No Means No

Posted February 7, 2008 in Feature Story

“Hey,” I call to the people on the bed, “Did you know that naked people die of hypothermia at 55 degrees? Can we maybe turn the heat up a little?”

On the floor next to the bed, I’m fucking a man I met a few hours ago. Actually, he’s fucking me; I’m just trying to stay warm, sandwiched between him and the blanket on the floor. My legs and arms are icy. As long as he doesn’t come, my torso is covered on both sides, keeping my core body temperature above freezing. In the last few minutes, his breathing has shifted up a level; I’m going to be colder soon. 

My husband and I are at a private swing party in Studio City. We met the host couple at another house party in Palos Verdes a few weeks earlier and they seemed nice. Musicians for the film industry, he’s an Eastern European some 30 years older than his pretty American wife. He’s uncomfortable at temperatures over 65 degrees, violating the swing party rule: Thou shall overheat all areas to encourage people to take their clothes off. People are having sex in piles around me. Normally this means that everyone is having a good time but with the temperature hovering around 60 degrees, they may just be trying to stay warm. 

The host is unresponsive. “Oh, the temperature‘s fine. Stop whining. Get someone to sit on your face—that’ll keep you warm!” Of course you’re warm, I think, you’re a small man with a large woman sitting on your dick. The man on top of me shudders, gasps, and cries out. He lies still for a few moments and then rolls off. The full blast of the air conditioner hits me. 

Standing up, I look around the dim room for a blanket to wrap in. Swing parties have a lot of blankets, sheets, mats and other bedding but it’s all under people very focused on what they’re doing. No one wants to stop getting face to give up what they’re laying on: timing and concentration matter. Stepping over and around the piles of naked, thrusting people, I go downstairs to find my clothes. Maybe I can find a blanket, too. 

Back in my little dress and coat, I wish I had leggings and socks with me—it isn’t much warmer downstairs. I sit on the sofa and chat with the man from the Palos Verdes couple. He sits on the edge of the sofa, naked, his parts hanging over the edge. He’s taking a few minutes break before going upstairs again. His wife is still up there, last he saw, enjoying our hostess. 

“That’s where I saw my husband,” I say. “They must be tag-teaming her.” 

I don’t know most of the guests at this party. The hostess and I, four months apart at 38, are the youngest. Everyone else, my husband included, is in their fifties or older. This is typical of private parties. In Southern California, the network of swingers is large and loose—not everyone knows each other and age groups tend to stick together. 



Accurate statistics about people’s sex lives are hard to come by, but, based on several studies, it’s generally accepted that between two and 10 percent of couples in the United States swing. Swinging is usually a couples activity but there are some single women in the lifestyle. Single women are welcome anywhere. 

Because it takes privacy and money to have group sex, swingers tend to be older and in the upper socioeconomic classes. For a private party, you need a large house without children around. Many swingers have smaller children and they don’t come out to play often. When they do, they usually go to the clubs. Contrary to the occasional media horror story, most swingers won’t risk exposing kids to the lifestyle. They can be very conservative, especially about sex and children. 

Younger couples who haven’t bought up to the larger house yet still need money for the clubs, where cover “donations” can be $100 or more per couple. Most twenty- or thirty-somethings don’t have that kind of disposable income every weekend, especially when you add the cost of a baby-sitter for eight or ten hours. 



I didn’t seek out swinging, it was a progression of things. A friend, after meeting her fire fighter husband, wasn’t available to go dancing on Saturday nights anymore. They always had plans. Finally, I ask if John simply doesn’t like me. 

“No, no,” Ruth explains. “That’s certainly not it. We go to a private club.” 

“Why a private club? Maybe I want to go to this private club. Can you dance?” 

Ruth laughs. “Oh, yeah, you can dance. You can play pool, you can hot tub, and you can have sex with other people.” She smiles. 

“You can do what?” 

“It’s a swing club.” 

“What’s a swing club?”

Ruth explains it to me. You can dance, play pool, all the stuff you do at a normal nightclub. But if you want to, you can go to another part of the club and have sex with someone you meet. This similar to what Ruth and I did before she met John. The difference then was we went home or to a hotel room with the men we met in bars. This seems sort of like one-stop shopping, except you’re doing it with other women’s husbands or boyfriends and everyone knows what you’re doing. 

