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And Laura and George are still swinging five years after their initial fright in that Marietta hotel. Six feet tall with short-cropped hair and handsome, expressive features, Laura, 32, says mutual trust is essential.
"We're always in the same room; we always see what the other is doing," she says. "The key to all this is communication; we talk about jealous feelings we might be having."
To help preserve that trust, the pair keeps other couples at arm's length, avoiding friendships within the community and not going on double dates with potential bedmates.
"Sex is just sex," Laura says. "To hang out adds another level of intimacy."
At 31, Dave is Atlanta's Pied Piper of promiscuity. Two years ago, he launched Utopia, a social club restricted to attractive swingers under 40. Applicants must submit photos to a screening panel and the 50 percent who don't make the cut are let down gently or put on a waiting list, he says. Recently, he's had to cap the group at about 150 couples; more would spoil the intimacy.
To promote diversity, the club practices its own form of affirmative action, as well: "Generally, ethnic couples get first consideration."
Utopia's discriminating standards have stirred resentment among Atlanta's old-school Lifestylers, but Dave, who's tall, well-built and a bit cocky, says he can live with that. He's providing a haven for a new generation of swingers who aren't interested in getting busy with someone their parents' age.
"The majority of our members wouldn't even be in the Lifestyle if it weren't for Utopia," he says, projecting a blend of sincerity and pride. "Utopia isn't just Kens and Barbies, but it's average looks or better. If you don't take care of yourself, you should probably try elsewhere."
Utopia hosts eight parties a year, limited to about 25 couples, usually at the home of a member who has a large hot tub. ("That serves our purposes very well," Dave says.) Newcomers must attend an early evening orientation session in which Dave gives his safe-sex spiel, takes questions and lays down the ground rules of respectful swinging:
Rule 1: Never touch without asking.
Rule 2: "No" always means "No."
Rule 3: Observe proper hygiene: make an effort to shower, brush your teeth and gargle between sex partners.
Rule 4: Progress at your own comfort level; there's no pressure to do anything you don't want to.
Even with the warnings, there's often some over-aggressive meathead who has to be tossed from the party.
The gatherings typically get rolling with the "slow-dance switch," in which couples change partners until everyone's made face-to-face introductions. Dancing, flirting and coziness ensue until around midnight, when Dave "takes it down a notch." The lights go off and candles are lit. Rick James gives way to Barry White. Buttons come undone. Tops come off. Couches, beds, floors and counter tops are drafted into service.
At some point, someone might be inclined to roll out the plastic sheeting for the customary "all-girl, all-nude, baby-oil rubdown," a highlight of any evening.
But don't get the impression that every Utopia party is a full-on orgy, Dave warns. Compared to most older swingers, he insists, his group takes things relatively slow. Younger couples tend to be more self- conscious, less comfortable with their bodies, less confident in their relationships. Often, only a handful of couples engage in a full swap.
"Sometimes, we get hard-core swingers who are disappointed at our parties," he says. But that's OK because while, yes, the Lifestyle is about sex, it's also more than that, Dave explains.
He first encountered the Lifestyle five years ago at the urging of his then-girlfriend, who, in a scene directly out of every straight man's wish-fulfillment fantasy, told him she wanted to experiment with other women. They dropped by one of the twice-monthly parties sponsored by Atlanta United Socials -- the city's oldest swingers club, founded in 1988 -- and became instant disciples, he says.
"I had never even considered doing this until I went to AUS," Dave says. "Seeing that kind of sexual freedom, trust and acceptance changed my life. It's not really something I can describe -- it's a closeness to people."
Still, the couple wasn't entirely comfortable with the older, get-down-to-business crowd at AUS and split off to form Utopia, then later split from each other, a move Dave says was not caused by stress from their new lifestyle.
He met his current girlfriend through an Internet chat room and was delighted to find out after they'd started dating that she swings, too. In fact, Dave believes he has a "social responsibility" to proselytize in the name of the Lifestyle and recruit other attractive couples with the lure of an enhanced love life. It's a mission that brings out his philosophical side.
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