The articles in the magazine eventually multiplied and became the various panels at the Lifestyles Annual Convention, now in its 35th year—a quasi-academic, hedonistic affair that lures thousands of swingers, or those just curious, to Las Vegas or other big hotel towns for a weekend in which you are free to do what you want to do, but also to think through what it is you're doing and why.

This is a "recreational sexual activity," not unlike bowling or going dancing, McGinley says. He's also explicit about one of swinging's core values: Swinging is not for falling in love or for romance; it's for fun. It's recreation. It's play.

*    *    *

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

"Man, who'da ever thought, looking at you, I'd be seeing you getting your cock sucked," says a man with a thick Boston accent from the Black Room. "Life is good. Life is grand." It's around midnight at Club Amnesty, and a steady stream of clubgoers are dropping their clothes in the club's lockers, throwing on towels and making their way to the back-hall rooms. We've glimpsed testes hanging high in the air and impossible, slow-motion orgy gymnastics atop the loft built by Gary in the Purple Room. We've heard rapturous orgasmic crescendos and watched a sweet slow-dance between a half-undressed couple on the dance floor.

The club's main room is still relatively tame, sprinkled here and there with a mostly older crowd in a mix of lingerie and jeans. A few rows of bottles with neat name tags sit behind the bar. It's BYOB at the club. Midori sours and vodka Red Bulls are doled out, but the bartender only spritzes in the mixers.

The slightly kitschy club (neon palm trees, neon lighting, Christmas lights, mirrored dance floors) has a homemade feel to it, but that's probably because Gary and Denise aren't slick industry club owners.

There's a buffet, with breadsticks, marinara and ravioli. An older couple in the corner wearing only towels pile Wheat Thins and cheese on their plates; another woman parades back and forth between the mirrored dance floor and the bar in a white lacy nightie, heels and no underwear. No one reacts much to the nudity. The mood is tamer and much more sober than at other clubs.

One of the reasons for that, says Gary, is that "you can't really get it up and have sex if you're drunk."

A couple in towels stumble out of the Black Room, giggling in their obvious postcoital euphoria. They spot us. "You guys are freaking out, aren't you? This is your first night, right?" Jerry (not his real name) says, smiling at us as he pushes his glasses up. "Nobody knows that we're here. My wife is a designer, and I'm an aerospace engineer. We just get away from everything and come over here, then we go back to our professional lives."

"The day after is the best day," his wife, Corina (also not her real name), says, adjusting her towel while clasping a water bottle. Her skin is soft. She's glowing. "We just enjoy the environment, the sounds. We see people."

For Corina and Jerry, sex, intimacy and candor are all heightened after a night spent at the club. They have come as a couple and are going back home to their kids, a mortgage and their real lives.

"It's just strengthened our relationship," Jerry says. They've been married 15 years. "At the beginning, I had a tough time," he admits. "You've got to be secure with each other." They offer their phone numbers in case we have any questions. It's okay, they say. They were scared, too.

I tell them why I'm there, but their offer still stands.

"You would not believe how many people are into this in the LA area," Jerry says. "We don't care; nobody cares. You're just naked, and so what?"

There's something to this underworld that is less radical and more American than I would have expected. People are friendly, lively. They're middle America: slightly homophobic (female bisexuality is highly encouraged, while male bisexuality is accepted but not openly endorsed), professional, tend to be in their late 30s to mid-40s, family people. McGinley estimates there are 2 million to 4 million "lifestylers" in the U.S. They've managed to gleefully cross over into a terrain that makes sex and nudity and sharing as frolicky and recreational as summer camp, without somehow compromising their relationships.

"It's that simple," Gould wrote in The Lifestyle."And it's that complicated."

Really, if it wasn't for the cacophony of orgasms or the parade of naked people rambling throughout the club, we could have been bowling.

A few days after our visit to Club Amnesty, I'm visiting with Denise in the snug kitchen of the home she shares with Gary. It doesn't seem to matter much that I've seen her nearly naked and spent an evening listening to and seeing a lot of the members of their club having sex. If anything, I feel comfortable around them, like I've known them longer than I really have.

"It's just a sensual environment," Denise says, looking anything but kinky in a soft, oversized sweatshirt. "It just makes you feel sensual."

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