Not very long ago, we had week of sex-positive fun and education in Seattle. We've been planning the opening of our sex-positive café and community center in St. Louis – a place we’ve decided to call “Shameless Grounds”. Our Seattle trip was half research, half networking, and all fun. We've spent the last seven days talking to people who have run, or are running, similar sex-positive businesses, and generally hanging out with a bunch of lovely sex-positive people.
One of our learning experiences during the week was our very first trip to a “Lifestyle Club” (read: Swinger's Club). My wife and I are not swingers – or at least, I should say, we don't consider ourselves to be primarily affiliated with swinging. We are, however, into BDSM and kinky sex, we have polyamorous friends, we have swinger friends, and we enjoy hanging out with a crowd that values diversity and exploration. Also, we consider ourselves generally sex-positive. Within our own relationship, we have discussed some forays into non-monogamy, but haven’t yet done anything about it. So when we found ourselves on the receiving end of an invitation to a Saturday night party at the oldest continuously-operating Lifestyle Club in the US, a quote from the 80’s movie Risky Business came to mind:
Sometimes… you just gotta say ‘what the fuck’.
We thought we’d share our own experiences in this first testing-of-the-waters, in case you might be considering the idea of consensual non-monogamy. Maybe seeing the situation through our eyes will help you discuss or realize some of the things you want to talk about with your partner when it comes to exploring a less exclusive sexuality in your relationships.
How this blog works
Over the course of these blog posts, there will be two versions of each section – one written by Andy, and the other by Michelle. We’ll each present our perspectives on everything from initially learning of the invitation, to discussing whether or not we wanted to accept, to negotiating just what we would/wouldn’t do, and finally, our actual experience at the club.
Here’s the key. As we wrote our thoughts down, we did so without reading the other’s description first. You’re getting fresh, unadulterated, individual viewpoints.
Often, individuals within a relationship, when they know their partner’s opinion on something, will tend to temper their own point of view and nudge it closer to their partner’s, in an attempt to either avoid conflict, or to present a “united front”. We wanted to avoid that temptation, and give you as clear a picture of what was going on in our heads as possible. So neither of us knew what the other had written to begin with – and we wrote our individual stories before we talked at length with each other about the experience. In the sake of full disclosure, I will say that we both had checked in with each other to some extent immediately after the event, and that we knew we’d each had fun, and that there were neither of was harboring downright horrible thoughts about it, or considered it to be an unwelcome experience. But that’s really ALL we knew about how the other felt.
So what you are getting is a fairly clean and unfiltered representation of our true, inner viewpoints. We each experienced the club in a unique way, and saw it from rather different perspectives. Additionally, there were several surprises along the way for each of us. We hope that our blog will provide information and insights to help you along the path to whatever relationship goals you seek.
Andy’s Background – in his own words[pullquote]As somebody who identifies as ‘sex-positive’, I still struggle to come to grips with the term “swinging” because I was fed such incredibly sex-negative things about it in my youth.[/pullquote]
Certainly, the idea and practice of consensual non-monogamy falls within the arena of ethical sex-positive living. And one of the main tenets of the modern sex-positive movement is the “live and let live” mentality. Whatever gets you off is fine, as long as it involves mutual, informed, consent. And, frankly, the idea of getting to check out a swinger event got me a little horny. So despite some latent ‘swingerphobia’, I opened my mind and forged ahead.
One additional note: I should also point out that I am straight-ish. I’m an LGBT ally, and I’m not ‘straight as an arrow’, but I’m more straight than not. And while I actively work to overcome hetero-normative values that were programmed into me during my youth, I’m still a work in progress. You’ll find that hetero-normative perspectives find their way into my writing from time to time. My account is written from my own innately imperfect perspective. So please keep in mind that my particular perspective brings a certain set of filters into play, and substitute your own filters to re-sift and reach different conclusions, as necessary.
M’s Background – in her own words[pullquote]The first thing you should know about me is that I was raised in a fairly conservative household. [/pullquote]My Mother is a Catholic and my father is the son of a First Christian minister. That sentence can, I’m sure, give you a small glimpse of the sexual ideas that I was raised with. The “sex talk” I received from my mother at the onset of puberty consisted of 10 words: “Umm…you don’t have any questions about anything do you?” My parents are as non-sexual as people can be. Despite all that, I grew up kinky. My favorite game as a child was to pretend I’d been kidnapped, tied to a chair and forced to masturbate while my kidnappers watched. When my Mom discovered her pre-pubescent daughter playing this particular game, she wasn’t pleased (to say the least). Every time it happened, I was told it was bad/naughty/dirty and was spanked. Along with bestowing upon me a penchant for impact play, the constant negative reinforcement taught me that being sexual – even in private – was bad.
