Just a swingin'... in Myrtle Beach?

For Weekly SurgeMarch 12, 2009 

Myrtle Beach is heavily invested in promoting itself as a family resort, a place where parents, grandparents and children can come and enjoy the many attractions and activities scattered throughout the 60 miles of sand and surf known as the Grand Strand. G-rated fun is appealing, but many adults come to our area seeking more grown up diversions.

While everyone has fantasies, some people actually live them out.

More than 150 couples attending the Myrtle Beach Playcate Couples Convention which kicked off Wednesday and runs through this weekend intend to do just that, as organizers host a so-called "hotel takeover" for swingers. Sounds like something to check out? Not so fast. The location is a closely guarded secret, revealed only to couples upon their paid reservation of $100, with weekend packages starting at $350. Those signing up for the event are sworn to both anonymity and secrecy, at least to the outside world. Among like-minded friends, the possibilities for "exciting and erotic fun," as the Playcate Web site promises, are endless.

This weekend's convention-goers aren't ashamed of what they do, nor are the estimated millions of swingers throughout the United States who post profiles of themselves on Web sites such as Adult Friend Finder, www.swinglifestyle.com, and even Craigslist. They visit private clubs and house parties where they can mix and mingle - and maybe more - with others living alternative sexual lifestyles. Advocates of the lifestyle and local couples we spoke with claim to have strong marriages that are honest and open partnerships. They point at high rates of infidelity and divorce as proof that monogamy doesn't work, and claim a greater sense of intimacy and better communication than your average married couple. Consensual sex between adults is not illegal; they fear persecution, not prosecution. Persecution from a society that condemns their behavior as hedonistic and immoral - and from a town not known for its tolerance of personal freedoms. Out of fear of being ostracized by friends, family and society at large, swingers seek to keep their activities, as well as their identities, under the radar.

For many married couples, a craving for a little variety brings out the roving eye in one or both partners. Maybe you cozy up to a member of the opposite sex at your neighborhood bar, or have an ongoing flirtation with a co-worker, not to mention the limitless opportunities to mess around a little online. According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (aamft.org), extramarital affairs account for half the couples seeking marital counseling in this country. Thirty-five percent of married women and almost half of married men admit to engaging in an emotional involvement or sharing sexual intimacies with someone other than their spouse. Couples involved in the swinging lifestyle acknowledge the need for variety, and look at their sexual adventures as a recreational activity to be enjoyed together, as a couple. Dr. Robert McGinley, president of the North American Swinging Couples Association, an association of clubs, events and services related to the swinger lifestyle, is considered by many to be the godfather of the modern swinging movement. McGinley, who holds a doctorate in psychology with an emphasis in human sexuality, advocated in the 1980s use of the term "lifestyle" to better describe the swinging community, and "play couples" to describe its members. On the NASCA Web site, www.nasca.com, McGinley asserts, "By removing the secrecy and dishonesty inherent in one's natural desires for sexual variety the couple can explore their fantasies with out guilt or deceit." While they may not keep secrets from each other, people involved in the local scene were reluctant to reveal any kind of details about who they are and what they do to the general public. People often associate swinging with key parties which first gained notoriety during the 1950s.

Rumored to have started on military bases along the West Coast, they quickly spread to the suburbs of Middle America. Director Ang Lee's 1997 movie "The Ice Storm" features, at the center of the drama, a key party where couples would get together for an evening, all the men throwing their car keys into a hat. The women pick a set of keys from the hat, thus determining their sex partners for the evening. The term wife-swapping sprung up throughout the 1970s, but it's a word that has fallen out of vogue as many modern swinging females feel the term doesn't accurately project their role. Rather than being swapped, women in the lifestyle today call their own shots. Swingers can choose to participate in everything from attending sexually charged meet-and-greets held in local clubs or bars to having actual intercourse with a couple or couples at a private suite or residence. A soft swap may involve kissing, touching, oral sex, or having sex while another couple watches and vice verse. A full swap involves sharing intercourse, from mild romps with other couples to wild encounters involving costumes, bondage and a variety of sex toys.

Bill and Linda are a Myrtle Beach couple in their 30s who are relatively new to the swinging scene. They attended the Playcate convention held last year (Bill would not disclose the location, citing the privacy agreement. He did give these hints - the hotel the convention is held in each year is not on the oceanfront and is part of a national chain) and Bill says, "The convention had everything you could possibly imagine - it was pretty wild." During what is called a "hotel takeover," there are planned receptions and activities, speakers and special events. One of the highlights of every Playcate Couples Convention is the Fantasy Floor. While guests are not permitted to have sex in public places, what they do in the privacy of their own rooms is their business. Taking up an entire floor in the hotel, the Fantasy Floor features a variety of party rooms for curious couples to explore. Bill explains, "There is a swing room with a couples' swing, a shag room, a black chocolate room with these big black guys hanging around outside inviting people to come in..." There was one room Bill refused to try. "It's a darkened room, all the furniture taken out and mattresses all over the floor so it is one big bed. The windows are blacked out, so you can't see anything. You enter through a side room, get naked, and then go in...that was too much for me."