“It’s mostly couples,” Ruth says, “but the owners know me, and you and I can go next Saturday when John has to work. I can make reservations.” 

“The other women are OK with this? No one minds?” 

“No one is jealous or they wouldn’t be there. That’s the great thing about this lifestyle. “The whole jealousy thing isn’t an issue.”

“And I don’t have to have sex with someone? I mean, I could just go because I want to, right? No one expects me to have sex with them just because I’m there?” 

“Oh, no. That’s the one rule. No means no. If you say no, they have to respect that.”

“So I can go with you, we can dance, play pool, hot tub, and nothing else has to happen.” I think for a moment. Ruth won’t take me somewhere dangerous. “OK. I’m up for it.

Let’s go.” 

My son spends the night with my mother and I meet Ruth at her house. We dress, do our hair, have a few drinks and leave about 9PM, just like we do on any club night. Except we’re going where people openly have sex with each other, which, as we get closer to the club, reduces the importance of the dancing and pool playing. I keep changing my mind as she drives. No, yes, take me home, keep going. I’m excited and nervous. Finally, almost in the San Bernardino mountains, we get off the freeway and drive into an unlit dark field. We creep along a dirt track until we see a dark building with a porch light. If you don’t know it’s here, you wouldn’t know it’s here. 

“That’s the point,” Ruth says. “If you’re here, you’re here because you want to be.” 

Cars are scattered next to trees and boulders. Ruth parks. We get out and, holding onto each other, pick our high-heeled way across the dark, uneven dirt and gravel toward the porch light. Ruth opens the door. 

The tiny room is dimly lit. A blond forty-ish woman sits behind a desk with a ledger open in front of her. A small desk lamp next to her lights the book. A doorway behind and to the side of the desk opens to another room but I can’t see through the gauzy curtain. There are several people already in the room, some at the desk giving money to the woman, others sitting in the business chairs near the door. Ruth and I get in line. People are chatting happily with each other. I cling to Ruth’s arm as more people come in behind us. Finally, we get to the desk. 

“Ruth!” The woman behind the desk stands and kisses her on the mouth. “You look great! Is this your friend?” She leans over and kisses me on the mouth. It’s the first time I’ve been kissed by a woman. 

“Thank you.” Ruth says. “This is her. It’s her first time at a swing club. She’s nervous. She changed her mind five times on the way up!” 

A woman behind me laughs. “The first time I came here, I begged my husband to turn around the entire way. But he didn’t and I had a great time. We’ve been coming here for two years now, every weekend. Wouldn’t miss it. You’ll be fine. You’ll love it.” 

“Well,” the woman behind the desk sits down, “did Ruth explain how this works? It’s $40 a couple, tonight that’s you and Ruth. You bring your own bottle and you can leave it at the bar with your name on it, if you want. We provide the mixers. We lay out a buffet about 10, snacks about 2, coffee and donuts about 6. We close at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning. We have lockers on a first-come basis to put your stuff and you provide the lock. No drinks and no smoking in the bathrooms and cribs. Do you want a tour?” 

“I can do that.” Ruth says. “I’ll show her around.” She hands the woman money. The woman puts it in the desk and makes a note in the ledger. 

“If you have any questions, ask Ruth, me, or the bartender. Have a great night!” 

Ruth and I step through the gauze curtain into an open area. The lighting is low. To the right, a wide flight of stairs rises to another level. To the left, a few tables and chairs and another doorway. In front of us, a platform with a large hot tub that can hold at least 20 people. A red-haired man in his mid-thirties looks up from the tub. 

“Ruth’s here!”

He gets out of the tub and towels himself off. Naked and smiling, he comes down the steps to our level. I haven’t seen public nudity before and I’m worried. It seems rude to not look at him as he approaches us but where exactly am I supposed to look? I settle on directly in the face, avoiding even the possibility that I’m looking anywhere else. He seems unconcerned about his nudity; he isn’t even carrying his towel in front of him. Suddenly, I’m scared. This is a place where people have casual sex. Maybe he thinks I’m here for that. I might be here for that but not the moment I walk in the door. But, instead of attacking me, instead of forcing me down and raping me on the cold concrete floor, he puts his arms around Ruth and kisses her. 

“Woman, you look good enough to eat! Who’s this long tall beautiful woman?” 



