NSFW warning: This article discusses swinging, BDSM and group sex.
Swapping Canapés for Husbands
In the corner of a smoke-filled room sits a man, large in every sense of the word, wearing only black latex briefs, boots of the same hue, and a thick silver chain. His face is soft and kind as he describes his love for his tiny fluffy dog, and the guilt he felt leaving him whilst he went out tonight. The words spoken don’t at all match the person speaking them but then, this whole place is like going through the looking glass.
Hidden deep in one of Canberra’s industrial suburbs is an unmarked door to a seemingly abandoned shop front, however, this is part of the illusion, the door leads to the type of party one would not expect to find in the conservative capital city. The Establishment* hosts an array of events for those with sexual proclivities that could be described as left of field. Tonight is for the swingers.
Behind the door you are greeted by an immaculately dressed woman, offering those entering a glass of sparkling wine whilst she confirms their names are on the guest list. Her welcoming smile is a small reassurance for the nervous guests, especially those who are new (of which there a few tonight). Once approved they move through a short corridor leading to a room adorned with mirrors, a settee, a sex swing, and a window for the voyeurs.
It’s still early and the room remains unused. To the right is a communal area, its setup is dependent on the event, tonight it’s left as open space. There are a few areas to sit; a dimly lit bedroom, lounges grouped around a dancing pole, which will see some use later in the evening and a bed hides behind a curtain. Towards the back of the building are two toilets, a shower, and a kitchenette stocked with sweets and non-alcoholic drinks. A medical room lies down the far end of The Establishment and has been blocked off for this evening. The smoker’s room is opposite the shower, on the way you pass the sound system and ‘bar.’
The Establishment is a ‘bring your own bottle’ venue. A man spends his night in the bar handing people back their drinks, and a numbered ticketing system is in place to ensure no drinks get tampered with. Safety is a priority here.
More people are arriving.
One of the hosts, a tall dark-haired woman in a long black gown takes the newcomers on a tour of the building explaining the rules. Consent is everything, you must ask people before you touch them, if anyone makes you uncomfortable or you see something you think may be unsafe tell one of the hosts. She then reiterates that there is no pressure to get involved, as voyeurism is both accepted and encouraged. Everyone knows this already, as every patron has undergone an extensive vetting process before being offered a ticket. Once people start to have a couple of drinks they begin to relax, and the Canberra night warms up.
The practice of swinging, or wife swapping, is often attributed to a group of United States Fighter Pilots during World War II, the specifics of the division are unknown but speculated to be one of the elites. Fighter Pilots had the highest fatality rate of any armed forces servicemen during the war, so they, with their wives, decided that it would be the responsibility of the surviving pilots to fulfill the emotional and sexual needs of a fallen brother’s wife. The practice became widely acknowledged within western society, despite the likelihood that people had been swinging before this.
Swinging became a popular practice during the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s, often shown in popular culture of the time or set in the era through fishbowl or key parties. All the couples would place their keys in a bowl and pull them out one by one, you go home with the person that selects your keys.
But the craze died down, and while it’s not completely unheard of, nowadays it’s usually associated with old, bored married couples. Tonight is far from that.
The internet has made it easier for people to engage, social media and dating sites are designed to help friends stay in touch and to establish connections with those you otherwise may not have. This is the same for those in the ‘kink world’.
Fetlife is a social media site with a layout that resembles a macabre myspace, it’s a place for likeminded people to post photos, share knowledge on forums, arrange meet-ups and events. Everything is centered around different fetishes and it’s a place where all fetishes are respected. The groups and forums have sections in which users can post ‘ads’ to fulfill their desires.
In the same vein, dating site Red Hot Pie is marketed towards swingers and those wanting to experiment with threesome’s, having an option for couples to reach out to solo members or other couples. Sourcing someone who shares common sexual interests is only the first step; safety and discretion are a priority when meeting someone to partake in kink practices, even more so than with vanilla dating. That’s where the need for places like The Establishment comes in. The venue maintains an active presence on both these sites and markets themselves as a safe place to meet like-minded people and explore otherwise hidden desires.
“It was over a lunch with girlfriends, we wanted a place we could hang out as friends and have a little play.”
Linda*, the immaculately dressed woman who was greeting guests and her husband Mark* are the owners of The Establishment. The idea came to Linda when she was having lunch with like-minded friends. She and Mark have successful careers in their vanilla lives and begun scouting out places within a fortnight. They wanted to be honest with the owners of any spaces they were inspecting, which caused a few problems. The owner of the building they settled on only asked that there be no signage, which fit in well with Linda and Mark’s vision. After the appropriate alterations were made Linda and Mark started hosting parties for their friends.
It’s easy to tell the newcomers from those that have been doing this for a while, it’s in the way they hold themselves. Those who are new are rigid and tight as though they might completely crumble if they relax, whereas the regulars look completely at ease. Whether they are walking around naked, dressed in lingerie, or fully clothed; this is where they belong.