Bill and Linda go to area strip clubs such as Derrieres, where they can meet other couples who might be interested in friendship and playing, and they are members at CFriends, a private couples club located at 1001 3rd Ave. S. in Myrtle Beach (Myrtle Beach public information officer Mark Kruea believes that address is actually not within city limits but rather considered unincorporated Horry County). Open on Saturday nights from 9 until whenever, CFriends is a members only club - at the door, you are required to show a valid ID, fill out several forms stating that you will respect and protect the privacy of other members, and pay a $10 membership fee. Management reviews all applications and reserves the right to deny or revoke memberships as it deems necessary. The club features a deejay and dance floor, as well as a stage with a stripper pole and an erotic shadow box for dancers. CFriends is BYOB, with mixers and light snacks being provided, and the fee to get in is $60 dollars for couples (with a $10 locals' discount) and $10 for single ladies. Single men are not permitted, unless accompanied by a member couple with arrangements made in advance, due to the fact that while there are many bisexual women in the lifestyle, there are few bi-men. (Linda is bisexual and Bill is not, and that's one of the main reasons for Bill's refusal to go into the dark room at last year's Playcate convention as he didn't want to chance contact, however unknowing, with another man.)

Unlike The Estate in Charlotte, a well-known lifestyles club where attendees number in the hundreds, CFriends is on a smaller scale. "I'd say on average they might get a total of 20 couples on any given night," says Bill, "however, we have been there nights when there was as few as three other couples." It's not all fun and games and kinky sex. "Basically, it's couples dating other couples," he says. "Think of how crazy the dating scene is for singles and just imagine how it is as a couple." Bill says when meeting people through the Internet, "Many couples in their ads say no drama, no problems, but it is not that simple." There is also the concern about safe sex.Bill says, "People describe themselves as being clean, disease free, but how do you really know for sure?" Condom use, though encouraged, is not always practiced. In many ways, swinging as a couple can be much more demanding than just going out and having an affair. Bill acknowledges,"Swinging requires a lot of work, as well as a lot of honesty with each other." And with many swingers not participating on a local level for fear of being recognized or outed by someone, swingers often spend a lot of time traveling. Bill points out, "Going to parties and conventions, traveling to meet people - it gets expensive." A weekend pass to Playcate events costs more than $300, not including airfare and accommodations. Exclusive, swingers-only resorts in Los Cabos and Cancun, Mexico, run well into the thousands.

Mike is a long-time local in his mid-40s who works in the healthcare profession. He has been involved with the area's lifestyles couples and clubs since 1999, when he started Myrtle Beach Swingers (www.mbswingers.com), an adult online community where swingers post profiles and catch up on local events. He met Julie, a bisexual college student in her early 30s who moonlights as a bartender, on Adult Friend Finder (www.aff.com), which offers free chat and adult personals to more than 31 million people in every corner of the world. Despite being on the business end of the swing lifestyle for many years, they still prefer not revealing their names. Bill understands, saying, "We don't advertise the fact that we are in the lifestyle, but we don't hide it either. Some of her family knows; most of mine does not. That's just our choice." Mike and Julie moved in together in 2004, and began hosting meet-and-greet parties at a small, neighborhood bar in Surfside Beach before landing a spot at a motel in arrogantly shabby Pawleys Island. "At our motel parties, we simply booked a banquet room, and had a deejay, dancing, some light food, and some games to get people to meet one another. There was no sex in the banquet room, but what you did in your motel room, or someone else's, was your business." They were no longer welcome when the owner of the motel switched hands a year-and-a-half later, and were eventually approached by the management of Thee Doll House where they held meet-and-greets the first Tuesday of every month. In the fall of 2008, Mike and Julie cut back on a lot of their hosting obligations. The Web site is no longer active, and their last meet-and-greet at Thee Dollhouse was in October. After playing hosts for many years, they were ready to take a break.

"A lot of people think that swingers are just a bunch of sexual deviants that all get naked and jump into a slithering pile of bodies," says Mike.

Quite to the contrary, before playing, most couples will lay out their terms. Mike says, "All people involved will know everyone's boundaries and respect them. Boundaries can be as simple as no kissing, to no kissing on the mouth, no cuddling, no anal, no man-to-man contact, etc." The details are spelled out before the first button is popped. "It's always best to discuss these things up front," advises Mike. "It's usually the first thing that people talk about just before they play - 'none of this, that is OK.'"

Back when he was running the Web site, Mike would get regular e-mails from men asking how they could get their wives to try swinging. His response? Don't try to get someone involved. Either they are interested, or they're not. "Swinging is not for everyone, and Julie and I are the first ones to caution others about 'dabbling' in something that is potentially a relationship killer," he says. Even when both partners are receptive, he still advises to go slowly. "My advice was always for both to talk about it, talk about it some more, and when you think you are ready for it - go to a party or a get together, and talk to other people only. Do not actually swing until you are both very and fully certain that you are ready to watch each other have sex with other people." He cautions, "If you have any reservations about it at all, then wait."

With the number of play couples on the rise and a mainstream TV network, CBS, testing out a primetime drama called "Swingtown" last summer, advocates of alternative sexual expression are gaining momentum. Events such as conventions, clubs and couples resorts are gaining in mainstream popularity. There is money to be made in catering to the interests of couples in the lifestyle; an annual lifestyle convention held in Las Vegas was attended by more than 900 couples last year. "A lot of people travel both locally, and across the country, and visit with other people that share their interests. Doll and antique traders and collectors, dog, cat and horse shows, Amway Conventions, RVers - the list goes on and on," Mike says. "We are a lot like these people. We are like-minded people who get together occasionally, share some food, drinks and laughs, and have a good time enjoying each other's company." Could Myrtle Beach carve a profitable niche for itself as a couple's destination? The City of Myrtle Beach and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce both declined to comment on the Myrtle Beach Couples Convention taking place this weekend. In light of the apparent willingness of our elected officials to kiss the considerable tourism dollars brought in by the May motorcycle rallies goodbye, is it any surprise that the red carpet isn't rolled out for alternative sexual lifestyle enthusiast? Maybe if they wore helmets...

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