Most swingers are nudists but most nudists are not swingers. The American Association for Nude Recreation says it has nearly 50,000 members. The Naturist Society doesn’t post membership numbers but refers to “Our thousands of members from across the U.S., Canada and beyond.” That’s a lot of naked people and the bulk of them are not having group sex. Indeed, most nudist resorts have rules against swinging. Nudists just want to be naked in social situations. 

Most swingers are also nudists, although a lot sexier than nudists. Swingers don’t typically start as nudists—I certainly didn’t—but after having an orgy with 10 or 20 people for several hours, it seems silly to modestly put on clothes to have a drink and a snack afterwards. Very quickly, you just stop caring who sees you naked, particularly when you’ve fucked everyone in the room. 

There’s also the exhibitionist aspect. Many swingers get off on the public part of sex. It’s reflected in nearly all areas, especially in closed swing environments, like clubs or private parties. In the straight world, most people dress up, do their hair, and put on their best clothes to attract people. Swingers aren’t that nuanced. The women make up, do their hair, wear heels. But they wear very little between the hair and the heels, just strips of lace or spandex. The men generally wear more clothes, but men like to feel sexy too and some men wear thongs and nothing else. 

All this nudity and exhibitionism sounds like heaven until you consider that the two to 10 percent of Americans who swing look just like everyone else. Go to a mall and count off every tenth couple that comes though the door—you’ll get a good idea of what the swingers in your area look like. Every body type and shape shows up. You wouldn’t want to have sex with all of them. But, the saying goes, what crisps your cookie may not melt someone else’s butter. 



Ruth introduces me to Tom. He has red hair on his chest and, on fast glance, dark red pubic hair. I reach my hand out to shake. He laughs, puts his arms around me and kisses me. I have an attractive, damp, naked man pressed against me. This isn’t like any nightclub I’ve ever been in. 

“She’s new,” Ruth says. “I’m showing her around. We’ll see you later.” 

We stop at the door to the bathroom area. “They’re serious about no cigarettes,” she says. “Nearly everything past this point is flammable. Don’t even carry your pack past here.

Just leave your cigarettes and drink on the table.” 

The short dark hallway has saloon doors at the end, rows of metal school lockers on the walls and doorways opening to other spaces. Ruth opens a locker. “Let’s put our purses in here. The next time you come, you might want to bring a change of clothes or something.” She snaps closed the padlock from her purse. 

The bathrooms are at each end, women to the right, men to the left. They’re bright enough to perform surgery. The stalls have doors so I can pee in private, at least. 

“You ready to see the party room?” Ruth asks. 

“Sure,” I say. “Is anyone, you know . . . ?” 

“No, it’s way too early.” 

She leads me through another gauze-curtained doorway. This room is very warm and much larger than any I have seen so far. Rows of queen sized bunk beds, upper and lower, run along both walls. There are 10 or 15 bunks on each side of the room. The lower bunks have white cotton curtains. If a curtain is pulled in a crib, the couple wants privacy, Ruth explains. It’s bad manners to pull the curtain and look inside. The nearest bunk is about four feet high and the bottom is filled with a white-sheeted mattress. We get to the upper bunks by climbing a ladder between every few bunks. 

The upper bunks aren’t separated from each other. It’s one long bed, open to the ceiling, some 15 feet above. There’s no pretense of privacy here. This is for people who like to be watched, Ruth explains. If you’re up here, people might ask if they can join you. If you say no, they might ask if they can watch. You can say no to that, but they might still watch from a distance. There’s nothing you can do about that. If you don’t like to be watched, don’t be up here. 

In the center of the room, white nets hang from the ceiling surrounding several mattresses in the middle of the room. From anywhere in the room, you can see right in. 

“That’s the group area.” Ruth says. “If the drapes are closed, you can’t join but you can watch. If the drapes are open, you can ask to join. It’s up to the woman. If she says no, then that’s it. Pretty much the women control all of it. Come on, there’s two more areas to show you.” We climb down. 

At the end of the room, furthest from the door, the walls are covered with mirrored tiles. The floor is generally covered with more mattresses. A gynecological table stands in the middle of the area. 

“This area is completely open,” Ruth says. “If you’re back here, people will watch and ask to join. They may just want to be near and watch in the mirrors. It’s a very public place.“ 

“What’s with the table?” 

“I don’t know. Some people are just weird. Come on, I’ll show you the loft. It’s my favorite place.” 

