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Historically, it has not been uncommon to find societies that have advocated having multiple sexual partners. Furthermore both royalty and nobility in many cultures had consorts and concubines. Ancient Rome has been notable (if not infamous) for its enthusiastic acceptance of orgies and alternative sexual practices. However, though contemporary swingers celebrate those ideals, the actual practice of swinging in the 20th century began differently.

According to Terry Gould's The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers (ISBN 1-55209-482-0), swinging began among U.S. Air Force pilots and their wives during World War II. In this small community, the mortality rate among pilots was significantly high. Gould reports that a close bond between pilots arose, with the implication that the husbands would protect and care for all the wives as their own, both emotionally and sexually, if the husbands were away or lost.

This historical narrative is debatable, however, since it would have been highly unusual for servicemen's wives to accompany them on any foreign tours of duty. Other sources point to American Air Force pilots stationed in the California desert as the original participants in modern swinging. Though the exact beginnings are not agreed upon, it is widely assumed that swinging began amongst American military communities in the 1950s.

By the time the Korean War ended, these groups had spread from the bases to the nearby suburbs. The media picked up on them in 1957 and promptly dubbed the phenomenon "wife-swapping."

It wasn't until the 1960s in Berkeley, California that the first organization, "Sexual Freedom League", for swingers was opened. Ultimately, an umbrella organization called the North American Swing Club Association (NASCA) (now NASCA International) was formed to encourage accurate information about swinging lifestyles all across America.

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