It's Friday night and I'm en route to a swingers club for the first time ever. The night's theme is feet. I hate feet. "What does that even mean?" a girlfriend asks. "I have no idea. Foot-rubbing orgies?" I laugh.
It's a nervous laughter. I've acted as though this will be no big deal. I'm all "RIOT GRRL!!!" until the moment of truth arrives. I'm so nervous, I could yack. Is this dress sex club worthy? Should I have waxed instead of shaved? What if I run into someone I know? *Gasp!* What if they want to have sex with me? I raise one hand off the steering wheel. It's shaking.
My first glimpse of a swingers club was on HBO's "Real Sex" while in junior high. The details of the episode have since faded, but the memory of the feelings I felt while watching it have not. Everyone seemed free. The club looked glamorous, like Eyes Wide Shut, without the creepy masks and music. I knew instantly: I want to go there.
Still, I was aware I should not divulge my fascination to friends, family, or romantic partners. "Would you like to go to the movies?" is what normal people say. "Would you like to go to a sex club?" is what freaks say. I determined it was best to keep my inner freak in the closet, lest I be ostracized or deemed non-girlfriend material. But still, the allure of a swingers club remained in the shadows of my subconscious, like a monster under a child's bed waiting for the lights to go out so it could come out and play.
Aside from my expressed interest in them, I decided to visit an Atlanta swingers club because of a 2001 Creative Loafing cover story about the local swingers scene, one of our top online stories more than a decade after it was published. There's something to be said, or at least, interpreted, by the popularity of the story: Atlantans are really curious about swinging.
I pick up my date, a gentleman with a handsome face and an even sweeter ass, whose looks even leave my straight guy friends in awe. "The women are going to eat you alive," I tell him. He laughs. Before we leave his house I tell him he has to change his selected attire. "There's a dress code at Trapeze," I say. "No jeans, no sneakers." He puts on a button-down long-sleeve shirt with dress pants and shoes.
It might sound unusual, but someone who is handsome, clean, and well-dressed is not completely out of place at swingers club — they resemble a cross-section of the city more than you may think. Granted, it is hard to determine what percentage of the American population swings. One reason is basic semantics; the other is fear or suppression based on socially constructed norms. A swinger is a person who is emotionally monogamous, but rejects sexual exclusivity. While swinging implies a lifestyle, a person or couple who participate in a threesome can be considered swingers, although they may not necessarily identify themselves as such. It may be something a person does not actively seek out, or what the lifestyle calls an "opportunistic swinger." Whether a person identifies as a swinger or not, chances are his or her way of life is something that will not be openly discussed, for obvious reasons, such as rejection by friends, family, partners, or the risk of it negatively affecting his or her job, and thus financial security.
According to a 2009 research study published in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, it is estimated that 2 percent to 4 percent of adult Americans are swinging couples, with at least 25 percent of U.S. married couples having engaged in swinging at least once (76 percent in the survey were male, 24 percent were female). On average, the swingers were mostly middle- to upper-middle class white married couples in their late 30s who attend church on a regular basis, are more likely to identify politically as moderates or conservatives, and showed a more progressive attitude toward topics such as sexuality, divorce, pornography, homosexuality, premarital sex, and abortion.
These stats made me feel comfortable that I could actually go to a club, have a good time, and report back to those who are curious just what has (or hasn't) changed in the decade-plus since CL visited the sex club scene. But being comfortable with statistics is a whole lot different than taking your clothes off around strangers. Trust me.
Activities involving such clubs fall under two categories: "on-premise" refers to sexual activities conducted on-site; "off-premise" means the venue is used as a place to facilitate the meeting of other swingers, but sexual activities are conducted elsewhere.
The difference between the reputable clubs and others has to do with honesty and safety. The members belonging to the reputable clubs are dominated by consenting couples. Clubs like Trapeze offer nominal "Single Male" nights to minimize the potential for creepsters and offer couples and single women a safe environment.
Many swingers meet their playmates off-premise, such as online swingers forums like swinglifestyle.com, sdc.com, fetlife.com, or lifestyletonight.com, before eventually taking it to the club. On average, swingers clubs do not offer members STD screenings or background checks, which is why responsible swingers take it upon themselves to do the necessary research to ensure their safety. At the very least, condoms and a desire to quiz your potential partner about his or her sexual history are necessary.
A swingers club is no different than your standard nightclub where you hope to find a partner — sexual, romantic, or otherwise. For many of them, it's a slow process that involves taking the conversation outside the Internet, eventually progressing to telephone, then perhaps coffee or dinner dates. Once everyone feels comfortable, educated about each other's histories, and the ground rules have been established, the sexual play can commence. The process can take months.
