Editor's note: First Person is a series of commentaries that gives voice to those not commonly heard in Atlanta media. As told to Thomas Wheatley.
Four years ago, real estate agent Brent Bomber started a swinging and fetish party promotion company as a hobby. Since then, he says, Swinging Atlanta's exploded to more than 13,000 members and 20 monthly events. Last year, the 51-year-old Atlanta native opened a commercial dungeon filled with whips, chains and flogging benches.
For 16 years, I was in a very traditional marriage. We had the white picket fence and all that. And a very boring sex life, like many married people could relate to.
My sexual liberation began when that marriage ended and someone introduced me to the swinging and fetish scenes. It was finally a way for me as an adult to express my sexuality freely and openly within the context of my new relationship. Prior to that, I was pretty straight-laced. In my 20s, I even considered going to seminary.
It was like the heavens parted and the angels sang. After years of sexual repression, I find myself with a young bisexual stripper who's into BDSM. So it was kind of like hitting the sexual lottery from my standpoint.
Afterward, I became a periodic participant in swinging and fetish events. And four years ago, I started working professionally as a party promoter and spokesperson for swingers and the fetish scene, which have been very segregated and are often at odds.
It's a great passion of mine to bring people together. Not so much as to convert them, but to expose them to different ways of thinking. And to show that we're all basically the same. We might play in a different sandbox in a different manner, but we're all the same inside.
We do 15 to 20 events a month in various venues around the city, including lifestyle clubs and mainstream venues. Our group livens up the place, buys drinks and food, and we'll sometimes organize an after party for those who want to get more frisky. We also do hotel takeover parties, boat parties, mansion parties, strip club parties. Occasionally, we'll host events at one of the lifestyle resorts in Jamaica or Mexico.
One of the biggest misconceptions about swinger parties is that they're all big orgies. My parties are across the board. Probably 75 percent of the attendees never take their clothes off. They enjoy the scene, socializing, the music. They enjoy being open and free and meeting other open-minded and nonjudgmental people. Then there are the other 25 who put on a show and entertain.
Historically, there's still a perception in the Atlanta fetish scene that swingers are unbridled sexual beasts just going around raping everyone in sight, that there's plundering and pillaging, which is a ridiculous kind of notion because people in the swinging lifestyle are very mature, educated and polite. They have their protocol. No means no, you ask before you touch.
Ironically enough, your wife or girlfriend is far more likely to be harassed or groped at a regular nightclub filled with 100 drunken 21-year-olds.
The flip side of that are my swinging friends, who are very open-minded but afraid of anything that suggests S&M, BDSM, ropes, whips, chains, paddles, whatever.
In certain cities that are more experienced and cosmopolitan, like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, there's less intolerance. Atlanta is a little "newer," but I think it's getting better. We're seeing more different lifestyle groups that want to mingle.
To try and date someone outside of the lifestyle would be a waste of time for both of us. Ninety-nine percent of women out there wouldn't understand or tolerate this sort of environment for a moment. So Match.com doesn't work for me. And there's no point in pursuing a vanilla relationship. This isn't just my recreation, it's my business and I'm not going to change for anyone.
That being said, when I'm in a relationship, I'm monogamous. I might have sex at the event, but it's my personal preference not to have sex with people other than the person I happen to be with at the time.
My life is surreal. I may look on my agenda tomorrow and perhaps have a real estate listing appointment at noon. An hour later, I'm interviewing a dominatrix-for-hire. So it's kind of bizarre. I got a phone call from a guy who's bringing a trained sexual-lifestyle slave over from Russia. And he wants to know if I'll meet them at the dungeon, test her out, and train her further because he didn't have the experience. I shake my head sometimes at finding myself in this position.
When people don't have jobs, they won't spend $75 to go to a sex club. But my organization has grown steadily through the recession. I started out doing one event a month. Now I'm up to almost 20. The established clubs' revenues are down, which makes my service more in demand. I expect we'll get much better when economic times improve.
I never anticipated the lifestyle becoming this big a part of my life. It was simply a hobby and a passion that has evolved and slowly taken more of my time and energy.
But I consider myself very fortunate now — as most people would — to be able to do what I enjoy doing. If I didn't make any money at it, I'd still enjoy doing it. It's fun.