We’ve been swingers, or "in the swing lifestyle," as it’s called, for six years. I’m a middle-aged, heterosexual female in a long-term, committed relationship with a middle-aged, heterosexual male. Yes, we are in a committed relationship and openly enjoying sex with people outside of our relationship.

And, no, there’s no jealousy or drama.

The difference between swinging and cheating is that swingers know about and are OK with the sex going on outside the relationship. Beyond this basic definition, swinging means different things to different people. Each of us gets to figure out where our boundaries are - who we’re looking for, how we’ll find them, and what we’ll do (and not do) with them. It’s not a gang bang-style free-for-all. Unless, of course, you want it to be.

Maybe you and your partner are considering swinging. Or maybe you’re just thinking about it and you’d like to talk to your partner about it. Here's my story.

How It Began

Our journey began with bedroom talk and sharing fantasies about having other people in the room with us while we were having sex. The fantasies were pretty tame, in hindsight, and focused mostly on another woman stimulating another part of my spouse’s body in addition to the parts that were already being stimulated. From his perspective, there just weren’t enough hands, mouths and vaginas to cover off all the erogenous parts of his body. I had fantasies too, but at first I was less forthcoming. Eventually, I admitted fantasizing about watching my spouse with another woman, or even several women. (Years later, I’m more comfortable talking about my own fantasies. I attribute that to swinging.

Fantasizing and talking led to research into how and where to find the real-life extras featured in our fantasies. My spouse is the go-to guy for Internet research. He spent hours reading online about swinging. He amassed a wealth of information about websites and local clubs where swingers meet. During his research, he found some very good how-to sex sites and, one Sunday afternoon, I was surprised that we'd found ourselves watching and discussing an instructional video on anal sex! It was a pretty straightforward discussion, and pretty soon we were talking about swinging in the same way. But would we take the leap? And how? (Check out some common reservations couples tend to have about anal sex in Butt Play: Your Ifs, Ands and ... Buts.)

Learning the Ropes

One thing I learned pretty quickly: Websites for swinger clubs have good information for wanna-be swingers. I liked that most clubs made it pretty clear that in swinging, the woman is in charge and no means no. That impressed me.

The research and discussion continued for several months. We talked about what we wanted out of swinging, our boundaries and how we saw it unfolding. Over time, we developed a mutual position on what we would do and not do. We wanted a male/female couple close to our age who were reasonably fit for full swap (i.e. intercourse included), same-room play. We did not want to become their friends. Just sex, thankyouverymuch.

We both felt pretty tentative and cautious, but we finally decided to take a what the hell, go for it, we’ll never know unless we try attitude.

We still had one problem though: Having never been to a swing club, we were concerned that we were too old to fit in. We pictured ourselves sitting in a corner alone and embarrassed among a crowd of beautiful, young and sexy rompers.

Making New ... Friends

Finally, we gathered up our courage for a first try. It was time to see if we could meet another couple our age. We thought we'd found a promising couple on an online dating site in the section for hook-ups. The pictures looked great and they sounded like a good fit. Little did we know.

We met the couple in a crowded, noisy restaurant because we wanted the safety of a very public place. The couple turned out to be at least 10 years older than their posted pictures. We shared some appetizers and talked a bit. It was their first meeting too, so we were all newbies. We couldn't see ourselves taking our clothes off with them, so we never contacted them again.

A few months later, we mustered more courage and ventured out to a local swing club. Instructions on the club website said we had to call the club owners ahead of time and ask if we could attend as guests on the upcoming Friday night, which also happened to be Newbie Night. The club owner was friendly and welcoming on the phone. I decided to take a deep breath and just ask here: Would we end up being loner losers, humiliated and huddled by ourselves in the corner? She explained that the club had a bar and dance floor, where clothed people can visit, dance and flirt, just like in a regular bar. The playing (i.e. sex) occurred upstairs.

"Just come and see," she said. It sounded like she was smiling - or even stifling a laugh.

Friday night came and we bathed, manicured and dressed carefully and hopefully. We arrived at the club door looking more confident than we felt, but we’d prepared and talked as much as we could and now it was time. Club staff greeted us enthusiastically, we signed in, paid the nightly fee, and our newbie tour started. I noticed right away that the tour guide was our age and the décor was tastefully sensual. I found myself looking forward to what would happen next.

Upstairs in the play area, our guide went over the club’s protocol regarding mutual consent and the woman being in charge. She pointed out the baskets of condoms, stacks of clean blankets and towels, and the bathroom facilities stocked with grooming products such as mouthwash, hairspray and, of course, soap. The play area included leather couches, a few large beds, a massage table (which came to be my favorite), a swing and a mat on the floor with Velcro tie-downs in each corner. Soft lighting, gauzy material hung to somewhat separate play areas, and music drifting up from below helped set the mood.

