Did key parties actually exist?

I hear legends of key parties that occurred back in the 70s where all the guests would put their house keys in a bowl and then go home with whomever drew the key. I am sure this must have happened once or twice, but how common was this? Were the 'burbs a hotbed of wife-swapping back in the day?


I never saw any evidence of it in our New York suburb during the '70’s, but I must say we did have more social contact with the neighbors there than anyplace we’ve lived since. Everyone took turns throwing house parties, with Christmas tide bringing a traveling party, one house to another to another.

I don’t think we ever saw any friendlier people before or since. Swapping? We weren’t asked to or asked how we felt about it.

I’ve not ever talked to any contemporary anywhere in the country who said they actually knew of this sort of ‘club’.

There’s a scene in the 1997 movie The Ice Storm, with Kevin Klein, Joan Allen, and Sigourney Weaver, set in 1973, where a key party is a plot element.

Just to be clear, not everyone put their car keys in the bowl…just the husbands, then the wives pulled the keys from the bowls and went home with the husband who belonged to the keys they drew.

There was one on the Simpsons in a flashback. Luann van Houten hooked up with Dr. Hibbert, while Kirk drew the key to Dr. Hibbert’s parrot cage.

A colleague of mine in suburban Maryland learned a few years ago that several neighbor couples were swinging together. His wife refused to believe him until they were propositioned at a block party.

For maximal variety in their intimate lives, all the males and females should cast their keys into one bowl. Then everybody pick one and spend the night with whoever’s key you picked.

(Okay, there’s an obvious logistical problem with that plan, but they can work it out. It just adds to the fun.)

Oh no, I got Fred again! When did he get a new keychain?

Quit your protesting and get in the car Steve. You know the rules.

My parents used to talk about one notorious set of neighbors. The husband propositioned the wives in the living room while the wife propositioned the husbands in the kitchen. And this was in the 1950’s!

I don’t know how it would have worked out if both of them had gotten lucky at the same time. But it may explain why ranch houses were so popular back then.

When I was a kid in the 1970’s, we lived in the suburbs on a dead-end street with about 14 houses, most of which contained young families like ours. The neighborhood was a tight-knit community, and I remember many summer block parties (the street would be blocked off) and our parents were often at a party at one house or another.

This was a New England town that was still governed by Town Meetings, and the residents of the street would go to meetings en masse and usually vote as a block, and made some political enemies. This lead to jealous accusations and they were given a reputation as swingers, with rumors of key parties and orgies going on at all those neighborhood parties.

It wasn’t true, though. My dad told me about it much later. He said if the parties had been like that my Mom would’ve probably sold the house and moved.

Yes, they happened. A former coworker of mine grew up in a small Michigan college town / industrial city (Albion) in the late 1970s (I think he turned 18 in 1980) and says that some of the professors there had key parties.

How would a pre-teen/teen know about key parties among the academia?

Just thought I’d mention that Rick Moody, author of the novel The Ice Storm, was born in 1961- same as me. Meaning that both of us were too young to know of or participate in any Seventies key parties, even if they really existed.

Moody himself acknowledges that he never witnessed or even heard of key parties until he was in his thirties, shortly before he started working on his book. Indeed, at the time, he’d never actually met anyone who’d CLAIMED to have participated in one.

Obviously, that does NOT mean such things didn’t happen- just that the most famous book and movie on the subject were based on the author’s imagination and on rumors he’d heard, rather than on his personal experience or extensive research.

Those key parties and swinger parties still happen today. It was ultimately rumored to be a swinger party gone bad that resulted in this tragedy here in San Diego: Murder of Danielle van Dam - Wikipedia.

I live in the area of town where this was happening and had no idea it was going on because I wasn’t in that specific neghborhood. I heard they would meet up at a 50’s themed steakhouse called “Dad’s” that has since gone out of business and would solicit new people at the nearby Costco in Carmel Mountain. At least those were the rumors floating around at the time.

Locally, there are still active swingers/wife swapping clubs in San Diego. There’s a place called Club Paradise in the El Cajon area of town and a ‘clothing optional’ bar in the North Park area. I can see how these things could go off the rails pretty quickly though, with jealousy and hurt feeling. It’s all fun and games until yours is the key at the party that no one picks, or gets put back because people know it’s your key and don’t want anything to do with you. Meanwhile, your wife/girlfriend is getting slammed like a screen door in a hurricane by everyone else at the party…

PGP key parties actually exist, though slightly less sexy.

Czarcasm he was in high school at the time. teens like to gossip, especially about sexual topics.

I don’t know about key parties, but about 1961, a neigbhbor kid, the same age as myself, was teaching us to play strip poker in a tent in our back yard. There was 3 boys and one girl. It didn’t get too far, when my mom and the girl’s mom stuck their heads in the tent and broke it up. After questioning, the kid who was teaching us told the mothers that he learned from watching his parents play with their friends. ( he had snuck out of his bedroom ) After high school, he married a girl that was very, very, popular… :slight_smile:

But teen gossip about sexual topics is not notoriously reliable, is it?

No but it isn’t always wrong either. My parents were hippies when I was a child in the 70’s. They were way more wild than I have ever been. I know it because I saw it myself and they admit it freely even now. Both of them definitely and admittedly hooked up with other people’s spouses when I was young and even later. I even witnessed my father doing it at a party when I was a teenager when the other husband (a Sheriffs Deputy no less) got pissed beyond belief and I thought a mass shooting was about to occur. We had to leave and hang low for a couple of days for that one. Their friends (mostly school teachers and administrators) were quite wild behind closed doors.

60’s and 70’s people definitely did some wild things in certain circles. That is why I laugh at the crossover threads asking about kids today. The same people that did all of that stuff personally are now putting the lock-down on younger people in ways that even I can’t imagine. Most of the younger ones are angels in comparison. It is the parents and grandparents that were complete whores and party animals in a style that just isn’t tolerated now except among the older set who still hung on to those times in their mind. There are a few of them that still do it even though they may need a doctor’s release to participate responsibly.

This is pretty much the opposite of verification.

I have met one former session musician (LA) from the late 60’s early 70’s. He confirmed “wife swapping” - did not ask about the logistics - random key swaps, or “you go to the xxxx”; Ms xxxx is coming here 9:00 Tuesday.
At least one wife thought she was being pimped-out and left.
The guys, OTOH, thought it was great. The poor guy whose wife split was disqualified - he no longer had trading currency.

I always thought it was exceedingly tacky - there were plenty of “open” marriages, but actual pre-arranged you-boink-mine, and I -boink-yours was not the same

It’s indicative that these things are called “wife swaps”, and not “husband swaps”.