Written by ky-ky
Into the swing of things
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Christine*, a 50-year-old straight female, enjoys recreational sex in the same way that she loves her cats and antique collection. Her 50-year-old partner lists swinging on the nzpersonals.co.nz website alongside his other interests " American cars and trucks, getting out on his boat and staying at their bach.
Together, they run Wellington's only professional swinging club, the Silverado Swingers, holding sex parties at their home down a suburban street in Upper Hutt. Once every three weeks, on a Saturday night, 1.8m high gates swing open at 7pm, welcoming up to 20 cars, which can park on the property.
At these swinging parties, guests are served supper, wine, beer, splits, tea and coffee. "Once we have introduced ourselves to you and taken your fee at the door, you will be given your first drink. Then it is a chance to mingle with the other guests. Couples will start to pair off and move to the rooms. You can go and watch or you may be invited to join in," they write in Silverado Swingers' "code of conduct".
The website Kiwiswingers.com claims that about 50,000 people are either swingers or curious about swinging.
Swingers are adding recreational sex to the weekend's itinerary, alongside a child's birthday party and a son's soccer game. Key parties used to be the most common way to indulge in erotic activity with other couples, but the internet has fuelled the growth of these "organised lifestyle parties".
"The lifestyle has grown so quickly in recent years that wherever you live, you won't have trouble finding it. It is not an underground group of people any more. It is a sexual orientation of friendship mainly, between couples who claim to have overcome jealousy," writes Anthony Snow, on Kiwiswingers.com
Group sex is hot news right now, since serving police officers were allegedly videotaped using police equipment such as handcuffs and batons in consensual group-sex sessions while on duty. Helen Clark was disgusted, and Assistant Police Commissioner Rob Pope warned his troops: "Group sex by police staff on duty using police equipment is totally unacceptable behaviour. It was unacceptable in the '80s and is equally unacceptable today."
In defence, Clint Rickards' lawyer, John Haig QC, claimed that "half of New Zealand has done it", while one of those under investigation, former detective Warren Gerbich, said group sex is happening "in 500 houses and probably your one".
Are we shunning monogamy and treating recreational sex like a game of tennis? Mitch Smith, the founder of nzpersonals.co.nz, thinks so, after watching the chat on his dating website get kinkier by the day since he set it up in 2000.
The IT developer has been staggered how many couples have joined the site " 15 per cent of the 30,000 current members. They're men and women who want to partner-swap, have sex with a male or female stranger, and indulge in group sex. Many are professionals. Many seek discretion. When it comes to ticking the box of different activities and relationships, they typically want to experiment, choosing all 24 options: everything from friendship and flirting, to nudism, "water sports", partner swapping and orgies. And 62% of all members have ticked "group sex" as an interest.
And they're organising drinks in "a classy Auckland wine bar", followed by sex. "I'm surprised that there are more adult activities on the site than clean ones," says Smith. "There's an option to hold a normal old BBQ if you like, but as far as I'm aware, that option has never been used."
When he launched his website while searching for a partner, most dating websites were either small or based overseas, making any physical contact nearly impossible. Nzpersonals.co.nz covered all sexualities and genders. It was "so damned popular" that it became a full-time job.
"I'm not easily shocked, but it's fair to say that I created the website and it's evolved out of necessity," says Smith. "Members sometimes develop a little community of people and they'll often hold regular parties, with the same people going along. They advertise to bring in fresh meat, if you like."
The internet has made swinging and group sex more available and easier to organise, says Waikato University masters student Maureen Marsh. She is writing up her social-science thesis, Love on the Line, and says we're becoming desensitised to sexual experimentation.
"When we are exposed to these new paradigms, a process of normalisation can occur where society starts to view these activities as 'normal'. It's like homosexuality, which was once labelled a curable mental illness by the psychology fraternity not so long ago, but is now deemed relatively 'normal' within society," she says.
Most sex parties and events take place in Auckland, which is home to three established swinging clubs and several small, private ones. Other swinging clubs, such as Club Fun4all, travel from their Hawkes Bay location to hotels and motels in the North Island each month, inviting the 200 couples on their list. They claim to have held 70 parties since 2002.
This month, you could attend a sex party in Dunedin arranged by "married but bored" " a 32-year-old "bicurious" woman " or a swinging party put on by a 41-year-old bisexual man and woman from Palmerston North, who write: "We are an easy-going couple with no hang-ups, looking for other couples for adult fun and friendship. No time-wasters please."
