Orgies, says writer Steve Kraus, are no longer “just for aristocrats… It’s all very democratic now. Any guy with a few bucks can get his wife or girlfriend and experience the pleasures of kings, so to speak.”

Swinging Swings Back

The woman was laying on a mattress in the middle of the room. She was on her back with her knees bent, and even in the dim light of the mat room, it was obvious she worked out regularly. She wasn’t pumped up like a body builder, but she had the small arm muscles and the board flat belly of a woman who had seen the inside of a gym. She was short, maybe five one or five two, she looked to be about 28 years old. She had close-cropped peroxide-blonde hair, tiny bathing-suit lines across her top and bottom, and a thin silver chain around her neck. That chain was the full extent of what this woman was wearing.

At least I think it was. I can’t be 100 percent sure, because my view was partly obstructed. The blonde with the board-flat belly was not exactly alone.

This was Friday night at Le Trapeze, the busiest couples-only sex club in New York City. It was a little before midnight, and the place was filling up. There are many things about Le Trapeze that are striking to the first-time visitor, but nothing was more immediately striking than this:

Almost nobody was wearing clothes. Almost nobody, that is, aside from the soft-spoken manager, the English-accented attendant in the coed locker room, and the people who were just trickling in from the street. Just about everyone else in the club was in some stage of undress: in a towel, in bathing trunks, or, like the blond woman in the mat room, as bare-ass naked as could be.

Yet none of these people looked the least bit uncomfortable as they wandered through the club’s interconnecting rooms.

The space that is now Le Trapeze, on East 27th Street in Midtown Manhattan, used to be a hotel restaurant, done up in the style of one of those Ye Olde English pubs. The dark woods and the beamed ceilings are still the way they were before, but if Queen Victoria had any inkling of what was going on in this former outpost of the motherland, surely she’d be spinning in her grave.

And who could blame her? All these couples on the make, climbing in and out of the oversize hot tub. The naked and the nearly naked, piling into heaps here and there; traipsing up and down the spiral staircase to a warren of open-door cubicles; lounging across a special seating contraption that someone must have borrowed from a gynecologist’s examining room; hustling back and forth to the buffet table for cold cuts, pasta, and coffee. Then, after a breather, quickly heading back for more.

These people had paid $70 a couple to be here — $85 for the first-timers — and none of them seemed interested in hiding off in some corner by themselves.

But on this particular evening, the busiest place by far was the mat room.

Couples came and went, although the census never dipped much below two dozen people. The room had high ceilings and mirrors all around. Every inch of floor space was covered by mattresses, and pillows were propped against three and a half of the room’s four walls. The lighting was indirect, and the conditions felt purposefully close.

The blond woman had entered a few minutes earlier with a young, stocky man. Her husband? Her boyfriend? I didn’t ask; they didn’t say. And I wasn’t about to disturb them now. He was on his knees, crouched between her open legs. His chin was almost on the ground, and she didn’t seem to mind at all what he was doing with his tongue. In fact, she was moaning softly, breathing hard, and clenching her fists by her sides.

In a moment they were joined by another couple, this pair a little older and several degrees less physically fit. Did the four of them know one another? Not as far as I could tell. And no one said a word. The two women just exchanged consenting glances, and soon the blonde was having her breasts kissed by the woman who had just arrived. Then the younger woman turned her head to the left and started giving the older woman’s date a blowjob.

You almost needed a scorecard to keep track of what went where next. Man No. 1 started screwing Woman No. 2. Woman No. 1 and Woman No. 2 played with each other’s crotch. Man No. 2 received a second blowjob from woman No. 1 — on his side this time, with his legs tucked into his chest. The two of them moved on to old-fashioned missionary-style screwing, while Man No. 1 did it to Woman No. 2 from behind.

When everyone was finished, the two couples sprawled out side-by-side on two adjacent mattresses, still not speaking, just lying there.

As there were 14 other couples in the mat room at this particular moment, the number of conceivable sexual combinations was extraordinarily high. And it was impossible to keep track of exactly who had come in with whom.