The loft runs over the door, the entire width of the room. A tall wooden ladder leads the way to the large space, close to the ceiling, above any other area in the room. It’s very dim up here but you can look down into the entire room. More mattresses cover this area. We hang our legs over the side and lean on the rail. 

“So this is the play room. Sometimes people just call it downstairs. Pretty cool, huh?” 

I agree. It’s like camp for horny grownups. 

“Full nudity here and at the hot tub is fine but you should put on a wrap or something to go upstairs. More than a towel but it could be just a teddy or something.” We swing our legs and look around. “OK, let’s go upstairs.”  



Not all clubs have on-site facilities. Some clubs are for social activities and include a full bar and dance floor. No sexual contact is allowed on the premises. If you want to fuck, you need to go elsewhere. They look just like normal nightclubs, but with less clothing and raunchier dancing. I heard of one social club that allowed single men but kept them off to one side, in a special area. They could watch the dancing but couldn’t interact with the people on the swing side. The single men’s side was always standing room only. 

Some on-site clubs allow a limited number of single men, maintaining some ratio of couples to single men, but this is almost always a bad idea. Single men often don’t behave well and confuse swing clubs with whorehouses. It can get ugly; women can get raped by men who don’t understand that no means no. Sex can go wrong in any swing situation but allowing single men is asking for trouble. 

Some clubs are private houses remodeled to accommodate the needs of a large number of people who have sex. They have on-site facilities and, often, a pool and hot tub. You have to be quiet when you’re outside. Parking can be a problem. You may need to park up to several blocks away and walk in. Overloaded parking on residential streets can violate city ordinances and shut down a club. The neighbors usually know what’s going on but as long as it isn’t a disturbance, typically there isn’t much they can do. 

Some clubs don’t have a location. People maintain a list and send out an invitation to go dance at a local straight club. After several hours of socializing and dancing, the organizer hands out a map and room number for a suite at a local hotel. A donation is requested, perhaps $30 a couple, to pay for the room and to cover snacks and drinks. You’re asked to show up over the next hour so the hotel employees don’t get alarmed seeing 40 to 60 people suddenly appear for a two-bedroom suite. You only get on this list by knowing someone who can vouch for you. 

There are also conventions—not really clubs, but places where groups of people convene to fuck. They offer speakers on sex-related topics and evening dances. Conventions are really just very large, multi-day sex parties. The goal is take over the entire hotel for about three days. Conventions draw 500 to 5,000 people, all there with one thing in mind: Fuck as many people as you can. It’s a little overwhelming. The largest is the LifeStyles convention held in various cities around the country each year. People fly in from all over the world to attend. Typically attracting at least 2,000 people, the convention has been in Las Vegas off and on for years, but the hotels would rather the convention take its business elsewhere. Swingers don’t gamble much. 



Picking up our cigarettes, we go up the stairs to the main level of the club. The top of the stairs opens to a large room. To the right is the dance floor with mirrors and colored lights. Thirty or so small cocktail tables are scattered around the dance floor. To the left is a long bar. In front of the bar is a freestanding fire pit with big couches on three sides. Behind the couches, directly opposite the bar, is a pool table. The pool table is the only well-lit area. Perhaps 25 people are in the room, some at the bar, some playing pool, some sitting around the dance floor. This is obviously the center of the social action. We sit at the bar. 

People greet Ruth. Men and women, hugs and kisses. Ruth introduces me, first names only. I’m hugged and kissed, too. Some people keep their hands on my back or legs. This is a very friendly group, I think. At 22, I’m the youngest people in the room. Mostly I’m meeting people in their thirties and forties, but a few men are older than that. Ruth has a bottle behind the bar and we get a drink. 

“What do you think?” Ruth asks. 

“I like it. But I’m nervous. Don’t leave me.” 

“OK, but you’ll be fine. Nothing’s going to happen that you don’t want to happen.” 

“I don’t want anything to happen.”

“OK, then that’s what’ll happen.” 

We chat with the bartender and people at the bar. Everyone seems normal, albeit more friendly than at a normal club. People dance very close and kiss heavily. The crowd gets larger. 

As the night goes on, Ruth and I curl up together on the couches around the fire pit. People are excited to discover I’m new and share their perspective on the lifestyle. “There’s no hang-ups.” “You can do what you want.” “Friendships are more intimate.” Clothing gets smaller and more casual. The women shift from little dresses to bras and panties, teddies, or slips. The men move to short robes. Between the dim lights, the warm room, the music, and the nice people, I feel pleasantly cocooned. 

