H. Gentzkow / MSNBC.com
By msnbc.com contributor
msnbc.com contributor

In this month’s Sexploration, columnist Brian Alexander tackles the topic of swinging and responds to other reader queries on exes, virginity and IUDs.

Have an intimate question? To e-mail us, click here .

Q:  My husband has told me that he wants us to become swingers. Are there many people like this in the world? And can't this really be called cheating?

Q:Why do people swing? If they are happily married, what's the point?

A: Hmmm, questioner No. 1, you’re not married to former Illinois Republican Senatorial candidate Jack Ryan, are you? No? Just asking.

Poor Mr. Ryan may have been forced out of the race thanks to his habit of dragging his wife to swinging sex clubs (he maintains he just wanted others to watch, not participate), but he can take heart. In the United States, the best guess — and that’s all it is because research is so sparse — is that somewhere between 2 and 10 percent of married couples have done something that could be called swinging. Two percent seems the more reliable figure. Still, that amounts to about 1.1 million couples and the North American Swing Club Association says the number is rising. In France, “clubs de libertines” have become a trend.

But whether you should join in is totally up to you. Obviously your husband has given this some thought, but I’m betting he is imagining you, him and a babe named Tiffanie; not you, him and a guy named Bruno.

And that’s the first thing you need to know about swinging. It has a lot of incarnations. If you get loopy on tequila shooters at an office party and neck with your husband and one of his co-workers in the parking lot, have you swung? (Swung?) Be sure you know what your husband has in mind. Be extra sure it’s something you truly want for yourself. Swinging is not the kind of thing you should be talked into. 

The point of swinging, questioner No. 2, is, uh, sex. Swingers say they like the way partner-swapping gives them an erotic charge. And, of course, it’s not cheating if both partners agree. There are anecdotal stories and even a little bit of research saying that many swinging couples are often happy and well-adjusted.

But, just the same, swinging can be a minefield of jealousy and I shouldn’t have to remind you that we are living in the age of AIDS, herpes and a stew of other sexually transmitted diseases.

Indeed, swinging often sounds more fun than it is. Ads for swing clubs often depict extremely sexy women and handsome men, but try going to a nude beach someday. Take a look around. Those are the types of bodies you are most likely to encounter at a swing party. Personals advertising swinging couples often beg for single men to stay away because many more men are interested in swinging than women.

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Remember, sometimes the fantasy of something is better than the reality.


Pals with an ex
Q:  My boyfriend of three months says he and his ex-girlfriend see each other every other week for a lunch or dinner or just conversation. They lived together for seven years. He claims that they are now just friends with no sexual or intimate relationship. It is hard for me to believe that. Is he telling the truth?

A: Lookit, I have no idea if your guy is diddling his ex or not, but to say he does not have an intimate relationship is hooey.

He has a very intimate relationship with his ex. He lived with her for seven years for crying out loud!

Intimacy is about far more than sex. What’s he talking about during all those dinners and lunches? Intimate stuff, I betcha. Well, why isn’t he talking to you about it?

If he wants to be social buds with his ex, fine, but what’s wrong with a group of friends — including you, missie — all getting together for dinner?

Born-again virgin?
Q:  I've heard that a woman can become a virgin again if she does not have sex after a few years. Is this true in any fashion?

A: You heard wrong. I’ll skip the explanations about intact hymens (your “cherry”) versus “broken” hymens and what they mean — which is very little — and simply say that “virgin” is a concept, not necessarily a physical condition. Once you’ve done it, you’ve done it. There’s no going back.


When an IUD's OK
Q:  I'm a 20-year-old, very busy, college student. I have been on the Pill for three years now. It is hard to remember to take the Pill everyday at the correct time. Also, I am not planning on having children for another 10 years. To me, an IUD seems like the most sensible option. But when I asked my gynecologist, she answered that they only insert IUDs into women who already have children. If IUDs no longer cause infertility, why are gynecologists so hesitant to prescribe them to women who haven't had children? Is an IUD a plausible birth control option for me?

A: Depends on the doc you ask. Your physician’s reticence may be due to a lingering aftertaste of the Dalkon Shield, an IUD that may have created pelvic infection (this is still disputed) in some women during the 1970s.

But I asked Dr. Alice Mark, an ob-gyn at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who said that under the right circumstances she would not hesitate to insert an IUD.

What are the right circumstances? “The data say if you are at low risk for sexually transmitted disease, even if you have never had a baby, or if you are in a monogamous relationship, then you do not have increased risk of infection,” she says. Remember, STDs and IUDs do not mix.

Your doctor may also argue that there are other forms of long-lasting contraception to consider, like Norplant. Still, IUDs have changed and may be right for you. If you meet Mark’s criteria, ask again.

Brian Alexander is a California-based writer who covers sex, relationships and health. He is a contributing editor at Glamour and the author of "Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion" (Basic Books, 2003).

Sexploration appears the fourth Thursday of every month.

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