For a subculture obsessed with “absolute discretion”, Australia’s swingers haven’t had much luck in flying under the radar recently.

Tragic tales: Herman Rockefeller and Maria Korp

In January, the alleged murder of prominent businessman and clandestine group-sex enthusiast Herman Rockefeller resulted in a tabloid feeding frenzy.  Police will allege the 52-year-old millionaire property developer was dismembered and buried after a planned hook-up went horribly wrong.

A month later, the telemovie Wicked Love: The Maria Korp Story was nationally broadcast, recounting the sorry tale of the 50-year-old Melbourne mother of two, and her husband Joe, 47, who posted pictures of themselves on a swingers’ website in 2005. They attracted the attention of Tania Herman, 38. Herman became Joe Korp’s mistress and ended up choking his wife with a bag strap and leaving her to die in the boot of a car. She was convicted of attempted murder.

Even in today’s hypersexualised raunch culture where reality TV contestants fail to comprehend there’s anything out of order about turkey slapping someone on live TV and B-list celebs leak their home sex tapes in the hope of drumming up publicity, swingers retain an exotic mystique.

After Herman Rockefeller’s death, fearless GQ Australia correspondent David Smiedt stripped down to his boxers and plunged into the world of suburban orgies to investigate what kind of people are drawn to The Lifestyle. The full results of Smiedt’s field research are published in the edition of the magazine out this week, but his most startling discovery was that — leaving aside the whole recreational gang banging thing — swingers are a representative sample of mainstream Australia.

Or to put it another way, that nearly everything non-swingers believe about swingers is wrong. Let’s run through the major misconceptions one by one:

1. Swingers are desperados and deviants too ugly and/or perverted to organise meaningless sex with a stranger in the time-honoured way - i.e. getting smashed and picking up at the pub. It’s true that most swingers are past their physical peak – the predominant age group for swinging is 35-45 – but the swingers Smiedt encountered were no less or more attractive than the kind of people you see walking around your local shopping centre. Far from being creepy, Smiedt was amazed at how friendly and respectful of his boundaries the swingers he encountered were.

2. Swingers are trashy bogans. Academic research into swinging, admittedly chiefly conducted in the US, has shown that swingers are disproportionately well-educated, white-collar types. For reasons yet to be fully explained, American swingers appear to be more likely to belong to religious organisations than non-swingers and slightly more politically conservative than average.

Regrettably, nobody’s done any research into whether Australia’s wife-swappers are enthusiastic supporters of Tony Abbott or given to heading off to Hillsong services the morning after a night of orgiastic excess, but the culture Smiedt encountered at Sydney’s swinging clubs was respectably bourgeois. Drug use was expressly forbidden and while social drinking was common, drunkenness was frowned upon. An enormous emphasis was placed on good manners. Far from being frenzied free-for-alls, the sexual encounters Smiedt witnessed resembled a bunch of painfully PC uni students getting it on, with constant permission-seeking of the ‘may I now lick/fondle/penetrate your [insert body part here]’ variety. Safe sex was a given and there was a big emphasis on cleanliness with swingers expected to show up to events in a well-groomed state and shower between erotic interludes. 

3. Swingers are dangerous libertines with no respect for family values or the institution of marriage. Academic research suggests most swingers are in stable long-term relationships.

Most presumably have children. Counterintuitive as it may seem to outsiders, those involved in swinging typically report it strengthens their marriage and improves the sex they have with their partner.

Of course, as swingers themselves are the first to point out, swinging isn’t for everyone, nor is it a magic bullet solution to the stresses and conflicts that inevitably arise in any long-term relationship. But given that four in 10 marriages end in divorce, and that around half of all men and a third of all women will cheat on a partner at some point, it’s worth considering whether non-swingers are in much of a position to judge those couples who’ve chosen to discuss their desire for sexual variety with each other honestly and act on it in a way that’s designed to maintain their relationship and minimise the emotional trauma that typically results from infidelity.

But if most Australians have no idea what swingers are really like and are to a greater or lesser extent prejudiced against them, that’s in no small part due to the swinging subculture’s aforementioned obsession with keeping everything on the down-low.

There was another subset of Australian citizens who, up until relatively recently, also believed what they got up to behind closed doors had to remain their shameful little secret, lest their careers and reputation be ruined. Members of this group were much misunderstood by non-members, and frequently treated with fear, suspicion and contempt. If sexually assaulted or physically attacked, they were often reluctant to report the incident to a police force they assumed would be unsympathetic or outright hostile to their kind.

Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, many of these people decided that leading a double life wasn’t worth the psychic cost exacted. It very soon became apparent to everyone that, apart from what they got up to in bed, the members of this group were not significantly different to anyone else and, indeed, many were making a valuable contribution to the wider society. Over time discrimination and ridiculous stereotypes largely disappeared and eventually prominent legal, political, business and even religious figures began openly declaring that they too were members of this group.

