New Orleans Swingers Convention

GQ, Apr 2007

Eager to indulge their every fantasy in a city desperate for dollars, a gang of voracious swingers descends on New Orleans for a five-day orgy among the ruins.

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Photographs by Naomi Harris

There’s a faint humming sound as I’m checking into the Marriot, New Orleans. It sounds like an electric razor. I ask the man at reception about it, but he ignores me. “How many keys will you be needing, sir?” he says, eyes fixed on his keyboard.

“Oh as many as you’ve got sweetie!” cackles a woman behind me. Suddenly there’s a hand running down my back and pinching my arse. It’s one of those terrifying old vamps, convinced she’s still got it. A nympho Cruella da Ville. She arches her eyebrow and licks her rouged, shriveled lips. “Got a key for me honey?”

Her husband leans across and winks. “Hi, I’m Larry,” he says, extending his hand. “This is my wife, Brooke. She’s kinda friendly!”

Kinda scary too. Maybe if I focus on checking in, she’ll leave me alone.

“Anything else I can help you with?” clips the receptionist.

Yes, what time’s breakfast until?

“Oh baby, with an accent like that, I got breakfast right here. I got a full buffet!”

“Honey, let the poor man check in.” Larry’s rescuing me from his wife. I like Larry, he’s OK. “Oh, you wanted to know about the buzzing?” he says. “It’s coming from over there.” He points to a huddle in the middle of the lobby where a big bearded man is demonstrating for a small crowd, what looks like a big purple vibrator. As he passes it around, the women ask these terribly practical questions. What batteries does it run on? Is it easy to clean? What does it do that my one can’t? And Beardie parries them all in turn – it recharges from the mains, it’s easy to wipe off, and the selling point isn’t so much the wriggling cock part but the two rotating “thumbs” underneath that stimulate the clitoris. He’s a practiced salesman, you can tell. I’m reminded of the Sliceomatic demonstrations on the shopping channel. If there is a vibrator that makes perfect guacamole I’ll bet Beardie’s got one in his bag.

“I did a product test at the last convention and half the women squirted,” he says, casually. An impressed murmur goes around the huddle. That’s a lot of squirting. “I know women at these events are more multiorgasmic than most, but still six out of 12 squirters isn’t bad.”

The bellman’s here to help with my bags and I’m not sure how to respond. Beardie’s waving a vibrator around, Cruella’s giving me a back rub and he’s behaving as though it’s just a regular day at the Marriot. Well, it may be for him. But I’ve never been to a swingers convention before and it’s hard to adjust to just how conventional it actually is.

For all their racy and decadent ways, swingers hold conventions in modestly priced business hotels just like the mortgage industry or the manufacturers of tractor parts. And they’re serious about the “convention” part. I’d always thought it was a cover, the way biker gangs hold ‘conferences’ that just involve getting tanked up and starting brawls. But no, when I register at the welcome desk, I’m presented with a programme, a name tag and a yellow wristband (green if you ordered the dinner package). There’s a board in the lobby listing all the various seminars and workshops on offer during the week, and couples are already bickering over which ones to go to – “honey, if we do tantric massage, we miss beginners flogging. No I didn’t, I said you could choose…” Maybe there’s a comfort level with all the convention trappings. After all, some of these swingers, as it turns out, actually work in mortgages and tractor parts.

Nawlins In November may not be the biggest or most lavish of swinger conventions – or “lifestyle” conventions, as they’re officially called – but it’s one of the most raucous. Put it down to the city’s mardi gras spirit – the whole girls-gone-wild, tits-outness of the place – combined with the fact that this is a hotel takeover. That is, for the next five days, only swingers, some 800 of them, will occupy this hotel. No non-swingers allowed. As night falls, doors all over the hotel will be left on the latch with come-hither tassels around the handles.

“Takeovers are much better,” says Bob, one of the organizers of the event. With his wife, Tess, they’ve run Nawlins in November for the last 7 years, barring 2005 on account of Katrina. “No non-lifestyle people around. No kids running around. Fewer lawsuits!”

Bob and Tess live about 40 minutes outside New Orleans, in a neighbourhood that was flooded along with most of Louisiana. Their home is still flood damaged and until a few weeks ago, they were confined to a FEMA trailer parked on their lawn where most of the preparations for this giant middle-aged orgy were made – the bulk ordering of condoms, veil curtains, red light bulbs and so forth.

