I sit in a big spa watching my naked friend as she pashes a naked guy she met half an hour ago. A girl whose face I haven’t even seen is on all fours fellating a guy I met three minutes ago. Her trim arse rises above the bubbles, so I, um, fondle her from behind, mainly because I don’t know what to do with my hands. I am now swinging, apparently.
We have to rewind at this point. My Saturday evenings don’t normally go like this. Or even my Fridays. But I’m in a swingers club in Surry Hills, Sydney, and this is what you do. I’ve brought my friend Rachel along because if there’s only one of you, you’re not a swinger; you’re just a greedy opportunist.
Rachel wants to know what goes on in here as much as I do. Although she’s sexually adventurous, we are just friends, so the fact that we’re about to get naked together feels – well, odd.
At 11.30pm, a bloke called Peter buzzes us into the blue-lit stairwell of an anonymous-looking building. Peter is relentlessly cheery and practically cripples himself trying to make us feel at home. He points to a water cooler at the mouth of a red-lit labyrinth, as if to say, “See? Everything’s quite normal.”
Peter shows us the spa, where a middle-aged bloke cuddles up to a pretty girl of about 25. They give us smiles that could have many hidden meanings, but probably don’t.
We’re left to explore the rest of the first floor, which has been subdivided into little rooms, the floors of which are covered in mattresses fitted together. There can be only one possible purpose for these cubicles, unless you’ve come here for a quiet snooze. Curtains cover the entrances, but viewing holes and slots are cut into the walls. Right at the end is a big room, containing many mattresses. Boxes of tissues and condoms cover a glass-topped counter.
Hung on a wall in a corridor is a leather-and-handcuffs contraption, just in case someone feels the sudden urge to be hung up and whipped in front of the passing public. I ask Rachel if she feels like a burl, but she declines. She says she needs a drink.
A lounge containing a small bar is on the top floor along with a rooftop area outside, and a pool table. The pool table freaks me out most of all. Why would you come here to play pool? You can go anywhere to play pool.
At the small bar, I hand over $150 for the pair of us, and Peter scribbles our names in a book. For our money we get free drinks until they close at 5am, and the key to a changing-room locker containing sarongs. “No nudity in the bar,” he tells us. No other money changes hands between anyone in here, which is what makes this fun rather than prostitution.
We order stiff drinks, which a good-looking barmaid delivers in plastic glasses from among bottles on the counter. TV screens over the bar show ‘80s porn.
Feeling very self-conscious, we make our way through the semi-darkness of the lounge to a sofa, and sit making “what the f-k are we doing here?” eyes at each other. Finally, we get talking to Shane and Karen, who sit on the sofa opposite. Karen is slightly overweight and Shane looks like any bloke down the pub. It’s only Shane’s second visit to the club and he looks nearly as uptight as I feel. Karen puts a protective arm around him, as though this isn’t her second time, or even her third. “I work for a law firm, and I do worry about meeting people I know here,” she says. “The closest I came was seeing someone on a bus that I knew from here.”
By “knew” she means, “had sex with”. Or maybe she does mean, “knew”. There’s no pressure to actually have sex here, they explain. If we want, we could stay up here all night, drinking.
The key is that, unlike other bars, sex isn’t the undercurrent here, it’s the overcurrent. If someone looks at you, smiles at you, or does anything at you, they definitely want sex with you.
“The etiquette is that no really does mean no,” says Karen. “If someone touches you, they’re interested and if you touch them back, that’s a positive response. If you’re not interested, you must make a definite pushing action and they’ll leave you alone. Rejection happens all the time, so you’re not really hurting people’s feelings.”
We’re having a very pleasant chat, but the thought occurs that they might be trying to seduce us right now. Are they interested or are we just talking?
I am nervous. I go to the bar for another couple of strong drinks. Peter stops pashing the barmaid. “What can I do to you… For you?” he smirks.
Couples aged from their 20s to 40s sit in the lounge area, wearing their normal street clothes. I try to look at them without catching their eye or smiling. On the TV overhead, a fat man posts his unlikely penis into a woman with big hair, who whines in fake ecstasy.
In the far corner three girls in their early 20s sit in a row, like they’re at the hairdressers. Their partners occupy another two sofas. None of them is talking. Are they going to swap within the group or with other couples entirely? I wonder why they haven’t all stayed at someone’s house and saved their money.
