Áilín Quinlan investigates the world of organised sex parties.
IMAGINE the scene: An affable well-dressed couple stands at their front door welcoming a stream of guests into their luxury home.
Except this is not a dinner party and the couples are not gathering for a sociable evening of cocktails and conversation — they are ‘swingers’, and they’re here for sex.
Couples, threesomes, group sex and unrestricted orgies; little is left to the imagination once these ultra-liberated, often affluent couples, usually in their mid-30s, get into their stride, whether in private homes, or in specially organised swingers clubs — discretion guaranteed.
Such clubs offer a variety of services from sex parties and singles parties — featuring everything from sex cabaret acts to Chinese massage, videos and private booths — to women-only events. Clubs that are similar to that run by Tom Hogan of the Dublin-based Irishswingersclub.com.
Hogan organises sex parties on a weekly basis in the city centre and also offers female-only and singles events, as well as a dating service.
Clients, he explains, are usually professional or self-employed and hail from business, legal and medical circles, as well as the arts and entertainment sectors.
This is in line with the research — a 2009 study of the phenomenon found that swingers were mostly white, between the ages of 36 and 55, mostly college-educated and generally either professional or self-employed.
With its intrigue and sexual tension, it’s little surprise that swinging has been given the big-screen treatment.
The Holy Quaternity, 2012, features two middle-aged couples who link up through more than friendship — and as a result, complicate their sex lives.
Or Four Nights in the Hamptons, 2014, where a bored couple attempt to re-ignite their flagging sex life by linking up with another couple.
It’s extremely popular in Ireland, according to Hogan, who has run the business for six years and says his guests come from all over the country, as well as from overseas.
His website gets more than 1,000 hits per week, and a priority is to ensure ‘guests’ are carefully assessed before being allowed to attend the sex parties, usually held in up-market apartments near the city centre and attended by no more than a dozen couples.
Sex parties run every week from 10am up to 4am against a backdrop of comfortable, candle-lit rooms featuring a specially-themed ‘playroom’ or bedroom area into which potential partners may be invited, but never coerced.
It costs €95 for a couple, and €35 for a single woman to attend an event, although single men must undergo an interview and take out a €95, three-month membership before being allowed to attend.
The dress code is smart-casual and the most important rule is that ‘no’ means ‘no’.
“There is no pressure on anyone to take part in something they’re not comfortable with,” Hogan explains.
Very occasionally — he says it’s happened maybe twice in the six years he’s been running the business — a partner or spouse becomes uncomfortable or jealous and in that situation, he will often advise them that their best option is to leave.
“Generally, however, 99% of the time they are there to take part in activity or to observe,” he says.
“If people feel uncomfortable I will suggest to them that they leave.”
Sometimes they do, on other occasions, they may decide to stay.
For Hogan it’s “strictly business”.
“I’m there to provide a service, not participate.”
However, from his observations over the years, he has noticed that swingers come to the club for different reasons.
“Some people come as couples to observe proceedings and stimulate their sex lives and their libido.
“Some people have a very high sex drive. Others are trying to stimulate a flagging libido.
“In a lot of cases women come with a partner because they are bi-curious and interested in engaging with another woman,” he says, adding that some couples like the idea of pairing off — in foursomes.”
If you’re comfortable with the idea, and don’t suffer from jealousy or have moral qualms about swinging, it can be “a very interesting experience,” he says.
“People can live out fantasies and stimulate their sex life, as long as they don’t engage in something that they’re uncomfortable with.”
However, sex therapist Eithne Bacuzzi believes swinging should come with a relationship ‘health warning’.
She has come across situations, she says, where one partner has coerced another into swinging.
“Usually it’s the male, while the female, who might have low self-esteem, would be fearful of not agreeing.
“I’ve come across situations like this occasionally in my work, where there is some sort of coercion or a fear that there might be consequences for the relationship if the woman doesn’t go along with the man."
She doesn’t see how joining a swingers club could revive a flagging sex life.
“Relationships can become dull and mundane but swinging doesn’t revive them,” she warns, adding that it’s not easy to simply discard the emotional side of a relationship.
“I cannot see how couples can swing and then return to their relationship as a couple. Intimacy is the central ingredient for a fulfilling long-term sexual relationship. Swinging could erode that.”