By the time we leave, about four in the morning, the crowd is back down to 30 people, mostly in the hot tub or on the sofas around the fireplace. A few people are quietly playing pool. It’s calm and relaxed. I don’t notice the nudity any more. At Ruth’s house, we’re up past dawn, talking about the evening and what it means. I want to go back; I want to be wrapped in that cocoon again. It’s seductively easy to slide into a world where sex is uncomplicated, light and simple. I want men to look at me the way they looked at some of the women. I want to feel beautiful. 



Certainly, the reasons to swing are as many as the people who swing. For me, it was about feeling beautiful. On my own, I had no access to that feeling, no interior knowledge that I was innately attractive, innately valuable. I could paint and dress my exterior, but the assignment of beauty, and thus of value, had to come from outside. And I, like most women, wanted badly to be beautiful. 

I was rarely approached in a straight nightclub for even a dance. But I could walk into a swing club, sit at the bar and have a crowd of men vying for my attentions in minutes. Blond, slim, and just over six feet, I was especially popular with older men and short men. They brought me drinks, told me I was beautiful, that I looked like Sigourney Weaver. Being scantily clad in a room of men, knowing all of them wanted to fuck me, was power. The feelings of being beautiful were like a drug blasting directly into my brain. In the gauzy dimness of a swing club, I was valuable because men wanted to fuck me. 



There are enough swingers with enough money that an entire travel industry exists just to support them. Why fuck locally when you can go on a sailboat, to an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica, or 12 houseboats on a lake in the desert? Why go on vacation to see the local sights when you could go on vacation and be the local sight? Looking for new talent? Join 120 or more couples from all over the world in exotic locations to fuck for a week. These trips cost $500 to $3,000 per couple, plus airfare, and sell out months in advance. If you have the money, you can schedule a trip a month, traveling to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Tahiti through the travel agencies that work only with swingers. The point is to have sex with as many people as possible, to fuck and move on. It’s called sport fucking. 

Vacationers photograph and film their vacations and swingers are no different. Since sex is the reason they’re on vacation, sex is what they film. The most narcissistic film themselves to watch later or to put on the Internet. On the beach, around the pool, in hotel rooms—no place is too public or private to pass up sex. Since the entire resort is all swingers, no one cares what you do or where you do it. The hottest films are always the time Marge fucked the four waiters by the pool. They show Marge in action with four local men, young enough to be her sons, as she gropes them and they fuck her. Naked people walk past in the background, some with cameras of their own, looking for something interesting to film. The video ends with Marge bent over a pool chair, getting fucked by one young man while she blows another. The other two look on and jerk off. She smiles at the camera as the last one comes. 

Some people love being photographed at lifestyle events, breasts bare, penises hanging, smiling proudly. Others don’t want to be photographed. Because swingers come from all occupations, some can lose their jobs or even careers if they’re “outed.” Public officials can’t risk pictures being released to the Internet even if they’re just walking in Marge’s background. Teachers and other professionals can face serious consequences. When a second tier adult magazine did an article on swing clubs, Ruth and her fire-fighter husband participated in an eight couple photo spread at the club we went to. City officials saw the magazine. John lost his job on a morals clause and the stress destroyed their marriage. 

You’re supposed to ask before you take a photo but someone always forgets this isn’t a straight vacation and that we were vague to our family and friends about where we were going. I nearly punched a man on a houseboat trip one night when his flash lit the area where I was sitting. I flew out of my chair, angry and yelling. My husband, more calm, got to him before I did. I wanted to throw the digital camera in the lake but settled for deleting the photo from the camera. I was wrapped in a sarong, but the people I was talking to were naked. 



We meet Bob and Susan on a houseboat trip at Lake Mead. They live in Las Vegas. She’s a special education teacher and he’s involved in construction. On the top of the houseboat, under the stars, my husband is fucking Susan on an air mattress and Bob is eager to fuck me.  

“Do you have a condom?” I whisper. 

“No, I don’t like them.” 

“Oh. That’s a problem. You can’t put that in me unless you have one.” His erection pushes against me, his hands rub my breasts. 

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope. You don’t know what I have, I don’t know what you have. That’s the rule.”

“But, baby, I don’t have anything. Come on. Is your husband using one?”

