Lacey is 37, lives in the Bible Belt, and speaks in a soft, lilting Southern accent. She has a warm smile and bouncy Kate Middleton waves. She could be the one nice mom backstage at a child's beauty pageant, or the type of parent who always brings snacks to a JV soccer match. Lacey, who asked that her last name not be published, describes herself as “this sweet, innocent thing.”
It’s how she hid her biggest secret for so long. Lacey swings with Dan, her husband of three years. They have sex with other single women (called “unicorns”) and couples, sometimes swapping partners or just having sex in the same room as others. Lacey and Dan managed to be discreet, until they made a TikTok detailing their experiences “in the lifestyle.”
They thought maybe a few people would appreciate their sex-positive content. Perhaps other swingers would find tips on sticky situations like how to politely turn down partners helpful. Their third video hit 200,000 views, much more than they realized was possible. Then friends and family started calling. Lacey and Dan’s secret was out.
“We had 11 million views, and it was unstoppable,” Lacey said. “I was raised to be this Christian, soft-spoken nice little girl. This goes against everything I was ever taught. We vastly underestimated the power of TikTok.”
Lacey and Dan are far from alone. #SwingTok, also known as #SwingerTok and #TikTokSwing, is a hashtag with over 630 million views. Many couples who post about their non-monogamy aren’t using TikTok as a dating app—that’s what places like Tinder, SLS, and Feeld are for.
Instead, these budding influencers aim to be ad hoc sex coaches for couples who might be reconsidering the idea of commitment and sexual exploration. As USA Today put it this week, “The swinging community hid in the shadows. Then came #SwingTok.”
Lacey has lived in the same small Southern town, which she declines to name, her entire life. She can’t go to the Dollar Store or Walmart without seeing someone she knows. Suddenly, it seems like everyone on Main Street has watched her hold up a pineapple, a tongue-in-cheek reference to swinging, or pack her suitcase for a couples’ retreat to Jamaica, where she’ll stay at a hotel called “Hedonism II.”
“Part of me wants to be like, ‘Oh my God, they know what we do,’” Lacey said. “But also, hell yeah! They know what we do. We have an awesome marriage and have fun.”
Someone from town who saw Lacey’s videos showed her mother, who was unaware of her daughter’s sex life. “It’s not a conversation you want to have with your mom,” Lacey said. “My dad’s in his seventies and doesn’t do technology, so my mom said, ‘Let’s not mention it to dad.’ I’m very blessed to have an open-minded, non-judgmental parent. But instead of friends telling her, it would have been nice to have had that conversation myself.”
“It’s freeing once you pop out of that bubble,” Dan said. “Now we don’t have to hide where we’re going on the weekend.” The couple, who have 19,000 followers on TikTok and host the podcast “The Swing Nation,” probably spend about one weekend a month meeting up with like-minded play partners.
Before TikTok, they had to lie to Lacey’s mother when asking for help with childcare. Now things are different. “My mom took us to the airport to go to a swingers’ resort this week,” Lacey said. “It’s nice to be honest. We’re not telling her the ins and outs, but it’s nice to not have to hide anymore. She’ll ask what we’re doing in a coy voice, and I think she thinks we’re out ho-ing it up every weekend. But we’re not doing something every single night.” Lacey’s mother even bought a #Swingtok-branded coffee mug to support her daughter, which she proudly brings into the office every day.
Swingers who spoke to The Daily Beast were quick to point out that they are “normal people” who pay their taxes, raise good kids, and go to church.
“I’ve gone to clubs and met neurosurgeons, principals, teachers, nurses, EMTs,” Krystina, who goes by @tiktokgirl_krystina5.0 and has over 237,000 followers on the app. “I’ve had my account suspended 16 times by TikTok, but there are probably people who work for TikTok who are swingers.”
Amy C. Moors, an assistant professor of psychology at Chapman University and a Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute who studies non-monogamy, agrees that non-monogamy isn’t such a fringe movement.
“About one out of five people in the U.S. have engaged in consensual non-monogamy at some point during their life,” Moors said in an interview. And while media tropes might conjure images of a certain type of couple who likes to swing—young, white, attractive, and cis—Moors’ research shows there’s no real profile.
