Singers Galore
Partner swapping comes out of closet

Partner swapping comes out of closet

Swinging, the practice of swapping romantic partners, has had a makeover.
Gone are the big-hair, gold-chain '70s-style swingers who gathered in suburban tract homes. Today's energetic couplings have made their way into mainstream resorts and upscale commercial venues.

"There are people who see the market potential and are opening clubs and agencies to cater to the lifestyle," said Tony Lanzaratta, a former Los Angeles police officer who is executive director of NASCA, a national organization of swingers. "The lifestyle tour and travel industry has more than tripled in the last five years."


For instance, more than 4,000 swingers recently took over the 17-story Radisson Hotel in Miami Beach, Fla. Each January, about 2,000 swingers take over a Jamaican resort called Hedonism. Thousands of swingers are expected at a national convention in Reno this month.

The typical swingers are in their 30s or 40s and have solid jobs and relationships -- and disposable income, Lanzaratta said.

NASCA, known as the North American Swing Club Association before it went international, has been approached by a "major hotel chain" about opening five- star resorts catering to swingers, Lanzaratta said.
The movement has changed in other ways. Experts who have studied swingers say women now are the ones running clubs, organizing events and embracing this newfound libertinism.

"Women are more liberated. They're the ones who are driving this movement today," said Dr. Ted McIlvenna, president of the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco.

McIlvenna, who is 70, a former United Methodist minister and not a swinger himself, has studied sex clubs for more than 25 years and began tracking swingers 12 years ago.

Generally, McIlvenna said, it's the man who wants to try swinging and the woman who wants to go back.

"The woman might like the stuff that's going on, but her family-forming behavior kicks in," McIlvenna said. "She likes the sense of community. The man is simply going to get laid."

Every weekend, in cities from San Jose to Novato and Hayward to San Francisco, heterosexual couples pay to "swing," or swap romantic partners.
The Bay Area has 22 couples-only swing clubs registered on the NASCA Web site, where the motto is, "For those who want more than just one bite." Countless other clubs operate on their own. An estimated 500 such clubs operate across the country.

"This is not for everyone," said NASCA's Lanzaratta. "We're not trying to gain acceptance from the general public."

Nonetheless, swinging is finding its way into glossy magazines, popular television shows and movie houses.

Documentaries including "Sex With Strangers" are showing in mainstream theaters and garnering guardedly positive reviews. HBO's hit series "Six Feet Under" recently featured a swingers party. The March issue of French Vogue included a story on the rise of swing clubs.

Harry Gantz, a producer of "Sex With Strangers," believes the swing movement is just now "coming out." It has inched into more mainstream and upscale circles, he says, but for many there remains a fear of condemnation.
"In 25 states, you can run for office and be openly gay, but if you come out and say you're married and that you have sex with other couples, you won't get elected," Gantz said.

A backlash followed the release of the movie. Four of the seven people featured lost their jobs when employers found out they were swingers, according to Gantz.

"Marriage is still the most sacred institution in our country," Gantz said. "To the point that you reveal an alternative to that, there will be a backlash. "
McIlvenna, the director of the sexuality institute, believes the taboo is slowly lifting.

"Whether this sort of thing is good or bad is impossible to say," he said. "It's more about how you view your own sexuality. From the couples we've studied, it doesn't end in divorce, but it doesn't solve problems either. For many, it's just a diversion."

Sex clubs, which are legal, require a business license and change of use permit to operate. Local health departments issue guidelines for operation but generally leave it up to the proprietors to promote safe sex and monitor activities.

By law, clubs provide only spaces where sex is in the open, rather than in private rooms.

The owner of Lush, a private sex club in San Francisco, said safety is promoted before the doors open. The club requires that reservations be made live, over the phone. A reservationist screens callers to get a sense of experience. The club does not advertise. First-time visitors are generally referred by a member.
The owner, who asked not to be named, said he had opened the club to provide a "cool but sophisticated" atmosphere.

"Before Lush, there were only house or hotel parties," he said. "Everything felt very left-over from the '70s and '80s. I thought it was time to modernize it. We wanted to bring in the club lifestyle, have house music, make it cool."
Visitors to Lush pay $80 per couple. Single men or women are not admitted. A dress code is enforced -- no jeans or athletic attire allowed. The mantra of swingers is "no means no." If a couple asks another to "play," a no is to be taken as politely as yes.

On a recent Saturday night at Lush, situated on a side street near the city's Civic Center, couples danced to house music spun by a disc jockey and chatted with other couples seated at tall cafe tables or on love seats nearby. There were no drugs or alcohol for sale, although some couples had brought their own bottles of wine and champagne. A white-tablecloth buffet was set up, offering chocolates, strawberries, sodas and mineral water.

Throughout the night, which began at 10 and wound down after 3 a.m., couples made their way from the dance floor to the dimly lit upstairs.
Some couples spent the evening clothed, walking hand in hand, watching the action. Most, though, became active participants. Lockers were available to stash clothes and bags.

Two rooms had gauze curtains, offering the guise of privacy. Couples streamed by, pulling back curtains to peer in. In one room, a couple from Sonoma waited for partners. The husband was dressed, the wife lay nude on her stomach. Mattresses were covered in white sheets. A hallway decorated with faux vines led to one large room, with bunk-bed-style tiers of mattresses.
Bowls were filled with condoms. The upstairs bathroom included a shower.

Lana Trumm and Yuri Shiller, who have been married for 10 years, started swinging two years ago. Shiller had heard of the club and wanted to try it out.
They've been regulars ever since. On a good night, there are 200 people at Lush.

Trumm, who is 35, is candid about her many loves, which include: her husband, sex with her husband, sex with strangers, art, dance and Russian food,
particularly potatoes, salt fish and salami. Tall, thin, blond and blue-eyed, she was born in Siberia and danced with the St. Petersburg ballet.

Shiller, 48, was born in Leningrad. The two met when she was modeling, and he was a fashion photographer. Today, living in San Francisco, both do conceptual art. He is prone to discoursing on how swinging improves society and likening good sex to good art. She is more practical.

"We are living our fantasy," he said. "I'm glad when Lana finds something good at Lush. If it's something she needs and makes her happy, then I feel happy."
Trumm, who crinkles her nose when she smiles, confesses that she likes making her husband "a little bit" jealous. She said it made him want her more.
"Lush has made our life much more interesting," she said. "We are closer than ever before. It's very sexy."

Before the evening had ended, Shiller and Trumm played with several other couples.
"The first couple was especially good," Trumm said later. "I fell in love. It was the first time we'd met, although they'd been to Lush before. The guy was very handsome. We danced for a while. We went upstairs. It was easy. The sex was spectacular."

No names were exchanged. No plans were made to see each other again.
"Sometimes it's enough to be with one person for one hour," Trumm said. "I just want great sex. I don't need someone to have breakfast with."
She added, "We want to fall in love a few times a night. That's why we go to Lush. To find love."

Today's partner swapping is more upscale, perhaps more accepted Julian Guthrie, Chronicle Staff Writer.
Tuesday, July 9, 2002
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