Why Don’t Millennials and Gen Zers Identify as Swingers?

Young Couples

The label, which you might associate with the key parties of the ’70s, is fading out of style with younger generations, and for good reason.

You ready to fuck some boomers?” I asked my girlfriend right as our plane landed in Cabo San Lucas. She nodded with a wicked grin on her face. After all, that’s why we were in Mexico—to attend a swingers takeover at an all-inclusive resort: all you could eat, all you could drink, and all you could fuck.

Despite the images on the website of the company organizing the takeover, which used stock photos of impossibly attractive women in their late twenties, I had been to enough swingers events and resorts before to know that wasn’t actually their clientele. For some reason, they all use similar stock photos of younger women when the average age of attendees is in the early 50s. Many of the swingers there would have kids my age, and some would even have grandkids.

To be clear, this didn’t bother me one bit. I love having sex with MILFS, GILFS, DILFS, and GILFS (grandpas, this time). I mean, who’s more in right now than a daddy? And having sex with a MILF satisfies my unconscious Oedipal desires that I refuse to unpack in therapy. Needless to say, I was excited, and so too was my girlfriend, who is borderline obsessed with men double her age. (It was unclear what about me she found attractive.)

Now, I know our excitement was unique to us. Most Millennials—even those in open relationships—don’t attend swingers resorts because they simply don’t identify as swingers. “In general, folks who are newer to non-monogamy don’t use the word ‘swinging,’” says sex therapist Rachel Wright, MA, LMFT, host of The Wright Conversations podcast. “They often associate it with older people or the idea of putting your keys in a bowl and wife swapping.” (“Key parties” was a popular term used to describe swingers parties in the ‘70s.) And honestly, that’s a kind euphemism.

Many Millennials, myself included, only learned about swingers from watching HBO’s Real Sex as a kid in the ‘90s and early 2000s—sneaking out to sit in front of the TV after our parents went to bed. (Or at least I did, which, in hindsight, explains a lot.) How can I put this delicately? The showrunners really went out of their way to (seemingly on purpose) paint swingers as bizarre and as sexually undesirable as possible, so it’s easy for many of us to still picture swingers like that today. I only know this not to be true because, well, I’m a sex writer who goes to swingers resorts.

Swingers are generally (albeit not concretely) defined as romantically monogamous couples (meaning they’e each other’s primary partner) who are open to sexual encounters with other couples without any feelings involved. Typically, swingers swap partners and all play (i.e., have sex) in the same room together.

Sounds fun, no? It sure can be, but the label isn’t exactly working for the younger generations—many Millennials and Gen Zers look for at least some emotional connection before and during sex. Take Talia, 31, who’s been in a polyamorous relationship with her boyfriend for four years (though they started as monogamous and moved to an open relationship before finally landing on polyamory).

“’Swingers’ to me doesn’t seem to capture what we are because it implies having sexual encounters with other people without an intimate connection,” she says. “Swingers reminds me of one-night stands and sex parties. Our openness is much more than that because we choose to have intimate relationships with other people.”

While a one-time bang with a hot couple isn’t necessarily fulfilling for Talia, it’s downright impossible for some younger people in open and poly relationships. Remember: Our generations are rife with anxiety, depression, therapy, and a tendency to overshare on social media. (God, I love us.) We’re not good at suppressing our feelings! Many of us know and accept that we might fall for someone we have sex with, no matter how hard we try not to, and we want to be open to exploring that.

Still, even those who do like having no-strings-attached sex with hot couples (hi, me) might not call themselves swingers because they just don’t feel like the label describes them.

“When I hear ‘swinger,’ I think white, middle-aged, conservative and heterosexual, perhaps with a little bisexual fetishism thrown in but only if it’s towards bisexual women,” says Leanne Yau, polyamory educator and creator of Poly Philia, a platform dedicated to non-monogamy education and awareness, whose take on swingers isn’t that far off from what I’ve experienced at swingers clubs and resorts IRL.

Then there’s the culture that comes with being in “the lifestyle” (a term commonly by swingers) that at best, alienates, and at worst, offends the younger generation, discouraging young people today from calling themselves swingers, even if it does ostensibly explain their relationship dynamic.

And it’s not just the newer generation; people who subscribe to the label have their own hesitations about using the term. Nick, 37, has been married to his wife for 17 years, and they started “having casual experiences with others” 15 years ago. He and his wife call themselves swingers, though they’re also comfortable saying they’re in an open relationship.

Both bisexual, Nick finds the biphobia directed towards him and other bi guys by older swingers disheartening. “Our experience with women is almost the exact opposite,” he said. “They are almost expected to be interested in at least minimal interaction with each other.” So while nearly all women tend to be at least somewhat sexually intimate with each other when swapping, the mere mention of two guys playing together is often scoffed at (which is why male bisexuality is seldom a topic of conversation in swinger spaces).

I too have experienced awkwardness when revealing that I’m bisexual in the swinging world. In fact, I once had a couple rescind their offer to swap, even though I made it clear that I wouldn’t be doing anything sexual with the man.

Nick said he’s also struggled with how consent is discussed at swinger events, “or the lack thereof,” he said. “It can feel like the majority of swinging involves more implied consent (i.e., people assume that they can touch and kiss without asking first). We prefer the practices we’ve found in the kink community with clearly defined [enthusiastic] consent and boundaries.”

Yau shared similar opinions towards swingers events. “When I attend ‘swingers parties,’ as opposed to ‘sex-positive parties’ or ‘queer parties,’ I have had vastly different experiences regarding respect for my body, consent practices, and general personal safety.” It’s no longer the issue of the word “swingers”—what it denotes and who it connotes. It’s a matter of not belonging or feeling safe. Folks like Yau then actively eschew the swinger label.

So, what can you and your partner identify as if not as swingers? Of course, it depends on your relationship type. Perhaps open or non-monogamous works. If you do allow for emotional connections with the people you sleep with, polyamory could work. But as for the few people in their 20s and 30s whose actual relationship really constitutes swinging, meaning they only play together with other couples sans emotional connection? Just say, “you’re open but only play together with couples.”

Is it clunky? Yes, but Wright notes that swinger and all the other non-monogamous terms mean something different to each person. “It’s more helpful to describe what you’re looking for/how you and your partner operate vs. using a word and assuming everyone uses it the same way,” she says.

So while you can use swinger (or any other label) to convey, “Hey, this is my husband, but yes, we are flirting with you and trying to bone,” you could also just say that.

That’s what I do in swinger spaces. I don’t focus on whether I’m technically polyamorous, a swinger, open, or something else. Instead, I focus on fucking, which is exactly what my girlfriend and I did with half of the swingers at the resort. It didn’t matter that we weren’t “technically” swingers; we still had one hell of a time.

Written by: Zachary Zane

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