There is no stereotypical look in the crowd, with bodies ranging from slender to Rubenesque, aged from the early twenties to well into their seventies. The only thing they share is that they’re all uniquely beautiful here. Open-mindedness and confidence are the ultimate aphrodisiacs, and, as people begin to undress, they reveal their outfits that match the night’s theme; leather and lace.
Platters of cheese, meat, and fruit are laid out and the newbies begin huddling around discussing how they came across The Establishment and what they are hoping to get from the evening.
“It just grew from a little place for ourselves to what we have today” Linda attributes the growth to word of mouth.
An approved attendee can introduce someone new from the community. They would be responsible for them until the new person has been through the vetting process, attended an event, and behaved in a manner that is safe and respectful. This means that growth for the business has been a slow process, but one where they have been selective about who they invite to their parties and it seems to be effective. After nearly two years of business and all the different kinds of parties they host, they’ve only had one couple not welcomed back. The Establishment may not host Canberra’s only kink event, but they are arguably the safest.
“I wanted to have a sex swing, we can’t have one in the bedroom, with the kids, it’s kind of hard to explain.”
The room with the mirrors and sex swing is starting to get busy. One of the new couples dives straight into the deep end; a threesome. He is being pleasured by his partner and penetrated by another woman in front of a crowd of eager onlookers.
Deeper in the room a muscular woman dressed in thigh-high boots, fishnets, and little else demonstrates to a man how to bring his girlfriend to climax. Others in the room are discovering each other’s bodies, it’s hard to tell who came together and who has just met.
The hosts walk through, watching over different scenes and stopping to talk to those not involved, another method used to make attendees feel safe and welcome. Leaving the room, giggles and moans of pleasure can be heard from behind the stand-alone glory holes. A small, makeshift room surrounded by curtains to keep anonymity; the appeal of glory holes.
“It’s not that you don’t feel jealousy anymore, it’s that you know at the end of the night they are coming home with you,” remarks a woman who must be in her sixties, she sits on the floor as she watches her husband cuddle up to another woman.
The older patrons in the crowd have made the couches near the pole their space, lounging around completely nude. One man, who would be at least sixty-five, excitedly comments on how his chemically-induced erection has maintained for hours; he is the husband of the woman on the floor.
A naked woman on the opposite couch mentions how it took her five years to realise that the only thing that bothered her about swinging was when her husband kissed another woman during sex. Establishing these boundaries and constant check-ins with your partner is the key to longevity in the swinging scene. They all agreed that The Establishment was the best swinging venue they had been to, between them they had attended venues up and down the coast of Australia. The lack of an enforced dress down policy (having to be naked by a certain time), the safety protocols, and the approachability of the other patrons have kept them coming back.
Back out in the smoker’s area the tiny dog owner has gone and been replaced with a new couple. Both are in their late twenties, the woman is voluptuous, and the man tall and muscular. They are both excited about attending their first swinger’s night. She asks about the large black material draped across the back half of the room, one of the regulars informs her that it conceals the storage room where all the equipment for other events is kept. Her counterpart then points to the cage by the door, the woman seems both intrigued and confused as she inspects the cage.
“Do people actually go in this?” She asks as though this was a new revelation to her.
Even within the kink community, some things that are accepted in one crowd can still be confronting or off-putting to another.
The Establishment tries to cater to as many of these groups as they can, and the kink nights are almost as popular as the swinger nights. It is a BDSM (Bondage & Discipline/ Dominance & Submission/ Sadism & Masochism) event, and as many people involved in the BDSM scene can’t have set-ups at home, coming somewhere where they have access to things like the medical room and a St Andrew’s Cross is appealing. The vetting to attend one of these events is more intense than that of any other. There is also a gender-fluid night, a party aimed at providing an inclusive space for non-binary kinksters. Interestingly, women’s only nights are a hit while the men’s only night was canceled due to lack of interest.
The muscular woman who had been demonstrating orgasm-inducing techniques to the man earlier emerges from the dimly lit room after educating a second new couple. She mentions that swinging was originally her husband’s idea and she was hesitant at first because she thought he just wanted to sleep with other people. He explained that seeing her with other men was a big thing for him so she tried it, that was thirteen years ago. She is also a frequenter of the women’s only events and encourages her friends to come along.
After attendees have left, Linda and Mark start on the downside of the job, the cleanup. Sheets are taken to an industrial cleaner; surfaces are wiped down with disinfectant bleach and bins taken to a biohazard disposal site. The supply stations that house condoms, lube, and the like are disinfected and ready to be restocked for the next event.
The Establishment can be likened to Peter Pan’s Neverland; unknown to those who don’t look for it, and inaccessible without the right connections. But once you’ve arrived, time stops, the events you’re witnessing seem like make-believe and maybe you might not want to leave.
*Names have been changed to protect individual’s privacy.