Over Easter, a 45-year-old couple hopped in a minivan in Nelson and headed to Christchurch, taking part in an "erotic bus tour" with two other swingers. Along the way, they stopped at motels for sexual romps, and pulled into Hanmer Springs for a sexy dip.
Corey, a hospitality worker, runs The Scene, a swinging club for 18 to 30-year-olds in Auckland, which operates like a members-only private party. Most swinging parties are traditionally for older couples, he says, and his targets a younger crowd. "A lot of the younger people want to do this, too, but they don't want to go along and see a grandmother in the corner, or turn up and find their parents there."
Each month, he invites about 60 couples to one of the sex parties, and of those, about 15 turn up. They're a mix of people " university students, professionals and "everyday workers" " all of whom have been screened before attending. They arrive between 7pm and 8.30pm at the hired hotel, which usually has two bedrooms and a pull-out sofa bed in the living room, and pay $30 to $45 for the evening.
Corey explains there are a lot of hidden costs in hosting a swinging party. "You've got to launder the towels and sheets, provide condoms and lube, nibbles and drinks. There's the time spent at the computer, texting and emailing everyone, and then the time confirming it."
What happens next? "People have a few drinks and they mix and mingle. There'll be porn on the TV and some nice music. One or two couples will get things started and then it's all on from there. Sometimes you'll start with a game, where a couple will show their erotic tattoos off and that sort of thing.
"There are no hard-and-fast rules about what happens. Some of the couples will just have sex with the same partner in the same room, and sometimes there'll be a full-on orgy. Some couples are a bit nervous and they'll just come along and watch, but we've never had anyone walk out."
Safe sex is mandatory, and sexual hygiene is also important.
At Victoria University, Dr Pat Moloney is one of two lecturers running a sexuality studies programme, which teaches undergraduates about sex across many disciplines " art history, political science, women's studies, and sociology.
Moloney thinks that despite the boom of sex and dating sites on the internet, we're still a fairly prudish nation. We may be liberal about homosexuality, prostitution and civil unions (confirmed by our laws) but some of us are intolerant of what we perceive as a growing sexual "permissiveness".
"In the absence of comprehensive surveys, it is difficult to say whether Kiwis are more sexually adventurous today than they were in 1987 or 1967. Coupling remains the norm and marriage is still extremely popular," he says. "There was more experimentation of 'group sex' or communal living in the counter-culture of the 1970s than there is today. Most European countries would be more relaxed about nudity and sexually explicit themes in the mass media than New Zealanders seem comfortable with."
Wendy Lee, co-owner of D. Vice, a Wellington-based company that makes upmarket sex toys aimed at couples, reckons we're in the midst of a swinging revival. People are becoming more sexually adventurous. "(Swinging) was quite big in the '70s, too, and it seems to be back again. Sexuality is talked about a lot more these days. You can't help but open your email inbox and be bombarded with it and programmes like Sex and the City have certainly helped."
Swinging today, says Lee, has strict codes of conduct " no means no, for example " and it's a chance for people to experiment outside their relationship. "It means they don't have to have an affair. It's an agreed forum for that to happen. People are better informed about sex and they're aware of the difference between a really exciting sex life and not."
The main issue is ensuring sure all participants are 100% keen. "There are lots of sexual practices that some people could disprove of strongly, like being tied up. Some people might find that erotic and others degrading. It's all about consent."
Martha* is a 40-year-old professional and mother-of-two who has been swinging for a year. She began when her lover at the time invited her to a swingers party. She was curious. "I was nervous. That sort of thing had always been taboo. But I was 40 at the time and I was interested in exploring a different side of my sexuality. We talked about it a lot before I went along."
Her first time was nerve-racking. They met another couple for a coffee, and then met them in a private and discreet location where they all had sex. "When it was all happening, I was very relaxed because I trusted X and was guided by him. It was really liberating. Afterwards, we talked about it and I had liked it so I wanted to do it again."
Some family and a few close friends know about her other life. Work colleagues would probably be shocked. She has swapped partners, had same room sex, and simply watched others having sex. She has explored different sexual positions. She has gone to swinging parties, at hotels and houses, where up to eight people are there.
Sometimes, predatory men are asked to leave. But generally, the rules are strict " no means no, and if you don't like someone you don't have to "play" with them.
*Denotes a name has been changed.