On average, swingers clubs do not offer an economical entry price. At Trapeze, a two-month membership for couples is $50, plus nightly fees: $40 on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays; $70 on Fridays; and $80 on Saturday, its busiest night of the week, which sometimes can bring in as many as 400 people. Single female membership costs $50 for a three-month membership, with a $15 nightly fee. The club also offers deals, depending on the evening's theme, such as free entry on Service Industry Night (SIN). For single males, in particular, the rates are inflated. At Trapeze, a one-month membership costs $100 and a two-month membership is $150. Nightly fees are $45 (Thursdays) and $75 (Wednesdays and Fridays). The remainder of the week, only couples and single females are allowed.
Throughout the evening, Trapeze employees will walk the grounds to make sure everyone is playing fair. Voyeurism is not frowned upon, but the rule is for the person doing the looking to ask the persons at play if they are OK and comfortable with them viewing. If comfortable, those doing the playing will consent. They might even ask the person to join. There is, however, no guarantee that if one goes to a swingers club, either as a single male or female, or as a couple, that sexual relations with any other club members will be had. Relations are reserved to be determined by those at play. If a club employee notices a person creeping too close, or notices anyone who appears uncomfortable or objects, the creepster is ejected from the club, along with the surrendering of the person's membership.
At one less reputable club, according to a former patron who commented on condition of anonymity, the game is manipulated by the owners to ensure a return in their clients, single males in particular. "During the week [Tuesday and Thursdays] around lunch time [known as the "Afternoon Delight Party"], the single men are charged a fee to come to the club," says the former club patron. "The two paid ladies act at hostesses," he continues, "but their job is to lure the single men in to be repeat customers because single men are charged a lot more to attend any party."
"During regular party nights [Friday and Saturday nights]," he says, "the ladies are supposed to mingle with the crowd, but make sure that the single men don't go home unhappy [*wink*] if they strike out with meeting and hooking up with a couple or single lady."
"The ladies are paid 50 percent of the day's door fee for single men, with a $300 minimum for three hours or more of 'socializing.' On the night parties, they are paid a set fee somewhere around $50 to $75 to show up, depending on the crowd and party type."
"Some people know and don't care," he says. "Others don't come back when they find out, but the married single men usually will sneak a day party in to get laid." He discontinued his membership and club visits after he discovered this piece of information.
File this under: Things you need to know when fucking at a swingers club.
Part of the former patron's concern, aside from the deception and health risk of unknowing club members, is the environment created. Normally, he says, swingers clubs are safe for women, as they play a heavy role in the lifestyle rules and actions. Conversely, in this type of facility, he found it created hostility from the men, and thus put women at risk because the men expected sex. When a woman, presumably a real swinger and not a paid player, denied a single male member, there was resentment. Acts conducted by these men with legit female swingers also appeared to be more aggressive in nature, and not in the way that a consenting BDSM fetishist would participate with a female of similar sexual preferences.
My date and I drive to Club Trapeze, Westbound on I-20 to Commerce Drive by the airport. In an effort to calm my nerves, he gently pushes my long dark hair behind my right ear to better kiss my neck, his hands wandering as he lifts my skirt to massage my thighs. "You're going to make me crash," I tell him without making any real attempt to stop his motions. As we approach our destination, I spot a fit brunette dressed in black by the valet attendant. I look at my date and raise my eyebrows. "This is going to be good," I tell him.
Turns out she's the hottest person we see that night. Also: a bartender.
Inside, we register at a computer, pay the behind-the-counter person, who hands me a laminated name-free member ID card with my assigned number and barcode. In a few weeks they will switch to a digital security system, complete with a fingerprint scanner. Behind us is a white couple in their 40s. The silver-haired man's plaid shirt is tucked into his dress pants. He looks unassuming, like an elementary school teacher. I am told there's a very famous Georgia church official in addition to a high-ranking executive in state government who frequent the club.
I hand the woman my bottle of whiskey, which she slaps a sticker on with my member number. "Give the bartenders your ID, and they'll pour you a drink," the woman says. Trapeze is a BYOB club, with a bar of complimentary mixers.
I turn around and give my date a schoolgirl squeal: "Eep!" He smiles, hands in pocket. He's playing it cool, but I can tell he's as nervous as I am. As we enter, Britney Spears' "I'm a Slave 4 U" plays on the speakers. There's a dance floor and stripper pole, an area with leather couches, and a bar with a small dining area for the complimentary buffet. Dinner until midnight, then it switches to breakfast. Doors close at 5 a.m.
