I had the privilege of speaking with Holly*, an active member of Portland’s swinger community. She detailed the ins and outs–and yes, I do mean those ins and outs–of consensual sexual adventures outside of marriage, Portland’s underground swinger’s scene and how anyone can take the first step towards being more of a bad-ass in the bedroom.
E: What is the correct terminology when discussing “swinging” or “the Lifestyle”?
H: “Swingers” is a dated term. The technical term for it is “ethical non-monogamy.” People also talk about the Lifestyle and abbreviate it “LS.” I’ve coined the term “swervy”–or swinger/poly/pervy–it defines beautifully this community of people who are like squirrels [when it comes to sex]. I’ve also found that younger people don’t want labels at all.
E: Is there a distinction between being married and being in the Lifestyle and being single?
H: Yes, consensual non-monogamy really lends itself to married people or coupled people… or single women. There are a lot of men who turn into dicks around sex. With men, patience, humility and personality are the three keys to being successful [in the Lifestyle]. Humility is huge.. when a man gets into a situation where there are three or four women, it can be very difficult to get the cock up; with humility, everyone wins and the woman gets to orgasm.
E: If you’re in public, is there a way to talk in code about being a swinger?
H: That’s something that people have explored often. And there’s actually been something floated out that you wear a black ring on your right hand — on the ring finger. On the right hand. I have never been a joiner of anything so I’m not down with that.
E: How big would you say the [swingers] community is in Portland?
H: I’d say in terms of an active swinging community of whom I see often: 5000 people. Consensually non-monogamous: up in the 10,000’s, easily. People doing this without telling their partner? Fucking hundreds of thousands. Everyone’s having nefarious, crazy sex. It’s the ethics behind it that’s different.
E: How did you get involved and when?
H: Six years ago. My husband and I have been together for a very long time, we met in college… as I said, we fell into monogamy without thought. And then I was drunk on my porch one afternoon with a bunch of my girlfriends and my husband came home a little tipsy with his friend and they’d been to a strip club. So the chatter got a little ribald and when everybody left, [my husband] asked me, “Don’t you ever think about fucking other guys?” And we are 19 years into monogamy at this point. And I thought about it — it was like the longest pregnant pause ever — and I said,”Yeah, all the time.” I mean, what is he going to do after 19 years, up and leave? And instead he said, “I’d like to see that.” And we talked and fucked about it for months and then we went to Sesso… so that’s how it started. We were not discontent.
E: Do you and your husband have basic ground rules that you follow?
H: Yes: safe, fun, consensual, everything else is personal and so that [deals with personal] boundaries. These are rules together. Always play safe with other people; that means condoms, and in a safe environment. Fun: what’s the point of the exercise if sex isn’t fun? I’m not here for serious sex, I’m not hanging out with you because I need to bang out some ideas over sex. I want fun. And I’m not looking for another relationship. And then consensual because it’s not fun to fuck someone who doesn’t want to fuck you back.
But then we have different boundaries and that’s where everything gets interesting because [my husband] has a much different way of walking through the world as an individual man who likes sex versus me. And we’re only starting recently to tease ourselves apart from each other. I was really symbiotically connected to him.
E: Can you talk a little bit about it being more than just sex and maneuvering the complexities of a sexual relationship with other people?
H: We’ve had many, many fantastic first sexual encounters and gone back for seconds and been so disappointed. And since we’re coupled we’re not searching for connection in the same way, we’re not searching for a life partner, we’re not putting a lot of hopes and dreams into a person. I’d say we’re batting like .900 on shitty second encounters. The first sex is awesome and the second time you’re like, “Oh damn, look at the way you slurp your drink,” or “oh, that doesn’t give me any pleasure” …expectations are the killer of all things.
E: How do you set a schedule?
H: Oh my gosh it’s so difficult and it’s different for everybody. My husband and I are a full swap couple, meaning that we will have sex — complete sex and kissing — with the other person. There’s something called “soft swap” and that encompasses a grey area where I have yet to find where it ends. That could be not kissing, that could be no insertion of anything of any kind.
E: So more bound by rules?
H: Yes, LOTS of rules.
E: Are both couples still exchanging on a soft swap?
H: They are. Some exchanging but it’s entirely up to the couple and it could be “all we do is touch boobs” or a soft swap is just having sex with your partner next to each other – kind of that exhibitionist fantasy going on… and it’s different for every couple and there are people who have litanies of rules and people who have zero rules. I trust the people who have a couple good rules within the couple, and then their own personal boundaries. Because everything is situational, absolutely everything. And when I’m dealing with a couple, it’s two individuals and their relationship, so there are actually three fuckers in the room.
E: Back to the schedule…?
H: Everybody works differently. So since [my husband] and I are full swap and we do play (Ed note: “play” = “sex” in swinger speak) separately. Schedule is huge for us, it’s extremely open… it’s tantamount to making a dentist appointment, but it’s at night. We always know the people with whom we’re playing with: where I am, [who] I’m with, the full name, and if you’re a little leary, their driver’s license. If a man wants to have sex with you — and I can only speak from the woman’s place — but if a man really wants to have sex with you he will lay his financial history out for you to take a fucking picture of. You should be able to text your driver’s license, your hotel room number, wherever you are, whatever the hell is pertinent – to a girlfriend right there on the spot and be able to do it in front of him.
And then always come prepared… so with the scheduling I bring a bag with me all the time with all my own condoms, my own lube, everything that I know I need to be comfortable. I would never count on someone else for my fuckin’ pleasure. And if it isn’t pleasurable, I have his name, I have his number, and I also have all the power to leave at any time.
E: What is your advice for someone who wants to present the idea to their significant other?
