Originally published in June/July 2004.
The sweat is beading on Patrick’s forehead as he pushes toward the end of his Easter-morning workout. The bedside clock reads 12:32 A.M. Just outside the walls of this Holiday Inn in Batavia, New York, semis roll past moonlit pastures toward the Canadian border. Another blip of the clock and now Patrick is huffing heavily. He grunts, shudders, and collapses. He is winded but happy. The woman beneath him begins to purr. His wife, sitting in a straight-back chair 12 feet away, seems satisfied too as she quietly flirts with a naked accountant.
It’s not easy to watch a guy you just met have sex, to see his unvarnished ass pistoning in the air. It’s not much easier to listen to the gull cries of the 26-year-old whose jackknifed knees are gripping the sides of his rib cage. But this second-floor hospitality suite is full of people who have no trouble taking in such spectacles. At the moment, a handful of them are leaning against the wallmembers in postcoital repose, breasts still heavinglike athletes between meets, ready to cheer on their fellow Olympians.
Such is the cozy life of the suburban swinger, a breed that national organizers loosely estimate at 3 million strong, filling countless hotel rooms, nightclubs, and homes across the nation. I’ve known Patrick for only six hours. We have shaken hands, shot the shit about Iraq and NAFTA, complained about that putz Kwame on The Apprentice. He seemed every bit the 36-year-old stay-at-home dad from Rochester that he is. But that was before the hotel bar, before the plates of fried mozzarella, the Playboy Bunny-themed dance in which half-naked women fished chocolate eggs from men’s G-strings using only their teeth, before Patrick hefted the breast of a nursery-school teacher at a banquet table and began suckling to the sounds of “Night Moves.”
Now here I am, surrounded by 30 copulating couples, being beckoned by the sweaty redhead beneath Patrick. Ever the gentleman, he steps back and says in a winded Barry White baritone, “She wants you, dude.”
In the seventies, suburban swinging meant key parties, Connecticut ranch houses, guys with Donald Sutherland mustaches fast-humping women with Julie Christie shags. Today, swingers are still ordinary people, with lots of ordinary pimples and spare tires and bad haircuts. In fact, the first thing you notice at a swinger swap is just how god-awful ordinary and predictable and often plus-size everyone is.
Their demographics are evenly divided between blue-staters and red-staters. They are nurses, teachers, bikers, CEOs. They are eating lunch in the next booth at Arby’s, running your company, riding your ass on the Interstate, caring for your kids or your sick mom, the wives of soldiers fighting in Iraq.
What separates them from their undermanicured ancestors is technology and big business. These days swingers post his-and-her photo adsin matching G-stringson the Internet. They belong to thousand-member clubs. They take over entire hotels at Caribbean resorts. They have Vegas conventions, advocacy groups, civil-rights lawyers. “The whole movement is very well-organized, very mature,” says Tony Lanzaratta, executive director of NASCA International, the North American Swing Club Association, which boasts some 700 member affiliates. “It’s growing again in the cities. But the suburbs is still the hottest place for swingers.”