to experiment with their bisexuality or be the centre of attention of two males. Some couples enjoy and seek sexual excitement watching other couples have sex. Partners often find their egos get a boost, their self-esteem increases, they feel happier and their relationship improves.
Most couples like to have a special code that only they know. They may have discreet phrases or gestures that mean they are attracted to the people or person they are talking to or not, or if they want to go further with a situation or wait for a while. It's important, especially for newbies, to insist on setting strict personal boundaries.
Swinging is still very much taboo in Australia and not a subject you discuss with your colleagues at work after an exciting weekend.
Swingers usually have an open attitude to sexuality and relationship commitment, and are therefore generally happier in their relationships because they can be more open minded and adventurous. Some people may feel stifled by society's repressive attitudes towards sexuality and welcome the opportunity to find like-minded friends. Swingers come from all areas and occupations; they tend to be 25 to 50 years old and are no more or less attractive than the people you see in your local shopping centre.
However, swinging is still very much taboo in Australia and not a subject you discuss with your colleagues at work after an exciting weekend. I believe it's best for couples to be discreet when they decide to be swingers; you don't want your family or your teenage children to find out. But it's not my job to tell clients what to do as long as it doesn't harm them or anyone else.
It has never been easier to find local swinging couples and singles, looking to add excitement to their sex lives. Online dating sites offer photos, profiles, social forums, live chat and live webcams so members can discreetly explore the swinging lifestyle.
As far as I know, no academic research has been conducted on swinging in Australia.
In the US, Canadian Edward Fernandes, an associate professor in psychology at Barton College, North Carolina, has conducted studies on the sexual behaviour and motivation of people who have joined what's called the "lifestyle". He has published several articles on the topic and is working on a book called The Swinging Playground, which focuses on anecdotal and scientific perspectives of swinging.
Dr Fernandes spent hundreds of hours interviewing swinging couples and conducting private interviews with the women involved. Most of the swingers in his studies were foremost heterosexual, but about 20 percent considered themselves bisexual. The majority of women considered themselves bi-curious with a small minority describing themselves as pure bisexual. Female bisexuality is accepted within the swinging lifestyle, however male bisexuality is discouraged.
The most cited reason given by both men and women for continuing with their swinging lifestyle was sexual variety, sexual enjoyment and personal fantasy.
Most of the swingers he interviewed had been married or living together for at least 10 years and only a small number had been married more than once. Most of the couples had been swinging between three and 12 years, which suggests that swinging, overall, may add to the longevity of the relationships.
His research showed that about two thirds of the men suggested swinging to their female partners but, once involved, the women were usually happy to participate. The most cited reason given by both men and women for continuing with their swinging lifestyle was sexual variety, sexual enjoyment and personal fantasy.
So what did I tell the couple who wanted my opinion?
Although swinging can enhance or improve the sex lives of many couples, it's not for everyone. This couple experienced insecurities, jealousy and had real difficulties communicating well, especially about sexual issues. Swinging would have ruined their relationship instead of improving it.
Swinging requires a strong relationship and solid sense of trust, and works best for couples when they see it as an enhancement to their existing relationship rather than a replacement for a failing one.
Swinging only enhances relationships that are strong and happy.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST AUSTRALIA