If the word “Swinging” conjures up images of frizzy-haired women and generously side-burned men in floral-wallpapered surrounds, peeling off their flairs and dropping their Datsun 240Z keys into bowls to a soundtrack of cocktail-lounge classics, think again: partner swapping is a far more ancient and further-flung phenomenon than the clichés suggest.
Innuits, Arawetés and cults in the Irian Jaya region of Papua Province have been trading wives like prisoners trade tobacco since time immemorial. Husbands in pre-Islamic Arabia frequently allowed their wives to hob-nob with men of high standing, in order to produce noble offspring, and 2nd-century Gnostics the Carpocratians would make merry with fellow congregation members’ other halves during worship rituals, making mass fornication morally tenable by citing a liturgical decree that all possessions are held mutually among God’s followers (clever, clever!).
Africa, Iran, Egypt, China and Japan have all had swinging sub-cultures for centuries. Modern spouse-swapping as we know it, though, has its roots in the Second World War. Amongst US Air Force fighter pilots - young men living in close proximity, wealthy enough to move their wives near to base, with extremely high mortality rates – an unusually non-monogamous sub-culture, death pacts and all, developed, which spread to the suburbs around the time the Korean War ended.
By now, penicillin had pretty much eradicated syphilis, and when the proliferation of a certain little ovulation-scuppering tablet ushered in the sexual revolution, there was nothing to stop spouse-swapping sashaying, butt-naked and with no little raunchy swagger, into the mainstream.
Whereas once, getting involved with swinging involved perusing ads in top-shelf magazines seeking “broad-minded couples”, or clambering up towards the kind of haute society social circles which host masked orgies in the Eyes Wide Shut vain – good luck with that - nowadays, vast online swinging networks have spread swinging’s tendrils all over cyber-space. ‘A bit on the side?’ These days, on a Saturday evening, the most rhombicosidodecahedral of relationships don’t have quite enough sides to have bits on.