Mental health and swinging. (Excuse the offensive title, the SEO loved it). Are you a swinger? Mental health and swinging: It’s a bit chicken or the egg, isn’t it? Do people come to the swing scene to resolve underlying problems with attachment, intimacy and validation in a world that’s a giant sandbox? Or does the ruthless nature of the swing scene, where everyone is disposable, and everything is temporary, slowly make people crack?
Let’s start with a question, swingers!
Which of these sounds most like you, you sexy swinger?
a) I’m pretty chilled but those around me seem to get issues after a while
b) I think my needs are straightforward but those around me can’t be trusted
It’s going to be one of those.
Firstly, I don’t think the wish to join the swing scene is at all pathological. It’s a great place to explore your sexuality, arrange swinging adventures that would be impossible or very difficult in daily life, have fun and meet people. I’d say its stranger not to want to try it.
Mental health is also such a broad scope. Is temporary unhappiness due to a painful situation not normal? Is a melancholic temperament what is believed to be required of artists to create great work? Where do we draw the line for what is a healthy response. Are we even well placed to see when we are going off the rails?
Why does the swing scene affect mental health?
The trouble begins, as always, with other people influencing the way we view ourselves. We are social animals, it’s natural to want to be liked, included and have high status. It’s what’s kept us alive since early evolutionary history. Normally, there would be a sense of moderate tribal permanence to this, in a small social world, where all the parts of life are largely linked together. Who we share our food with, who we defend, who we care for. Treating others poorly would have consequences. Treating others well would have benefits.
In the world of swinging? We don’t have this
The swinging world is a place where one is expected to live in the moment, and serve your own desires above others. This starts to get confusing when we develop friendship groups, or get to like one of our play partners. Our instincts are to behave more altruistically towards them. Reciprocal altruism is the basis of primate society, after all. It can become easy to lose track of what we are doing and why. To feel used, neglected, unappreciated. Challenged. To imagine we are becoming more important than others (queen bee phenomenon/empire building). Somehow what is supposed to be a world of swinging pleasure can turn into a space for us to discover all our unhealed wounds of the past, and make some dramatic fresh ones. When we start to care, we are vulnerable. When we try to build things and fail, we are crestfallen.
Where does mental health fit in swinging?
I have, in fact, written quite a lot about mental health in the swinger scene. The common issues that arise, how we can break them down and look at the reality of why things happen – how we can apply logic to it and make sense of it. Some of them are here:
- Dirty little secret
- Does effort equal love or lust?
- Happy new year – nobody to kiss
- Surviving as a woman
- Cheating – what does it mean in the world of ethical non-monogamy
- Attachment styles and the swing scene
- Green eyed monster
- Christmas on the kink scene: the unwanted gift
- Sociopathy and the swing scene
- Broken doll
- Ex on the scene
- The stable and the freezer
- Tainted horn and bareback heart
- How to prepare to be hated
- How to harness social media trolls
- Reignite your mojo
Do these swinger advice pieces really help with mental health?
What I can’t really do, is make you stop feeling what you feel. Even if you can rationalise an experience, often it does nothing to fix the pain you feel, which feels profoundly true even when you know the reality. I’m not a mental health specialist. I’m not even a counsellor. Beyond the ability to give you data and say ‘look, this happens to everyone, and here’s why!’ my ability to resolve your grief, anger, fear, self loathing is really very limited. That’s where the professionals come in.
Here is a link to a list of swinger- friendly, LGBTQIA friendly, poly friendly, kink aware counsellors, who have volunteered to be listed.
How did we end up here, sexy swingers?
Looking after ourselves and those around us sounds an easy enough thing to do- from a certain perspective, allowing yourself the enjoyment of sex in whatever way you want could even be viewed as self care. The reality can be very different.
There is a saying that we are all searching for someone whose demons play well with ours.