In any event, three couples were having intercourse of one variety or another. Others were having oral sex — man on woman, woman on man. Several couples were in the same state as our exhausted foursome, lying beside one another on one of the mattresses — perhaps hugging or caressing — recuperating, getting ready, or just taking in the show.

On the left side of the room, a man was standing on one of the mattresses holding a woman in his arms. She had her legs wrapped around his waist, and he was supporting her buttocks with his hands. They were swaying back and forth for what seemed like a long time but was probably just a minute or two. They must have finished then, or maybe the strain of holding her like that was more than the poor guy’s knees could take. Whatever the reason, both of them let out roaring moans. When I looked over, they were collapsing to the floor.

What on earth is going on here? Don’t these people know this is the 1990s?

What about Al OS? What about all those other sexually transmitted diseases? What about that New Puritanism we’ve all been reading about? Where are the condoms? There wasn’t a condom in sight, except for the jarful I noticed in a display case where Le Trapeze T-shirts and Le Trapeze negligees were for sale. Are these people nuts?

“A lot of women are very enthusiastic about this.”

That’s a lot of questions, and there are no easy answers to some of them. But this much is growing increasingly clear: After a long hiatus, some of the wilder, more promiscuous sexual habits of a decade or two ago are coming back into fashion — with a bang.

Anyone who doubts this should spend an evening at Le Trapeze.

The last time people paid any attention to these places was in the 1970s and early 1980s. Plato’s Retreat, also in New York City, received tons of publicity back then, and the place came to symbolize a whole era of sexual abandon. Huge crowds would show up at Plato’s and act as if they had just arrived at an orgy in ancient Rome. People were screwing people they’d never met before. Frequently, names weren’t even exchanged, only bodily fluids. Piles of three, four, five, six people — these grope-togethers could get pretty large. And privacy? It was as if no one had ever heard the word.

Everyone knows what happened next. The AIDS epidemic began.

People got scared. Death and disease became major parts of the sexual equation. Apprehension replaced lust as the guiding emotion of sex. Before you knew it, Plato’s and most of its imitators seemed to be gone.

It wasn’t necessarily that people were having less sex, although some people had obviously cut back. It was that people started following a new rule book — a rule book, it turned out, that wasn’t so different from the one that had guided their parents and grandparents into adulthood.

Sex with just one partner. Sex only after really getting to know someone. Certainly not sex with someone you just met in a bar — or at the buffet table of a swing club, for God’s sake. And millions of people started using condoms — people who would have laughed at the idea just a few years before.

Obviously, AIDS had a lot to do with this. How could it not? Young people were getting sick and dying, and sex was one of the main reasons why. Stories were in the papers and on television day after day. This was one disease you did not want to get. True, the vast majority of the sufferers were gay men or needle-using drug addicts. But the disease was unspeakably horrible. The deaths were undeniably real. And who knew where it was spreading next?

Well, something surprising happened on the way to “Leave It to Beaver” — land. Somewhere between Rock Hudson and Magic Johnson, sex reared its head again.

Not just sex — promiscuous, romping, mate-swapping sex. Sex with strangers. Sex of the hi-it’s-nice-to-meet-you-let’s-go-to-bed variety. Sex of the kind that used to flourish in places like Plato’s Retreat. Now, a full eight years after the last horny couple climbed out of Plato’s swimming pool, a new generation has started diving in. Plato’s itself is gone, probably forever. But the idea behind it has most assuredly returned.

“It still hasn’t reached the level of the old days,” says New York writer Steve Kraus, who has been chronicling that city’s sex scene for 20 years and was the first journalist ever to detail the goings-on at Plato’s. “But lately, I think the AIDS fear is beginning to abate among heterosexuals who mix it up with other non-needle-using heterosexuals. People have started showing up at these places again.”