“You’ll find all sorts of people here,” Bob says. “We’ve got the well educated, successful, rich couples who go to conventions and parties every month. And for others this is their one holiday of the year, so they go all out, you know? But so long as they’re here, they’re all the same. Sex is a great equalizer. So everyone’s friendly. Real friendly.”

Shameless, too. Real shameless. Like nudists, swingers flaunt ‘it’ whether they’ve got ‘it’ or not. The first mingle is a smorgasbord of sagging flesh in the wrongest outfits – grandmothers in pop socks, old men in rubber shorts, the waddling obese crammed into fishnet boobtubes. It’s as though middle America were emptied of children and squeezed through a costume shop. Everywhere I look there are wigs and tassels and pasty cottage cheese thighs. Barring a few Hispanic faces, everyone is white.

But, the atmosphere is giddy. While new couples tentatively slow dance, each looking over the other’s shoulder for possibilities, veteran swappers are joyfully reuniting with couples they remember banging at the last convention. All over the hall, they’re kissing and groping. Plates of finger food are being abandoned. A fat man is getting a blowjob in the corner as his wife looks on, delighted. I haven’t even got myself a drink yet.

“Oh that’s nothing,” says Jay, catching me staring at the blowjob. “Just wait till the orgy tonight.” I met “Jay and Lisa, Miami, Florida” a little earlier – all the name badges list couples, it’s quite sweet. He’s a mortgage financier, she’s a busty Jewish mum. Both are deeply tanned and affluent, already semi-retired in their early 50s, with homes in both Miami and Orange County, California. Jay is quick to reveal that he is “between boats.”

“We’ve been swinging for oh, ten years?” says Lisa. “Married for twenty five. It started when Jay was jacking off in the shower every morning. I couldn’t understand why, so I asked him and he said he had fantasies about other women. He said, ‘well, would you be happy having sex with just me for the rest of your life?’ I said, ‘that’s what I signed up for!’” Their story’s fairly typical – it’s usually the husband who gets the wife into swinging. But sometimes the wives enjoy it a little more than the husband is comfortable with and jealousy flares. Those couples seldom last.

“Look around – there’s a lot of strong marriages here,” says Jay. “People think, ‘oh swingers, their marriages are a mess.’ It’s the opposite. You can’t do this if your marriage has problems. Swinging is a catalyst. If your marriage is strong, it makes it stronger. If it’s weak then it will split you up.” Like most swingers I’ll meet over the course of the convention, Jay knows what the lifestyle is “really about”, and wants to make sure I get the ‘real’ story.

“Listen, there’s people who will talk to you, who are way out on the extremes. And those are the ones who get written about because they’re the most sensational story. But they’re not representative. Most people in the lifestyle are discreet. I can tell you things but my name can’t be in this. Confidentiality is everything. We’re worse than gays – we’re seen as attacking the sanctity of marriage. You could have a gay president and we’d still have to live in secret.”

It was only the other week that they came clean to their daughter, who is just starting college. “She asked us if we were monogamous. And we were just tired of the lies and denial so we said ‘no, honey, we’re not’. And she started crying. Not because we were living the lifestyle, but because it confirmed for her that monogamy doesn’t work. It was awesome, actually.”

He looks around the room. “Hey you’re not alone are you? Single guys are pretty rare at these events.”

No, I’m with the photographer, Naomi, she’s over there.

“Are you married?”

No, it’s a strictly professional relationship.

“But you’re fucking her, right?”

Actually no, we’re just working together.

“What? She’s cute, you should fuck her,” he says, working a toothpick around his lower teeth. “I would fuck her.”

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For the first orgy of the week, Bob and Tess have laid on a special treat – they’ve booked out New Orleans’s biggest swing club, and arranged our own traditional Bourbon Street parade to get there. It’s the standard deal – a bunch of gaudy little floats and men in jester outfits to drag them; a Dixie brass band tooting it up at the front and great sackfuls of beads to fling around. But best of all, we get a police escort. In a city with one of the highest crime rates in America, motorcycle cops are busy clearing the traffic for a bunch of suburban sex maniacs on a fleet of coaches traveling from the hotel to an orgy in the French Quarter. This tickles the swingers no end. When a car veers into the coach’s path, they stop singing 99 Bottles of Beer On The Wall and start yelling “hey, asshole! Get outta the way!” The bus driver beeps his horn. The wifeswappers cheer. It’s brilliantly juvenile.

