Their brand of swing club offers everything from "hardcore" (outright partner-swapping sex) to "soft-swing," a mild, social-sexual recreational type of swinging that may involve merely hanging out at the club and making out with your own date, without offering so much as a smooch to someone else's mate.

"Soft swinging" was jump-started by longtime Orange County resident and Long Beach native Robert McGinley, arguably the godfather of the national swing scene, who also claims to have coined the phrase "the lifestyle" back in the 1970s.

Investigative journalist Terry Gould spent 10 years researching his book The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers. The national and international swing "movement," he wrote, "has a California-based overseeing body, called the Lifestyles Organization, or LSO, that certifies clubs as ethical, nondiscriminatory and law-abiding." Of the period in 1993 when Gould was doing his research, he says, "Lifestylers in California were now declaring themselves a political force, and LSO formed campaign central. It was headed by a goateed, former aerospace engineer, Dr. Robert McGinley, a 60-year-old counseling psychologist who was at the time almost universally described in the media as a reckless libertarian and shrewd businessman."

Denise and Gary, a.k.a. Mr. and Mrs. Club Amnesty, "playing" in the Purple Room
Jennie Warren
Denise and Gary, a.k.a. Mr. and Mrs. Club Amnesty, "playing" in the Purple Room

*    *    *

You would think the godfather of a modern sexual movement would have something big and hyper-erotic on his office walls: a painting of giant labia, maybe, or orgiastic men and women piled high on top of one another. Even a Georgia O'Keefe. But one of the more memorable images on Robert McGinley's Anaheim office wall is also one of his very favorites: a painting of two cats, done in pointillist blues and pinks, staring up at a night sky full of fireworks.

"I love cats," says McGinley, gazing merrily at his painting. As he laughs, his whole body shakes.

At 74, McGinley is smaller, rounder and more sweetly grandfatherly than he may have been back in his swinging heyday. But his grasp on all things swing-related is firm and ever-evolving. Most recently, he chartered the way for swing-oriented resort vacations through his Lifestyles Organization. This is the most recent addition to a decades-long history in the expansion of a realm first known—and perhaps practiced—as "wife-swapping" in the 1950s.

McGinley's foray began in the early 1970s. "In those days, the swing clubs were what you called hardcore . . . which meant basically that if you're not prepared to drop your pants or your panties at the front door, then forget about it, don't even bother coming."

For the recently divorced McGinley and his girlfriend at the time, Geri, who was also divorced, it all started with dialogue. They had other divorced friends who were interested in talking about relationships. So they started getting together, talking and inviting guests to speak. "In my home, we started what came to be known as the Wednesday Night Group Discussions. That's how I met Larry Flynt," McGinley says of the memorable lecture. The discussions went on for 11 or 12 years, he says, but somewhere along the line, they became more than that.

"It's kind of hard to say how it happened, but we were all interested in sex, so we started having parties," he says. "And then swing parties. Then it became a club. It became a commercial enterprise."

McGinley and Geri—who had by then married—opened their club, Wide World, in Orange County in 1971, when the 19 swing clubs in Southern California were, for the most part, hardcore, McGinley recalls.

"We felt differently. We felt that swinging was a social experience, and we created a term called 'soft swinging,'" he says. "You could come to the club and have sex with everyone, or you could sit by the fire and talk all night, as long as you weren't offended by what others might do."

Around that time, the use of the word "lifestyle" as a stand-in for the taboo "swinging" emerged. "We used to advertise swing parties for couples in The Orange County Register," McGinley says. "The guy who ran that section decided he didn't like the word 'swing.' I pointed out to him the Polaroid Swing Camera, the Swinger Car . . . He didn't like the word 'couples'—he came up with 21 words that he didn't want us to use. But we were trying to say something so that people reading the ads would know what we were talking about," he says, laughing.

"Over a period of time, people began to associate that word ['lifestyle'] with swinging. And today, most people will say 'the' lifestyle. They'll say, 'Are you in the the lifestyle?' They'll mean, 'Are you a swinger?'"

The moniker was fitting, especially for McGinley, whose interest in human sexuality went far beyond swinging. Although he was trained as an engineer and worked in aerospace for years, the discussion groups and his forays into the swing world nibbled at McGinley's academic appetite.

He decided to get a Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in human sexuality. While the club was going, he and his wife published a magazine, Emerge, which only lasted a few issues, McGinley says, but which speaks to the couple's interest in all that a sexually non-monogamous lifestyle could mean, in a sort of academic way. A table of contents from a faded 1976 issue includes articles titled "Core Marriage Part I: A New Kind of Relationship" and "The Traditional Family and Emerging Alternatives." The bulk of the little magazine consists of pages considering the implications—good, bad and just plain fun—of such an alternative lifestyle choice.

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