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This ain't your father's swingers club

A new generation discovers the joy of sex with perfect strangers



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Registration for Lifestyles 2001, which will occupy the entire Tropicana Casino in Las Vegas for five days in late July, is already more than double that of last year, he says, with as many as 3,000 couples expected.

Twice a year, NASCA offers seminars on how to organize your own hometown swingers group or operate an on-premise sex club. ("You need to be aware of local zoning laws -- there's very little that's different from running a shoe store," McGinley says.)

The typical American swinger, he says, is in his mid-20s to early 50s, white, educated and professional, with a higher-than-average income. "Certainly it takes discretionary income," McGinley says. "Most swingers clubs cost $50 to get into. And then there's the cost of the babysitter."

Now two years old, Venus and Velvet Heaven serve a dual purpose of providing a sexual sanctuary to a dedicated clientele and offering an entry point for newcomers to dip their toes into the Lifestyle. Those who have erotic epiphanies come back for more. Those who don't at least have some bitchin' stories to tell their friends, who will invariably ask, "Is that shit legal?"

Yes, most certainly it is, according to Alan Begner, Atlanta's very own smut attorney. With Georgia's archaic sodomy law banished to the history books, the only possible legal stumbling block for swingers is public indecency. Hence, the concept of club.

"To be legal, it must be a private association or club to which admission is limited to members," explains Begner, a First Amendment zealot whose clients include both on-premise swingers clubs, 21 local strip clubs (including the embattled Gold Club), various lingerie-modeling shops, adult websites and a man who sells his own squeaky-clean urine for drug tests.

If everyone at a swingers gathering is a dues-paying member (ranging from $60 to $100 a year per couple, plus door fees) and has read the posted warnings that naughtiness is happening within, then no one can claim offense, Begner says. He cheerfully cites a high-profile case in which obscenity charges against Fort Lauderdale's Trapeze were dismissed in 1999 because the only people willing to testify they'd been offended were the police who raided the club.

Even so, most sex clubs take pains not to tempt fate or attract the attention of potential enemies. They don't serve alcohol, so there are no thorny liquor license issues; advertising is largely word-of-mouth; they occupy unmarked space in inconspicuous commercial strips; all members are 21 and up (mostly up) and all goings-on between them are consensual and, Begner stresses, private.

He agrees that the swinging scene has exploded across the country, even bigger than the pre-AIDS days when Plato's Retreat was attracting lines around the block in Manhattan's Upper East Side.

Says Begner: "There are a lot of people who enjoy life at the outer edges of conventional morality."

"It's not for everybody." If there's a universal caveat among swinging's proponents, that's it.

"We don't need people who are insecure, jealous or macho," boasts NASCA's McGinley. "Swinging attracts the cream of the crop of relationships."

That's a harmful misconception, says Dr. David Woodsfellow, an Atlanta psychologist who estimates he's counseled more than 1,000 couples in 24 years as a marriage therapist. When clients tell him they swing, hetells them to stop.

"The human need for security -- the question of 'Am I not enough for you?' -- is real enough that most people can't do this for long" before one partner begins to feel threatened or coerced, he says. "I believe swinging is a recipe for disaster, and I've seen plenty of examples where it's torn a marriage apart."

Even social scientists who once advocated the sexual liberation expressed in how-to best-sellers Open Marriage and Thy Neighbor's Wife have conceded that the Lifestyle can easily compound problems in a shaky relationship and damage a healthy one, Woodsfellow says.

"Now, most people believe that [swinging] doesn't work for the vast majority of couples," he says.

But Jenna isn't buying that. Tall, curvy and athletic, she got into swinging three-and-a-half years ago with her boyfriend and says she's formed strong friendships that have helped her recover emotionally from his sudden death last year.

"Sometimes I call people just to hang out; sometimes I want more," she says.

On a recent weekend, Jenna joined 11 close friends for what she says was a very satisfying twelvesome but now that she's begun dating a man who's not into the Lifestyle, she has promised not to swing until he decides how he feels about it. For the right guy, she'd walk away.

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