There are, right now, something like 200 couples-only sex clubs in regular operation across America, according to the North American Swing Club Association. (Yes, they even have their own trade group.) The clubs are in every region of the country — in cities, suburbs, and small towns. About half of them provide facilities for on-premise sex. The other half — and this may turn out to be the real boom sector of the 1990s — are “off-premise clubs,” set up as meeting places for couples in search of other couples, who then go off together to someone’s living room or to a local motel.

Most of the clubs aren’t eager for publicity. Few of them advertise in the mainstream press. Many of the club operators must tread a careful line between the amorous desires of their members and the heavy hand of the local police.

True, the medical experts warn that AIDS remains a deadly threat for heterosexuals. True, the sexual marketplace had supposedly gone dark for good. But couples are finding their way back to the clubs. Both kinds — the on-premise and the off-premise — are far more crowded than you’d think they would be. And they are in places you’d never expect.

Thirty-nine miles east of Midtown Manhattan, across the street from a sleepy state college on Long Island, the parking lot of the restaurant was nearly full. A couple of BMWs, one or two Mercedes-Benzes. Many more Fords and Toyotas and Chevrolets. All lined up in neat, careful rows. Several of the cars had kiddie seats in the back. One gray Honda had a sign in the window that read BABY ON BOARD.

I didn’t come all this way, certainly, just to look at automobiles. But I’ve always been a believer in the notion that people reveal themselves by what they choose to drive, and I had a hunch that the old rule would hold up tonight. If the cars in the parking lot were any indication, the people inside this restaurant were a fair cross section of the middle-class suburbs that go on for miles from here.

Each time the front door swung open, dance music could be heard outside. But there was no real indication from the parking lot that this was anything other than a typical Saturday night in the suburbs. Except for this: Hanging on the front door, next to where a young woman was collecting the admission charge, was a hand-written sign that read COUPLES ONLY.

Obviously, these men and women weren’t here for the steam-table lasagna. They were here for one another. This gathering was sponsored by a group known as the Couples Social Club, an off-premise swingers organization that’s been meeting at this rented restaurant every Saturday night for nearly a year. Couples is a club in only the vaguest sense of the word. Membership means your name is on a mailing list. Any presentable male and female who show up together at the restaurant are routinely invited in.

The admission charge is $25 per couple. That includes two free drinks, a hot dinner buffet, and an evening’s worth of dancing, mingling, and whatever else might develop among the couples on hand. Nothing explicitly sexual is allowed at these off-premise places. A little dance-floor groping is about as steamy as things are likely to get. For anything more than that, the couples will have to head off into the evening. But the whole idea behind these off-premise swing clubs is to make such rendezvous as easy and comfortable as possible.

“You need a scorecard to keep track of what went where.”

When I arrived, a young couple was standing right inside the door. They introduced themselves as Jim and Debbie. They seemed to be running things. She was petite and blond and had on a white sleeveless blouse and dressy black pants. He was a little more casually dressed — jeans, a sweatshirt, and sneakers. Both of them were perfectly welcoming, and they seemed to be making an effort to show the newcomers around.

“We try to provide a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere, nothing pushy at all,” said Jim, speaking in a very 1990s, laissez-faire tone of voice. “If you meet another couple and want to go off with them, that’s fine. If you start talking to someone and you decide to exchange phone numbers so the four of you can get together later, that’s fine, too. And if you just want to come and dance and talk and have a good time, there’s nothing wrong with that. We have couples coming here week after week — I don’t think they’ve ever gone to bed with anyone.”

As he spoke, maybe 35 couples were scattered around inside, and others were still coming in. There was a crowd by the bar. A few people were out on the dance floor. Others were at tables and booths, talking in twos and fours. They all looked fairly relaxed to me. No one was grabbing at the bodies of strangers. No one was being hustled out into the parking lot. Whatever sell was going on among the couples in attendance, it did not appear especially hard.

Two things were most notable about the crowd, things I had also noticed at Le Trapeze — the great diversity in ages and the great diversity in looks.

