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Swinging Brand Ice CreamThe Oxford English Dictionary defines "lifestyle" as "the way in which a person lives."  I would identify as a non-vanilla thinker, and a swinger, but I wouldn't say either of those things describe very well the way in which I live.  So I'm interested in why engaging in non-vanilla sexual activities is known as "the lifestyle".  And it is called that - look up "the lifestyle" on a search engine of your choice and among the first hits will be the Wikipedia page on swinging.
We have been very happily married for almost 7 years now, and swinging for even longer.  Very early on in our relationship, we discovered together that we enjoyed things which would be considered outside the narrow mainstream, like bisexual fantasies and anal play.  We've also been very open and communicative right from the start, which I think has helped us to develop strong trust and to continue learning how to please each other.
We got into swinging by doing a lot of talking with each other and a lot of research.  The internet was just taking off at that time, and there were some resource and forums that we found helpful.  We got chatting to another couple via a swinging website, and agreed that we would go to a club for the very first time with them.  No pressure to do anything, they would just be our guides for the evening.  As it turned out, we had an amazing night which culminated in an orgy involving us, them and two other couples, right there in the club!  We couldn't have had a sexier, more exciting or safer introduction to swinging.  (You know who you are, thank you again!)
Since then we have been what you might call occasional swingers.  Some years we have been out swinging 4 or 5 times, other years not at all.  It's certainly not every weekend.  It's not the topic of conversation between us all the time, or even all that often.  And that is why I hesitate to identify as "in the lifestyle."
I typed in "lifestyle choice" to a popular search engine.  On the first page, the results included the topics of obesity, having children, eating disorders and goth.  I would say that all those things involve long-term impact on the way a person would live their life, extending to all areas of their life. Well, perhaps not goth unless they choose to do so.  For me, swinging, or even non-vanilla thinking, does not have that sort of impact.  Here's the big admission: Most of the time I don't think about sex.  I know, shock horror!  But it's true.  For me, the vast majority of the time I can be at work, or with friends, or just by myself, and sex does not even cross my mind.  So here's a question: how much of your time do you need to spend on something before you call it a lifestyle?
Is that even the right question?  Maybe it's not about time spent.  I have many interests, a lot of which I engage in far more often than swinging.  For example, I sing with my local choir.  That's SING, not SWING!  I do it every week, all year round.  But nobody would describe me as, "in the choir lifestyle".  I guess the lifestyle label might be more about how pervasive that activity is, how much it shapes the way you think and act in a range of situations.
If I was sitting at work, frequently thinking about swinging and planning our next outing...  If I was talking about our last swinging experience at a friend's barbecue party...  If I felt the need to encourage others around me to get into swinging...  maybe those things would bring me closer to living "the lifestyle".  But it's not like that for me at all.  Swinging does not come into most aspects of my life, nor is it ever likely to.
I wonder if calling it "the lifestyle" might put some people off dipping their toe in the water and trying non-vanilla activities.  The connotation may be that once you're in, you're in - you are now living a swinger lifestyle and that might be incompatible with other things you want to do in your life.
Well, I want to reassure readers that you can swing without being in the lifestyle.  You can do things without having that thing define you.  It is possible to have a vanilla life and decide sometimes to do something non-vanilla.  It is possible to play with someone of the same sex sometimes and not be gay.  You can choose which activities you want to do and when, there is no package that you have to sign up to.
You don't have to "come out" to all your friends, or indeed any of them, unless you want to.  None of my regular friends know that we swing.  That isn't being repressed or dishonest, that's just treating swinging for what it is to me - something I enjoy doing sometimes, at certain times and places with certain people.
I guess all this ultimately comes down to labels.  How helpful are labels, and when do you want to use a label as a shorthand way of describing things so that others can understand you quickly?  Personally I'm not a huge fan of labeling myself, I would prefer people to get to know me by spending time with me.  If I had to choose descriptive terms for myself I'd be happy for you to call me a swinger or a non-vanilla thinker.  I'm sure you would make assumptions about me based on your understanding of those labels, some more accurate than others, and I can probably deal with that.  But, since I wouldn't be happy for the vast majority of people to even know about those interests, I wouldn't say "I'm in the lifestyle".  I enjoy swinging and I like the (relatively small) part it plays in my life. Then I can put it back in its box till the next time...

Write the Author: Beth Swings

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