We are given a tour of the facilities. We should arrive earlier, according to our tour guide. It's nearly midnight. "What's your suggested arrival time?" I ask him. "Nine or 10 p.m., at the latest," he says. "They clean throughout the evening, but it's cleaner the earlier you get here." And here I thought we were being fashionably late. I felt like a bad journalist. And a pervert. "Also," he adds, "after midnight is when a lot of the blacks get here." I hard blink and stare quietly back. Our guide is black. "We're not talking white or even blue-collared," he continues, "We're talking ghetto. They come here after the strip clubs. The environment changes. It becomes a lot more testosterone heavy."
Couples sit together at the bar and on couches, but the dance floor is empty. There's a blend of white and black couples, most look to be in their 40s. Some are preppy, some have outfits I can't help but furrow my eyebrows at (where's Joan Rivers when you need her?), and others sport towels. There are flat-screen TVs on the walls playing foot fetish-related porn movies. On one screen, a woman is giving a man a footjob. "Ew," I think. My date is quiet. I can't tell if he's turned off or being polite.
Our pack heads toward the back of the club, where the magic happens, and where clothes are not allowed, only a towel. There is a co-ed locker room where you can leave your clothes and belongings, but we keep ours on for the tour. We pass bodies concealed in the nooks of the hallway's darkness. I don't want to look. I know I can, but I feel invasive, which makes me feel stupid given the circumstance.
There are private rooms, our tour guide explains, along with a couples-only room. We cut through an empty dim-lit room with the faintest blue light, just enough to see what's going on, but not expose a person's physical imperfections. The room has elevated platforms, like mock beds, with what looks like wrestling mats on top. As we turn the corner on our way to the pool and hot tub area, the other room's white light hits the mat and there I see it: WET. Visions of female and male ejaculate flood my mind. I cringe. Patrons are supposed to clean up after themselves with the provided disinfectant wipes. I think of when I go to the gym and the person before me fails to disinfect the seat on a weight machine. I immediately determine I will not be having sex with my handsome gentleman at the facilities tonight.
In the back room, men in their 20s and 30s swim naked in the pool. All three hot tubs are occupied with people relaxing and talking. At the foremost region of the room is a bar, cabana beds, and a billiards table. I'm not all that impressed with the main room, although it's not skuzzy-looking, more like it reminds me of a South Florida Cuban restaurant with the addition of leather couches. But the hot tub area looks like a legit spa or New York City bathhouse.
After our tour, we all reconvene at the dining area, where we talk and trade life stories, no different than any regular bar. I sip my whiskey, wary of getting drunk because of the 30-minute drive back to the city. Women come up and touch my date as if he's a leashed pet at the dog park. Some ask if he wants to play. He politely passes. After nearly two hours of talking, our tour guide and his wife get in their limousine and head home. My date and I are left alone to our own perversions.
We talk for another 30 minutes or so when he points at one of the TV screens. A woman is deep-throating a man. "Do you want to be her?" he asks me. "Honestly," I respond, "I'm not turned on at all." He nods. "Honestly, neither am I," he says, "but I tried." We leave and head back to his house where he plays Sam Cooke on vinyl. I like his music selection. Certainly much sexier than Britney Spears. I drape my legs across his on the couch as we talk and reminisce about our evening before transferring to his bedroom. He seems entertained yet unsettled from our adventure. At night I dream I'm walking up the sloped driveway of a swingers club when I slip and fall. Every time I try and stand up, I slip and fall again.
I return to the club a few days later with a couple of friends who are dating. Her boyfriend assigns them their pseudonyms: Cherry and Damien. To be clear, she is Damien. He is Cherry. "Didn't think I'd flip that on you," she tells him with a laugh. Like myself, they were curious about swingers clubs for years. We sit in the dining area. To the left of me is a white, female sex slave in a leather studded corset that goes up to her rib cage, leaving her petite A-cup breasts exposed. She's eating breakfast with her male date. My friends head to the back. "Are you coming?" she asks. "Nah, I'm good," I tell her.
It's a Tuesday night and the club is mostly dead, just some light customer traffic. I head to the bar to talk to one of the good-looking bartenders. He's younger than me. He's cute. I like him immediately. He strikes me as sincerely sweet and nonjudgmental. Bartenders aside, I don't find the people at the club attractive. But then I am reminded how a person's personality and character can make or break them. Pro tip: If people think they're going to walk into a swingers club and encounter a sea of Stacey Dash and Michael Fassbender-caliber look-alikes, they're in for a surprise.
As I speak with the bartender, several people approach me. "Do you have a man?" asks one. I consider his approach lackluster. I lie. "Yes," I tell him. I forget it's a swingers club. Having a partner means nothing here. "Do you guys want to play?" he continues. I politely decline and he and his date walk away. A black woman puts her hand up my dress and squeezes my ass. I jump, startled. "Sorry," she says, noticing my discomfort.