As of now, I classify myself as monogamous and mostly heterosexual. I’ve never been with a woman, but I am attracted to them and would not dismiss the idea of making love to another woman. In the BDSM world, I consider myself a Switch – I can play as a Top or Bottom depending on my partner and my mood. (Yes…a bisexual female Switch… a true Unicorn.)
Swinging, as I understand the term, has never been anything I’ve been interested in. I think perhaps it has to do with the fact that I have trouble reaching orgasm with someone that I don’t know quite well – again, thanks in large part to the conditioning I received as a child. I need to be intimate with my partner on many different levels in order to share that part of myself with them. Since it’s pretty much impossible to reach that level of trust with someone I just met over dinner, I’ve haven’t considered swinging to be a viable option for me. There are also some personal hang-ups having to do with body image as well. I’ve never been a thin person and I was an awkward teen. I identify with nerds and geeks, not with the “cool kids”. I sometimes still find it difficult to believe that people would find me attractive. Swinging has always seemed like something that “the beautiful and popular people” did for fun, and that I wouldn’t fit in.
The Invitation – Andy’s Point of View
It began when I was texting with an old high-school friend who lives in Seattle. I was telling her that my wife Michelle (M) and I were coming to Seattle on a working vacation, and we wanted to get together with her for dinner some night. Naturally, she asked what we were going to be doing in Seattle. So I shared the fact that we were opening a “cafe and community center”, and we were going to be there doing research for it. (Hint: Never try to tell a partial-truth to an old friend. It only makes them more curious. I mean really… as soon as I said the words “community center” I knew she was going to ask “what kind of community center?”)
Not wanting to freak out my long-time friend, I somewhat nervously and carefully related the story of our background in BDSM and kinky sex, and our idea for the cafe and community center. As it turns out, I needn't have worried. When I was done telling my story about how we were into kinky sex, it was her turn to give up a little inside info. Turns out, she and her boyfriend belonged to “this club”… and they were into “sharing”. One thing led to another, and the next day, we found ourselves invited to a Saturday evening party there.[pullquote]Okay… we have an opportunity here to experience something new and interesting. Do we want to have this experience?[/pullquote]
The Invitation – Michelle’s Point of View
I admit it. I used to be a little bit jealous when it came to his friend in Seattle – we’ll call her “Jane.” He mooned over her for years. She was beautiful, popular, intelligent, loved airplanes and Ford Mustangs. She knew all his stories and they had their own inside jokes. I wasn’t threatened really – just a bit jealous. He’s my best friend now, but she had him first. Quite silly, but it’s how I felt. I knew we’d be spending time with her during our visit, but when I got the text message telling me that she’d invited us to a Swing club I couldn’t believe it. She just didn’t seem to me to be the type of person that would be into that kind of kink. It was shocking. Then I realized that Andy was now possibly looking forward to this trip for an entirely new reason.
Go or No-Go Decision – Andy’s Point of View
First, I had to tell my wife that we'd been invited to a swinger's party by my long-time female friend. Hmmm. Okay. That might be a fairly big hurdle for a lot of couples. And a few years ago, it would have been a pretty big hurdle for us too. But in the last few years we’ve gotten a whole lot better about talking to each other and trusting each other. So in our current world, it was still a bit of surprise, but it was a relatively minor bump.
After I told her about the invitation, the next question to address was whether or not we wanted to accept. Our discussion centered around one basic question: “Okay… we have an opportunity here to experience something new and interesting. Do we want to have this experience?”
I should say that I wanted to go from the outset, for a number of reasons, some lofty, some less so. On the lofty side, we're both total sluts for new learning experiences, and this fit in well with our networking and research for the community center. Receiving an invitation to hang out with an alt-sex community that we weren't very familiar with, seemed like a perfect chance to make friends and establish new ties. On the less lofty side, I really wanted to see my old high-school crush naked, and the idea of going to a swinger’s club meshes pretty well with my (stereotypically male) endorphin receptors.
As it turned out, at the end of the discussion, we decided, yes, we’d go. I’ll be very interested to read about what M’s decision-making process was like.
Go or No-Go Decision – Michelle’s Point of View
I spent a goodly amount of time examining my feelings. I decided that the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen was that he’d have sex with her, decide he loved her more than he loved me and we’d split up. It was completely heart wrenching to even think about it, but I love him enough that I honestly wouldn’t want him to stay with me if he didn’t want to. Once I admitted to myself that there was a possibility of that (no matter how small), I could be a bit more rational.
My rational thoughts were these: even if he had sex with her, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Most likely it would be more like kissing his sister and neither one of them would even make it to the actual sex. However, there was still the possibility of connecting with other people at the club. Was that so bad really? No. Perhaps a year ago, before we had started really talking to each other, it could have been a problem, but not now. I was confident that even if I met someone there that I wanted to be with, or he clicked with someone, we’d still find our way back to each other. What we have goes deeper than just physical attraction. I think I told him that night or perhaps the next day that I wasn’t against going to the party and that it sounded like it could be fun.