“Will my husband’s girlfriend be in the delivery room?” is the caption on one of 33-year-old Jess’s most popular TikToks. She does a viral dance, while heavily pregnant. Jess, who uses the handle @CliqueBaitTV, lives up to her name. While the caption grabs your eye, the video explains the logistics of her non-monogamous relationship as she prepares to have a baby.
This is one of many videos you’ll come across on #SwingTok.
#SwingTok, which started as a hashtag on the video-sharing platform, has developed into something new. It’s a huge online community where swingers share videos about their lifestyle and relationships. The tag has over 2.3 billion views and the videos vary from educational to comedic. There are also some OnlyFans creators who use #SwingTok as an extension of their online presence.
Swinging Isn’t As Uncommon As You’d Think
In the past, swinging has been traditionally thought of as a private lifestyle. However, research has found that around 4% of Americans are involved in polyamorous relationships. It should come as no surprise that more people are talking about it online.
“We saw a lot of Americans talking about swinging to try and make it more of a less taboo. We wanted to take that and do it in more of an educational way,” explains VistaWife, A UK-based creator.
With over 240,000 followers on TikTok, it’s not unusual for her videos to reach millions of people around the world. “We started getting attention straight away. After a month of doing content, we got up to about 70,000 followers,” she tells Cashmere. According to the creator, many of the followers are couples or singles who are interested in swinging.
The content Vistawife posts aims to normalize swinging as much as it does provide education on the lifestyle. “I think a lot of women trust us to message and ask for advice because they feel they can’t be a swinger if they’re not in a couple, but they totally can. There’s also a lot of couples who want to start it together,” Vistawife says. She explains that they get messages every day from people who are looking for advice.
Sex (and Pleasure) Education Through Social Media
Cate, who runs the TikTok account @wanderlustswingers, has had similar experiences. But she also believes that #SwingTok content is educational, not just aspirational. Educating people who have never heard of swinging or are judgemental about the lifestyle is important to her. “As well as swinging, we also talk about things like consent, STIs, and protection, as well as sexual identity,” she tells Cashmere. She explains that, for her, #SwingTok is very much a platform for sex education.
Bella and Jase, creators based in Oklahoma and known on TikTok as @4ourplay, take a similar position. They note that educational content is wide-ranging. “We want people to understand that it’s not just about sex.” They continue, “There’s so much more that goes into it, about our relationship and how it helps us grow stronger and communicate…and so we try to destigmatize what the media says swingers are.”
#SwingTok is opposite in nature to the platforms and dating websites specifically designed for swingers. Resources like Fab Swingers, Spicy Match, and Kasidie don’t have the same draw. TikTok’s algorithm works uniquely. Going viral means that #SwingTok content is shared with millions, many of whom may not be part of the community. “TikTok is very different [compared to other social media platforms] where you have to seek it out and be interested in learning more. TikTok almost punches you in the face with the videos. That can be a very positive thing for some or a negative thing,” Cate says.
Combatting The Stigma Around Swinging
“Communities like SwingTok can help destigmatize alternative lifestyles – we’ve seen it with kink, we’ve seen it with nudity, we’ve seen it with sex toys and a variety of things,” says Dr. Carolina Are. Are is a digital culture expert and innovation fellow at Northumbria University for Digital Citizens, alongside a pole dancing influencer. She explains that traditional swinging sites and platforms allow the swinging community to gatekeep. With a barrier to entry, they control who could enter and access their community and implement boundaries. This is a good thing in many ways, ensuring it’s a safe space. However, it also creates barriers for newcomers.
“We really wanted to reach a younger demographic and we thought TikTok was the way to do that. With the way the algorithm works, it lets you reach larger audiences even if you don’t have a big following,” Jase says.
“People who use TikTok now – a lot of people in the younger generations – are more open-minded,” Vistawife notes.
Plus, many of the creators on #SwingTok believe that the community is helping to destigmatize swinging. “There is definitely a stigma with [ethical non-monogamy] in general and even more so with swinging than the polyamory community,” Bella from 4ourplay says, with her partner Jase adding that: “I definitely do think that making this content has helped to destigmatize it…Seeing other people doing the same thing you’re doing helps you feel okay with being yourself.”
The Importance of Online Spaces
Online spaces are essential. Social media gives platforms to people and communities who were previously shunned by the mainstream media, according to Dr. Are. “Online spaces, particularly social media platforms, are incredibly important to bring both alternative and also marginalized communities together,” she says.
“Before social media we were contained to what mainstream culture deemed interesting, what was written about in the media and what was found on TV and mainstream entertainment,” Dr. Are notes. “But with social media, a variety of content is user generated so things that we would have not usually seen because they weren’t out in the open, were taboo or there just wasn’t representation, have found a space.”
Platforms like TikTok have certainly opened up new conversations when it comes to sex and sexuality. But, they also inevitably reflect what is going on in the real world. Seemingly, this is another reason why #SwingTok has blown up over the past year.
