Cracked.com referenced this interview where author Christopher Ryan claims that:

“World War II fighter pilots had the highest fatality rates of any division of the military. When they were back on base, they had these key parties where they would sleep with one another’s wives... ... They were doing this to create bonds and affiliation and love among the group because 25% of these guys didn't survive the war. They knew they were facing these odds. And they knew that if they didn't come home, their buddies would take care of their wives and children because they had developed this love and trust.”

I feel really skeptical about this claim because I doubt that WW2 pilots received leave before the end of their duty of 25-35 missions.

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    Shifted from History.SE Jul 1, 2015 at 18:15
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    The quote does not seem to be talking about leave, but about parties (held at the base).
    – Suma
    Jul 1, 2015 at 19:46
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    There are two questions here: 1. Was swinging common? 2. Was it motivated by a desire to have families taken care of? The second question seems difficult to answer objectively. Jul 7, 2015 at 19:18

1 Answer 1



Wikipedia proved to be an excellent starting point. It says,

According to Terry Gould's The Lifestyle: a look at the erotic rites of swingers, swinging began among American Air Force pilots and their wives during World War II before pilots left for overseas duty. The mortality rate of pilots was so high, as Gould reports, that a close bond arose between pilot families that implied that pilot husbands would care for all the wives as their own – emotionally and sexually – if the husbands were lost. Though the origins of swinging are contested, it is assumed American swinging was practiced in some American military communities in the 1950s. By the time the Korean War ended, swinging had spread from the military to the suburbs. The media dubbed the phenomenon wife-swapping.

I highly distrust the second inline source - no, I'm not going to link to it - as it is quite literally a site for this sort of thing. The third inline citation is for a conservative Christian page on the matter. Gould's book appears to be the best of the three to look at.

I do not have a print copy of The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers, and only a Slate article, it seems, does not use some slight variation on Wikipedia's phrasing yet also cites Gould.

After this, I saw that Semaphore answered the question on History (using different sources). Semaphore gives one source that supports the idea, but ends with

However, there is very little actual evidence supporting this story, which seems to trace back to journalist Gay Talese's 1981 book, Thy Neighbor's Wife.

One theory is that swinging began among Air Force fighter pilots and their wives during World War II ... Neither theory has been well documented or verified.

- Taormino, Tristan. Opening Up. Cleis Press, 2013.

This got me worried, as I could not confirm Gould's sources. Then I saw this article:

It seems that the original modern American swingers were crew-cut World War II air force pilots and their wives. Like elite warriors everywhere, these “top guns” often developed strong bonds with one another, perhaps because they suffered the highest casualty rate of any branch of the military. According to journalist Terry Gould, “key parties,” like those later dramatized in the 1997 film The Ice Storm, originated on these military bases in the 1940s, where elite pilots and their wives intermingled sexually with one another before the men flew off toward Japanese antiaircraft fire.

Gould, author of The Lifestyle, a cultural history of the swinging movement in the United States, interviewed two researchers who’d written about this Air Force ritual. Joan and Dwight Dixon explained to Gould that these warriors and their wives “shared each other as a kind of tribal bonding ritual, with a tacit understanding that the two thirds of husbands who survived would look after the widows.” The practice continued after the war ended and by the late 1940s, “military installations from Maine to Texas and California to Washington had thriving swing clubs,” writes Gould.

I tried to track down the Dixons. This says that they were sexologists who retroactively studied this in the 60s. I have found some of their other work, but none of it is related to the scenario - or even the time period - discussed.

I think that this may negate Semaphore's concerns, showing that the "theory" was actually around way before Talese's book, and looks to be true. But I don't know this for sure.

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    Note: All links are, I believe, "safe for work", in terms of images, at least.
    – HDE 226868
    Jul 1, 2015 at 22:39
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    During WWII, US Air Force combat pilots would presumably have been stationed overseas, at bases in Europe or the Pacific, not in the mainland US. Was it really common for their wives to join them at overseas bases? I would have thought that in most cases, their wives would have been back in the US, hence not available for polyamory. Jul 7, 2015 at 19:16
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    @NateEldredge Note that Wikipedia says "before pilots left for overseas duty" when quoting Gould.
    – HDE 226868
    Jul 7, 2015 at 19:18
  • Ah, so that is somewhat different from Ryan's claim. Jul 7, 2015 at 19:20
  • @NateEldredge Yes. I believe that this is where the story began, and that it was changed slightly over time.
    – HDE 226868
    Jul 7, 2015 at 19:21

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