No demons allowed
It may well be true, but it contains a logical fallacy. Demons don’t play well together. What they do is make each other stronger. Stronger while somehow feeling addictive and enjoyable, until suddenly it isn’t. It is no longer enjoyable, yet it will still feel addictive. Like you could chase that early high forever. The demons get bigger and bigger, the cracks get wider and wider, the emotions become higher and higher, until suddenly we aren’t the confident sexual being we entered the swing scene as, but a neurotic wreck.
It’s not totally your fault though. You weren’t to know. You just did what felt good at the time. The above scenario sounds like a classic toxic romance, but it can actually happen a lot of other ways too. Let’s look at some:
Avoidant/anxious attachment pairings in swinging
This is a classic toxic mix, where the chaser loves to prove their value, and the more they try the more the avoidant person will push them away. It’s easy to get to like someone, especially when you only see them being charming and well dressed on a night out, and have great sex with them. It’s easy to forget that this is just a piece of them, shining their brightest for an evening. It’s easy to speculate as to what more things could be. I hate to say it, but the chasers are usually the single women, and the avoidant types are usually the single men. There’s a good reason for this, and it has to do with the different reasons men and women come to the scene in the first place.
This is a huge generalisation, and there are always exceptions, but on the whole:
Women come to the swing scene to feel sexually liberated, admired and valued. They have a ‘try before you buy’ attitude, and gradually become increasingly frustrated with what they perceive as repeated irrational rejection. This affects their confidence, and makes them work even harder, until they are miserable and seem desperate and hostile.
Men come to the swing scene to have sex without commitment or consequence, and feel like a sexual alpha. They view women as conquests, and after sex have no further real interest in them. They may be happy to acquire new ‘sex friends’, but they are not compelled to work on developing anything real. After all, they came here to avoid that.
Are swinger men and women really so different?
It’s easy to say that. A lot of people will instinctively want to disagree, because it’s not what they want to believe. And even if you know it, there is the strange fallacy of prior conviction that clings on, which says that somehow you are going to be the exception, and manage to get exactly what you want without problems. This is simply because you start in the swinger world with the confidence of inexperience. Even knowing it logically to be true, doesn’t mean you won’t fall into the same trap. People seem to run on feelings rather than logic. And feelings are pesky things indeed, which make us do stupid stuff. Is feeling without logical basis not the very definition of a mental health issue?
Need for validation for swingers
Whether it’s the need to feel sexually validated and simply get the notches in your bedpost up, or the more fundamental feeling of wanting to belong, be noticed and appreciated for your personal talents, it’s incredibly easy to exploit someone looking for validation. This doesn’t just apply to sexual pairings, but is widely exploited by a number of events organisers, social group queen bees and other empire builders. Single women are especially easy to exploit, but so are submissive or beta men, who enjoy feeling seen and appreciated. If you are good at something, never do it for free.
Are swinger events really like that?
That’s not to say every organiser is a Machiavellian devil working a team of willing slaves. A lot of things are very community based, and done for the love of the scene rather than money. There is, however, a strange capitalist model drummed into us that people with money are ‘more important’. Their attention and praise is, therefore, also more potent. Be careful to assess the time and effort you put into something that is run by someone else. What do you actually get in return? And what do you have to do for it? If they are telling you it’s because you are special, have been chosen as worthy or something similar, run a mile. They will keep you hooked on a sense of validation that they alone seem able to provide, and ultimately it’s just free labour for them for a few nice words.
Social swinger groups are addictive
Social groups, in this day and age, can be very compelling addictions. There will be a loose group of ‘friends’ with similar interests who talk and bond on chat groups as well as attend events together. I’ve been a part of several of these in the early days, especially all-girl groups, who share information on their sexual prospects, and they can be quite a heady buzz. I somehow titled myself ‘recruiter’ (for the meat pile) and felt I had an earned space.
These groups really come and go every few years and though they can be handy, it’s best not to throw yourself in too deep. They are often started by a queen bee, who enjoys feeling important and powerful. Get on their bad side, and you’ll be out on your ear. So much for your ‘friends’. I recently had a friend chirpily say that the head of her social group had messaged her just to see how she was, wasn’t that lovely of her? All glowing and happy. Like it was the Queen of England. So very much, for so very little.
