Facing the Pressure to Remain Silent – Living as Closeted Swingers Or Coming Out

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Facing the Pressure to Remain Silent - Living as Closeted Swingers Or Coming OutWe've talked, and we're going to have to suspend our friendship.”

The text message from my oldest and one of my closest friends knocked me off balance and sent that all too familiar knot straight to my gut. She went on to say that if we decided to change our lifestyle, she and her husband would be happy to consider resuming the relationship.

What a cold and bitter end to a friendship that started when she was three days old – the day I was born. We had gone to school together, spent time together, taken trips together – even our children (seven between the two families) had become friends. We celebrated our birthdays together since they were three days apart.

There were ups and downs to be sure, in all of our lives, but for more than 35 years our friendship endured. And, now, suddenly and definitively it was over. But, why?

After more than two years of becoming increasingly active in the lifestyle, we casually mentioned it to a few of our closest friends. No particular decision compelled us to share our involvement in the lifestyle. The fact simply came up as a matter of course. Close friends share so many intimate details of their lives (often including their sex lives), and this was no different.

Stacy's oldest friend already knew, and our friendship with her family continued. We have always found them to be salt-of-the-earth types and there were never any thoughts of judgment or condemnation regarding our choices. I assumed the same would be true about my oldest friend. My blindness to her inability to accept the lifestyle shocked me.

As two couples we had shared many conversations about sex, both serious and humorous. The “disclosure” about our participation in the lifestyle came as part of a seemingly innocuous conversation about our sex lives. But, for my friend the idea that we participate in group sex with other people proved to be a breaking point. After pondering all of this my initial question remained: Why?

As a long-time advertiser and marketer for large American corporations, I have noted that a growing and increasingly valuable market segment is the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (GLBT) community. Notice that the L does not stand for lifestyle. In fact, the GLBT community really does not have a place for the lifestyle crowd. Even bisexuals find it hard to fit in with the GLBT community – and they have their own letter in its acronym! That leaves a major gap for those us of who consider ourselves part of the lifestyle.

Society is beginning to more readily accept GLBT types. Changing attitudes regarding gay marriage reflect that. Unfortunately, the lifestyle remains misunderstood in the minds of many. Naturists, polygamists, dirty old men and swingers are grouped into a single category that is considered peculiar and taboo. There certainly are those who understand the differences between the various groups and accept those in the lifestyle, but they do not represent the majority.

The same people who openly accept, or at least tolerate, their gay friends often turn their backs on those who are discovered to be in the lifestyle. So, what then are we left to do? Popular culture is currently filled with images and video clips of women kissing women and now even men kissing men. Typically, younger generations are much more open to changes in societal norms, which is certainly the case when it comes to the lifestyle. The under 30 crowd may not warm to the terms “lifestyle” and “swinger”, but they are much more accepting of the concept than those over 40.

There are no easy answers for those of us in the lifestyle who want to be able to speak freely to close friends, but fear potential repercussions. Some will understand, while others turn away. Sharing involvement in the lifestyle can often feel like a game of Russian Roulette. Your approach will come down to the amount of risk you are willing to take in your relationships. The first thing you should determine is the level of importance you place on the freedom to be open with your friends and family about the lifestyle.

In a polite society people do not typically run around telling random strangers about their sex lives, regardless of whether they are straight, gay, bisexual, polyamorous, or something else entirely. Given that, there is no reason to feel that you are stuck “in the closet” simply because most of your acquaintances, friends and family members have no idea that you are part of the lifestyle. Uncle Bob and Aunt Betty do not usually sit down to Christmas dinner and begin regaling the family with their latest sexual escapades. In the same sense, there is no need to feel that everyone you know should be aware of your private sexual activities. Once you have determined the level of freedom to share that you desire, you can more effectively develop an approach to openness.

One option is simply to throw caution to the wind and talk about the lifestyle whenever it naturally comes up in conversation. If your so-called friends are true friends, will they really allow your lifestyle choices to disrupt your relationship? You might ask yourself whether you want those kinds of “friends” in your life to begin with. This approach is for those who want to be completely open and are not at all concerned about how others might react to the revelation.

Those who want to share, but remain concerned about the reactions of friends and family might consider an alternative approach. Consider your current relationships and share your involvement in the lifestyle with one or two people or couples whom you think most likely to be accepting of the information. I told a cousin who is a very liberal, open-minded person. While I had no idea what her reaction would be, it was more of a calculated risk. How did she react? She gave a simple “Good for you two!”

The most challenging issue around disclosing participation in the lifestyle (and often the greatest feeling of pressure to remain in the closet) revolves around family relationships. Some families are completely open, while others remain closed to the idea of accepting the lifestyle. The choice of whether to share this part of your life with family is deeply personal and for many, highly stressful. My advice is to relax. Approach your family with Uncle Bob and Aunt Betty in mind. For most in the lifestyle, our sexual activities fall under the “behind closed doors” category. Unless you are planning to bring other lifestyle couples home for the holidays, it's probably not something the family needs to discuss. The same is true with friends.