The parade itself is a bust. It’s just too chilly for girls to get their tits out – which is what the proud New Orleans parading tradition appears to amount to. But this only adds to their eagerness for the orgy when we eventually arrive. It’s astonishing how quickly it all unfolds. Minutes after arriving, couples head straight for the “play rooms” on the first floor. Clothes are methodically removed and folded into lockers, towels are wrapped loosely around the waist and the sex begins – in the veiled booths with the mattress beds, the porno theater with the leather seats and the lounge room with the bookcases, vases and side tables. No one seems to mind me wandering through the dimly lit rooms gawping – being seen is part of the thrill. And for newcomers like myself, voyeurism is an accepted first step.

“Are you getting turned on by all these bodies?” whispers Joanne, a thirtysomething legal clerk from New Jersey, who’s never been to an orgy before either. We’re watching a four-some get underway on a mattress – a couple of men with jiggle bellies and flaccid cocks are getting to work on a pair of lady galumphers with hanging arses and maternity marks.

“Nor me,” she says, deflated. “I mean, how can you get turned on, if you don’t want to have sex with these people? It’s just not attractive – all these saggy bellies and wrinkly boobs. I know I shouldn’t think like that. I mean, it’s beautiful that you don’t have to be beautiful to be in this lifestyle. Isn’t it? I mean, unattractive people deserve to be loved too?”

Joanne came with Dave, a longtime swinger in his early 40s who was initiated into group sex during his years in the music business, as a lighting technician. Like Jay, Dave has a handle on what swinging is really about. He tried marriage, but it didn’t last. “A lot of these people are on their 2nd marriages,” he says, idly massaging his cock through his towel. “They’ve seen their share of deception, and affairs, and they want something different. People don’t really come to terms with their sensuality until their late 30s or early 40s.”

Joanne spots a free bed and rushes to claim it dragging Dave with her. A fresh bed with dry sheets is quite a find at an orgy, like a double seat on the tube at rush-hour. And while they get comfortable, I settle down to watch the most attractive people in the convention get busy on a big round bed. And they are actually attractive. This is the trouble with the lifestyle – not all swingers are mingers. They’d be so easy to dismiss otherwise. There’s a German couple who flew in especially from Frankfurt – Heinrich, a wealthy CEO of 51, who wears a gold pendant moulded from the pussy of Natalie, his porno-ready blonde, 39, with big boobs and long legs. They are getting started on a couple from Massachusetts, a burly woodsman figure and a classic milf with crows feet around the eyes but the body of a cheerleader.

I’m getting into this – they’re putting on an energetic performance. But as a crowd gathers behind me I’m getting squashed in the heave of bare flesh, male and female, old and older. At one point, I feel skin rub against my hand and I become possessed by the fear that I might have inadvertently stroked an old man’s arse, so I seek refuge in the less crowded porno theater where the main feature involves a moustachioed taxi driver and a couple of blondes who didn’t have the right fare. This is more familiar ground. Only this time, pussies are being eaten on and off screen. The slap and slurp of the movie mingles with that of the audience, the rattling of mardi gras beads and the periodic wailing of one heavy set woman getting slowly schtupped over the back of the settee. As this all goes on, I find myself chatting to a couple from Florida about a 160-unit hotel/condo complex they’re building strictly for the swinger crowd. But as the wailing gets louder, we can’t hear each other. So quite naturally, and without anyone mentioning it, we time our conversation for the intervals in between.  speaking in time with her lover’s stroke.

There’s something reassuring about so many lumpy, misshapen bodies going at it in such a benevolent, shame-free atmosphere. But still, it’s not a turn-on. I can’t tell if it’s the lack privacy, or just the shock of seeing our animal natures so starkly exposed, but it all feels so foreign. In the lounge room, there’s a man in his seventies boning a woman maybe 20 years his junior with such gusto, he’s slapping her arse and everything, and the man beside me, nudges me and says “When I’m that age, I want to be that guy!” I know what he means, but I can’t agree. If I was that guy, I’d get a room.

As I head for the exit, deciding that I’ve seen quite enough for one night, I feel a hand on my arm. It’s that swinger grip – a squeeze following by a stroke. “Don’t leave,” says Bridget of “Bridget and Bobby, San Diego”. She’s in her fifties and she’s giving me one of those looks. “Tell me about your first orgy, Mr Journalist. I remember mine. Oh, I was on a high for days. It awakens a sensuality that just gets put to the side when you’re working and raising a family.”

Her husband has got hold of two leggy girls, both of them hotter and taller than he is. He looks deliriously happy. Between kissing them and sucking on their tits he decides he wants to expound on a few things.