So social groups? Useful, but tie yourself to no one tribe.
Need for power and control in swinging
If you want a space to step into your power, explore its dynamics and build sandcastles, the swing scene is an excellent place for it. From swiping someone else’s date, to organising your own events, curating your guestlist and even trying to keep track of who is with who, intervening and controlling things, it’s a great place to let your budding inner sociopath out to play. Because it doesn’t matter, right? Not real life?
To an extent this is true. But they are real people, with real feelings. And real aspirations of their own. The fun of hosting, organising, or even setting up sexual scenarios for someone else, is quite thrilling. Planning, predicting, manipulating situations. Like a genius villain?
It won’t always work out though. you’ll get better at it with practice, and it can, at times, make you feel wonderfully powerful. But is it really a good place to seat your sense of self? As in control of a sandcastle? Where is your ultimate goal? Do you imagine you’ll make a living at it, hosting high-end expensive parties? If that’s what you want, you’ll need a large property in central London. If you already have property in central London, you’re pretty well off and probably don’t need this as an ego boost.
Need for non-sexual company on the swing scene
Some people join the scene because they are lonely. Some people don’t feel they fit in. They are looking for a community to belong to. Somewhere they are accepted, appreciated, admired. Who wouldn’t want that? The problem is the barriers between the swinger world and real life. I don’t personally feel they need to be as defined as many people do- why can’t a swinger friend meet your family? Why can’t you help them get a job in your company? Seems reasonable to me. Yet a lot of people have strong boundaries, using fake names, different phones, and keeping the worlds as far apart as possible.
Why be a secret swinger?
Sometimes, this is because they have a partner who doesn’t know (and Facebook ‘people you might know’ has outed more than one such individual) but sometimes they just like to compartmentalise. If you are a person who wants more blurred friendships, connections and situations that translate into ‘real life’, you are likely to struggle, and feel a lot of rejection due to this. Not everybody has a vanilla ‘inner circle’. Some people do. Their ride-or-die best mate. Supportive family. A network of friends they have known forever. Or perhaps even a romantic partner they swing with, but 99% of the time just carry out normal life. These people are generally fine to come and go from the swing scene at will, and they have a robust crash net if things go wrong.
Are you cushioned from blows of swinging?
Not everyone has this. Some people are largely alone. Feel misunderstood, different, or not accepted for their true selves. These are the people looking to find a community. For them, the swing scene can be addictive, immersive, and actually somewhat parasitically draining on the connections they do have in their outside lives. When things go wrong, they go very wrong. When a play partner won’t transfer to ‘real life’, it hurts them. When their friendship group on the swing scene has a falling out, it’s profoundly upsetting. By and large, the kink scene is a better place to find such friends and partners.
Competition and rivalry in swinging
Some people love to win. They love to be the one who defeats others. Seduce more women at once. Steal someone’s girlfriend at a play party. Steal your friend’s handsome date. Host a bigger party. Steal your friend’s guests.
Are you the competitive sort of swinger?
If you come to the swing scene to indulge this trait in yourself, you’ll find plenty of opportunity. After all, you can get away with a lot more than you can in ‘real life’. You can do things just to prove to yourself you can, and sit there laughing with a smug joy that you are more clever/attractive than your momentary opponent.
Ultimately, however, it is still a small world. Women talk, a lot, while men remember those who screwed them over, and if you conduct yourself like an arrogant arse you’ll rapidly be known for it, and treated accordingly.
Stigma and self-worth for swingers
We tend to imagine that other people we meet on the scene view sex, sexuality and relationships the same way that we do, or at the very least respect us.
This is not always the case.
Say we identify as a liberal, sex-positive individual. Does this mean we would not be a good husband or wife? Does this mean we are nymphomaniacs without control, cheaters or ruled by our loins? Of course not. Yet there will be people who (usually with a massive unresolved Madonna/whore complex) can’t get past the context of where they met you. This often isn’t immediately apparent.
