Couple swapping, swinging, couples’ play-dates, foursomes—whatever you’d like to call sexual encounters that you and your partner share with other couples—are in some ways more difficult to navigate than threesomes. Finding partners who also have an open relationship is only one part of the equation.
You and your partner are obviously attracted to one another, but that doesn’t mean you will find the same partners attractive, and vice-versa. When couple-swapping, you need to consider the sexual compatibility of four people, not just two. One or more of you may have to compromise for the sake of your partners.
While your couple-swapping encounter may play out like a porn scene in your imagination, in real life you may find boundaries being inadvertently crossed if they haven’t been discussed up front, or if each partner doesn’t check back in as the scene unfolds. As Madison Missina described in her interview on porn, it might look like everyone is just going along with whatever happens while the camera rolls, but the actors have planned and consented to each activity in a run-through before the scene is shot.
In real life, you don’t do a run-through, so you need to check how each person is going and seek consent along the way. Moreover, if you don’t speak up for what you want, you may miss out on having a fulfilling experience. These are lessons I learned the hard way from my time as a Unicorn and then as a Swinger.
My first couple swapping encounter was a positive one—for me. My partner and Dom had arranged the meeting, and I had left all the preliminary negotiations to him. We arrived at the other couple’s house where we chatted and had a drink. I felt chemistry between us, and was eager and curious to get started.
Before the meet, we established that she was bisexual (the same as me) and he was straight, so who would be playing with whom seemed straightforward. Over drinks, we discussed safety, so there was a supply of condoms to hand, and the men changed condoms whenever we changed positions or partners. That was the extent of what we planned.
Things began with her and me making out while the men watched. At some point, they joined in, and it became more of a swap, me with her husband, and she with my Dom. From there interaction progressed between the four of us in various combinations and configurations.
I had a wonderful experience. I found the couple attractive, felt we connected, and was comfortable with what unfolded, but on the drive home, I noticed my Dom wasn’t so happy. He found the couple attractive, but I don’t think felt the same connection. Mostly he felt unsatisfied because he hadn’t been able to have the kind of sex he really enjoys: kinky sex involving power play. He felt uncomfortable dominating and talking dirty to a woman in front of her husband, and so held back.
It was my turn to compromise next. As usual, he had chosen the couple for us. We met first at a bar before heading back to their place. These two were quite a bit older and Ken-and-Barbie-like, having undergone obvious surgeries. While they were conventionally attractive, they weren’t particularly attractive to me. There was no real chemistry, and getting it on with artificially sculpted bodies and plumped-up faces actually feels a little weird. Still, I agreed to proceed. I knew my Dom was keen and I felt awkward pulling out after meeting them. At that point in my life (after my cancer diagnosis, when I was trying to find my new normal), the encounter was as much about me getting back in touch with my adventurous sexuality.
Even though I wasn’t super attracted to the couple I liked their openness. They were veterans on the Swinger’s scene and initiated the discussion on what activities were in and out. He asked about anal sex. She said it was a no-go for her, and he indicated he was keen to get it from me. I said I had done it occasionally but wasn’t keen for it that day.
Back at their place, the scene played out pretty much as before, starting with the women, and then involving the men. I didn’t really feel an erotic charge, but I don’t know if that was from their side or mine. Still, I went through the motions.
For the most part, it was pleasurable, and I tried to move out of my head and into my body, to relax and enjoy the moment. What I didn’t expect was for the male partner to enter me anally while I was otherwise engaged and unable to stop him. He gave no warning, provided no lead up or warm-up play, didn’t use lube, and didn’t ask permission.
I have never experienced pain like it. I screamed. He pulled out. I excused myself and hurried to the bathroom to pull myself together. I checked for blood and hoped he hadn’t torn me. Afterwards he claimed to be sorry; that it had been a mistake and he’d thought he was entering my vagina. Given the conversation we had prior to the encounter, I found that difficult to believe.
I felt humiliated. I also felt guilty for ruining the moment. In a one-on-one situation I might have felt able to speak up, but in that moment, with an audience of three, I didn’t want to make a fuss.
They got back into things and played for a bit longer, but I didn’t join in. “Honey, I feel bad, we haven’t made you orgasm. Let’s take care of you,” the woman said.
I politely declined. “I don’t really come with strangers… Don’t worry about me. It’s fine,” I said. But it wasn’t. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
For me these incidents highlight the importance of communicating in advance and throughout the encounter. Group sex might resemble porn, but in porn the actors warm up, plan and consent to activities in advance. In life, we need to remember what happens behind the scenes. A situation can change rapidly. It doesn’t have to involve a cross-examination or written contracts, but if someone says they’re not sure about something, respect that. Check in and keep checking in.
With the first couple, play evolved naturally. No one was hurt, but one person missed getting what he wanted by not speaking up. With the second couple, talking in advance made no difference when there was no checking-in or consideration in the moment.
I also learned that negotiating a group situation like couple swapping could be a lot harder. I went through with something that didn’t feel right, and didn’t speak up when someone crossed the line. I felt pressured by politeness, social convention and a desire to meet the needs of others. I didn’t want to make a fuss and make other people feel bad, so I remained silent, and that’s something that still haunts.