“You know, people should be free to look at a beautiful woman and say, ‘you’re beautiful’. It’s very natural,” he says. “Because of government and religion, people are somehow convinced it’s wrong to be attracted to people.”

For Bobby, swinging is a kind of Utopia. Apparently a lot of swingers go through this phase – the lifestyle so changes their lives that they reassess their relationships, their lives and their view of the world. They become evangelists, born again into swinging. “This is a world where you’re free to be yourself,” says Bobby. “No one judges you here. It’s a world without jealousy. Imagine that! Have you met Vicky? Vicky, he’s doing an article. This is his first time in the lifestyle.”

Oh dear. It’s the milf from the big round bed. The one with the knockout body. She promptly puts me in a sandwich with Bridget – tits out, hands everwhere, in my hair, my shirt. And Bobby’s still waxing on.

“I think a lot of the world’s problems, everything from rape to violence to anxiety and depression, is based on the fact that you just can’t go out and enjoy yourself sexually with people.”

Now the women are grinding to the music. It’s the Commodores’ “Brick House” – “she’s mighty mighty, letting it all hang out…” It’s all very intoxicating, not least because the sex is on a plate. A threesome, no less.

“Have you been to the other side yet?” Vicky purrs at me, and unbuckles my belt, reaching for my fly. And immediately I turn into Hugh Grant – no, ahem, I’m married, honestly, gosh is that the time… I free myself, lurching off towards what I think is the exit door. It isn’t. Suddenly I’m faced with the throbbing heart of the orgy – a sea of indeterminate flesh in a dark, shadowy room, writhing shapes on a giant mattress all squirming, moaning and squelching. There are maybe twenty or thirty bodies here, it’s hard to tell. Heads bobbing like pump jacks, the slap of balls against chins and arses. And the smell – a sharp, vinegary whiff, the battle of incense and old emissions. In that instant my memory was tattooed. All the other orgies I will see this week will be a blur compared to the crystal clarity of that instant.

As I’m leaving, a man stops me at the door – ‘you want to watch my wife get fucked in the arse by a black guy?’

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At 8am, a banging sound jolts me awake. I’m scrambled, discombobulated, not sure which city I’m in. There’s just this thump thump thump, like someone’s hammering a nail in, someone German, someone next door… Slowly the penny drops – it’s New Orleans, the swinger convention, and I appear to be neighbours with Heinrich and Natalie. That banging sound is actual banging. Clearly the orgy didn’t sate them and they fancied a quickie before bed. You’ve got to admire their stamina.

On my bedside table, among the hotel bumph and pillow mints, there’s a welcome letter from Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans. First a police escort, then a letter from the Mayor – these swingers are getting the royal treatment. Of course, Mayor Nagin has a job on his hands – to restore a city so ailing and ravaged that its very name has become synonymous with despair. Even now, 14 months after Katrina and Rita, whole swathes of the city remain destroyed – houses upon cars, rubble and desolation. It’s not so noticeable here in the downtown Marriot, but still, there’s no forgetting what happened, not with storm season in full swing. Only a couple of nights ago, before the swingers arrived, dark clouds roared over the crescent city, shattering the sky with lightning. The television warnings spoke of tornadoes – five angry funnels that snaked their way up to North Carolina where they killed nine. Then like a set change between acts, the clouds were replaced by blue skies and with the sunshine arrived the swingers, the all-important orgy dollar. Which explains the letter – Mayor Nagin understands that in a tourist city, conventions are like the cavalry.

It might be the hangover talking, but this story has an end-of-empire feeling. It’s often said that the fall of Rome was somehow caused by the moral degradation of Roman orgies – often by Christians, some of whom blame Katrina on the sexual permissiveness of New Orleans. Now, obviously Katrina was a man-made disaster, and Rome fell because barbarian hordes invaded, but nevertheless, the sense of crumbling foundations and a breakdown of order is hard to escape. There’s something poignant about orchestrating an orgy on the doorstep of dereliction. It’s like they’re fucking before the ship sinks. And no city knows more about sinking than New Orleans.

Since Katrina, New Orleans became a potent symbol for all that ails America. Commentators frequently point to the gulf between rich and poor, the shoddy protection of government and not least, the incompetence and corruption of the current administration. But there’s more.  Here is a city on the brink, not only of radical change, but of possible disaster. Already sitting below sea level, New Orleans is, according to scientists, being steadily swallowed by the mud of the Mississippi Delta, making it even more vulnerable to the next category five. It’s a city where the heart has always ruled the head, where good times today tend to outweigh worries about tomorrow. And so much of what characterizes this place lies just below the surface. Its greatest treasure is oil, buried deep into the earth. Louisiana doesn’t sprout, it seethes and boils. Its signature dish is gumbo, a culinary homage to the swampland terrain that appears so serene from the plane but snaps with alligators beneath.