The slow reveal of swinger stigma
You may spend weeks, months, even years in a happy swinger friendship, or party-partnership, or some sort of polyamory with someone, before they reveal their true feelings. Usually by accident. They actually can’t completely help the way they think. It’s pretty ingrained. And you can’t logic them out of it. But if you meet someone while swinging, at a swinger party or even on a swinger app, there will be a lot of people who will draw a line under you as ‘a certain type of person’. There will be people who present as poly to you, talk about it endlessly, then suddenly get a monogamous vanilla partner (poly while looking). There will be people you see regularly, even outside of events and have a friendship or sexual friendship with, who will suddenly tell you how they want a ‘proper meaningful relationship’ (lovely, right?) – only they don’t mean with you. They are shocked and horrified at the very notion. Because to them, you are, and always will be, ‘a different thing’.
What the hypocritical heck?
Even though they were on the swinger apps and Bumble, as were you, if they met you on a swinger app first, that’s who you are forever. This is one of the reasons that very few couples get together on the swing scene. The notion of ‘purity’. And it’s almost always men with the hangup. #notallmen. Obviously. Just…99%
When they want a partner, who do they want? Boring arm candy that ticks every status box to be a trophy for them in the ‘real world’. Don’t worry, they will still intermittently message you up to complain about how boring she is and send you nudes.
What can you do for your mental health?
You’re going to need a strong spine to stand up to this double-standard. It’s not fair, you don’t deserve it, and it is stupid. Yet when it’s a view of you from someone you’ve grown to like, it does really grab hold of you and shake your foundations.
If you are a woman, looking to be seen and understood by a likeminded soul? Put your friendship quota firmly in with the women. Not just any women though. They don’t have to be the prettiest, richest or most popular. Usually, those are the worst ones. Put your self-esteem in with the ones who have your back. That’s your people.
How to check your own mental health in the swinger scene
There’s not really a simple answer to this, as it really depends how you react, what your triggers and behaviours are, and how soon you address real underlying issues. It’s actually a really tough place to find anyone who will point out to you when you are veering off the rocks of sanity. The best you are likely to get is to be told, ‘stop being a psycho’.
By that point it’s usually because you’ve been carrying too much for too long. Throw some alcohol (or perhaps drugs for some) into the party mix, a late night and the potential for disappointment, on the very evening you were putting yourself out there to try to cheer yourself up, and you’ve got a truly disastrous cocktail on your hands. Many is the person seen left leaving a party angry or in tears.
Swinging isn’t an emotional utopia. Who’d have guessed?
The swing scene is just a sandbox, and a dark megaphone of paranoia realised. Whatever you bring to it, it will amplify for you. Not good enough? It will prove it. Too much for people? Yup, absolutely. Unlovable? Bring it on. Friendless loser? Watch it happen.
Is there some sort of checklist we can have, for ourselves and others? Are there behaviours that mean it’s time to step in with professional help, and look at what the problems really are?
My imperfect list of warning signs, for yourself and swinger friends, that mental health is on the rocks (trigger warning):
-You make, or consider making, a fake profile to find out what someone else is really doing
-You find you feel worse about yourself when you deal with certain people, yet still end up in their company
-You find yourself doing a lot of things for a person or organisation, for free, and saying it makes you happy
-You feel jealous of others you meet or assume they have it easier than you
-You find yourself emotionally volatile over things that later don’t make sense
-You have trouble remembering what started arguments or why you dislike people
-‘Red mist’ over situations
-You try to grasp onto connections with people, hoping to make it more than it is
-You take rejection from relative strangers really personally
-You tell yourself that if you show you are good/smart/pretty/loyal then eventually things will work out with someone in particular
-You find yourself lost in or longing for a remembered feeling in the past
-You want to expose individuals for their perceived wrongdoings wherever possible
-You want to be physically violent with someone for causing you emotional pain
-You feel completely numb and disconnected, like you are just watching it all through glass
-You do things by choice that cause you to feel pain or distress afterwards
-You start creating elaborate revenge fantasies, where you win/show your worth/get to forgive someone. Within this, will also add plan to write fiction where you do horrible things to ‘their character’.
