Swingers are couples who have sex with others and singles who have sex with them. Although they identify as straight, they also engage in same sex behaviour.
New research published in BMJ Sexually Transmitted Infections examined the use of recreational drugs to intensify sex among people who used swinger websites. 1005 swingers completed a survey advertised through Dutch swinger websites. 58% reported engaging in swinging at least once a month. 30% participated every 4 months and 12% only once or twice a year. The respondents had an average age of 47.
Higher Recreational Drug Use Among Women
44% of respondents said they used drugs during sex (443 people) but the proportion was particularly high among women who participated in swinging. 51% of respondents who were women used drugs during sex compared with 44% in bisexual men and 39% in straight men. This is surprising because, among the general public, men are more likely to use drugs than women. The researchers suggested that women might use more drugs when participating in swinging in order to enable them to take part in esoteric sex acts with multiple partners.
This is in keeping with the self-reported explanations. 64% of respondents reported that disinhibition was one of the main reason to use drugs. Other major reasons were to prolong sex (68%), increase arousal (66%), and intensify sensations (61%). Almost all respondents said drug use was pleasurable (94%) and many described it as ‘exciting’ (66%). MDMA was the most commonly used drug (92%) but GHB and laughing gas were also popular (69%).
Researchers found that unprotected sex was more common among those who were using drugs than it was among those who weren’t. Among those having vaginal sex, 46% of swingers using drugs had unprotected sex, compared with only 34% of those not using drugs. This is higher than the rate of unprotected anal sex with or without drugs (22% who use drugs vs 13% using no drugs).
The health implications of using drugs during sex come from the risks of the drugs and the risks of the sex. Chem sex is associated with unusual infections (as well as HIV acquisition). There is evidence that swingers who use drugs acknowledge the potential health risks. In this research, Three quarters of the drug users had been tested for a sexually transmitted infection compared with just over half (56%) of those who didn’t use during sex. Half the respondents (47%) thought drug use during sex was “unhealthy,” but only 15% called it “dangerous”. 25% said that using drugs during sex had an adverse effect on their health and 7% thought they might become addicted or feel uncomfortable having sex without drugs.
Harm prevention in chem sex is notoriously difficult. Patients often do not identify as drug users and are reluctant to access drug services. These researchers suggest that healthcare professionals “should discuss drug use during sex among swingers and provide information on safe sex and drug use, while acknowledging the perceived benefits, such as the increased quality of sex.” This seems like a reasonable start. Many people knowingly make unhealthy choices in all kinds of areas. But encouraging people to take positive steps to protect themselves (and those they have sex with) is the purview of healthcare professionals.