What Katrina did was rip back the covers and show what lay hidden. It revealed America’s abandonment of its poor, black underclass, its national shame, its ugly secret. At the time, the sight of hordes of people left to starve and swelter on their roofs for days while President Bush congratulated his FEMA chief Michael Brown for doing a “heckuva job” jolted the nation into a fit of honesty – news anchors wept, Kanye West sounded off and there was a reflexive outpouring of guilt and charity.

But normality has resumed since then. This morning, I take a $10 cab ride away from the orgy rooms of the Marriot to the 9th ward, ground zero for American despair, where John Edwards just announced his run for the presidency. I’m given a tour of the place by a local – Stephen Bradberry of Acorn, a leading national organization that works for the poor – and as we drive through the ghostly neighbourhoods, with their drenched upturned homes and rotting paintwork, Bradberry lists the problems facing the city. “The money’s tied up because they still haven’t come up with a plan,” he says. “We only got the water turned on a couple of months ago. And Less than half of the city has returned. When the President, the governor and the mayor talk about housing and infrastructure, they’re talking about tourism not the original residents. They want to make industrial parks, country clubs – we got waterfront property here. A lot of people stand to make a lot of money. We even had Representative Baker from the northern parish say ‘we couldn’t move the people out of the projects in New Orleans, but God did it for us.’ Let’s not fool ourselves, racism is alive and well in the US.”

Perhaps the swingers convention unveils America in an analogous way – it strips the suburbs naked and reveals their other shameful secrets, the hypocrisy of an overtly Christian nation that permits wanton poverty and yet affects horror at the sight of Janet Jackson’s boobs. I’ve seen a flesh gumbo, a regular sex jambalaya with extra sausage, and the obscenity doesn’t compare. Orgies pale beside the horror of the Superdome and continued neglect of the poor in New Orleans. If moral degradation prefigures a civilization’s fall, then the evidence is not in the Marriot but in the 9th Ward.

I return to the Marriot feeling both guilty and relieved. It seems wrong to leave the 9th ward for a swingers convention, but maybe the swingers have a point – given the state of things, what’s left to do but fuck and be merry? There’s a tantric massage workshop up on the second floor. Perhaps I’ll find Vicky there or that German girl Natalie. The trouble is, the rooms aren’t labeled, so I keep getting sidetracked. The first booth I find is Beardie’s – he’s giving a pussy-shaving masterclass for a rapt audience. This is his main gig apparently – the dildos are just a sideline. He’s working on a heavy Hispanic woman with cascading stomachs, who’s lying silently in the gynecological position while he trims away with his little buzzing gizmo and gives pointers to her husband who’s standing beside him, arms crossed, and examining his wife’s lips like a faulty carburetor. It’s Sliceomatic time again.

“You can go up and down all you want but for some reason, don’t ask me why, pussy hair grows to the side. So look – just a small sideways motion.” The shaver cuts through bristle. “Here, you try.” A small radio plays oldies in the corner. Beardie’s wearing scrubs. It’s like a dentist surgery.

When 57 year old Nancy from Oregon volunteers to get her anus done, I move next door in search of the massage class. They really should signpost these things. Inside, there’s a red light on, and the sound of gentle moaning behind a velvet curtain. It’s looking promising. But again, I’m in the wrong place. This is erotic biting, apparently. A row of mumsy dinner-lady types are standing at the front of the room waiting while the instructor lunges at their necks in turn, and growls and chews while they make these dreamy faces. But disturbingly, the biter looks like Ronnie Corbett – as if post “Sorry” he went through a S&M makeover, part pirate, part biker. His card reads “Dmitri E Ville – biker, lover, vampire”, but I swear, if you gave Corbett long hair, fangs, frilly sleeves and a plus-size slave girl called Salome to help carry all his whips…

“Are you the writer?” He’s summoning me over with his fake claw. “Come here, I’m going to bite you.”

Er, no thanks, I’m fine.

“Come on, everyone else has.” And now all are eyes are on me, all these dinner ladies saying “you should try it, that’s what this is all about, overcoming your inhibitions, being open to new experiences…”

“Look, can a girl bite me at least?” I say. And an awkward silence falls over the room. Corbett looks hurt. “Look, OK,” he says, “if you’ve really got a problem with it, I’ll bite you on the forearm.” Even the dinner ladies look disappointed. Now I’m the big square, the repressed one, the killjoy, the problem.

