Shutters close the windows to the outside world, while inside couples are just starting to get to know each other. They are seated on colourful sofas, leather sofas and on stools spread out over pieces of tacky red oriental carpets.
The scene: a swingers’ club in Örebro – one of an increasing number across Sweden attracting members of both sexes and of all ages and sexual orientations.
A friend of mine had earlier told me about this club and I thought it would be an interesting experience to do some research on swinging, the phenomenon that started in the 1950s as 'wife swapping'.
She gave me the club's number and without hesitation I called for an appointment, gave them my personal information and signed in for one of the ‘open-minded evening’ sessions.
The speaker gave me directions and instructed me about the importance of safe sex and accepting the club’s policies regarding ‘respect’ between its members. I did not tell them I wanted to write an article, and went there as a curious onlooker.
As I entered the hidden world behind the shutters, some women were dressed in nightgowns, some men wore leather pants, but the atmosphere in general seemed too relaxed for my own anxiety.
The club’s door is open three nights a week for couples, singles, straight, gay, bi and transsexuals, who are allowed to have sex on the premises with others who share their preferences.
I was told that with the advent of spring, the club is increasing the number of thematic evening programmes to meet demand.
It has different rooms, different music, fetish objects, and a small bar where members are allowed to drink, but ‘only in moderation’.
I felt that people knew each other, but I could see some other couples’ eyes innocently (or not so innocently) wandering around the room, waiting to be approached or to steel themselves before approaching other couples.
One conversation I overheard was a couple telling another couple how they like to be dominant in their little master-slave swinging endeavours.
Some members offered to tell me about their expectations.
‘Meg’ is a 40-year-old member who says she would like to have blindfolded sex with as many men as possible at the same time, while her husband stands aside and takes pictures for private ‘use’.
Swapping men with her is 25-year-old Elinor, who says she will not take more than 10 men at a time.
“No watching,” Elinor insisted.
‘Hanna’ and her partner ‘O’ have been coming to this club once a month to meet other couples with similar preferences. They offered to give a “less explicit, yet more intimate” description of how it works out for them.
“We sit at the bar and talk to other couples, discuss what we would like to do, and if they are into it we ask them if they would follow us to our favourite room. Sometimes we watch a movie before we go,” Hanna says. The room has a big cross on the wall with handcuffs attached to it.
Her partner explained to me the deal with ‘respect’: “Couples often do not reveal their names, and when one says no, it means no and there’s no discussion about it.”
According to him, there are free condoms for everyone’s use and men are encouraged to use them by the club's owners.
I asked how their experience as swingers affected their relationship.
“If anything, this has improved our relationship together,” Anna says. “Swingers and non-swingers have pretty much the same chances to stay together… we do this out of love.”
She said that swinging is good for satisfying the sexual curiosity of both sexes, particularly when it comes to “opening up to other people of the same sex.”
They told me that different evening programmes are arranged by member couples, but often there is limited access for hetero-, bi-sexual, and single men and women, with the latter offered free membership.
There are separate gay programmes. Some evenings included oil massages for all members, by massage ‘experts’.
Some of the other rooms consist basically of large mattresses on which multiple couples can have sex at the same time.
Mirrors surround the room and all you can see is skin going up and down, and moaning and grunting from every possible direction – the intensity of which painted an image of what doomsday would be like, especially with the effect of the sounds of whiplashes.
In one room, there were about 10 people engaged in a network of sexual activity, barely saying a word, touching and kissing others as they had sex with each other.
One man seemed to be unsatisfied with his own performance, so he moved aside for another man to join his sexual partner, a middle-aged woman, who seemed concerned about her first partner’s feelings, but soon was comfortable with her new position. Before the man left the room, he was stopped by another woman who offered to help him – ahem – improve his performance.
At this point, I was kindly asked to leave the room if I was not going to participate. I went home and did further research. I found another club in Stockholm’s suburbs, a 10 year old Swingers’ club with more than 1,000 members.
“It is a club for couples who like to have sex with other couples, while other couples watch,” say the club's owners. The club has been going through an expansion phase, adding a whole new floor to its premises due to increased demand.
“On an average night, we have 15-30 couples having sex together,” according to the owners, who say that they have a strict policy regarding anonymity and the safety of the couples.
The club is open on weekends until 4 in the morning for pairs only, and has a separate club for gay and bisexual women.
In both clubs, membership is a must. Members are advised to contact the clubs by email or phone well in advance, giving personal details to the owners who will create a membership card to be shown alongside a personal ID every time members go in.
Having sex with strangers is not a must in the Stockholm club. Partners are allowed to have sex together as long as they do so in the same public rooms.
While first timers sip their coffee in total anticipation, the club owners do not miss the opportunity to tell you how their club’s reputation has been attracting couples from outside Sweden – some have been frequenting the club for years already.
In a similar club in Gothenburg, couples with ‘healthy, stable relationships,’ are advised to join. One attendee of the club said that there have been cases when couples with fragile relationships could not keep their problems to themselves.
In a telephone interview, he said members have an average age of 36 years but added that ages range 19 to 50. He said the club sells sexual toys and fetish clothing on its premises for those who ‘would like to explore.’
“We have been receiving more and more younger members,” he said.
“One common myth among youngsters is that swingers’ clubs are for desperate people. In fact, they are for people who are seeking a new level of satisfying their senses,” he said.
He commented later that the increase is partly due to the season. More people visit during spring and summer than during autumn and winter.
I asked him about how open people are about their relationships. He said that in general people tend to keep this side of them inside the closet, as many who don’t have the experience view it as a form of ‘perversion’.
However, old members tend to become friends and establish new social circles amongst other swingers. “They go to sauna sessions and summer trips together, or arrange private parties.”
“This is when your customers become your competitors,” he said.