So, if only for their own safety, isn’t it time the nation’s swingers follow the lead of the gay and lesbian community and come out of the closet? And might it also be time for those of us leading more conventional sex lives to stop feeling so smugly superior?

David Smiedt’s piece on swingers is published in the April / May edition of GQ Australia which is available in newsagents from Wednesday March 31.

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Most commented


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    • BTS says:

      05:06am | 30/03/10

      So Nigel,

      Is this just a blatant plug for your own magazine or are you gauging public reaction to gain that extra little confidence boost needed to leave the ‘swinger closet’?

    • Russell says:

      08:11am | 30/03/10

      Where can I buy a copy of this fabulous magazine?

    • stephen says:

      03:32pm | 30/03/10

      Not a bad book either, though I skipped an issue with Ben Cousins on the cover.

    • acker says:

      06:22am | 30/03/10

      Maybe a high profile swinger or ex-swinger might like to come out in public and be the first to do it. Perhaps a TV star seeking a bit more publicity.

    • Formersnag The Child Protector. says:

      06:52am | 30/03/10

      Swingers are also known for leaving children out of it. So who cares if they prefer anonimity?

      Whereas some other sections of our community do bring children into it regularly. Perhaps we have bigger fish to fry else where?

    • T.Chong says:

      07:07am | 30/03/10

      Well, if thats how you get your kicks , and no -one is hurt…,
      Seems to punch a very big hole (NO puns intended) with the regularly trotted out argument that women require genuine love before getting it on. ( not one I advocate, but noting it is a common claim by “experts”)
      Obviosly this pre requirement is as much an individual thing as any otherpart of life.
      Brings to mind those charming lyics of ” if you cant love the one you want, love the one youre with”

    • Bigboomer says:

      08:05am | 30/03/10

      My wife has rules about swinging, definatly not allowed, after 36 years of marriage I am getting to old to dogde her cast iron frying pan, so I just give the whole thing a miss. One woman is enough torture for any man.

    • antiBOOm says:

      08:43am | 30/03/10

      marriage in general sounds like too much torture for me… comments like this make me want to give that whole thing a miss!

    • Zeta says:

      08:48am | 30/03/10

      There are loop holes dude. It’s not cheating if it’s part of a public performance or religious festival.

    • Chantelle Austin says:

      08:22am | 30/03/10

      I am a swinger and out of the closet, quite publicly now in fact.  I was on Today Tonight and on Nova FM when the Rockafeller murder revealed the swinging connection.  It’s nice to see more articles that actually share more accurate information about the scene… I’m out in the public because I hope that others will be open about their own swinging status… or in the very least, not feel ashamed or guilty about their lifestyle choices, because it is just that - a choice smile  It’s true that it’s not for everyone and those who have a good solid relationship find it is only enhanced with swinging, which is a little known or understood fact.  At the end of the day, it’s a bunch of consenting adults who aren’t hurting anyone, so why should it be something to be ashamed of?

    • JJJ says:

      09:48am | 30/03/10

      As T. Chong said - if it is something you enjoy and you aren’t hurting anyone - then go for it. The problem with this sort of thing is that MOST people in our society eventually do get hurt by this kind of behaviour (be it jealousy or just confusion… probably why there have recently been two swingers killed!?). So whilst I don’t think you should ever be ashamed of anything you chose to do, it’s still a difficult topic and something likely to remain somewhat taboo.

      I also don’t really understand how two people who commit to marriage could then decide, mutually, to sleep with other people? I don’t believe in the institution of marriage and don’t think humans really want to be monogomous (certainly not most men!) - so why get married in the first place? Why not just be ‘live together and sleep with other people’ buddies?

    • hs says:

      01:15pm | 30/03/10

      dodgy stats, JJJ; two swingers killed, and, er, how many killings between non swinging couples…isn’t it the case that the partner is *always* the first suspect in any murder?

    • 6c legs says:

      12:38pm | 30/03/10

      Pfft… having showers in between “erotic encounters’’ or using condoms is NO free pass on sexually transmitted diseases -just ask my ex! (who was just a tad too keen on taking up The Lifestyle for my liking…)

      Sure, swingers may say it’s all their choice, that is until they finally grow a brain and realise that ‘their choice’ was actually just them trying to please a more bolshy partner, or to keep an already failing marriage together.
      At least that’s what 3 different women have told me about their (sad) forays into The Lifestyle. ( just as valid a sample as the authors)

      I seriously doubt that truly mentally healthy people make up huge numbers of those “enjoying” The Lifestyle, of course there would be a few. But if it’s not shameful, or hurting anyone, then why the secrecy?