So I give in – “let’s get this over with.” And I get a round of applause as Corbett goes for my neck. I feel his tongue first, then his beard, the stench of patchouli and his pincer teeth digging in. And he doesn’t go for a quick nibble, oh no – this smushy massaging of saliva and bristle and fangs goes on for a full minute or two. With his fake claw drawing patterns up and down my back.

 

By the time I’m through with the biting class it’s time for the masked ball, another fiesta of naughty costumes and open foreplay. Already this convention is feeling surprisingly normal – all the wacky outfits, the open groping and snogging, the “going down?” jokes when the lift doors open. On my way to the ball, I pass a goth getting her pussy munched by a large black girl as an old white man looks on. Marriot staff pass by in their uniforms carrying trays of canapés. I keep walking. Nothing to see here.

I find Joanne at the cocktail bar – she’s the newbie who I met at the orgy last night, the one who wasn’t getting turned on. Well it didn’t last. She’s got a sparkle in her eye. It turns out she and her partner Dave had a busy night after all. There was one failed liaison with the Germans – “he was quite rough. I don’t like have my nipples bitten, they’re very tender. And the girl can’t have sex with condoms, she’s allergic or something. So that ended it for Dave.” But then along came Adonis. “This black guy came in, I don’t even know his name, but he was brilliant. It’s the sort of sexual experience everyone should have in their lives. He’s been calling me all day.”

Didn’t it bother you that you were doing it in public?

“Once you’re doing it, all that melts away. I didn’t even notice.”

Did other people try to join in?

“No, Dave was really good about keeping them out.“

It seems Dave was left alone for this part. The black guy didn’t bring a partner for him to play with. Which is odd, for a swingers event – single guys are not typically welcome. But at Nawlins in November there are several unattached men besides me. And they’re all black. There’s a party suite on the top floor called the Chocolate Fantasy Room, where a group of black men called the Mandingos from Tampa wander around wearing towels. The music on the stereo is soul and R&B, and the place is packed with women, most of them middle-aged, heavy and well past their prime.

“This is all about fantasy,” explains Art, the leader of the Mandingos. Art is an advertising director. “The couples who come here, the wife wants to get fucked by black guys and the husband wants to watch. And we like fucking white ladies. And I mean fucking – this isn’t about making love. This is about treating them like sluts. But also being able to talk to them afterwards. All my guys have a college degree and they’re at least 8 inches.”

He takes me into the bedroom to watch a woman get Mandingo’ed. Three of his men are rigorously working over a mother of four, a cock in each hole. This is what’s known as an “airtight”, the Knickerbocker Glory on the Mandingo menu. It’s a stark contrast to the gentle oohing and aahing of the other orgy rooms. These guys are hitting it like an abandoned building. The men are silent as she mmphs and gags, and her husband watches saying “good girl, good girl.”

Standing there fixated by this spectacle, I’m reminded of Jay’s warning – to not be distracted by the extremes, they’re not what swinging is really about. But his argument doesn’t hold in this room. Black gang bang fantasies and S&M vampires are an integral part of this culture. The chocolate fantasy room is one of the most popular suites in the hotel. It seems that swinging is an addiction like any other, and this is a culture of junkies, forever looking for new and more extreme thrills, chasing the highs of their first experience. They have tremendous appetites, like Heinrich, who will have sex five times a day, and then go home and screw his wife. And like drug addicts, the act can often appear strangely joyless and mechanical.

I don’t know what it would take to turn me into a swinger. I understand why long-married couples would want to have sex with new people. And it makes sense that they should do this together, to preserve the trust of their marriage. But I can’t get around how public it all is – whatever happened to shame and privacy?

Then I met D, one of the Mandingos  who just returned a few weeks ago from Iraq where he served in the army. He tells me that “a lot of people don’t come to this suite. They call to make private appointments and we go to their rooms. They don’t want their friends to know – and the morning afterwards, at breakfast, they don’t even recognize us.”

So shame does exist – it just happens to relate to race. And it strikes me that the only black people I’ve seen on this trip to New Orleans, formerly one of the blackest cities in America, are either poor, working for the poor or fucking wealthy white women in the business district who then pretend not to know them. And there’s talk on public radio of whether America’s ready for a black president.

A fresh flurry of women have arrived at the door, giggling and shrieking “give me some of that chocolate!” Among them, Cruella and Bridget. Got to run.