After the tour, we sat down at a table with our tour guide and a few other people who could have been neighbors or co-workers. (Luckily, they weren’t.) This was our first time in the presence of actual swingers! Our first conversation about "how we became swingers" was with a second staff person. Her story was very similar to ours. She was a large, substantial woman skimpily dressed. I wanted to be as comfortable with my body as she was with hers. (Read more about self confidence and sex in Worried About Weight? How to Have Spectacular Sex Anyway.)

Later that evening, my husband and I ventured upstairs. The room was empty except for us but we were titillated by the idea of having sex in an open space where others could walk in and see us. Soon, another newbie couple about our age came in and settled in across the room. My husband suggested I ask them if they wanted to get together. We agreed it would be just the other woman and me touching. The guys could watch and touch only their respective wives. I walked over, politely tapped on the other woman’s shoulder (she was on her knees … let your imagination fill in the blank), and put forth our proposal. They agreed! Bingo! Success on our first try.

The initial, modest proposal fairly quickly turned into a full swap. Nonetheless, the guys were exemplary in asking permission every step of the way. We also practiced safe sex by using condoms for intercourse. It was my idea to try out the mat with arm and leg restraints. Guy - my new and willing partner - didn’t waste a second accommodating my request.

The Morning After

We went home flushed with feel-good hormones and self-confidence. But there were even more benefits in store for us. We were so aroused from the experience that we woke up several times that night - to hump like a couple of lust-filled teenagers!

The next day was Saturday and - having the luxury of no kids living at home - we talked over our initiation into the swinger lifestyle. No detail, impression or thought was left out. We talked about how we felt, whether we liked it and what would we change. We ended the discussion by asking if we'd do it again. The answer was "Hell yes!"

That evening we were back at the club before the door opened, the annual membership fee in hand. Sign us up.

Read: The 4 Things I've Learned Since My Husband and I Started Swinging

Beginner Swinger 101

Based on my own experience and interesting conversations with other couples, here are a few things to know if you're considering the swing lifestyle for yourself:

Talk first, sex later

Talk, talk, talk with your spouse. If you’re not on the same page about swinging, it probably won’t work. It’s easy to figure out when couples (if that’s what you’re looking for) want different things, one is not as ready as the other, or - worst of all - one of them feels pressured to go along. It's not appealing and it could damage the relationship. If you and your partner can’t talk, swinging probably isn't for you.

Women rule

In the swing lifestyle, women really are in charge. That, my female friends, is very empowering. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re not in charge (without your say so), you’re in the wrong place.

Also be prepared to meet a lot of men who really, truly like women. I don’t mean just for their own gratification - I mean men who love their wives and also like to please other women sexually. Your enjoyment is a huge part of their enjoyment.

It won't fix what's already broken

Swinging won’t improve a bad relationship. However, it can make an already strong relationship even better - if you are both on the same page. If you can’t agree on something, defer to the one who isn’t comfortable with it.

Swingers are just like you

Most people in the lifestyle have responsible lives with jobs, families and other interests - just like us. We were pleasantly surprised to discover it’s fun to just socialize with other people at the club. It’s not always about sex.

Compatibility isn't always perfect

It’s challenging to find another couple where each person is sexually interested in the new person of the opposite sex. My spouse and I have occasionally "taken one for the team" when one of us was particularly interested in another couple. Other couples do it too, but I wouldn't recommend it as a regular thing.

It should be fun

The lifestyle is meant to be fun. It can become a frustrating chore, though, if you spend too much time continuously looking for new couples. Some couples develop ongoing relationships with each other, which cuts down or eliminates the work involved in sourcing suitable new partners. We usually exchange a few emails, see some pics, and meet for drinks or coffee. Then we'll decide if we’re going to take our clothes off. Sometimes we go home and never see the couple again.

There's fun for everyone

It doesn’t matter what body size or shape you have. You will find interested, fun partners. We've stuck to partners who are reasonably fit, but that has limited our play.

Prepare to be rejected

Be prepared to be rejected and to reject. Don’t take it personally if others are not interested in you. Assume you’re just not what they’re looking for at this time.

It's not as scary as it sounds

Fears such as that your family or co-workers will find out what you’re up to or that you'll contract an STI are common, particularly among newbies. Experience has diminished these and other legitimate fears for me, but they are still concerns that I remain vigilant about.

Swinging will change you

Swinging is fertile ground to develop your sensual, sexual and fun self. For example, I’ve learned that I’m bi-comfortable (versus bisexual). I have a wardrobe of sexy, swinging outfits that I feel great in. My spouse has learned to dance! Our own sex life is better, more varied and intimate because of swinging. I attribute that to following our curiosity, new experiences and talking. Always talking. (Get more tips for couples in 9 Simple Things To Do Right Now for Better Sex.)

So, Are We Still Swinging?

These days, we find ourselves in and out of the lifestyle depending on what else is going on in our lives. We are still a heterosexual couple primarily interested in other heterosexual couples for same-room, full-swap sex. We can say that with more confidence now because we’ve kept an open mind and stepped outside those boundaries at times. Even though we enjoyed the experimentation immensely, we know what we want and who we are. Those are things we may not have explored as fully if we'd never been swingers.