Vixen editor and Pontiff had been asked for his worldly views on swinging. Easier said than done. For an experienced swinger like our pope, who had already been "singed at the stake" for his lifestyle beliefs.. one had to be cautious.
Trust, faith and an honest reporter, Lisa Mitchell.
On the day.. June 19 2003
Melbourne's internet-savvy, partner swapping scene is on the rise. Lisa Mitchell reports.
It's half a century since Australian swingers unleashed the pent-up frustration of the emotionally constrained '50s and swung into the hedonism of the '60s and '70s with wild abandon. It became the great sexual adventure of a generation and our fascination with it was epitomised with humour in the 1969 film Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice , an extra-marital sex romp about two white, American, upper-class, middle-aged couples who head off to a mountain retreat together.
In Melbourne, like-minded couples made a lifestyle choice to join an erotic lucky dip.
Then, over decades concerned with AIDS, the scene slowly faded away … or did it?
According to Vixsin, a national swinging magazine, the partner-swapping scene is far from flat. In fact, it is booming in Melbourne where about 15 swinging parties are thrown most weekends, compared to New South Wale's paltry seven parties, and fewer in other states. To many, this makes Melbourne Australia's swinging capital.
Events are listed on internet sites such as www.swinging.com.au where there is a personal ads board and a definitive guide called the Australian Guide to Swinging including the statement that "some women may find the swinging community to be a welcome dose of sanity".
Elsewhere stories are rife about "meetings" in some of Melbourne's more adventurous suburbs — Ringwood and Mount Martha among them — but eyewitness accounts are hard to come by and a definitive data base does not exist.
In fact, sociologists are only just beginning to explore the retro-'70s sexual movement. Two local academics are currently doing research, one keeping her work under wraps for fear of losing her government funding. Another is writing a book and is sworn to secrecy by her publisher.
Meet Paul. He's 40 and is honest about the scene that society labels as a one-way ticket to male utopia. His moral code is also fairly rigorous. He only has safe sex, will not sleep with married people who keep their swinging a secret from partners, will not "play" with any woman he feels is there under duress to satisfy her partner's fantasies, and will only indulge swingers whose company he enjoys socially. Turning women on turns him on, it's that simple.
"I took a partner to a get-together when her fantasy was to have a number of guys and there were eight at the time. Most guys wouldn't do that because there's nothing in it for them. It didn't make me uncomfortable at all."
He has come across others who try to take take advantage of the scene: men who treat it as a meat market, manipulative, single women who play havoc with happily swinging couples, men who encourage their wives into bisexual encounters but who baulk at the thought of fulfilling her double-lover dreams.
"There's no doubt in my mind that there is a double standard operating but it's not everybody … but I'd say 60 per cent of men do have it, and begrudgingly cooperate (with their partners' desires) to get what they want but that's not good enough," says Paul.
He believes swinging is best approached as an "add-on" to a healthy sex life. "A lot of couples who have open relationships (who swing separately within and outside the scene), never seem really close." There are exceptions but to his mind, open relationships are generally a "recipe for disaster".
Paul thinks people need to be more honest about their sexuality. "Monogamy is something that nobody really wants, deep down inside. I think what people want is a monogamous partner (someone to come home to) … My own view is that monogamy wears a bit thin, for women too."
The internet has also made it easier for curious couples to hook up via personal ads.
According to figures compiled by the Canberra-based EROS foundation, the number of "couples seeking couples" personal ads placed online and in swingers' magazines in Australia has increased from an average of 2000 per month in 1996 to 10,000 per month in 2003.
"We also run the Saints and Sinners (off-premises balls), and our own party called Debauchery (an on-premises party)," says David. "People trust us and word of mouth turned out to be very good. Although the quality of parties varies in Melbourne."
In the 1997 film The Ice Storm , the protagonists attend a "key party", where men toss their keys into a bowl and women each pick a set to discover who will escort them home.
The above scenario is long thought to be a suburban myth (as is another variation where knickers are thrown in the drum of a washing machine and spun around for the picking). So how different is the reality?
The mechanics of swinging work like this. People are vetted over the phone before they receive an invitation to a party at a private venue. Some parties may charge a nominal fee to cover costs. People arrive in couples (some parties allow single women, and fewer, single men) and immediately change into erotic outfits. They head to the bar area for a few social drinks but drunkenness and drugs are discouraged. It's like a regular party except the theme is flesh to impress. Size and shape is inconsequential, personality rules, so if you're into size 10 bods and six-packs, swinging's probably not for you. Usually a variety of pleasures are offered in designated areas — group sex, one-on-one encounters, or exhibitionists and voyeurs only.
The host couple lays down the rules for the benefit of newcomers: no means no; ask before you make a pass; some rooms are all hands on deck; if a door's closed, entry is prohibited; if you don't want to participate, you don't have to; no unruly or aberrant behaviour. Abiding by etiquette in this sexually charged environment is essential.
Swinging couples usually make rules to protect their relationships. Some swing only as a couple at parties, some swing separately at parties, some also swing outside parties, some will only perform certain sexual acts with others and save one special indulgence for their partner.
David's wife Jill accepts "no nonsense" at their regular party, "Debauchery". You have to understand, says Jill, that the people who attend are usually very highly sexed and want to explore their sexual fantasies in a safe environment. With the right attitude, and loving commitment to your partner, you can ward off the inevitable boredom of a monogamous sex life, says David.
"We have one couple who go out every Friday night for dinner, bring their left-overs, half-bottle of wine to the party and get it off in front of everyone else before heading off home. They have a fantastic time."
David is an intelligent, articulate man with a white-collar background who might be mistaken for an English professor, save this exception; he peppers our conversation with sexual terms that cannot be printed. But the couple's open discussion of their sexuality and the scene never comes across as lewd or sleazy. They say that group sex — in a controlled environment with responsible, consenting adults — is a natural extension of the physical pleasures of life. They adhere to the credo of the original North American Swinging Club Association (NASC).
Jill says new couples, who are usually nervous, are made to feel comfortable and women's wishes are treated with respect.
"I always stress, especially to single women, if any male pushes them for sex and they say 'no' and they keep hassling them, that guy goes straight out the door. … Most people think women are pushed or forced into it. Most women come because they want to be there … Lots of women want to try it but are brought up so badly that they're terrified of it (exploring their sexuality) …"
But some women come purely to satisfy their husband's fantasies. Jill says she identifies them immediately. "I hate women feeling scared and cowering in a corner. They shouldn't have to do that for their husbands, I don't believe in that kind of pressure. I've only had two guys I've had to deal with like that."
Names have been changed at the request of interviewees.