In 2017, Moors co-authored a national survey of 9,000 Americans, asking people if they had ever engaged in consensual non-monogamy, an umbrella term to describe swinging, open, and polyamorous relationships. “It turns out that there were very few socio-demographic predictors of a swinger,” Moors said. “People who were young, old, Republican, Independent, religious, not religious, all were equally likely to have engaged in some form of non-monogamy at some point in their lives.”
The pandemic led to the permanent closure of many swinging clubs and left couples discouraged from meeting up in person for months. But it also kept people cooped up inside—with not much to do but explore their own fantasies.
“We’re currently trying to understand how people’s monogamy beliefs changed during the pandemic,” Moors said. “We’re still looking at the data now, but preliminary data shows that something unique happened for people who were in long-term, committed relationships. A portion of them decided to open things up. Maybe it’s because they were watching new media at home, and Netflix has a few shows that talk openly and neutrally about non-monogamy. Maybe that sparked people’s fantasies. Also sex toy sales were at an all-time high during lockdowns, so maybe just doing new things with inanimate objects inspired people to say, ‘Hey, let’s think about what sex with someone else would be like.’”
Kiley, who goes by @sexyswingerchic on TikTok and has over 35,000 followers, is a 30-year-old from Cleveland, Ohio. She spoke to The Daily Beast over the phone, and her four year-old son could be heard laughing and singing from the other room. Though Kiley identifies as bisexual and slept with couples in the past, she stared going to local clubs when they reopened at the end of 2020.
“We still had COVID curfews, which meant we had to be out of the club at 9:30,” Kiley said. “So we’d have to get there at 5 p.m. It was an interesting time to start out.”
Kiley considers herself one of the first women to come out on TikTok as a swinger. “It feels good to know that I was able to talk about it and be so open,” she said. “I’ve actually inspired some of the other #Swingtok people to be able to post about their lifestyle as well.”
As a bartender, Kiley doesn’t have to keep her social media G-rated. But others do. While anti-discrimination laws protect employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, sexual activities like swinging are not offered the same cover.
This means swingers like to be discreet not just for their own privacy, but their livelihoods, too. It is entirely legal for a landlord to evict a throuple, or a boss to fire a swinger. Poly parents have lost custody of their children in bitter divorce cases.
The Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition (PLAC) is a group of academic and legal professionals working to “advance the civil and human rights of polyamorous individuals, communities, and families through legislative advocacy, public policy, and public education.”
In June 2020 Somerville, Massachusetts, adopted an ordinance which grants polyamorous people marital rights such as shared health insurance benefits.
“Someday, I would like to march on the White House and demand that us swingers have these equal protections,” Krystina, who lives outside of Detroit and swings with her husband of 17 years, said.
Many of the swingers who spoke to The Daily Beast compared their fears of being “outed” to the experience of LGBTQ people fighting for civil rights. It might not be the best analogy, considering the amount of violence, prejudice, and discrimination LGBTQ, especially trans Americans, face.
But the way swingers aim to present themselves on TikTok—friendly, family-oriented, and just like you—isn’t much different from the types of gay stories and activists who were propped up by the media to support same-sex rights for much of the ’90s and 2000s. There is pressure for swingers to desexualize their experiences online in an effort to make their cause more palatable for a vanilla audience.
“People think all we want to do is have sex and fuck all the time,” Krystina said. “That’s not what it’s about, and that’s the stigma we’re trying to break on TikTok. I’m trying to portray that you can still go out on a normal date night.”
She’s especially frustrated with bad actors who are trying to “pick up on the swinging trend” and make videos just for shock value. There are TikToks that talk about swapping with family members, or show women sharing their husbands with five impeccably made0up, model-esque friends. Not quite the family-friendly fare.
“It’s so ridiculous and fake, and it makes all of us swingers look bad,” Krystina said, “Real swingers who are actually successful at swinging don’t swing with our friends or our parents. Doing it with your mom, that’s so gross to me. I can have sex with four different men in one night, and even I think that’s gross. I sound like such a hypocrite, but seriously.”
