PAUL HOPPE

It's almost 2:30 in the morning.

I glance around the living room of a particularly lovely condo. On the couch, a woman lounges while a man licks her pussy. Another woman stands behind the couch, stroking the woman's breasts. On the large ottoman, a woman is passionately engaged with two men. On a blanket in front of the fireplace, my husband's face is buried between the legs of a beautiful brunette.

I know he's hoping she'll pull his hair—hard—as she orgasms.

Moans, cries, and other sounds can be heard from nearby bedrooms. Myself? I'm snuggling with two dear friends, exhausted but enthralled.

The party actually started earlier tonight in the large VIP room at the back of an upscale downtown nightclub. (Don't worry, swingers, a reporter did not infiltrate our party. I'm a swinger, too, and my husband and I cherish our privacy and yours.) The room was reserved just for us, to protect the sensibilities and avoid the prying eyes of the nonswingers in the main areas of the bar. But by 10:00 p.m., with more than 100 couples packed into the back room, I didn't think it looked significantly different from a regular Friday night at any other club.

But maybe I'm a bit desensitized.

It was too packed for much dancing, but several groups of women found ways to writhe and grind together in the crowd. The room was filled with short skirts, but there were very few pairs of panties. Looking around, I spotted at least three pairs of women in darker corners of the bar doing things with fingers and tongues to the darker corners of one another's anatomies. I've heard that these sorts of things sometimes go on at Cowgirls Inc. and Tiki Bob's, too, only without the "swingers" label.

This party was only the foreplay. It's at these parties in bars or dance clubs that my husband and I go to meet people we find attractive. We talk and dance and perhaps negotiate what sorts of sexual activities we'd like to share, and then we head somewhere more private. It is often the female halves of couples who "seal the deal," arranging for all four members of two couples to get together later to have sex. In fact, we've noticed that it's increasingly common for the woman to have brought the couple into swinging in the first place.

Tonight, we left the club around midnight with a group of about 16 people and reconvened at the condo.

My husband and I have been in love since we met at college. We're in our late 20s now, and we've been married for several years. We were sexually adventurous from the beginning, fucking outdoors, in windows, and in positions we've never seen replicated in any sex manual. Then in early 2003, we read a wide-eyed report by a writer who was investigating swinging. We were intrigued, and that article prompted us to take our first steps toward finding clubs, parties, and other couples.

We had some missteps early in our explorations. There were times when we didn't firmly say "no" when approached by overly aggressive people. There were also times when we should have left a club or party, parties where some people weren't using condoms or the door security was lax. We had to work to develop our own set of boundaries. And we learned to only push our boundaries when we're ready, not when others pressure us.

What do couples get out of swinging? It varies. Some mostly-straight women find a safe outlet for their bisexuality. (I'm convinced that more and more married women are telling their husbands, "I love you, honey, but I need pussy, too.") For other couples, it's a way to fulfill each other's fantasies, like a woman's secret desire to have sex with several men at once or a man's usually not-so-secret desire to have sex with multiple women.

What do we get out of it? My husband loves to experience different types of connections with different people, and he finds spontaneous sexual connections more rewarding than restrained cocktail-party conversation. I love to feel the sexual energy of a crowd swell. When I'm at the center of that swell, I feel my own sexual energy magnified and reflected back by everyone around me.

Otherwise, we're a fairly normal young couple with normal jobs, a cute house near Green Lake, and interests other than swinging. Our lives only deviate from the mainstream straight-urban-couple lifestyle in our intense, expressive, adventurous sexuality.

One thing we learned early on was that real swingers' parties bear very little resemblance to their film and television portrayals. The depictions of swingers parties you've seen on Nip/Tuck and Desperate Housewives, or in the 1997 film The Ice Storm, are totally inaccurate. Looking around the party, I am struck by just how different the swinging scene really is.

The most notable differences?

Everyone at the party is having fun. In most tales of swinging, one spouse has been coerced into it and the night usually ends badly as a result. Fights, tears, recriminations—I've seen none of that at tonight's party.

Which is not to say that it doesn't happen. Swingers describe couples where one partner has coerced the other into participating, or couples who participate due to a lack of sexual passion for each other, as couples with "drama." Couples who are overly aggressive or who are insulted by perceived rejection can also cause tension. Swinging is not easy, and jealousy and rejection are real complications; they're something my husband and I had to work through. But like many other couples, we've found that as long as you are genuinely caring for your partner, those complications can be overcome, and the personal benefits of swinging—should you desire them—are more than worth the effort.

Other differences between our party and the last one you saw on basic cable? No one is falling-down drunk. There are condoms strewn here and there—and they're being used. And while I find everyone in the room attractive, we're all just normal people. The 16 of us enjoying the afterparty aren't the Hollywood types shown in Nip/Tuck, nor are we the unkempt-accountant stereotypes in Desperate Housewives. (Sorry, accountants.) We're the cute couples who live down the street whose idea of a fun Friday night is more sexually charged than most.

Watching my husband with a beautiful woman's legs wrapped around his head or his waist is a source of intense pleasure for me. He also loves watching me, when I'm in the center of one of those swells of sexual energy.

Earlier in the night, I was dancing with my ass pressed into the hips of an obviously well-endowed man and my legs entwined with those of a long, lean woman. I caught my husband gazing at me.

It was a moment of surprisingly sweet connection, as we both silently acknowledged our love for each other. I blew him a kiss. It was a promise that we would fuck like tigers later, just the two of us.