“Probably not but that’s his choice. My choice is that you do.”

Five months later, we’re in Las Vegas for a weekend. On a lark, we call Bob and Susan to go to a local well-known club. Unusually, this club allows single men. We meet at Bob and Susan’s and go together. 

They are obviously well known at this club and people greet them warmly. Because it’s Las Vegas, there are a lot of beautiful people. Single men seem to be everywhere and I’m not comfortable. Single men in swing clubs have an intense lion-watching-prey look. It’s unnerving. They don’t shake your hand, they grab a breast. This isn’t play for them; it’s serious and it’s scary. We leave Bob and Susan with plans to meet for breakfast in the morning. 

Over breakfast the next morning, Bob and Susan tell us about their escapades the previous evening. After we left, some friends showed up and they played together for several hours. Susan is almost militantly bisexual and Bob enjoys watching her, especially with a particular woman, who is a frequent partner. They think we might know these people because they spend half their time in Los Angeles working in the porn industry. As a matter of fact, Susan says, the woman last night is on hiatus until her HIV test comes back again. 

“She tested positive last month, but I think it was because she had a cold,” Susan says. “She’s over the cold now and her test should be fine.” 

I’m light-headed. I scoot out of the booth and go to the bathroom to wash my shaking hands. I feel a truck missed me by inches, I can feel the wind as it passes. 

We test clean after we get home. My husband still refuses to use condoms. 



The porn industry overlaps the swing community. Most people who swing would never consider working in the porn industry. Some people who don’t mind having sex in groups don’t mind getting paid for it. And the pay is excellent. When I was 25, a man at a party in LA offered me $5,000 to work one day in his current film. “You’re beautiful, honey, you’ll be a hit.” A single graduate student supporting my son, terribly poor, I was seriously tempted for a moment, but only for the moment. I enjoyed orgies with people I didn’t know, but adding a camera moved what I was doing to another, more substantive, level. He gave me his card in case I changed my mind. “Maybe in my next movie.” 

The porn industry is based in the San Fernando Valley, a few miles north of the LA basin. Many people work in the industry during the week and go home to Las Vegas on the weekends or when they’re not working. Some of the women also strip at the Las Vegas clubs. Many of these people enjoy sex as a recreational activity and go to swing clubs in either city. 

The only documented STD “event” in the swing community was in the 1980s in Minnesota. Apparently, an HIV-positive bisexual man infected several women. After testing everyone who went to the club, the club owners shut down because no one attended parties any more. 

I know of no other documented sexually transmitted disease outbreak in the swing community but I think if there ever is, it’ll be traced to the porn workers who also swing. Swingers say they’re cleaner because they’re more open about their sexuality and more in tune with their bodies. HIV is not easily transmitted through non-gay sex, the thinking goes, so as long as you stay healthy and don’t have sex with homosexual men, you’re fine. Using this line of reasoning, most people don’t use condoms. 



“Are you sure Ruth doesn’t mind?” I whisper to John. We’re twined together in a crib with the curtain drawn. I can hear the grunting, moaning sounds of sex in the playroom. I’m very new to swinging and still surprised at the range of noises people make when they fuck. Ghostly shapes appear in front of the curtain, pause, and move on.

“No, not at all.” John says. “We’re emotionally monogamous. What we do with our bodies doesn’t affect our primary relationship. What matters is where we keep our hearts. Mine belongs to Ruth. This is just for fun.” 

“So you can have sex with other women and she doesn’t care?” 


“What if she has sex with other men? Do you care about that?”

“Why should I? She loves me. Look, what you and I are doing is sex, pure and simple. It’s fun, but it isn’t intimate. Ruth and I make love. It’s completely different. It’s emotional. C’mon, let’s go upstairs and have a drink.” 

There are as many ways to swing as there are people who swing, the saying goes. It’s a spectrum, from soft swinging to sport fucking. Soft swinging means one couple has sex while another couple is also having sex in the same room. The point is to watch the other couple and be watched. There’s no partner swapping and people can get very upset if even hands touch. Often, but not always, this is how the couple has resolved a jealousy issue. Same-room swinging means everyone is in the same room where everyone can keep an eye on what’s happening as partners swap around. It can be very erotic to watch your partner have sex with someone else. This also lets partners make sure intimacy boundaries are not crossed. Free agent swinging means each partner is responsible for any sexual encounters he or she wants to have. Each person works the room or club, finds someone to have sex with and does, independent of what a partner is doing. Orgies are more common at this level. Most swingers are free agents. 