Telling someone that you participate in the lifestyle does not mean you are trying to get them to join in on group fun in the bedroom. That is no different than a couple taking part in the biker phenomenon. Sharing an enjoyment of dressing in leather and riding the open road would not make a friend feel pressure to run out and by a Harley.

When considering whether you need to come out of the lifestyle closet to family, friends and acquaintances, step back and change your perspective. You just might find that the closet was simply an illusion, and that you are already standing in the open.

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10 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Great article Brent! Totally agree with you…..my friends and family know I'm a bit of a wild child but for the most part leave it at that….Mom and Dad don't want to know that we swing any more than I want to know what they do in their sex lives 🙂

  2. Avatar

    Our experience has been similar to that of a couple that finally full-swaps, and afterwards says "that was GREAT! Why the hell haven't we been doing that all along?!" When we finally came out as swingers, as you say we threw " throw caution to the wind and talk about the lifestyle whenever it naturally comes up in conversation" the overwhelming response by family, by friends, and by casual acquiantences (hair stylist, waitresses, auto shop, random strangers and others you meet during the course of life) has been met with emotions ranging from curiousity to nervous excitement…almost all positive. And the few who have been negative? It's obvious they are either reflecting their own insecurities on us, or are upset by deeper control issues…none of them are our concern, as we don't live our lives by other people permission.

    The sense of freedom we have in being out, in being who we are, is awesome.

  3. Avatar

    This is a good and wise article. I told my closets friend and sister, both who were open and accepting.
    But I think I will keep it more to ourselves, it might be akin to saying, "hey we enjoy anal sex" well one
    certainly would not share that with most, so as a rule of thumb, think I will keep it to ourselves.
    As new swingers we did not consider such things or ramifications. So slow and steady as she goes!
    And thank you again for the article.

  4. Avatar

    Brent, great article well written. Enjoyed your view point and we too have child hood friends and can relate. Also, we are in a really small town (like a closet!), we prefer our sex lives to remain private at this point. We think you and your wife are awesome. Hope to make your Dec 11th party.

  5. Avatar

    We agree as well. My wife and I feel that at times that we both live different lives. Having to use "cloak and dagger" techniques in order to keep the kids, our co-workers, and our non-lifestyle friends from finding out. I believe that supporting the gay and lesbian community has been the latest band wagon that society has jumped on. In the 60's it was rising up against racism and the war in Vietnam. Since racism isn't as big a deal as it used to be and protesting the war on terror and the military is VERY unpopular, that americans have chosen the gay and lesbian band wagon to jump on to support.

  6. Avatar

    I think that America is afraid to accept us in the lifestyle because they (Politicians, Soccer moms, etc) would realize that we are just like them. Then that would make them face the fact that it is ok to lust and have a physical relationship with others while also still being madly in love with your mate. I believe that living the lifestyle is much better than fininding out that you spouse is cheating on you or visa versa. Basically people need to stop looking at us likes we are deviants and start realizing that we are just normal people with normal lives. My soulmate and I chose together to take this sexual quest together. learning more about ourselves and eachother. Hopefully sooner that later society will understand that we aren't hurting anybody and that it's an adult choice made by adults.

  7. Avatar

    I definitely prefer the "throw caution to the wind" option when discussing being polyamorous. If I were a swinger I would also use this approach when talking about the lifestyle. I don't bring it up first, but I enjoy dropping hints. If people ask me, I will tell them because they ask. If they are interested, they will want to know more. If not, they won't mention it again. If they condemn me for who I am? I can think of many personal habits, beliefs, and tendencies that I overlook in other people and still consider them friends. If someone can't afford me the same courtesy in return then they are an unhealthy presence in my life and don't belong there.

    The biggest difference between being poly and being a swinger when coming out to others is that it's far easier to keep lifestyle activities under wraps. It's a bit hard to come to Thanksgiving dinner with your wife and girlfriend, tell everyone that the girlfriend is just a "friend", and still be loving and affectionate. Swingers can pass for regular folks; it's a bit more difficult for people in a poly relationship to avoid coming out to friends and relatives. It can be difficult, but I just apply a healthy dose of common sense and integrity when making the choice to be public about private matters.

  8. Avatar

    Great article. The wife and I tend to just feel people out in conversation with seemingly innocuous questions. Depending on answers to posed topics (usually up to 5 questions is enough) we can gauge the level of acceptance. Though it is a bummer to keep your friends in two groups it definately keeps the friction to a minimum and no one, that doesn't need to be, is the wiser.

  9. Ginger

    WOW! Excellent perspective and advice! Coming out and sharing details in such an important issue for careful consideration. The fact that GLBT folks are gaining respect does lend hope that those of us who are non-monogamous can come out and live out safely and happily in the (hopefully) near future!

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