Most of the couples appeared to be in their thirties and forties, but quite a few did look older than that. A handful were in their twenties, and one old guy well in his sixties was snuggled up in a booth with a gray-haired grandma-type. These people ran the gamut of physical appearance as well. There were several stunningly beautiful women in the restaurant and some hunky-looking guys. But the group also included a few beer guts and baldies, and many of the women would have no trouble fitting in at the local P.T.A.

By 11 :30 the dance music was revved up loud and the chitchat was hitting high gear.

“My wife and I, we’ve been here, I’d say, five or six times,” said a man standing alone near the bar who introduced himself as Bob. (First names seem to be the universal currency of the swing world. I don’t believe a last name was offered all night.) Bob had on a blue sport coat and a rep tie, and he wore preppy wire-rimmed glasses. “We met quite a few people. We got together with — lemme see — three different couples.”

“So far,” Bob was quick to add. His wife, Cynthia, who had wandered off for a plate of munchies, was now back at her husband’s side.

“They were all nice enough people,” said Cynthia, who had shoulder-length dark hair and huge brown eyes. “One of them … let’s just say we weren’t that compatible with. The guy, mainly. He was one of those I’m-right-about-everything types. Another couple we liked a lot, but maybe not to sleep with. And the third one — they were really hot. It’s funny. The guy was a cop, but he didn’t seem like a cop at all. Very relaxed. The woman, she was that very energetic type. I don’t think Bob minded too much.”

Cynthia smiled at Bob, and Bob smiled back.

“She’s very sweet,” Bob said, veering the conversation onto a safer terrain. “They might be here later on. They were supposed to be coming. Anyway, we’ve gotten together with them a couple of more times after that. Probably we’ll see them some more. Everyone seems to be getting along well.”

So are you using condoms? That was the question I’d been wanting to ask ever since the conversation began. When I finally got around to it, Bob and Cynthia answered almost in unison.

“Yes,” Bob said.

“No,” Cynthia said.

“Well, sometimes,” Bob said.

“Most of the time,” Cynthia said. “We try to.”

With that the two of them caught sight of a couple they recognized and rushed over to say hello.

That’s the way things went all night. Many of the people seemed to be quasi-regulars, running into others they knew from previous evenings at the club or from romps on someone’s couch. The women hugged and said hello. The men exchanged hearty handshakes. Except for the fact that many of these people were screwing one another’s spouse — and doing it quite openly, in fact — this could just as easily have been league night at the local bowling alley.

During the course of the evening, several people told me that they had been to Le Trapeze or one of the other on-premise sex clubs in the city. And mostly they seemed to have enjoyed themselves.

“But there is something nicer about this,” one woman said, a comment that was repeated by others as the night wore on. “You can talk to people. You can get to know them a little bit. It’s almost like going out on a date. With all the creeps out there and all the diseases, you have to be a little more careful about people — not that you can ever tell completely.”

Then she stopped herself, perhaps remembering where she was, and she went on in a manner that would make some AIDS experts squirm. “I’m not saying you can let that get in the way of your fun,” she said. “I’m not one of those. I tell my husband, and he agrees, ‘If the choice came down to sitting at home on Saturday night or taking my chances, I’d take my chances. Every time.’”.

Like any culture, the swing world seems to operate according to its own unspoken rules. And these rules apply, by and large, at both the on- and off-premise clubs. Female-on-female sex is okay, for instance, even encouraged at times. But woe to the man who grabs another man’s penis. That is verboten homosexuality. Good-looking couples clearly have an easier time pairing off than their less attractive counter-parts — the same as in singles bars. But somehow the whiff of ready sex seems to dampen the demand for physical perfection.

“It’s not like you’re getting married to the person,” one man told me in a tone that hinted I might be a little dense. Generally, the couples I met had given at least some thought to the subject of safety in sex. And some of them — especially the off-premise people — insisted they take precautions all the time. But when we· got into the specifics of condom use, quite a few couples turned suddenly vague. Overall, I’m willing to bet that condoms play a bigger role in the conversations than they do in the intercourse.