    • Been there, done that says:

      01:27pm | 30/03/10

      Secrecy because most swingers are parents, and employed; and one’s teenagers and workmates are, in general, extremely conservative, and tend to see things in black and white. Honestly, if you think about it (or if you can even bear to think about it), doesn’t the thought of one’s parents getting all hot and sweaty in the sack, bring on a bit of the old, “eeeuuw”? Now magnify that 100-fold, and imagine the reaction of the average teenager to his or her parents swapping wrinklies with a group of like-minded, fellow “geriatrics”. To fellow swingers, I might be a hot Cougar in my 40s, but to my teenage sons, I’m an “ancient old fart”, one step removed from Zimmerdom. I rest my case.

    • slimjim says:

      02:12pm | 30/03/10

      When I think of swinger the image that I have in my mind is the characters the Magda Szubanski and Peter Moone played on Fast Forward in the early 90s.

    • Timmo says:

      02:17pm | 30/03/10

      Well from reading the outcomes for the people who got killed there, it obviously seems a recipe for disaster.

    • The Civet says:

      02:58pm | 30/03/10

      When will the popular press stop cashing in on people’s sex lives? As long as it doesn’t involve hurting animals, I don’t give a damn what people do in bed.

      If Punch wishes to be taken seriously it shouldn’t try being a tabloid clone.

    • Venise says: says:

      03:04pm | 30/03/10

      Excellent article and excellent advice.

    • You would be surprised says:

      04:22pm | 30/03/10

      Why the call for swingers to come out “...just like gays and lesbians”??? Gays and lesbians have been seeking equality in the community so they are not treated as second class citizens solely as a consequence of their sexual orientation.
      I am not aware that swingers as a sub-group are seeking recognition or believe they are being penalised by society for a pastime they indulge in.
      We have been swingers for 6 years…and I can’t see a couple without a very strong relationship being able to indulge in this activity.
      The arm-chair critics are throwing stones without any real exposure to the swinging scene. Deeper investigation will reveal precisely what the GQ journalist discovered…there is a high degree of etiquette and courtesy that govern these encounters.

    • Timmo says:

      05:14pm | 30/03/10

      I remember when it was fun swinging by my tail. How great was that. All the other people such as lizards, bugs and things would complain all the time about my swinging around. Swinging up there down there all over the place. Sort of caught on for a while unti they took my tail away. Now earthbound I really miss my tail sometimes. What great days they were. “They were the days my friends we thought they’d never end we’d swing and dance forever and a day, we’d live the life we choose we thought we’d never lose, those were the days oh yes those were the days”. If you want to do it, do it, but remember it’s a jungle out there and we are all on the food chain. By the way, how much do you know about these people that you mix with in clubs etc. Good friends are they?. No Sexual Deviates there, do you know who they are?. Going to invite them home for the family barbie?.  Going to expose your children to them, making complete trust?. A big family get together will be had with many Aunties and Uncles. Great!! Now the reality is that the bloke that they wrote about above thought he was on to a good thing there but where is he now, poor bloke. What a way to go, no in hindsight for him. But everyone knows that it only happens to those strange people not them. His family didn’t even know anything about it. It must be a great tradegy for them. Good luck to all who venture there.!

    • Dave says:

      05:40pm | 30/03/10

      Honestly, the basic problem is that people are afraid of anything that is different, or that they can’t accept. I was involved with the swinging scene a few years ago, and it captures people from all ages, and backgrounds. There are clubs in and around major cities that promote the healthy lifestyle choices, as well as parties and events held in private homes. There are many things that go on in this world that people don’t know about, and if offered the choice they wouldn’t want to know about.

      It sounds, from what I have read, that Mr Rockefeller was not engaging in the lifestyle honestly, which was the cause of the fight/argument/whatever.

      Why is it anyone else’s business what people choose to do in their private lives?

    • Vicki PS says:

      12:32am | 31/03/10

      Back in the Swinging 70s, I soon decided swinging wasn’t for me: far too many hassles.  That was around the same time as I decided that reading about, discussing, dissecting, watching or otherwise scrutinising other peoples’ sexual activity wasn’t for me either.  Frankly, as well as being boring it makes me feel ever so slightly grubby, like inspecting someone’s soiled underwear.

      As the saying goes, if it hurts no-one, do what you will and pay for it.  To which I would add—and keep it to yourself, hey?  I don’t need to know.

    • Lisa McDonald says:

      07:03pm | 30/03/10

      There is always someone that gets hurt….............

    • Alastair says:

      08:49pm | 30/03/10

      if you got it, swing it

    • darkstar says:

      10:48pm | 04/11/11

      my experience of swingers is that many of them ARE bogans - with some exceptions, of course. But, I have to say, it’s extremely rare to find doctors or lawyers who’re swingers. You find a lot more working class people are into it. That’s not snobbish, it’s just my experience. And I don’t accept that rampant promiscuity is a harmless activity. People who say, for example, that having sex with other people is helpful to their marriage are just kidding themselves.


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