The American history of swinging is relatively recent. The modern swinging movement emerged in the 1960s (Gould, 1999) and the term “swingers” was developed in the early 1970s, along with the establishment of the North American Swing Clubs Association.The swinging lifestyle seemed to originate around the same time as the sexual revolution; in the 1980s the push for the term “lifestyle” began to take off, as it was thought to more positively reflect the lifestyle choice that a couple made (Gould, 1999). It is believed that during the 1990s the swinging lifestyle became more prominent because of access to internet, which increased the ability for one to learn about the lifestyle and also meet other swingers.
There doesn’t seem to be one official definition of swinging. Dictionary.com defines swinging as “free and uninhibited sexually” and “exchanging spouses for sex,” while Urbandictionary.com defines it as “A lifestyle of non-monogamy where sexual relations occur outside the established couple.” TJ’s Lasting Impressions, a popular swingers club, defines swinging as “engaging in sexual activity with someone other than one’s spouse/primary partner, with the full knowledge and consent of that spouse/primary partner” (Friend, Pearlmutter & McGinley, 1989). There are many different ways in which swingers can connect with and meet other people who are interested in the lifestyle, such as through advertisements, phone and internet services, off-premise events such as socials and bars where no space is provided for engaging in sexual activity, and on-premise events such as a house party where there is a space provided for engaging in sexual activity.
My archive post will focus on TJ’s Lasting Impressions, which boasts being the largest and most luxurious lifestyle (swingers) club in central Pennsylvania. Larry and Elaine have managed the club for 16 years and are now the current owners. TJ’s is located only 10 miles from Routes 22/322 red-light district, which is known for having many strip clubs in one small area because of the lack of zoning regulations. When I asked members of the club if they felt there was any relationship between the location and the type of club TJ’s is, and they said that they felt that it was just a coincidence. They pointed out that strip clubs and swinger clubs target two very different groups of people, and they did not feel as though TJ’s would want to be affiliated with strip clubs. I feel that if there is any correlation, it may just be that people are more open about sexuality in that geographic location.
TJ’s provides a safe, open-minded atmosphere for both couples and singles to meet others who share similar interests. TJ’s is a private club, which means that you must either be a member or have a reservation in order to enter. TJ’s hosts many exciting and interesting events including TJ’s Threesome Night, Milfs and Cougars night, and TJ’s Slumber Party Night. TJ’s also has the Intimate Impressions store, a restaurant, a large Roman hot tub, VIP suites, 12 large party rooms, and a dance floor. TJ’s is on-premise, which means it provides a safe space for engaging in sexual activity, which the owners feel allows couples and singles to freely express their sexuality and sensuality and gives them greater opportunity for social interaction and activities. TJ’s puts a lot of effort in making sure that everyone feels very welcome at the club, and does not encourage anyone to do anything that they are not comfortable with. TJ’s targets both couples and singles, with different event nights targeting both groups. Members who I have spoken with state that they felt that females drive the lifestyle; even TJ’s website states that they believe the ladies are in charge of this scene.One female member stated that she had experienced the most sexual empowerment at TJ’s than anywhere else.
I choose to incorporate TJ’s Lasting Impressions lifestyle club into our digital archive because I felt that it queered normative culture by providing a safe and open-minded environment for non-normative sexual behavior and interests. Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner state in their article Sex in Public, “Queer social practices like sex and theory try to unsettle the garbled but powerful norms supporting that privilege -including the project of normalization that has made heterosexuality hegemonic- as well as those material practices that, though not explicitly sexual, are implicated in the hierarchies of property and propriety that we will describe as heteronormative.” I think that Queer culture attempts to challenge people’s concepts of what sexuality means, develop new ways in which to look at pleasure and the erotic, and redefine the social rules for who can become intimate with who. I think that TJ’s attempts to do those very same things. Our society tells us that sexual relations must be strictly monogamous, between one man and one woman, and in the privacy of our own homes – alone. I think that both Queer culture and TJ’s attempts to tear down that social norm, and build a new way in which to look at sexuality. Both Queer culture and TJ’s embrace the many dimensions of sexuality as a lifestyle, and do not view sexuality as something negative or abnormal. Some swingers and those who identify as LGBT may feel the pressure to not be open about their sexuality or sexual lifestyle with others, because both groups of people have faced a lack understanding from people with very normative and conservative views.
I, however, have noticed that, although Bisexual women are very welcome and common at TJ’s, they do not seem to target the LGBT community. Of all the event nights, there are no LGBT events. Members of the club have also told me that it is not very common to see gay and lesbian couples there. I personally think that TJ’s would receive even more guests if they reached out to the LGBT community. When searching through their website, I found that on their Terminology and Facts page that many of their definitions seemed very heteronormative. For example, they define a couple as a man and a woman, threesome as having to involve at least one person of the opposite sex, and “petting” as something seen among opposite genders. So, although I think TJ’s and Queer culture have some overlapping goals in redefining sexuality, I think that TJ’s is still stuck in a very heteronormative way of thinking about gender dynamics within a sexual relationship.
I think that TJ’s Lasting Impressions lifestyle club really fits in with our sex unit of the archive. I think that there are several areas in which TJ’s reflects topics we discussed in class. TJ’s reminds me of the public sex prevalent with gay men in the early 1980s. TJ’s also seems similar to the bars in the Cruising film, where public sex and uncommitted sexual encounters were a part of the culture. TJ’s Roman hot tub reflects the gay bath houses we discussed in class as another location for public sex. There are some differences though; TJ’s website mentions that “other cultures” aka bondage, sado/masochism and watersports are uncommon and even shunned at most swing events, where the bars depicted in Cruising seemed to promote those types of activities. Cruising also focused a lot on cruising, although TJ’s does promote a similar interaction, they frown upon what they call “bedroom cruising” where a male goes around to private swing areas attempting to get involved with something. I find it very strange that these places seem so similar, yet they are both so restrictive in their acceptance of other sexual orientations, and you do not see many clubs/bars which really target all sexual orientations. It makes me wonder why these places which promote open sexuality still set certain boundaries. TJ’s seems to have very strict rules and regulations on what is and is not acceptable within the swingers lifestyle and within the club, suggesting their own set of norms and etiquette. I think that it reveals that even groups which go against the “typical” norms tend to in turn create a new set of norms.