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The Sexes: Swinging Future

4 minute read

Swingin Future

Many observers take it for granted that sexual “swinging” will never be more than a fringe phenomenon involving a few far-out types. Not so, suggests British Biologist Alexander Comfort. In the years to come, Comfort predicts, more and more couples may turn to group sex for satisfactions once sought only in traditional patterns of family living.

Comfort, who outlines his views in the current issue of the magazine Center Report, last week detailed his vision of the future in an interview with TIME’S Los Angeles Correspondent Lois Armstrong. As he sees it, clues to what lies ahead can be discerned in the attitudes of young people. “They shy away from the idea of total self-surrender,” Comfort observes. “They say, There must be a piece of myself for myself. It isn’t that I don’t love you, but I don’t dig this symbiotic fusion.’ ” Just as many young people are no longer willing to give themselves completely to one person, so they no longer expect to get all of the emotional satisfactions they need from a single lifelong partner. “The fantasy of one-to-one sufficiency has let us down,” Comfort asserts. “A husband or wife is expected to be mother, father, child, uncles and aunts; this is a greater burden than any one human being can possibly carry.”

Benefits. Group sex is a way of sharing the burden, and Comfort anticipates a future “in which settled couples engage openly in a wide range of sexual relations with friends.” Though he claims he is not advocating this “sexualization of friendship,” Comfort sees it as a good thing. He argues—not very persuasively—that one result of the trend may be an end to sexual jealousy. Couples will take a “more realistic view” of the need for variety and will come to realize that “if you love somebody, you try to give them the things they want instead of fencing them in.”

There are other benefits in group sex. Biologist Comfort believes. “The person who gets into this scene tends to lose a lot of neurotic anxieties. Women learn to say no to sex when they do not really want it, and the men to whom they say no find that “refusal is not rejection of them as people.” Both men and women come to tolerate their homosexual impulses better. Moreover, “watching the sexual behavior of other human beings is not just stimulating, but educating.” Men especially get a more realistic perspective on machismo, “the neurotic expectation that the male should be able to make love to anything that will stand still in ten seconds flat. By observation, they learn that they’re not underperforming.”

Comfort believes that more group sex will mean less hypocrisy. “Now we are dishonest because we have a society that is supposed to be monogamous but in fact practices serial polygamy. Most people have been married more than once, and adultery is universally tolerated. Open marriage would simply legitimize what we already live.”

Biologist Comfort, a physician, barely touches on the negative aspects of group sex, though he does acknowledge that it could “devalue relationships.” Not all behavior experts are totally opposed to group sex, but few take such a sanguine view as Comfort. Many believe that participants are often emotionally disturbed, immature men and women whose sexual activities provide distraction but no solution to basic problems. Chicago Psychoanalyst Ner Littner feels that couples who swing are incapable of intimate relationships even with each other, and use wife-swapping “as a safety valve that keeps intimacy at a level each can tolerate.” Anthropologist Gilbert Bartell believes that “sensitive” people find group sex “too mechanistic,” that “there is a loss of identity and an absence of commitment,” and that “this total noninvolvement represents the antithesis of sexual pleasure and satisfaction.”

Finally, many psychiatrists—along with large numbers of lay moralists —disagree with the idea that profound satisfaction cannot be had in monogamous marriage. “If a man has a wife and they have a mature relationship, what does he need another woman for?” asks Beverly Hills Psychiatrist Thomas Grubbs. Adds Manhattan Psychiatrist Max Levin: “The growing popularity of swinging is testimony to man’s infinite capacity for self-delusion.”

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