I got the same upbeat assurances on the topic of jealousy: Most of the couples I’d been talking to said they’d succeeded in taming it. I don’t know. Maybe they insisted a little too much. But I kept coming away with the feeling that this was not entirely true.

A no-nonsense woman in her mid-forties, a Le Trapeze regular who told me she was “very sex-positive” and had been “happily married for 21 years,” told me, “It’s like this. If you can’t talk honestly with the person you’re married to, you have no business messing with any of this. Emotionally, it’s too powerful. You’ll end up depressed.” Be that as it may. In my conversations with these various clubgoers, I heard exceedingly few complaints.

“The two women just exchanged consenting glances. Then the younger woman turned her head to the left and started giving the older woman’s date a blowjob.”

“We never go to regular clubs anymore,” said a man who introduced himself as Roger. His wife, Beth, who was standing with him, was an exquisite-looking woman with long blond hair. She was drinking something blue and syrupy, and she had on a tight black skirt and a tailored sport coat. But she had no blouse underneath — just a black lace brassiere.

“It’s more comfortable here,” Beth said. “If I want to wear something sexy, it’s all right.”

“If we went out to a regular club with her dressed like that,” Roger agreed, “we’d have problems. Guys would be hitting on her. When I went to the bathroom, I’d be worried. I’d come back and somebody would be hassling my wife.”

“The whole atmosphere is a lot freer,” he went on. “If you find someone attractive, you can just say so. And if you’re not interested, you can just say, ‘No, thank you.’ And that will be that.”

Roger and Beth said they had both been married before. He has two kids, aged 11 and 12, from the first marriage. Her first marriage, Beth said, was fairly traditional. Certainly she never got involved in anything like this. But it wasn’t Roger who first introduced the idea — it was a woman Beth had known since Catholic elementary school.

“She was saying she and her husband went to this nudist park, and then they got together with these other couples for some parties,” Beth remembered. “She was a little vague about the whole thing.”

“Then later, when I told Roger what she’d been saying, he said, ‘Come on….’ He knew exactly what she was talking about.” Not that Beth was disturbed by the idea. Actually, she said she was intrigued.

Roger, who still had some memories of wild sexual times back in the 1970s, was more than game. He and Beth started looking around. With the guidance of the friend and her husband, they found this club and another one a couple of exits down the highway. Quite soon they began showing up often enough to be considered familiar faces. And Beth ended up with a new interest to share with her old school friend.

It was inevitable, right? The two old friends being so close and all, didn’t they try out each other’s man?

Beth giggled at that suggestion. “We are very close,” she said. “Yes, I’ve been with her husband, and she’s been with Roger. You can’t get much closer than that.”

When I first started poking around this sex-club world, my writer friend Steve Kraus told me something I didn’t pay much attention to. “You have to know a little history,” he said.

“In ancient times,” he told me, “orgies were something that were available only to the aristocracy. The kings and the noblemen and the landowners would go to these events and eat and drink and screw their brains out.”

The modern swing club obviously shares some of this tradition. “But there’s an important difference,” Kraus said. “It’s not just for the aristocrats anymore. Plato’s [and this second generation of clubs] brought the orgy to the masses. It’s all very democratic now, very middle-class. Any guy with a few bucks in his pocket can get his wife or his girlfriend and experience the pleasures of the kings, so to speak.”

But they’re still just regular folks?

“Still regular folks.”

Indeed, the more I got to know these swing-club people, the more I came to understand what Kraus was talking about. At the same time they were out chasing their libidos, their minds were never far from the mundane facts of life — their jobs, their neighbors, their images, their kids. And many of them took great efforts to keep the two worlds separate.

“This is my secret life,” one Le Trapeze veteran told me, a divorced father of three young children who works as a computer salesman. “If you told the people I work with that I go to a place like this, they would say, ‘No way!’ They just wouldn’t believe you. ‘That’s just not him,’ they would say.”