Far better she believes, is for the couple to create more time for each other and “turn towards each other rather than go outside the relationship to a swinger’s club.”
Hogan says women are usually the ones who are most interested and curious — in a “surprisingly large number of cases,” he observes, it’s the women who ring him to inquire about the sex parties.
“We get a lot of single people applying to join the sex parties but we only allow three single males per party, though there’s no limit on single girls.”
Few single women apply to attend the sex parties, however, though there tends to be a lot of interest in the company’s women-only event, The Perfume Garden, aimed at what he describes as “the bi-curious” female.
“It’s not a lesbian party. It’s a women-only event managed by a Brazilian hostess. It offers a calm relaxed, feminine atmosphere in which guests sip glasses of sparkly Prosecco and get to know each other in comfortable, subdued lighting.
"The Perfume Garden allows women get to know each other during the event, at which sexual activity may or may not take place.
“Husbands or partners will often drop women off at these events — a lot of men are turned on by the notion of their wives having a sexual encounter with another woman,” Hogan says, adding, however, that specifically male-on-male encounters are not encouraged at the club.
There’s no real downside to swinging, he believes, once the situation is comfortable and consensual for both sides attending the parties.
This is underlined by research carried out as far back as 1998, in which respondents — who were often mostly male — reported high levels of marital and sexual satisfaction in their relationship with their partners.
However, sex therapist, David Kennedy, author of Love Rewired: Using Your Brain to Mend Your Heart, warns that it’s really important to remember the “human” side of sex.
The sense of bonding with a sexual partner is very important for a relationship, he cautions.
And he asks, if you ‘bond’ with multiple partners during a swinging session what happens to your intimate relationship?
“As far as I know there’s no research to show that couples who swing are more happily married than couples who don’t,” he says, adding that as a therapist he believes swinging can potentially damage the intimate relationship of a couple.
“Why isn’t every couple doing it? That’s because for most people it is not wise — issues like jealousy and emotion would prevent us.
“Most women would be aghast at seeing their husband chatting up a woman in front of them, never mind having sex with one.”
It’s difficult to see, he points out, how both individuals could be comfortable at all times with their partner having sex with a stranger.
“It can be hard to accept that in every circumstance,” he says, adding that if your partner has sex with somebody in the club or group whom you dislike or from whom you “get a bad vibe,” the situation can potentially become complicated.
“It’s much more complicated than it looks and the potential scenarios can be damaging to a relationship — there are so many pitfalls that it can be very difficult to cover every eventuality,” he warns.
Kennedy urges caution for couples considering swinging, as he feels, the potential fallout for their relationship may be significant.
A man may be disturbed or shocked if his wife discovers a penchant for bisexual encounters during a swinging session, he points out, adding that a couple’s intimate relationship may pale in contrast to the excitement of a group swinging session.
“If you’ve had sex with two women at the same time, having regular sex with just your wife may suddenly seem rather dull and instead of being stimulated by the experience, your relationship could end up looking dull and unattractive.”
Swinging is not the first course of action that relationship therapist Bernadette Ryan would recommend with flagging sexual intimacy.
Fine, she says, if it’s a consensual decision between two autonomous adults, but she likens it to applying sticking plaster to a deeper problem.
Swinging may have its attraction and many supporters — but it’s also an activity that comes with serious ramifications.
Swinging: A primer
What is swinging?
It’s the practice of couples engaging in sex with other partners as a form of a social activity.
What’s the idea behind it?
Some proponents assert that swinging is based on the concept of ‘polyamory’ which means loving more than one person. In its most basic sense polyamory is about honest non-monogamy as opposed to what society calls ‘cheating’ — in a polyamorous relationship the partners know about one another and are consenting.
Why do couples swing?
Some people swing to increase the quality, quantity and frequency of sex. Others feel it helps revive a flagging libido, while more are simply curious. Some couples believe it’s a healthy outlet which helps strengthen their relationships.
Where does it happen?
Swinging can take place at informal gatherings of friends, at planned swinging parties at private homes or at a sex, or swinger club as well as in semi-public venues such as hotels, resorts or cruise ships.
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