As I sit down again, a slim dark-haired girl wearing Glomesh hotpants arrives in the centre of the room and starts dancing like someone in the first stages of a strip act. By the look on her face, I estimate she’s taken about a kilo of ecstasy. She sways over to two couples and grinds her hips as though she’s trying to unscrew them. They ignore her. Eventually, she leaves.
Out on the rooftop patio, David and Nicola invite us over immediately. They are somewhere in their 30s, although in the dark it’s hard to tell where. They’re both dressed in black and look very confident. David’s eyes have a slight glitter and I feel like we’re being sized up. Or that we’ve already been sized up and he’s just finalising the room and the positions.
Sure enough, they’ve both been swinging for a while. This is the best club in Sydney, they reckon. They’ve been to others where the owner is a weirdo, or it’s filthy, or everyone’s fat and 50.
When we admit it’s our first time, David looks even more interested. He talks about the importance of hand signals. “You’ve got to be able to tell each other when you don’t feel comfortable. If one of us isn’t having a good time, we have an agreement that we both stop immediately and leave.”
At 1.30am, Rachel and I are both still tipping shots down our necks in an effort to get used to the skewed situation in here. Not only can we have sex with nearly everyone we see, but we could be doing it very soon.
A bloke next to me at the bar points at the porn on the TV and tells me the actor’s name. When the girl’s face finally comes into view, he knows her, too. I accuse him of having a large ‘80s porn collection, and his girlfriend laughs.
Suddenly I am more interested in his girlfriend than I am in him. She must be nearly 2m tall, and sexy as hell. Even Rachel seems a bit stunned. Angie is a student of 23, but she’s much more experienced at this than Nick, a 26-year-old accountant. Even though he’s got such a gorgeous girlfriend, I get the impression Nick is delighted to have a free pass to screw any other girl he wants. They tell us all about etiquette again, and how they like to go in the spa first before trying out one of the rooms.
To be honest, I’m getting a bit bored with all the small talk, but I need to keep it going because when the small talk stops it’s time to go and have sex. I go and get more drinks.
By 2am we can’t put it off any longer and the four of us head down to the locker room. We strip off under the blue lights and put on sarongs from the locker. I don’t know where to look – it’s like being in a crowded lift, only much worse.
There are now between 25 and 35 people in the club, but the bar has been quieter for the previous hour and we head into the red corridors to find out where everyone’s gone.
It feels like some kind of semi-naked Easter-egg hunt, only at the end we find a middle-aged man with a big gut taking someone’s wife (perhaps even his) from behind. He looks at us with a really pleased expression on his face.
A couple of metres away, another couple are doing the same, and another further on. Maybe it’s the two-fifths of a bottle of whisky I’ve necked, but I feel the urge to giggle. It’s so weird, like actually walking through the screen into an ‘80s porno.
We peek through the spy holes into other rooms, trying to work out who’s doing what to whom. Rachel tells me to stop laughing, but I couldn’t be less turned on.
And then we’re in the spa and Angie is doing her best to convince me by giving me a mind-blowing kiss. Alarm bells ring, but Rachel is doing something similar to Nick, so at least I’ve got a bloody good argument if she ever brings this up in future. Nick ups the ante by going down on Rachel, and I think if he doesn’t come up for air soon, he will drown.
Back in the locker room I have an urgent talk with Rachel. She looks worried, although it could be the strange things the blue light is doing to her face. She says she’s not into Nick, but feels the same way I do about Angie. Maybe we could just kill him, I suggest.
We have a wander around again, trying to decide what to do. In one of the small rooms, at least six people are performing an insane coupling. Some of them are moaning porn clichés, while others are suggesting things in a normal voice, like they’re putting up a shelf. Near us, a couple are having sex up against the wall.
We decide to leave, mainly because we scaring ourselves. Things were clearer before Angie entered the picture. Maybe that’s the idea: you think you’ve got all you want – until you see something else. For first-timers like us, it’s all too much.
We find ourselves in a pub that’s still open and sit in it. It’s a relief to see people sitting around drinking beer, just like normal. They might be thinking about having sex, but thinking is all they’re doing, thank God.
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