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I explain that, as long as the door stays open, anything that goes on inside is fair game for voyeurs. A few minutes later, I overhear him bringing the happy news back to his date, a heavyset black woman: "Cheryl, we're allowed to watch."
"OK!" she enthuses, grabbing her purse as they rush out of the lounge.
I discover the one-way mirror that affords the curious a view into the "group room," where the mattresses stretch from wall to wall and clothing must be checked at the door. A few inches away, on the other side of the darkened glass, a man presses his face inside his partner's pelvis so long my finger begins to itch for a fast-forward button. Minutes later, the pair has changed positions and is now one of two couples in flagrante canino, nearly side-by-side, the women's faces only a foot or so apart.
Another couple strolls up and peers through the glass. After surveying the scene inside for a few moments, the man announces matter-of-factly to no one in particular: "They should make this window larger."
The Lifestyle isn't one-size-fits-all. Consider: There are those who like to watch and those who like to be watched. There are "soft swingers" who engage in petting, foreplay and maybe even oral sex, but draw the line at intercourse. There are couples who only swap girl-on-girl, others who go for the whole enchilada. With some couples, only the woman swings and the man watches, or vice versa. Some enjoy threesomes with selected friends, others prefer anonymous group sex. On the fringes are the role-players and the leather crowd.
However welcoming the Lifestyle can seem to a couple's peculiarities and perversions, there is one unwritten rule: Most women are bi/curious, but all the men are straight. A couple who swings in all directions would be politely asked to leave most clubs. If that's your bag, mister, please keep it to yourself.
Jenna, 38, who says she finds herself much in demand as a "single, bisexual woman who plays," is typical in that she has no problem with that double standard.
"I don't want to be with a man who's been with other men and I don't want to watch it," she says emphatically. "That doesn't turn me on and I don't want to put myself at risk."
Which brings us to the issue of protection, a topic that stirs surprisingly little passion among most swingers, who consider themselves at less risk to AIDS and venereal disease than the population at large. After all, the logic goes, when everyone knows sex is on the agenda, there's no excuse for coming unprepared. Most clubs furnish condoms to members -- in open bowls, like butterscotch hard candies -- and claim to advocate safe sex, but Robert McGinley, America's Sultan of Swap, believes most swingers would be fibbing if they say they never engage in unprotected sex. That's because going natural has been unfairly stigmatized, he says.
"AIDS is not every man's disease -- that's media propaganda to generate research funding," he says. "There's not one documented case of AIDS transmission from swinging."
McGinley is biased, certainly. He's founder and president of the North American Swing Club Association, sort of a AAA for wife-swappers. He organizes the annual Lifestyles convention, now in its 28th year. He owns the successful Lifestyles Tours & Travel agency. And he runs one of the country's oldest sex clubs, Club WideWorld of Buena Park, Calif., which opened its doors, appropriately enough, in '69.
Now in his early 60s, the Californian's polite and slightly fussy telephone manner may conjure up the image of your high school chemistry teacher. But that doesn't mean he can't get worked into a lather over other people's "hang-ups."
"I don't like the term 'safe sex,' because of what it implies," he says with more than a hint of exasperation. "Sex is not dangerous -- it's the most pleasurable, beautiful, rewarding experience a man and woman can have, for Pete's sake."
The Lifestyle is experiencing an unprecedented boom, with an estimated 3 million practitioners in the U.S., up from 2 million only a decade ago, says McGinley, who admits he has no hard statistics. He gives much of the credit to the Internet for discreetly connecting people with similar interests, as well as to the cumulative effect of his own life's work and the inevitable cycle of social change that's leading a new generation to swinging.
"The nuclear family -- that quaint term from the '50s -- is not the primary focus of our society anymore," says McGinley, who left an aeronautical engineering career in the mid-'60s to take up the swinging banner with his wife. The two are long since divorced, but still close, he adds. He later earned a Ph.D. in psychology with a thesis on -- what else? -- swinging.
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