-You have sex with people you don’t want to, or in a way you don’t enjoy
-Your ‘coping vices’ (booze, grass, etc) are taking a bigger role in your life
-You stop doing things you used to enjoy
-You struggle to fix on, or rapidly change, the narrative you use to view the past and your feelings and motivations
-People you actually know have started blocking you or cutting you off
-You have a fixation on one thing as the ‘if only’ to fix yourself and your life.
-Your friends ask you to drink less at events
-You start thinking about methods of suicide, what your funeral would be like, disappearing or similar.
-You look back and see patterns in your thoughts and behaviour now that you have had before, when your mental health was not very strong.
How to we support each other on the swing scene with mental health?
Truth is, watching out for ourselves and our friends’ mental health on the swing scene is really important. It’s also really difficult.
A cautionary tale
While one person will be lifted up with a moment’s care and support from a friend (like yours truly), another will develop a parasitic dependence that drains you and eventually ends a friendship . With a swinging partner, how much more complicated things can get. Especially if you actually grow to like them as more than a friend. Where do you draw the line between the support you’d provide to someone in a relationship and for them? Because you aren’t really in one. Even if you are the closest thing each other has. And clearly, someone in a bad place mentally isn’t a good person to start a relationship with, because they can give back little, including a cogent or consistent world view. When do you cut them off and leave them to dangle alone? You wanted them to be okay in the first place, that’s why you took this on, right? Because you could see a happy ending for them? Where’s the line where you have to walk away for self preservation, with the skills you have to make yourself feel good again? Knowing, and worrying, that when you do so they will descend into utter self destruction?
Do we have to walk away?
The truth is, someone with poor mental health is going to hurt you. Not necessarily physically. Not intentionally. But however well your intentions start off, and however good a place you feel you are in, an intensely ill person is a lot to take on. And instead of dragging them up, showing how good life can be, and making them plan for the future, they will eventually drag you down. Your efforts (Time? Money? Plans? Care?) being funnelled to them will remove your own diverse sources of joy, and eventually you won’t be feeling so good yourself. People who are mentally ill need the support of professionals, and a friend playing free therapist (whether by will or by the imposition of the needy, as so many people on Tinder first dates can confirm) does not work.
What it does is engender a false sense of intimacy, which will likely make you extend further leeway to your friend, if you care about them. It will take you into a story about themselves, you and the world, which may be delusional, and eventually you’ll be trying to extract reality back for yourself. There is no amount of logic, of saying to them and yourself ‘this isn’t real, this is just how you feel right now’, that armours you to feeling pain right in your core of what they will end up saying to you and doing. You don’t need a saviour complex to be drawn in. And you don’t have to be cold hearted to get out. Sometimes people want help, and sometimes they just want an audience to watch them self destruct. However hard you try to pull them up, they will pull back down harder. They will always win. Who’s watching your own mental health? Are you actually inadvertently supporting your friend to remain delusional?
It’s not always that bad though
Not every friend who reaches out to you for support during a crisis needs to be brushed away in self preservation. Quite the contrary. Usually a little talk and a cup of tea works wonders. Being given a support phone number may be suitable in some circumstances, but often people just want a little understanding and time to bounce things off you and work them out for themselves.
If it’s happening a lot though, we need to look at how the person is relating to us and why. Are they like this with everyone? Do they feel like a victim? Is this their go-to learned way to bond with someone? Are we encouraging this by only being there in a ‘crisis?’
Is the swing scene a good place for our mental health?
In its essence, as it is designed, it’s completely fine. The problem is what we bring in with us. Our hopes, fears, insecurities. We will end up proving our darkest worries true, over and over, just like in real life. Here, it’s just faster.
Come for fun, friends, frolics and anything else beginning with F, and you’ll be just fine.
Happy hunting, baby ducklings. We all stumble from time to time. We all need a mother duck from time to time. And we all hurt people without wanting to, from time to time. There is no scene anywhere, no sphere of the world, where we can escape this. We cannot escape ourselves.
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