Hooking Up with the Joneses

If you believe the cocktail chatter, swinging is alive and very well in Cohasset, Needham, Marblehead, and everywhere in between. Suburban legend? Or are your neighbors, and their neighbors, really getting it on? Pagan Kennedy went to find out for herself.

swinging in massachusetts

Illustration by Juliette Borda

I’ll call her “Ann,” because I can’t give her real name. Nor can I disclose her town, though I can tell you she and her husband live with their kids in a mini-mansion not far outside Boston. Ever since high school, Ann had fantasized about cavorting in a bed full of men and women. Eventually, she worked up the nerve to tell her husband, Paul, who admitted that he, too, hankered for group sex. But neither planned to actually act on the urge. The one time they dared peruse the advertisements at the back of some dirty magazines, about a decade ago, they were scared off because the people seemed creepy. Anyway, the life they’d built in the suburbs seemed inextricably linked with monogamy, the way a cashmere sweater matches a Burberry jacket.

And then, Ann had her midlife epiphany. It started one morning at work last year, when she overheard two guys gossiping about a porn video called Old Fat Girls. As the day wore on, she found that her mind kept gnawing on the phrase. That night, she typed the three words into her home computer. She never did find the video. But the phrase worked like an abracadabra, ushering her into a porn landscape of suburban housewives transformed into sex goddesses. Here, a whole vanload of soccer moms piled onto one stud; there, another flirted with men in polo shirts while wielding a dildo. The possibilities were endless. “It shook me emotionally,” Ann remembers. “It turned something over in me.”

Not long after, Ann and Paul huddled together on a single chair in front of the computer, after the kids had been put to bed. Did anyone else—in reasonable driving distance—want to get it on? Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes, yes, yes. While Ann and Paul had been building IRAs and repairing gutters, they discovered, entire empires of swing had risen around them.


For me, this story began several months ago, when my editor called to tell me she was hearing a slew of rumors about sex clubs in the suburbs, private nights frequented by PTA moms and mall shoppers. One South Shore couple, the story went, had been driven out of town after too much bed hopping. In Cohasset, a local bar transformed one evening each month into a “swinger den.” Country clubs in Needham and Dedham were the subjects of whispers and innuendos. Though no one would cop to it themselves (of course), most people knew, or suspected they knew, someone who took part. The way they were telling it, you couldn’t walk down an aisle in Whole Foods or Stop & Shop without spotting someone who’d had group sex the night before.

And so I went spelunking on the Internet to see whether there was any truth to the gossip. What I discovered was truly shocking: Hundreds of thousands of users have flocked to spouse-swapping sites, suggesting that more married people today are experimenting with group sex than at any other time in history—maybe even more than in its supposed 1970s heyday. Spouses across the Bay State are offering themselves up as package deals for no-strings romps with other couples. And scores of have-your-wedding-cake-and-eat-it-too websites like SwingLifeStyle, Swappernet.com, and Adult FriendFinder (whose parent company was acquired in December by Penthouse Media for half a billion dollars) are launching to overwhelming success.

For weeks, I approached local couples online, begging them to talk. Although I received lots of propositions and photos of naked bodies, it was harder to find anyone who would agree to simply chat. Most swingers these days have something big to lose—a job in a law firm, a kid on a waiting list for prep school—and go to great lengths to avoid being caught. Consider this profile on Swappernet.com: The photo shows a lithe housefrau and her buff husband sunning on a beach on Cape Cod; their heads have been cropped out, giving them the look of sexy decapitees. On another site, a North Shore couple advertise themselves with a picture of the wife in bikini underwear, toasting the camera with a martini; her body is perfect and her face has been blotted out. Everyone in swingerville is headless and horny.

I managed to track down a half-dozen sex parties, and pleaded with the organizers to let me attend as a reporter, but without luck. Late one night as I was driving through a plush neighborhood in Wellesley, I studied the prim houses, and all their windows seemed to wink at me. Statistically speaking, group sex had probably taken place behind at least some of them. On the other side of those Mohr & McPherson curtains, people were swapping mates, but I couldn’t seem to reach them.

Then, finally, pay dirt.

When I first met Ann and Paul in an Internet chat room for Boston-area swingers, they were terrified to speak to a journalist about their secret life. They fear the opprobrium of bosses, teachers, other parents, even friends. Of course, the kids must never find out. And then one night, after weeks of wheedling, my phone bleats, without warning. “We’re ready,” says a voice on the other end of the line. It was like getting a call from the FBI.

Even more important than the tale of her midlife awakening, Ann wanted me to know that these exploits with her husband have expanded her mind. An accomplished academic, Ann tends to be shy, but their secret life has forced her to develop a brave and bold persona. Ann and Paul consider themselves “conservative”; their friends describe them as “strait-laced.” Their first time was a year ago.

Ann recalls how much guts it took for her to meet a pair of strangers from the Internet, even with Paul by her side. She had to force herself to march into the hubbub of the restaurant, toward a situation that might be terribly, terribly awkward. What if they were horrible? Worse, what if Ann and Paul knew them? But as soon as she saw the couple, she realized she’d be okay: They were unfamiliar, and “looked like they’d just walked out of a PTA meeting.” Dinner slid into dessert and coffee, laughter and easy conversation, and soon they were all stumbling into a hotel room together.

“I thought watching [my husband] having sex with another woman would make my head explode,” Ann says. Instead, it didn’t bother her—and she loved frolicking with Mr. PTA.

Meanwhile, Paul couldn’t believe his luck. “I hadn’t been with another woman since I met [Ann],” he says. “That was bizarre. I like to make out a lot. It’s passionate.” And there he was, soul-kissing a new woman with his wife’s approval.

That night changed their lives: They had found a jolt of pure joy. “The funniest thing about it was that afterward, we e-mailed the other couple to tell them that we had a really good time,” says Paul. “We didn’t hear from them for a while. And it was like the old days when you’re dating, and you’re thinking, ‘Did they like us?’ We were really insecure.” Finally, Mr. and Mrs. PTA did write back—what a wonderful evening! The two couples remain good friends and occasional bedmates. Nowadays, Ann and Paul swing pretty much whenever they can find a free evening. And a babysitter.