Naked women regularly appear in the pages of major newspapers, porn is screened on public television and nudist beaches are so common that my in-laws got an eyeful on a recent visit when they strayed too far from a Lonely Planet-listed sun-spot.
Even the clergy are at it, with a Zealand priest conducting carnal-themed masses to encourage couples with flagging passions. A public heath survey found that 90 per cent of 16 to 95-year-old Danes said that a good sex life was "vital" to them – which means that men and women in their 10th decade are getting down and dirty in Denmark.
Singles can sleep with whomever they like, without social stigma, and those in relationships aren’t shackled to sex with the same person forever. With some of the highest divorce rates in Europe, most Danes get around the problem of wanting to sleep with someone other than their partner by splitting up and moving on. But for a growing number of Denmark’s sexually curious, there’s another option – and it’s right up my street, it turns out (literally, but by no means figuratively).
Scanning the local free sheet as it’s routinely conveyed from my doormat to the recycling bin, I notice a few words I recognise. Aside from a threatened strike and a special deal on pizza, there’s a headline featuring, "Tucan Swinger and Wellness Naughty Nightclub". Since moving from central London to The Sticks-on-Sea last year, fast food offers and threats of union walkouts have been the extent of the exciting occurrences in my area. The idea that I’ve been living in the eye of a swinging storm all this time is nothing short of staggering. I find myself coming over all Home Counties and having to sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit… before Googling it.
The Tucan Club, it turns out, is Denmark’s biggest swinging establishment – and it’s just up the road from me in rural Jutland. The club was established by husband and wife team Mie Hansen and Torben Nielsen who wanted to "push the boundaries of accepted sexuality" and "bring secret dreams and wishes to fruition". Intrigued, and in the name of journalistic endeavor (honest), I pick up the phone.
“We got into swinging 12 years ago,” Mie tells me, in the same tone one might use to describe getting into jogging, or juicing. “We decided to start our own club and it just grew by word of mouth. Now, we’re the biggest in Scandinavia.”
Mie explains that couples arrive, have a look around to see if there’s anyone they like the look of, then issue "invitations" for whatever takes their fancy. “There’s no pressure,” she says, “and there’s also a disco, a sauna and a jacuzzi for couples who aren’t ready to swing yet.” And when they are? “Then we have lots of facilities to make things more fun.” The word "facilities" conjures up chlorine-doused leisure centres but Mie sets me straight: “We have go-go dance poles; love swings; gynecological chairs-”
“You know, like the chairs you have in hospital. With stirrups.”
“Oh,” I reply faintly.
“And then we have rooms for those who prefer privacy, without glory holes.”
“Right. And…er…why would the rooms have glory holes?”
I ask this at the precise moment my husband comes home from work. His eyebrows hover somewhere around his hairline as I try to mime the action for ‘nothing to worry about: I’m just interviewing a swinger’. Mie clarifies the whole/hole business (I’ll spare you the details), before adding: “Basically, everyone just does what they’re comfortable with. It’s good to experiment as part of a couple because then you’ve got someone you trust with you and the other pair understand the dynamics of the relationship. My husband and I have never looked back!”
Swinging became big in Denmark in the 1990s, according to the country’s dedicated swinging hub, swingerguiden.dk. “Danes are pretty open minded,” says the website’s Jesper Christensen, “and swinging in Denmark is really popular - especially compared to the rest of Scandinavia.” About 90,000 Danes admit to swinging regularly though many more are "curious" and the website gets 190,000 visitors a year.
Dogging is also gaining popularity and outdoorsy Danes embrace the practise with online guidelines and lists of upcoming events. But the swingers are a step ahead when it comes to organising their troops, with scheduled activities, courses for newbies and even lectures. The Danes even set up International Swingers Week in 2008 with events and functions.
Suddenly, it all starts to make sense: there’s nothing spontaneous about swinging, Danish-style. Lectures? Diarised events? "Best practice" guidelines? Swinging is just another of the extracurricular activities so beloved by the Danes. Sure, it may involve slightly more risqué outfits, but still – there are rules! It is ‘organised fun’! Someone, somewhere, is probably taking minutes!
A great slew of my fellow Jutlanders may well be indulging in partner-swapping on a regular basis. But by viewing it as essentially an evening class, I can carry on attending dinner parties and leaving my car keys unsupervised, safe in the knowledge that it’s my own husband I’ll go home with - unless I’ve signed up for an organised event months in advance or attended some kind of course. With a certificate at the end of it. Assured, I set off to revive Mr Russell with a stiff gin. And explain about the glory holes…
International Swingers Week 2013 begins on November 8 (and the Danes are preparing already).
Helen Russell is a British journalist who lives in Denmark. Follow her on Twitter @MsHelenRussell. Read the rest of her columns, and those by our other guest writers, here.