I continue talking with the cute bartender. "The women here are attractive," he offers, "but they're much older than me — MILFs, which isn't really my thing." He's worked here long enough where nudity doesn't faze him anymore. "The girls I date get upset with me," he confesses, "because they'll get naked and I won't even look at their body, I just stare straight at their face."
What surprises him most about the environment is the level of intimacy. "Sometimes you'll see a woman having sex with a man while she and her husband stare deep into each others eyes as he caresses her face and tells her he loves her." I ask him if he is interested in the swinger lifestyle. "Not really," he says, "I'd be too jealous."
I ask him what's the wildest thing he's ever seen. "There's a female bodybuilder, and the line for the gangbang will wrap around the room entrance," he says, "and you'll overhear the men leaving the room talk about how tight she was. There were at least 10 or 20 men there before him. How can she be tight?" he laughs. "I'm not judging," he clarifies, "I'm just saying."
I pay Trapeze a third visit, this time with a smokin' SoCal surfer-looking friend. It's a Sunday night. Specifically, my last night in Atlanta before I move to Las Vegas. In the back of my mind, I know this is the last chance I have to play at a swingers club. At least, in Atlanta. At least, for a while. I'm wearing a polka-dot dress with black Mary Jane heels. I feel sexy as hell.
I meet my date at Noni's for drinks. There's something about his hair, all dirty-blonde and wild, that makes me want to run my fingers through it. I feel carnal. My nerves are heightened, but not like the first time I went to the club. I'm walking straight and with a swing in my step, shoulders back. I feel starved; my hunger demands satisfaction. We talk for a while about nothing in particular, laugh about nothing in particular, before we head to the club. He's down to play, but worries people will find out. I forget about the whole under-the-radar aspect. It's a strange occupational hazard, to bring others into the mix. I reassure him no one will find out.
We merge onto the highway and head to the club when R. Kelly's "Ignition" comes on my car stereo. We make waves through the air with our hands, windows down. We're singing the lyrics out loud. "I'm about to take my key and stick it in the ignition." The summer heat is on its deathbed, and the night air feels cool. We are all smiles. I feel free. Like what I thought it would feel when I first saw that "Real Sex" episode.
At the club, we lubricate our nerves and build the tension over a couple of drinks before we head to the back area. I take his guiding hand like a child at Disney in line to Space Mountain, unsure what the end of the hallway's darkness has in store for me. We don't swing, neither of us is ready for that, but we do make it to the locker room. Our clothes come off quick, as if they're to blame for the static in our touch. I wrap the towel around my chest, when a light bulb goes off in my head. I undo it and wrap it around my waist. "You have beautiful breasts," he says. "Thanks," I reply with a big smile and an even bigger kiss, mouth open, tongue wet, a light nibble that ensures I mean business.
We remove our towels and climb into the hot tub, naked. There's no one around. It's the allure of the taboo, without the prying eyes and bodies of others. Even under the Jacuzzi area's less-than-forgiving white light, I forget all my physical insecurities and dunk the back of my head in the warm water like I'm in some kind of Victoria's Secret swimsuit video campaign. His stare is gentle, but ambitious; determined. Even before he pulls me closer, I can feel his touch.
We begin to make out before he grabs my hand and we head to one of the private couples room, along with some complimentary condoms provided by the club. The room is small, but has enough space to hold a twin-sized bed and two bodies, maybe three — or four. Soon we're switching positions without exchanging words, just the reading and guiding of our bodies.
Between the moaning and dirty talking and hair pulling, I mercilessly consign to oblivion. Consumed in our revelry, my exclamations are a reflection of each other forgoing all sense of time and space, as others overhear and begin to peek their heads in, curious as to the details of our festivities. We stop only when the door opens. We forgot to lock it. "Sorry," a woman says softly, "just looking." We freeze in our tracks and stare at the door. The lighting is dim. We can't see her. The door remains slightly open for a few seconds before she closes it. It happens several more times. We never lock it.
A few hours later, we step out of the room, back into our clothes, and sit in the dining area with the goofiest of satisfied smiles on our faces. We eat a warm, much-needed meal as we talk literature and life for another hour or so before we leave around 4 a.m. I'm pretty sure at that point that I will return to a swingers club someday. Swingers clubs are like tattoos: you end up wanting more. Then again, I don't have any tattoos. And that tongue ring I got in high school was a short-lived phase. Sometimes once is enough to satisfy our curiosity.
My dirty-blonde surfer dude texts me a few days later. "Thoughts of us interlocked in a sweaty tangle still pop up in my mind and make me feel tingles." I smile. I know exactly how he feels.EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to accurately reflect the differences between certain local swingers clubs.