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Jeff and Emma are your typical urban couple in their thirties. They have great careers, a steady marriage, a close circle of friends — they also go to sex parties together a few times every year. This fascinating couple sat down with Swimmingly to talk about getting into the lifestyle, navigating trust, and why fivesomes work the best for their marriage. They may describe themselves as “pretty boring,” but they’re far from it.

So, let’s start off with basics. How long have you two been together? How old are you both?

Jeff: I am 31, she is 32. 

Emma: He loves to point out the age difference; we’re actually only five months apart in age. We met nine years ago and have been married for six years.

How would you describe your relationship, monogamous, polyamorous, open?

Jeff: I’d say that we’re monogamous and we involve other people in our sex life from time to time. We don’t identify as poly and we’re not in an open relationship.

Emma: We learned at one point that people who go to these parties refer to themselves as being “in the lifestyle.” I use that humorously sometimes, but I definitely don’t consider that to be a term that describes us. It’s not a lifestyle for me; it’s something I do every now and again. Jeff also likes the term “swingers,” but I don’t. Too much gross pop cultural baggage there. 

When did you two first start going to sex parties with one another? Was it something you made explicit after a few first dates or was it a direction your relationship took only after a while?

Jeff: It was after we got married, although I’m not sure when exactly. We didn’t discuss it as much as we should have early on, so we’re kind of lucky things have worked out. I definitely initiated the idea. We probably started more with just the idea of a threesome with another girl and it evolved to include couples and groups as we learned more about what was out there and what we enjoy. 

Wow. Do you couple swap, do foursomes, or participate in any orgies? Is your style more couple-with-couple or is it a sexually independent experience? Essentially, who else do you involve in your sex life?

Jeff: We’re only interested in “same room” play. We’ve had threesomes with single women and foursomes with other couples. We’ve also had some larger group experiences, but no more than three couples at once. At the sex parties we’ve been in the play areas with more people than that and with things sort of going on all around us, but we’ve only been directly involved with two other couples at a time. My personal favorite has been three women and two men. 

Women are kind of expected to be at least bi-comfortable, and men are expected to be straight. We don’t do any kink or fetish parties, we’re pretty boring really. We most prefer partners we’ve gotten to know and like, because it makes the trust, communication, and logistical parts of the equation work so much more reliably.

Emma: Agreed. I am definitely more comfortable when we arrange to meet people we already know at home or at their place. The parties, with all their middle-school-dance uncertainties, can be stressful (at least the lead-up to them and the first hour of standing around and talking). Once you start hooking up, it’s no problem.

What’s the wildest thing you two have ever done together?

Jeff: Well, I suppose it’s just hooking up and swapping with another couple. One time a fivesome in particular gave us a chance to kind of try all different configurations. I don’t know! Now I worry that we’re boring.

Emma: We are kind of boring. It’s okay. I like boring!

Hardly. How do you navigate your marriage with your, let’s say, extracurricular activities? 

Jeff: We communicate a lot before, during, and after. We don’t have a group sex experience unless our sex life is going well. We don’t have one if we’re feeling particularly stressed or busy. Because it’s something I enjoy more than she does, that’s part of the consideration as well, although we’ve also been trying to explore her sexuality through these kinds of experiences. Her desires certainly take precedence if and when there’s something she wants to act on. 

Does jealousy ever factor into the equation?

Jeff: Nope! I’ve never felt emotionally or sexually threatened by any of our experiences. Doing everything together and in the same room probably helps, and communicating definitely helps. So does playing primarily with other couples. I’m much more wary of friends and co-workers she has developed an emotional connection with outside my presence than anyone we’ve shared a foursome with. 

Emma: One of the interesting things that has come out of incorporating these experiences into our marriage is that it has made me think a lot more about what I want and what turns me on. I am glad that I have been able to make certain fantasies come to life for my husband, and having done that also makes me a little more hungry for figuring out my own fantasies and how to fulfill them. This sounds bad, but in a way, it becomes about having “chips to cash in.” 

Being a woman, what’s most exciting to me is probably getting to act on a flirtation that already exists, which could become a more intense and potentially threatening thing that we’ve just begun to talk about. We have no idea how this will pan out in real life, but it’s worth noting, I guess, that if you open things up in non-traditional ways, then it could end up evolving in ways you wouldn’t have predicted. 

Do you have any “no” rules or agreements about something you’d never ever do together?

Jeff: I think we discuss more in terms of what we will do. If something new came up that one of us wanted to do we would definitely discuss it first, as we have with everything we’ve done so far. It’s usually pretty clear what we’re comfortable with as a couple, and our desires seem to fit well within that.

Emma: No sex without condoms with others. That’s pretty non-negotiable. Not to say we have ever come across anyone else who wants that — the whole ethos of this community is pretty safe as far as I can tell. 

How frequently do you go to these kinds of parties?

Jeff: We just went to one on Saturday. We hadn’t been to a party like that in maybe six months? 

Emma: My guess is close to a year. 

Jeff: Probably as long a break as we’ve had since we started going, although part of that is that we’ve found a couple we enjoy hooking up with privately more than the stress of a party. In general, we’ve been having experiences with another person involved every one to three months. Everything has to align in terms of our relationship and schedules for it to happen.

Is it hot seeing your partner with someone else? Does it improve the sex you two have with one another privately?

Jeff: Yes! For me anyway. My primary concern seeing her with another person is that she isn’t finding anything unpleasant about the experience that would prompt me to intervene in some fashion. When it’s someone we trust or she’s been with before, and we’ve discussed and are comfortable with the situation I get to enjoy the pure sexuality of watching the person I’m most attracted to, and I definitely enjoy that.

Emma: I’m always fascinated watching other people with my husband; they do things I would never do. Sometimes I am really impressed by their athleticism. It’s more for entertainment value than erotic for me, but I still enjoy it. 

Would you recommend going to sex parties if a couple is trying to spice up a marriage or is it an experience that requires much more thought and trust?

Jeff: It definitely requires thought and trust, but if you are both on board with that, I would definitely recommend exploring it. It needs to come from a place of honest communication though. For some couples, they try it out and it’s not their thing for whatever reason and that’s that, no harm done. For others, it is really rewarding and it becomes a part of their lifestyle to one degree or another. It’s a compelling and fun shared experience, and you can meet some pretty cool people. 

Emma: I would definitely recommend trying it as well. It’s an interesting life experience at the very least, and one of the things I really appreciate about it is that it sort of explodes the fiction in our culture that if you’re in a loving and committed relationship with someone, you shouldn’t have desires for anyone else for the rest of your life. This is untenable and makes our relationships more fragile than they need to be — can anyone tell I’m a Dan Savage listener? A lot of communication is required, and it’s definitely not for everyone. For me, though, I derive a lot of well-being from the confidence it gives me in the durability of our relationship.