"Everyone was middle-aged and overweight," Laura now recalls, five years later. "It was like being at a suburban wedding reception where somebody's uncle is doing something you don't want to see."
The display of flab and varicose veins wasn't what they were expecting after their initial, exhilarating brush with the "Lifestyle" months earlier in Amsterdam. A visit to the European debauchery capital would have seemed incomplete without checking out one of the city's numerous sex clubs, but the twentysomething couple was unprepared to be so entranced by the sight of young, attractive couples getting naked.
Although they didn't join in the Dutch Bacchanalian romp, Laura and George couldn't wait to sample swinging when they got back to Atlanta, where she worked as an actuarial consultant and he owned a small business. But at the Alternative, a now-defunct social club that hosted monthly hotel parties, they received the cold blast of reality: that swinging stateside is not a young person's sport, that AARP cards are more plentiful than strap-ons, that a Brazilian wax job loses some of its allure when laced with stretch marks.
Ah, how times change. In the last half-decade or so, the Internet has delivered to Western civilization instant access to digitized porno facsimiles of Anna Kournikova, added "cybersex" to the list of words understood in any language and created portals to every conceivable fetish or kinky inclination, while TV talk-shows offer a daily parade of alternative lifestyles and carnal quirks.
In Hotlanta, the acknowledged adult-entertainment capital of the New South, swinging is on the upswing, and it's skinny-dipping in the Fountain of Youth. Even as the country slides toward conservatism, many Gen-Xers have come to view mate swapping as less an unspeakable social taboo than a walk on the wild side, a boundary to be explored, another edgy lifestyle choice.
The city now boasts two swingers nightclubs operating nominally underground -- insiders say a third is on the way -- as well as at least two prominent social clubs and a growing number of multi-couple play sessions taking place on any given weekend in private homes and condos across the metro area. So if your next-door neighbor wakes you up some night soon carrying a jumbo tub of Crisco and asking to borrow your Twister set, you shouldn't ask what it's for -- and you probably don't want it back.
Despite the growing popularity and acceptance, the swingers interviewed for this story asked that their real names not be used for fear their parents would find out.
Apart from the occasional woman dancing topless, there's little to immediately distinguish Velvet Heaven from any Buckhead nightclub. The music at this Cheshire Bridge Road-area sex club is standard disco fare, as are the colored lights and mirror ball dangling from the vaulted ceiling. Patrons range in age from the late 20s to late 50s.
At the far side of the room, a mezzanine allows couples -- no singles allowed upstairs -- to survey the action on the dance floor. Underneath, people chat in nests of low-slung couches or glance over at a slender young woman performing an impromptu strip-tease and lap dance for her date.
I'm taking a tour courtesy of club manager Lucky, who has just shown me the private bedrooms that members can request much in the same way they might get a changing room at the Gap. Now he's making introductions.
"This is Cinnamon," says Lucky, as a disarmingly pretty bleach-blonde looks up from her companions at the table where she's seated. "She came up from Columbus to do a live show here last night."
"Do you like my video?" Cinnamon asks somewhat distractedly, tilting her head toward the huge projection screen hanging on the wall above the dance floor. On it is the image of Cinnamon, naked, on her knees and bent forward, her hands cuffed behind her back; a burly man in a black leather vest is sliding a chrome vibrator lovingly in and out of her rectum.
"It's ... very nice," I say as I search my brain for some obscure rule of etiquette that will allow me to frame an appropriate response. Mental note: Must word-search old Miss Manners columns for "butt-plug."
"Sometimes you feel like an extra in a porn film," says Dick, sipping juice as his wife, Lynne, heads over to the dance floor. A few minutes earlier, a couple had put on an energetic coital display on the balcony overlooking the room.