H: That’s an excellent question. I would take it into a third person area. You know, “I’ve been listening to this podcast and it’s fascinating and it brought up something I was curious about – why don’t you listen to it?” Or, “look at this article that I just read” … put it on someone else who’s piqued your interest. I’m always thinking about safety when bringing these things to the table. If you ever feel threatened by your partner, don’t bring this shit up period — get away. Just get away and leave, as best you can, whenever you can.
E: Do you and your husband ever talk about your outings?
H: It depends on what he wants to know. Yes, some. Totally situational.
E: How do you decide how to approach someone? How do you know it’s someone that can be approached?
H: It is such a sniff out thing. That is just biology. I would be the girl that’d be like “Hi, that’s my husband, so we have an open relationship … are you interested?” I don’t give a shit anymore. I don’t have to. My husband and I have been together 24 years now, we have two kids, they’re in private school, we live in a nice house. We’re the perfect people to say “fuck monogamy” …we’re living the poster-child life and there are so many of us that aren’t and we’re all under the radar … it drives me crazy that so many women are looking for what [my husband] and I have [and] would be grossly disappointed by the reality of long-term monogamy.
E: Socially, do you have any clubs or bars that you go to?
H: There are a lot of “friendly” clubs around. Any gay club is queer by default and queer does encompass lifestyle. So that’s where you’re gonna have the best time if you’re queer thinking. There are a lot of events that go on and they’re all promoted through Facebook … SlutGarden does incredible events all over town. Sex Positive Portland is 1600 members strong… outstanding educational resource. Sesso was a great club because of the people who went there. The man who ran it was a dirty bastard. They’re in OLCC approval right now and it will open up again. The Velvet Rope is still open — I’ve never been. I will never go to a club that has a hot tub in it with swingers inside fucking. It’s just a little thing I have. The human stew’s not my thing, nor the chlorine smell. Swingers clubs typically are for single women and couples, the Velvet Rope is not. So I’ve heard tales of men following women down the hall masturbating after them. Sesso had a good thing going. They had a female advisory committee and those women looked over the rules of the club and how things were going and how the ebb and flow single men.
E: Have you ever been in a situation that you left because you felt uncomfortable or unsafe?
H: Oh so many times. Not unsafe, I’m very lucky — very lucky. But I’m also very careful and intentional. But yes, proud day ‘cause I’ve stayed around for a bunch of shit, too, but that was when I was young and it’s nice to exorcise those demons for a middle-age guy in a hotel room like, “You know what, this isn’t workin’ for me… I’m gonna go fuck my husband now, see ya later. You were a disappointment.”
E: Do you ever attend any events outside of Portland?
H: Yes, lots of things in Seattle. Seattle has a vibrant scene. However, they do not have a vibrant club scene. Vancouver, BC is outstanding. Great sex club up there and a lot of interesting events going on. And then, across the country – this sort of thing is going on everywhere, so places to look are Craigslist, Facebook … any time you see anything that has big DJs and some sort of theme. Guaranteed there are swingers there.
E: For clubs that have a screening process, what is that like? How does that work?
H: It’s usually online or at the actual club. It’s a litany of rules, whatever the club employs. And then they’re going to indemnify themselves against any charges against sexual assault, rape, harm — and anything that any public establishment is going to indemnify themselves against. Typically you’re going to sign a clause that also states that you will not bring your phone in that club. It will be taken away and never returned. So, no pictures anywhere or anyhow. Discretion is huge — in all things sex.
E: Do you see yourself continuing in ethical non-monogamy indefinitely? Do you see an endpoint?
H: Nope. This has turned a linear life into a much more interesting diagram.
E: What are some of your best stories?
H: I think the early story is the best. I was in a monogamous relationship for so long. About eight months in [my husband] and I met a couple; she was like my husband and he was like me. I was lucky enough to have a squire, a person who tapped into my most nefarious ways. This is a challenge for everybody, but I was lucky to have a spirit guide through my first couple of years of testing out my sluttery. We went to a place that I would never have set foot ever — and that’s Paris Theater… he put me with my back to this crowd of men — it’s all single men in there — it’s a jack shack basically. And this gentleman fucked me up against this railing and all the hands of the other men … [gestures hands all over her] It was so powerful, so intense because I was with this person that not only I trust, but my husband trusted too… I go out to the Paris Theater and have 15 guys [on me]. It was beyond anything that I had ever imagined.
E: What’s your favorite toy?
H: That’s such a boring question for me, I’m so sorry. I’m the most boring … dick, the hands and the Magic Wand. The Hitachi Magic Wand is by far the gold standard for toys. But Fun [Factory], that German company, makes excellent toys. And then Uberlube, fantastic lube, and then coconut oil is great too but it’ll ruin the shit out of your furniture. Be careful.
E: What do you get out of being in the community?
H: Oh my goodness. That’s a huge question. Pleasure and authenticity. There’s just not a lot of room for fucking around when you’re talking about negotiating or trolling for sex. The authenticity is huge for me. Also, this has taught me so much about forgiveness for myself and just not hanging on to shit and moving on. I’ve become so much more forgiving myself… just in general. I’ve seen so much stupid shit go down. I farted disastrously during an encounter with a really gorgeous man … I’ve put myself in these places of great vulnerability, which you do every time you have sexual concert with someone. So being placed constantly in a vulnerable situation that I have placed myself in, I trust myself more than ever now. And I also trust in kindness as the best way to navigate any situation. You can be kind and firm. And I’ve found a shit-ton of freedom through this. I haven’t met one person who has sex the same as me. Not one man, not one woman — where we all want something different – it’s amazing.
*Name modified to protect privacy.