This conservative image suits him just fine. “Come on,” he said. “The truth of the matter •is that most people in the world still think this is pretty sleazy. They might laugh at first. but then they would look at you totally different. They would think, ‘The guy is some kind of sex fiend.’”

The question of discretion is even more of an issue for the women. Many of them said they would be mortified if anyone found out.

“One time I did see someone from work at a club,” a pretty, dark-haired woman named Sylvia told me. “Neither one of us said anything that night.” But the next day at work, when they ran into each other, there was a moment of real discomfort.

“We both kind of looked at each other,” she said.

“He said, ‘You’re not gonna say anything, are you?’”

“I said, Are you crazy? What would I say? I was there, too, you know. You think I’m going to tell people about running into you at some sex club?”

Neither of them ever breathed a word. If coworkers require discretion, keeping things from the children warrants even more. I met one woman who told me she was a “second-generation swinger.” Her parents had been involved in this stuff all their married lives.

“I was about 15 or 16 when I got a pretty good idea that they did things most of my friends’ parents didn’t do,” she said. “But I wouldn’t say I was really traumatized.” Still, the vast majority of these couples said they do their best to keep the kids in the dark.

As one woman shot back when I asked how her sex life affected her two young kids, “Do you have sex around your kids? Well, neither do I. What kind of parents have sex around their kids?”

This woman, whose name is Robin, is really quite typical of the newcomers to the sex clubs. She seemed quite shy despite her one sharp rebuke. She and her husband, Marty, said they were looking for something to spice up their sex lives — and they just might have found the answer here.

He is 26. She is 25. They’ve known each other since junior high, and things in the bedroom were … well, they’d been married a good, long time. They’d tried renting X-rated movies, and Marty would come home with adult magazines, but none of that did the trick.

What they needed, they decided, was someone else to share their bed. It was Robin who suggested another woman, and Marty said that sounded fine to him. But how to find her?

“It’s kind of hard to just go up and ask people on the street,” said Marty. It took a little while, but they pumped up the courage to ask three of their female friends, women they thought might be open to the idea. “They were what you’d call fairly loose women,” Marty said. “There was Holly. There was Debbie. There was the one people called ‘Wham-Barn-Pam.’” But even with that promising-sounding nickname, Marty and Robin got “no, thank you” all around. That’s when they decided to try a club. So far they’ve gotten together with two couples. Each time it was only the women who did anything sexual, and even they never got much beyond the stage of intimate caresses.

And the men? They mainly sat on the couch and watched. “I didn’t feel jealous or anything,” Marty said. “I got excited watching her. I don’t think I would really be upset if I saw her making it with another guy. But she says that’s not what she wants.”

And where do they figure they’ll be a month or two from now? “In a menage a trois, probably,” said Robin. “That’s my goal right now. I’m sexually excited by it.”

“I know,” Marty said. “She says that. But Robin,” he continued, turning now to his wife, “I think you have to face it. Here we are, coming to this club, getting together with these couples. Men and women, you know. At some point we’re probably talking about doing something with another couple, with all four people involved.”

“Yeah,” Robin said, “maybe you’re right. But I don’t know. I get excited by women.”

It is impossible to declare anyone “the father of modern swinging.” There is no such person, at least no one such person. And with all the bed-hopping that went on in the 1960s and 1970s, who could prove paternity anyway? But if the swing world doesn’t have its own George Washington, it does have its own Ross Perot. His name is Robert McGinley. No one has done more to organize, revive, and interpret the art and science of swing. He’s also made a few bucks along the way.

A compact man in his mid-fifties with crinkly eyes and a salt-and-pepper beard, McGinley hosted his first on-premise swing party in 1969. He and his wife, Geri, have been fixtures on the Southern California circuit through a quarter-century of ups and downs. Today his empire includes· a local swing club, a national swingers newsletter, a swingers travel agency, and an annual swingers convention. Not to mention he’s the current president of the North American Swing Club Association.