Regardless of how a specific couple resolves having sex with other people, all forms of swinging negotiate the boundaries of intimacy and manage jealousy. Intimacy involves bonding and emotional connections that you don’t want your partner to have with another person. As a friend told me, there’s nothing sexy about watching your wife make love with another man. 

Non-intimate sex with a lot of partners can turn sex into solely a recreational activity, like bowling, devoid of larger meaning other than the transitory feelings of orgasm. Your orgasm is the reason you’re there. If someone else comes, that’s nice, but it’s not really necessary. Other people become masturbatory devices, tools to get you to the promised land, which, without intimacy, can be an emotional desert. This self-centered approach can splash into your primary relationship. You lose the habit of intimate sex, of sex with connection and bonding; you just sport-fuck your way to the next orgasm. 

I met my husband at a private swing party, a single man who enjoyed the lifestyle. Swinging was part of our life together from the beginning. We went through the entire swing spectrum during our marriage. Towards the end, he was sport fucking. As with the lifestyle, initially I didn’t notice the lack of intimacy. As time went on, I knew something was missing but I couldn’t tell you what it was. Like a radio softly playing in the next room, I heard something but I couldn’t make out the words. 


Mid-afternoon the day before, twelve houseboats beached in a secluded cove on Lake Mead. One hundred twenty people are spending four September days and three September nights swimming, sleeping and having as much sex with each other as possible. One couple flew in from Hong Kong, others flew in from around the country. Lake Mead is in the desert outside Las Vegas so it’s hot and dry during the day and warm and soft at night. People bring private speedboats, jet skis, air mattresses, anything to play in the water. 

The boats are parked against each other so you can easily go from boat to boat. I’d been on trips where my feet never came into contact with the shore. It encourages socializing, because people cross your boat to get to another. It’s easy to strike up a conversation as people pass by. 

I curl up on the front of the boat in the shade, wrapped in a sarong, reading a book, morning coffee close at hand. The best part of these trips is the quiet times. I love sleeping under the stars on the top of the boat, love quietly drinking coffee in the morning on the front of the boat while others sleep, love the heat of the day and the coolness of the lake. I’m running a successful small business and need the time away to recharge my sanity. I’m here to sleep, relax, and rest. My husband is here to fuck five or more women every day. 

After 20 years of swinging, I’m picky now about who I have sex with. I’m not interested in sport fucking and stay far way from people who see me as simply new meat. I’m interested in having sex with people who like me, take some time to get to know me, woo me a little. I don’t want just to be someone they haven’t fucked yet. My increasing discomfort with the lifestyle is showing. My husband says I’m not approachable; I have a reputation for not being interested in sex. 

The front of the houseboat is a small area with a barbeque grill and built-in ice chests under both front windows. Five or six plastic yard chairs are scattered around. Between the chairs and the ice chests, 8 or 10 friendly naked people can sit and talk. Or they can fuck. Or, as is often the case, both happen at the same time. Two or three people start fucking and everyone else continues talking and laughing, looking over and around the people fucking, who might also join the conversation. Sometimes the people talking refer to the particular blowjob technique being used or stop talking to watch someone come. Often, I ignore everyone and read. 

As people wake up and start moving around, the most social part of the day begins. Three women I especially like appear on my boat for morning coffee. We always wind up laughing until we cry. Very quickly, we’re telling funny stories. 

As I listen to Pam tell a story about her grown son, I watch a naked man in his mid-sixties work his way down the boats, always keeping an eye on us. Laughter is a strong aphrodisiac. He’s very short, rather heavy, with a dark smooshed-in looking face. Not an attractive man, I think. I lean over to Annie and ask who he is. 

“Oh, no,” she says in her Texas drawl. “His name’s Zach and he’s a pain in the ass. I don’t think he’s going to be allowed back on the trip.” 

He steps down into my boat. Without a word, he slides between the chairs and sits next to me. I’m finishing a funny story and ignore him. As the laughter dies down, he speaks. 

“What’s your name?” he asks. 

I tell him. 

“That’s great.” he says. “Do you want to come fuck me and my wife?” 

I look at him. “Who are you?” I hear Annie snort into her cup. Next to me, Pam’s shoulders start shaking. 