People have become more open to sexual experimentation, in part, due to the 2020 lockdown. In particular, people are more interested in non-monogamy, according to research from the Kinsey Institute published in 2021. The study found that 19% of the respondents felt more inclined to pursue an open relationship in the future. 46% said they are engaging in more sexual experimentation.
“I definitely think TikTok is starting to remove the taboo,” Vistawife says. “We see a lot of people now who used to be very discrete on [swinging] websites – because when we first started swinging, people would only post pictures from the neck down – but there’s a good proportion of people showing their faces on their profiles now.”
Creating Space, Yet Losing Spaces
But this doesn’t mean that #SwingTok is a completely open and accepting space. Due to the nature of TikTok’s algorithm, videos often land on the For You Page. This leads to the content being showcased to people who are unfamiliar with or morally opposed to swinging. When that occurs, creators can be subject to a lot of hate. “Somebody said that I am the devil at work and ‘you are sick people with no morals’ – that was 12 hours ago,” says Cate. She notes that as well as disrespectful, aggressive comments, there’s also a lot of STI stigma.
On top of that, #SwingTok creators often have their videos removed and their accounts disabled by TikTok. The reason cited? Breaching the community guidelines. The platform guidelines around adult nudity and sexual activity disallow “nudity, pornography, or sexually explicit content.” They also prohibit “content depicting or supporting non-consensual sexual acts, the sharing of non-consensual intimate imagery, and adult sexual solicitation.”
Seemingly, a lot of the content on #SwingTok is, or should be, allowed. A great deal of it is educational, creators go out of their way to avoid using sexual language. Jess of @CliqueBaitTV tells Cashmere that she has had up to 25 TikTok accounts removed in the past two and a half years. She believes that her content does not breach their guidelines.
The Impact Of Deplatforming
Jess creates on OnlyFans content alongside her social media presence. Her first few TikTok accounts were banned as she spoke about the platform, which is prohibited on TikTok. Since then, she has avoided doing so but still regularly has her account disabled: “We fully followed the guidelines – we weren’t talking about OnlyFans, we weren’t wearing sexual outfits, we weren’t doing sexual dances.”
“And still, every time we went viral and hit 40 million views, it was such a shock factor to people that they would just report us and the account would be taken down,” Jess says.
Vistawife is also an OnlyFans creator. Yet, she tells Cashmere she’s “too scared” to promote that on her TikTok. Followers are often surprised to find out she creates OnlyFans content, despite this being her main source of income online. “It’s such a scary thing…You’ve built up this community…worked so hard to build up your account and [there are] people you speak to on a daily basis to help and support them, and one video can get your account shut down,” she says.
And Making Space, Again.
A spokesperson for TikTok told Cashmere: “TikTok is an inclusive space for positive and creative expression. Educational content relating to sex and sexual health is welcome on TikTok, but our Community Guidelines are clear that we do not allow nudity, pornography, or sexually explicit content.”
TikTok is reportedly continually improving its processes to better address potentially problematic content while minimizing incorrect removals, but they do still happen. However, accounts can be reinstated: Jess of CliqueBaitTV has had 2 old accounts re-opened recently upon further investigation.
As a platform, TikTok recognizes that they don’t always get every decision right when it comes to removing accounts. But, Bella says the fact accounts are sometimes wrongfully removed replicates real-world biases.“By removing this kind of content that should be okay to be on there, it’s pushing ethical non-monogamy back and suggesting to people that this is wrong when it isn’t wrong at all.”
Creating Community, Despite The Challenges
According to Dr. Are, opening up small communities to massive social media networks like TikTok comes with risks, especially around safety. “While the community becomes more accessible, less stigmatized and there’s less taboos around it [when it’s on social media], the fact that the community is a lot more open could lead to others infiltrating the community,” she explains.
And while many productive conversations are happening on #SwingTok, the amount of hate these creators receive in their comment section is also visible to the rest of the polyamorous community. “Sometimes we worry about people who are dipping their toes into this or are interested in ENM but then look through the comments and see all the hate about it and that might push them away from it,” Bella says.
But most #SwingTok creators agree that these negative comments aren’t necessarily always a bad thing, as they often open up conversations about swinging, allowing people to understand the lifestyle better. In fact, Jess explains that she tries to manipulate the TikTok algorithm by deliberately making controversial content. The goal is to get attention and land on the For You Page, in order to start wider conversations.
“There’s a big shock factor and I play on that a little bit. For example, when I say “my husband’s girlfriend”, she’s actually both of our girlfriend, but I just phrase it like that to tap into the psychology of the viewer,” she explains.
Ultimately, TikTok is still in its infancy as a social media site and #SwingTok is even younger. It’s difficult to say whether it has longevity as a platform for people exploring their sexuality and engaging in ethical non-monogamy. But, all of the creators agree that while it can be difficult to make TikTok content about their relationships, and they gain very little from it, at least financially, it’s certainly worthwhile when it comes to opening up conversations about the lifestyle.
“We are grateful for platforms like TikTok to help us reach a wider audience and it is a blessing compared to how swinging was talked about 30 years ago,” Jase says.