This Valentine's Day, many couples will swap presents, exchanging the usual flowers, candy and cards.
But for some lovers, this Saturday night may involve a more intimate swap--that of sexual partners.
While Tucson doesn't have a swingers' nightclub, swinging is taking place in private homes all across town, according to two local swingers known as Him-n-Ho, a 44-year-old man and 40-year-old woman.
The couple, who have been together for five years, have a "Brady Bunch family," with five teenage children blended from their past relationships. They recently started two Internet swingers' sites: 5starswingers.com, a free site, and swingersplatinum.com, for members only.
"We decided to start the business, because what we had as choices as customers was pretty rough--corporate-owned sites with ridiculous rules, high prices and not much reality," he claims.
The couple has met a large number of swingers locally, nationally and even internationally. They say they have been among the top four most popular couples on swingers' sites for five years and are often offered free trips to meet other swingers, even as far away as Africa.
Him-n-Ho promise only valid profiles on their sites, and a $49 lifetime membership fee. Members are allowed to e-mail one another without limitation. Another distinction from their competitors, they say, is that their site does not allow member photos to be copied or used for advertising.
"We want to do it right, honestly and be the good guys," he says. "(Members) are name-brand people in town, so this is very attractive to be able to hide yourself. ... We do not sell you out. Those pictures are sacred to us," he says.
But beyond cleaning up the swinging business, they also want to clear up some false impressions about the lifestyle.
Swingers aren't necessarily having sex constantly. "I know couples who swing once a year. Most couples swing once a month or twice a month," he says.
And swingers are generally not unhappy in their relationships.
"The biggest misconception of swinging is that it's people trying to fix a relationship. ... Swinging is an act that improves your sex life after you leave the party and go home for the next month. The passion is heightened incredibly," he says.
"Swingers understand there is a difference between sex and love. ... There is recreational sex and one-night stands. If you experience these two things together, it makes your relationship whole. Rather than fantasizing about someone else, you're actually doing it," she says.
A swinger since the age of 18, the now-44-year-old man says swinger couples rarely get divorced. Speaking of his own relationship, he says, "We don't fight. In five years, we've had an argument or two. ... You'd never catch me trying to run around on her, because there's no need."
Reports suggest that what he is saying is true for many swingers. A 2006 ABC News Nightline report claimed that all the swingers spoken to for a report at a Los Cabos, Mexico, swingers' resort said the lifestyle makes their marriages stronger.
A 2000 national online survey of 1,092 swingers by sociologists Curtis Bergstrand and Jennifer Blevins Williams of Bellarmine University concluded: "Swinging appears to make the vast majority of swingers' marriages happier, and swingers rate the happiness of their marriages and life satisfaction generally as higher than the nonswinging population."
In response to those who may point fingers and judge the lifestyle, the local couple I spoke with gently turns those fingers back in the direction in which they came.
"I feel if you can't be comfortable with something like this, you have to question how deep and solid you are in your relationship. Let's see who goes the distance," he says.
The thought of going the distance sexually with other singles or couples is what may make people squirm about the swinging lifestyle. While there are no concrete statistics on how many people are swinging, some report that swingers probably number in the low millions in the United States--so there are a lot of people out there squirming in pleasure.
Think what you will, but swingers at the very least illustrate the benefit of candid communication in relationships. While opening the bedroom doors to the outside world is not for everyone, perhaps if more couples learn to open dialogue and speak honestly about sexual desires, infidelity would not be as common as it is today.