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The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers

by Terry Gould

If the word “swinger” conjures up ugly images of the open-shirted, creepy-looking guy, you’re not alone. As Terry Gould relates in the introduction to The Lifestyle (to be released, aptly, on Valentine’s Day), he initially held a similar view of mate-swappers as immoral, irresponsible, sex-mad low-lifes, which he expressed in a 1989 article on swingers for a Vancouver-based magazine. The veteran journalist’s subsequent skepticism over the media’s overwhelmingly negative view of swingers was piqued by a spate of major magazine articles condemning practitioners, even as they spoke of the phenomenon’s growth, with millions involved in North America alone. But it was Gould’s 1993 meeting of an educated, articulate swinging couple at a literary party (who introduced him to more “respectable” members of “the lifestyle”) that made him wonder: are swingers as misunderstood and persecuted for their sexual practices as gays and lesbians were/are within straight communities, and equally deserving of accurate coverage of their lives and beliefs?

The Lifestyle is the result of this question, representing a year’s worth of investigation and an open-minded examination of his own prejudices, mainstream society’s beliefs, historical precedents, and current thought in the fields of sociology, psychology, anthropology, and sexology.

Gould traces contemporary swinging’s roots to American Second World War pilots and their wives, looks at the utopian polyamory/ polyfidelity (devotees of a new form of group “marriage” heavily influenced by Heinlein’s classic Stranger in a Strange Land), and includes many conversations with lifestylers at various gatherings across the continent, debunking many myths along the way. From the Bonobo chimpanzees and their casual group sex and mate swapping (which defuses potential conflicts), to the story of Lifestyles Organization founder Bob McGinley (including his 1997 fight with California authorities, which drew the support of the American Civil Liberties Association), Gould presents a plethora of intriguing and engaging arguments for re-examining some of our most deeply held beliefs about sex, morality, and ethics. The result is a mainstream-friendly book that could add mate-swapping to the list of alternative sexual behaviours undeserving of shame, discrimination, or scorn.