By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
It sits nestled among office and warehouse buildings somewhere in the city of Orange: 8,000 square feet of party and bedroom space for 100 couples sipping on drinks, dancing topless and potentially having sex with one another's spouses.
Nothing gives it away for what it is. Orange County's biggest swing club, like its thousands of members, is hidden in plain sight.
Club members—teachers, pilots, attorneys, police officers, celebrities, city officials—drift through their public lives in much the same way, quietly going about their business before secretly indulging in a sexual pastime that, despite its growing popularity, hasn't quite gained mainstream acceptance.
It's Sheer Night at Club Amnesty, a recent addition to a modern swing phenomenon with a long history in Orange County.
I could wear anything I want, as long as my partner was dressed "like a gentleman," I was told on the phone. The image of pot-bellied OC cops and real-estate developers cruising for MILFs in bad lingerie lodges itself deep in my mind. I settled on a non-sheer, long-sleeved black dress.
We pull off the freeway through thick sheets of rain, make a few turns down several empty streets and slow down when we reach the desolate office park area. We lower the volume on the radio, expecting to hear voices, a bass beat, something.
There's no bright "Club Amnesty" sign to look for, just the address given to couples who pay the $25 yearly membership fee and the $90-per-party cover charge. We creep along in silence. The hushed streets make our destination feel all the more covert; the famous furtive quality of swinging fuels the mystique in our reflexively monogamous culture about the very idea of people congregating to have sex with one another's partners.
The anticipation recedes for a minute as we search. Maybe none of it is real. No orgies, no regulars, no amateur live pornography. I feel a slight twitch of relief at the thought.
Then we see the cars. Rows of Beemers, 4Runners, Chrysler 300s—and a single, lonely Winnebago.
Pink and white Christmas lights on a potted tree glimmer in a far-off window, with the club's address just above it.
* * *
The first thing you have to understand, say Gary and Denise, the married, middle-aged couple who run Club Amnesty, is that you have to be in a good relationship if you're going to consider "the lifestyle," the term used by those in the know. Swingers are called "lifestylers" or "play couples." This isn't for couples on the rocks looking to re-ignite their sex lives, they tell me. Those are the worst candidates.
Denise's eyes dash from one side of the hall to the next. We're standing in a passageway inside the club that's just bright enough to see the faces (and a little more) of everyone who slides by. Along the hall are the doors to the club's various fantasy rooms: the Red Room (two king-sized beds, soft red lighting, crushed-red-velvet curtains between beds), the Purple Room (a naked-only orgy haven with a multilevel loft built by Gary), the Black Room (three big beds, sheer curtains and a red pleather "viewing" couch), the Gothic Room (a giant X to tie someone to) and the Pink Room (two beds and gynecological stirrups). Two couples in towels squeeze by us. From door No. 2, we hear the first long, elated moans of the night.
One of the security guys upfront says something into Denise's headset. "Okay, I'll be right up there," she says. She frowns at Gary. It's 11 p.m., the cutoff time for entry, and guests who didn't preregister or who say they forgot their IDs are trying to get into the club. Denise moves through the crowd with ease, waving off the hands that paw at her considerable breasts through her sheer tank, smiling at club regulars. She disappears.
"She's the brains behind this," says Gary, who converts the large office-like space into a "club" every Friday and Saturday night. The club was a retirement dream for the couple, who went from being regular swingers well-known for their great parties to hatching the idea for a club in 2004. Gary, who owns a plumbing business, would be good at building and designing the club, they figured. Denise, with her big eyes and comforting smile, could use her grocery-store-management expertise to run it.
The goal, Gary says, was to create something safe, fun and reliable. But it took the couple several years to get there. They had to apply for a sexually oriented business permit in Orange (the standard license issued by counties and cities throughout the country), submit fingerprints for a Department of Justice background check, and then look for a building that complied with the city's zoning laws. They spent a year driving down every street in Orange before securing their discreet locale.
The sex rooms are to be entered, enjoyed and exited by couples only. "People are always trying to sneak in," Gary says. "We see all sorts of stuff."
The club is now 5,000 members strong, they say, catering to an underground lifestyle that most of the club's members want to keep that way—not because they're embarrassed, but because the culture around them still is. Denise and Gary use aliases because their kids don't know they are mild celebrities in the contemporary swing world.