“No, I don’t want to come fuck you or your wife.”

He considers this. “Are you sure?” 

“Yep. Pretty sure.” 

“OK.” He stands up and leaves. I look at the other women and we collapse into the giggles. “I don’t think he gets laid very much.” Annie drawls, sending us into another round of laughter. 



Because happy and comfortable women are more likely to put out, it’s important to maintain an environment that supports happy and comfortable women. Most swing environments are low pressure because pressured women don’t take their clothes off. As with many areas in life, women set the boundaries for what’s acceptable and those boundaries define the lifestyle. Women generally run swinging. 

No means no. A previous yes can become a current no. A woman who says no and is still bothered by a man can raise a hue and cry. This isn’t done lightly because the consequences are serious and immediate and disruptive. 

I’ve done it twice. The worst was a drunk man in a club. He trapped me against a dark wall, pushing his hand down my panties, shoving his fingers in me, mumbling about being a prick tease. I was pinned to the wall. I couldn’t get his hands off me. He was very strong, ripping my lingerie and pulling my hair, forcing his mouth on mine. When I got my mouth away from his, I screamed. 

The result was instantaneous. Three men pulled him off me, another grabbed me as I fell crying. There were no questions, only statements as they carried him out the door. “Get out and don’t come back.” More men helped me to a couch and got me a glass of water. A woman got me tissues. I was cuddled and hugged and stroked. Everyone was upset: the women because it could have been them, the men because they should have seen it coming. The party was disrupted for the rest of the night. I was told that as my scream rang out, men dropped pool cues and drinks and ran to the sound. 

It was attempted rape, but how do you explain that to the straight world? No must mean no when there’s no outside appeal. 



“Have you seen Babs come?” Joe asks the room. “It’s like she has a seizure or something. I don’t know what happens, but it’s amazing. Annie, go get Babs. Tell her I want to make her come.” 

His wife slips out to find Babs. 

We’re in the houseboat after lunch, hiding from the serious desert heat of the afternoon. Meals are loose affairs, anyone on the boat at lunch stays and eats. We have maybe 10 people. 

Joe laughs and digs through his suitcase. “I brought this amazing vibrator. I want to use it with Babs. This’ll get her. You have to see this.” He pulls out a large wand with a knobby end. Plugging it in, he turns it on. The lights in the houseboat dim and come back up. The vibrator growls and shakes Joe’s arm. This is a weapon. Joe laughs and turns it off. 

Babs comes in with Annie. Babs was a prison guard and professional body builder when she was younger. Now retired at 60, she still works out and looks great. Men and women follow her around day and night, hoping for a few minutes. They usually get them. 

“Come here, Babs,” Joe says. “I want to show everyone how you come.”

Babs claps her hands. “Do me, baby!” she laughs. Joe spreads a towel in the middle of the floor and pats it. Babs lays on her back and spreads her legs. Joe moves between them and starts licking her. He turns on the vibrator. Babs moans and lifts her hips. The room is silent, except for the vibrator and Bab’s moans. My husband is stroking Annie who’s stroking back. Several people are stroking themselves. I see a predatory look in people’s eyes that I don’t like. Babs continues moaning, the vibrator continues vibrating, and, suddenly, I know what’s wrong. 

My sex life is performance after performance, my performance and other people’s. We’re looking for the next thrill, the next exciting thing because the last thing wore off. We add more bodies, more devices, more moving parts, more of anything to get to the next orgasm. I’m not valued here. I can’t be beautiful here because there is no beauty here. We’re ugly people trying to fill the void left by something we don’t know we’ve lost. 

This will cost my marriage. When my husband isn’t fucking someone else, he’s planning to fuck someone else or he’s telling me about fucking someone else as he’s fucking me. I need something else—I need intimacy, I’m starving for intimacy and beauty, and I can’t find these things on the floor of a houseboat with ten people watching. 

It’s time to say no to all of this. 



On the way back to the harbor that last trip, Pam tells me she and Stephen are splitting up after 17 years as business partners in an air cargo business and as domestic partners. Swinging isn’t working for Stephen anymore, either, but he has a different solution. 

“He’s flying to Thailand to set up cargo deals and going to the child brothels,” Pam says. “When he’s home, all he does is watch the porn channels and jerk off. He doesn’t want to do anything else. I can’t keep living this way. I mean, he’s fucking little girls.” 



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