He’s even written a guidebook called Etiquette in Swinging. Among McGinley’s tips: “The group room is for group swinging. If you want privacy, don’t go to the group room. If there is a hot tub or a Jacuzzi, use it. Being nude in comfortably hot water in close proximity to others is conducive to making friends and becoming involved.”

I had been hearing McGinley’s name from the first night I started talking to the sex crowd. I was eager to speak with him and to hear his impressions about the current boom times at the clubs. When I tracked him down at an office building in quiet Anaheim, California, he said he would be more than happy to talk about that. But first, he said, he wanted to clear up some misconceptions. “Most of what is written about swinging — certainly most of what you see on those television talk shows — is just plain wrong,” he said. “We’re not freaks. We’re not all dying of AIDS. Swinging is not about some guy who sneaks behind his wife’s back to get laid. Swinging is not about a woman being dragged to a sex party she doesn’t want to go to. Let me tell you, a lot of these women are very enthusiastic about this.”

‘“We’re very close,” Beth giggled. “I’ve been with her husband, and she’s been with mine. You can’t get much closer than that.”’

“Some of the clubs do welcome single people on certain nights,” McGinley said. “But you should think of swinging as primarily an activity for couples. Couples meeting other couples — for friendship, for recreation, and for sex.”

Whatever people might have been hearing in recent years, he said, this whole infrastructure of clubs and organizations did not just go away. Sure, in the dark days of the middle and late 1980s, a lot of people were scared off. And many veteran swingers did confine their partner-fishing to a smaller pool of friends. But the human libido never went into the deep freeze. Some of the heartier clubs stayed very much in business. And the hard-core swingers always found a way.

“I blame the media for a lot of the fear,” McGinley said, “and it goes back further than AIDS. The scare stories really started with herpes. Remember herpes? That was going to infect everyone who ever had sex. Well, it didn’t. The rate of herpes stayed about where it had always been. It was just the scare stories that multiplied. ”

In McGinley’s view — a view that is hotly contested by most medical experts — the case is more or less the same with AIDS. It’s the fear that’s running out of control. “As far as we can tell,” he said, “no person has ever contracted Al OS through heterosexual swinging in the United States.”

On the question of AIDS, McGinley is directly at odds with what most doctors believe about how easily the virus is spread. And no one, McGinley included, has solid scientific data on the disease’s existence in the swing world. But he’s still hanging tough.

“I’m not saying why this is the case,” he said of his blanket assertion. “I’m just saying that it’s so.”

In the end, of course, the interested couples of America will have to decide for themselves. Some of them will conclude that the risks just aren’t worth taking, whatever the sexual thrill. Others will ease into the swirling waters slowly and tentatively, counting on protection from their condoms and their partner choice.

And a third group — smaller but obviously growing — will leap right in All told, this has added up to a busy year for Le Trapeze, which at last count was one of six active couples clubs in the New York City area. These days Le Trapeze is open for business five nights a week. Special-events parties are held on most big holidays.

The last time I spoke to Jim and Debbie, from the off-premise couples club, they were talking excitedly about their plans. Instead of renting someone else’s restaurant one night a week, Jim said, he and Debbie will be running the club out of a place of their own.

“The liquor license came through last week,” he said, “and the renovations are almost done. It’s a whole lot bigger than what we’ve been using. There’s more room for quiet conversation. And we’ll have what they call a California bar. It’s a big, four-sided bar. Great for eye contact.”

Jim said he has no doubts that he can fill the place on Saturdays. The only question is how many more nights a week the suburban swing traffic will bear. “We might even do something early on Sundays,” he said.

Some 30 years after this insight, swingers continue to swing, although at some point the term became “lifestyle” — because presumably if you prefer a monogamous relationship, you have no life, or at least no style. Whatever you call it, the options abound and if anything the clubs have gotten fancier. As one would expect, LA Weekly did some recent research, in fact. Some places one might visit in the world do not in fact match their reputations. Southern California would not be one of those places.

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