VistaWife, a 29-year-old from Lincoln, United Kingdom, started out making her TikToks “very sexy and sex-oriented.” Her account was promptly banned and deleted.
“I read TikToks community guidelines, which state you can promote sexual content for educational or artistic purposes only,” VistaWife, who did not want to reveal her name, said. “So while other SwingTok girls still promote it with sexiness, I decided to go down the educational route. Now I sit down and tell others about the lifestyle, how things work, and the etiquette. I have had thousands of messages letting me know I have helped them get into the lifestyle with my videos.”
All of the swingers who spoke to The Daily Beast said their activity on TikTok outed them to someone they would have preferred not know about their lifestyle. Dan and Lacey, the podcasts hosts, had to have an uncomfortable and awkward conversation Dan’s teenage daughter after she saw one of their posts.
“It’s my bad, because I did not think that my 17-year-old would stumble upon SwingTok,” Dan said. “I don’t know how the algorithm did that. She was embarrassed about it, but she didn’t judge it. We’re probably closer because of it. She came to me and said she thinks she might be bisexual. And now she knows that we’re swingers and Lacey is bisexual, so they can connect and talk about that now.”
Every time Kiley’s parents call, she’s concerned they might have found out about her TikTok. “My biggest fear is my parents finding out and them not understanding it,” she said. “My mom is super conservative, my dad is older and I don’t necessarily know how they’d react. That’s scary, but this is who I am and if I’m not proud of myself, then what am I? I have to love myself.”
Krystina wagers that “about 95 percent” of her swinger friends would prefer to stay incognito. “I would say that most people don’t want to be in a TikTok of mine, or on my Snapchat. I’ve been on date nights where people have said, ‘Don’t put me on your Snapchat.’ They love what I’m doing, but they have to stay hidden. Hopefully in five or ten years, people will look at swingers different.”
There is a bit of a generation gap too, Krystina says. “Older swingers especially want to stay hidden,” she said. “They’re 50 and 60 yeas old, and they’re not used to us millennials.”
“Once I posted a photo on Instagram of a couple friends of mine all hugging,” Blue said. “I was in a relationship with one of them, but this was just a photo of us having a good time, with no reference to sex or a relationship. A friend in the photo reached out to me and said, ‘I’m not out, can you take the photo down?’ It was just a photo of us hugging and I didn’t agree that it suggested we were dating, but I deleted the photo anyway.”
“I think it’s too sexualized”
Amanda, a 39 year-old from Houston who is self-employed and has been in the lifestyle for four years, is a little annoyed with SwingTok.
“I think it’s too sexualized,” Amanda said. She’s especially over all of the pineapple emojis. The tropical fruit has been associated with hospitality since at least the 16th century. Pineapples were difficult to import from the Caribbean and very expensive, which meant it was impressive for a host to share one with a dinner guest.
Swinger urban legend suggests that before the internet, interested couples would turn pineapples upside down in their shopping cart to look for partners in the grocery store, or hang one outside of their homes to suggest they were open to the lifestyle.
“Pineapples on TikTok are a pet peeve of mine,” Amanda said. “I do have pineapples all over my house, but as a tongue-and-cheek thing. People do realize that HomeGoods and TJ Maxx and Marshalls sell pineapple decor all the time, and it’s not Swingers-R-Us, right? The symbol become silly and makes it seem that we’re all just trying to have sex all of the time.”
Blue, the relationships coach, believes that the “new generation of swingers” seems more “community-oriented.” It’s not just about getting naked with strangers anymore. It’s about connection.
“Traditional swinging is sex for the sake of sex,” Blue said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but they work really hard on not catching feelings. That’s changing a bit with what I call the neo-swingers. As monogamy in general becomes more porous and flexible, the idea of rigid swinging will evolve as well. Young swingers are relaxed, not worried about catching feelings, not settled into monogamy.”
As Amanda put it, “I have friends I met through swinging, and sex isn’t even our priority with them. We go to barbecues and vacations. Sex is a perk, but it’s not the only thing.”