14 April 2008

Swinging and swopping

The minefield of excitement and forbidden fruit, the fantasy, the scary first steps… Sensualist Jonti Searll shares his views.

The minefield of excitement and forbidden fruit, the fantasy, the scary first steps… For a long time I’ve thought about writing something about this fascinating and scary topic and sharing some thoughts and experiences, the problems and possibilities.

This can be a heavy topic so please keep a sense of humour when you read this.

A good starting point is Who does this? The answer in terms of age, career, political views, health status… pick a demographic category… it’s across the board. Thin people, fat people, old and young, the beautiful and the plain, the people sitting next to you in the coffee shop, your neighbour, your doctor…

Why? Well, there are many answers to that question, and as many as there are, they don’t begin to cover the full spectrum of human behaviour. I don’t know that I’d even begin to try to answer it in any way that could do justice to the question. The answers are on so many levels: physical, psychological, philosophical, and deeply personal.

As I write more of this we’ll look at some of the reasons, but the truth is deep and wide and mysterious. Words and phrases such as variety, excitement, naughty, taboo, fulfilling aspects of sexuality that your partner can’t, exploring, difference between sex and love, freedom etc all fit. Most of these need some in-depth discussion to do them justice.

Where did this all begin?
People have probably been doing this in various ways since the dawn of time.

Ok, let’s get personal here, where this began for me. Like so many people I’ve fantasised about swinging for a while. I was in my early 20’s, really wanted to try this. I don’t remember clearly how I met the couple that I had my first experience with, they were average people, older than me. We met, shared a bottle of wine, talked about all sorts of things and I went home.

A few weeks later they called and asked if I’d like to share their bed. I was both excited and terrified.

At their house we sat in the lounge chatting, then she went into the bedroom. A few minutes later we joined her. It was nerve-wracking in that I didn’t know how it all worked, but they were very experienced, led me through a great time. Since then, well, we’ll leave that for another day. My involvement in this fascinating world, plus the work that I do, the time I’ve spent in various clubs, with people involved in this lifestyle, people wishing to get involved has been fascinating, challenging and enlightening.

What does it involve?
This is where we need to say goodbye to the word ‘swinging’. It has too many unexplained connotations to do justice to the range of possibilities and experiences open to those who step over the threshold into this ‘parallel universe’.

It doesn’t always, for some people never, involve sex with others. A friend recently quoted the French word for someone in this lifestyle, I like it, thanks R. He said, ‘I am a libertine’.

For some people it’s simply being in a sexually-charged atmosphere. Not necessarily even watching the sex, just being there is enough.

One of the most fascinating about the clubs that are well run, and by that I mean where women are respected, where women rule, is that they are the safest place for a woman to be. There are no drunken men coming on to you, nobody pestering you. You’re approached respectfully, even just asked to dance. If you say no, you’re left alone. It’s amazing to think that as a single woman you can go somewhere, dance naked if you choose, and be left alone.

So different to the ‘straight’ clubs my 17-year-old daughter goes to and is bombarded by drunken guys with overblown egos, some of them my age. Slight detour there, one of my soapboxes. So for some people it’s just being in the environment.

For others, it’s being there and watching. We all have a voyeuristic streak, how much of it we acknowledge is a different story, but it’s there. So some people just watch, never touch. On the other side of the coin are people who like to be watched. They never touch anybody else, just enjoy being watched.

Going a little deeper
For some it’s the excitement of being in a room with other people having sex, you’re there with your partner; nobody’s touching you except your partner. You have a room of bodies, sounds, sights, smells, a super-charged atmosphere… but you’re ‘alone’. All of these activities are called ‘soft’.

Then there’s getting a little more involved, touching others, kissing, stroking, and anything short of penetration. And then… sex with others, one other, more, whatever your fantasy…

All this works only if there is respect. Firstly of boundaries between the couple, which require a great deal of discussion. This is necessary to create the safety to even think about setting foot in this environment.

Why do you want to do this?
Many people come and talk to me about exploring this world. The first thing I tell them about is communication. Why do they want to do this, where is he, where is she, what fantasy would they like to explore, to what degree, how do they respect each other’s limitations and boundaries, what are their fears, how do they deal with them? It can be a minefield if you don’t have some guidance and do a lot of talking first.

Is this limited to couples? Not at all. Many people look for single playmates of both sexes, as many people of both sexes look for couples, and other singles to play with.

Exploring with people of the same sex? This is one of the more common reasons for people to become involved, more so women than men. Many women would love to experience something sensual or sexual with another woman and this environment allows for that. Once again, to whatever degree the participants feel comfortable. Men with men? This is still one of the biggest taboos in our society, but more men are crossing the boundaries.

Labels become important here. If I have sex with another woman/man does that mean I’m gay, bi, what?

Fulfilling needs? There are people whose sexual needs may not be met in their relationship, who may have very different sex drives to that of their partner. This is a way to meet those needs, to be satisfied in a way that’s open and honest. This is one of the most important aspects of this world.

The figures of people having affairs is rising among men and women. This is obviously potentially destructive to relationships. I’m not saying that shared sex doesn’t have a destructive element, because it certainly can, but if there is openness the situation becomes very different.

Fantasy? This plays a huge part in our lives. This gives us so many opportunities to explore and fulfil these fantasies, to touch parts of ourselves in ways that very little else can. Once again, these can take place on many levels, from watching, being watched, an environment which allows us to dress in certain ways, behave in ways that we simply cannot elsewhere, with safety.

Here’s something that I’ve learned over the years. If we feel safe, and that’s more an internal emotional state than anything else, we’ll happily explore anything, within our own boundaries. The people, our partners, the environment makes it safe for us. You can’t push somebody into a space they’re not comfortable with and expect them to feel safe. It’ll blow up in your face in a big way!

Love and sex? They’re not the same, when we confuse them we run into problems. Here’s an interesting idea: we have different people that fulfil different needs in our lives, people that we share different hobbies, pastimes, sports, activities etc with. We know this, accept and seek it out. Yet we expect one person to fulfil all of our emotional and sexual needs, some of the deepest most complex aspects of our self. To quote an old TV ad, ‘Makes you think, doesn’t it’?

This is a vast topic with so many different angles that require some deep discussion to understand.

I make no judgement on anybody’s lifestyle, as long as there is honouring, respect and openness and ask the same of you.

I’m not entirely convinced that we’re monogamous by nature, however, I also believe that the peak experiences, the amazing Tantric space that I’ve been to, can only be experienced in a space of deep connection and love, trust and intimacy. You’re not going to have that with just anybody.

Once again I’ll say that this can be a minefield, even discussing some of the issues involved, never mind dipping your toe in the water.

For information on Jonti’s workshops, or phone 083 7435 129.


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