Ashley Lister has written for ERWA for a number of years now, reviewing books, writing columns and now interviewing other authors with Between the Sheets. He is the author of more than thirty erotic fiction titles, countless short stories and articles, and two non-fiction titles that have researched the subject of the UK’s swinging scene. To celebrate the US release of his second non-fiction title (SWINGERS: Female Confidential) we thought it was time to ask him a few questions.
ERWA: Why the interest in swinging? Are you a swinger?
AL: It’s amazing how many people make that assumption. I’ve written and researched the two books on swinging because I wanted to present an objective account of the UK’s swinging scene—not because I’m a swinger and not because I want to advocate a swinging agenda.
In the UK, all the available information about swinging either comes from newspapers that condemn it as disgusting and vulgar, or from books that praise it as being wonderful and perfect for everyone. I wanted to write something objective that gave a balanced view of swinging as it is today in the UK.
But, in answer to your question: I’m not a swinger, I’m just a writer.
I should mention here that one of the reasons I don’t swing is because I’m not particularly good at sex. I can mess it up when I do it on my own. I can cause catastrophes when it’s just me and my wife. If there were other people involved (either in attendance or participating) the chances are I would do something unforgivable or embarrass myself beyond any hope of redemption.
ERWA: Can you explain a little about your SWINGERS books for those who haven’t yet read them?
AL: The first book (SWINGERS: True Confessions From Today’s Swinging Scene) came about as the result of many interviews with swinging singles and couples. The intention was to present the diverse ways that swinging occurs in the UK, as well as showing that it works for some couples and it doesn’t work for others. I also wanted to make sure that the interviews came across as being sexually exciting. One of the main reasons people swing is because they find recreational sex arousing. If the book hadn’t had that element in it, I don’t think it would have presented a fair and true reflection of the UK’s contemporary swinging scene.
The second title (SWINGERS: Female Confidential) focuses solely on female involvement in the UK’s swinging scene. Again it covers a broad range of ages and levels of involvement. There are some positive stories in there as well as negative ones. There are stories from people who class themselves as hardcore swingers and stories from soft swingers who do little more than kiss and cuddle outside the confines of their existing relationships. But, as with the first title, I’ve tried to make sure that the erotic element of each story reflects the inherent sexiness that is swinging.
ERWA: It sounds as though—despite your attempts to be impartial—you seem to approve of swinging. Would you say that was correct?
AL: Abraham Lincoln once said, “People who like this sort of thing will like this sort of thing.” He wasn’t talking about swinging but I think that sentiment applies here. Swinging works for some couples and it doesn’t work for other couples. That’s not because one couple is superior to the other—it’s just that what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.
I think swinging is obviously a great way of life for those people who can enjoy it, but I don’t think it’s something that suits every couple.
To illustrate what I’m saying on a level away from swinging: Tristan Taormino has written a fantastic book called The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women. I think this is a marvellous informative guide that treats its subject matter with respect and intelligence. The title has deservedly become an established classic in the world of sexual self-help manuals. But it wasn’t the gift my granny wanted to receive when she was recovering from her haemorrhoid operation.
ERWA: Do you think the UK and US swinging scenes differ?
AL: There are some differences. US swinging has a more organised network supporting it—I’m thinking here of organisations like NASCA International—whilst I think it’s fair to say that the UK swinging scene is a little less formalised and orthodox. This is probably why UK swingers are responsible for the phenomena of dogging—an aspect of recreational sex that doesn’t seem to have travelled all the way across the Atlantic just yet.
For those people unfamiliar with the term, dogging has nothing to do with dogs. Technically it’s related to amomaxia and refers to the act of exhibitionist sex in cars with voyeurs in attendance. Dogging is now fairly organised, with exhibitionists posting details of when and where they will be performing so that dedicated voyeurs can turn up to catch the show and make their appreciation known in an appropriate fashion. However, the first instances of dogging seem to have been serendipitous encounters between canoodling couples and vigilante voyeurs.
ERWA: Were there any surprises you encountered during your research?
AL: As you know, I’m very easily surprised and shocked. I’ve led a sheltered life and know little of the ways of the world or the mysteries of the flesh. That last sentence is completely untrue but I wanted to see what it would like in print.
I was surprised by a couple of things. It shocked me when I found myself talking with intelligent people who don’t practice safe sex. That doesn’t reflect on the majority of swingers—the vast majority practiced safe sex. But I think about 10% of those I spoke with seemed to think that nothing untoward was going to happen to them and (personally) I find that sort of blinkered attitude to be horrifying.
I was also a little shocked by the bigotry that I encountered. I’m a fairly easy-going type of person and have always tried to endorse the attitude of, “as long as it doesn’t scare the horses…” But it seems there are plenty of people who have issues with swingers and swinging.
As I mentioned before, because I’ve been researching swinging, it’s frequently assumed that I’m a swinger. This means I’ve encountered some hostility from people telling me that I’m vile, disgusting and perverted. Fortunately I’m used to these sorts of descriptions—those are some of my wife’s favourite pet names for me. But I was genuinely surprised that some elements of our enlightened society can’t allow consenting adults to live life the way they want without passing judgement.
ERWA: Did your research lead you to any conclusions as to why people swing?
AL: The bottom line is that people swing because they want to. We live in a consumer society where people have a greater self-awareness than at any other time in history. People now know what they want from sex and they have a good idea how to get it. When the familiar territories of exploration between a couple have become mundane, the unfamiliar territories of playing with others can keep things exciting and interesting. As I said before—it’s not something that works for every couple. But for many couples, the adventure of swinging is something that keeps their sex life fresh and new.
I’m hoping that my books on this subject will provide some impartial information for those who are considering the lifestyle so they can learn a little more about what happens and try to work out if it might be something they want to explore further.
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