Meet West Michigan's swingers

6:48 PM, Jul 11, 2011   |    comments
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GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - How well do you know your neighbors or the people you work with? We usually think of West Michigan as conservative and "buttoned up," but we've uncovered a group in the area you may not know about.

Grand Rapids is a pious city with bustling streets and values built around tradition - traditions deeply rooted in Christianity.

When it comes to marriage, church leaders at St. Andrews Cathedral clearly define commitment. Very Reverend John Geaney says, "Being faithful to one another means exactly that, there is one other person to whom I'm faithful. Period." 

But underneath West Michigan's conservative exterior, a subculture is redefining commitment for themselves. They're called "swingers" - couples who swap sexual partners.

You can find them online. On one alternative lifestyle page alone, you'll find 1,100 Grand Rapids members and with more than 15,000 statewide.

We searched through the site and found Jarod Bowling who agreed to meet us in person, with his girlfriend Kelly Draper. These two are open swingers. Why? The couple started swinging to experiment and stayed with it for the variety.

Bowling says, "I really enjoy it. It's the aspect of being able to be close to another person. It adds a little more spice. You can learn from that person and bring something you learned from that person back to your first relationship. It takes away that everyday you already know what's going to happen."

Bowling says swingers swap partners at private house parties, swingers clubs, including one in Kalamazoo, or at area hotels at bowl parties.

Kelly Draper says, "You rent a hotel room, throw your hotel key in there, women get to pick a key and go off with the gentleman, or vice a versa."

If sex with a stranger isn't your thing, some join with another couple and watch. As for jealousy, the two say the trick is having and keeping, not physical, but emotional monogamy.

Draper says, "He wanted more of my time and that wasn't where it was. He wanted a relationship. I wasn't in it for the relationship. I was in it for the companionship every now and again while he's busy with his friends."

Bowling says, "As long as I know who she's with, and I know she's out with someone, I'm fine with it, and we both have that understanding."

Draper says the swinging world has it's dangers, including a rapist found on a swinger site. As for sexually transmitted diseases, they say swingers are strict about condom use, but say the same STD dangers lie in the "vanilla" dating world.

"You'll never be 100 percent sure they don't have an STD, but you can ask them for a card from their doctor or recent HIV test. That's the main one you want to be worried about is HIV or herpes because they're not curable."

Despite the risks, this couple says swinging is shockingly prevalent.

"There are swingers that are in a lot of positions all over the city, in high positions, whether lawyers, officers of the law, or someone who works in the medical field."

While they don't think swinging is for everyone, they aren't afraid of people's reactions

Bowling says, "Try to be open minded. Loosen up a little bit. Consider the fact, swingers are just like you and everyone else. We're not bad people."

They say their story proves, even the most conservative areas have some that break tradition.

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