They call it the “lifestyle.”
And as Robert Hannaford put it, “We’re just average folks who want variety.”
To everyone else, they are referred to as swingers.
And no, not the ones that dress in zoot suits and do the Lindy.These swingers engage in sexual activities that involve someone other than an individual’s partner and usually include more than two people.
Hannaford is the director of International Lifestyle Association, which announced its formation Wednesday as an official, recognized association to promote and educate others about the swinger lifestyle.
According to ILA, nearly 10 million people around the world participate in this alternative lifestyle.
Locally, there’s Taboo Tampa, described on its Web site, , as “an upscale environment for couples and singles of like minds to socialize.”
“I think when people hear the word swingers, they define it in their minds as couples that swap partners,” said John Melfi, owner of Taboo Tampa. “It could be that … but it’s much, much more than that.”
Melfi said the swinging couples sometimes look to only include a third person when they have sex. At other times, swingers don’t even swap partners, he said.”It could be just having sex in the same room with another couple,” Melfi said.
Melfi said most couples get into the lifestyle by first sharing a fantasy. If it involves including a third or fourth person, then they may explore the possibility of swinging. But Melfi said participating in the lifestyle requires that partners be open and honest with their feelings.
“You have to have great communication with your partner in order to be in this lifestyle,” he said. “If you don’t have good communication, it won’t work.”
Melfi said during the 20 years he’s had “experiences,” he’s seen couples explore the lifestyle as an attempt to fix their problems. But most didn’t work because their relationship was already doomed, he said.
And having an open relationship is one way swingers fight perhaps one of their biggest psychological enemies: jealousy.”If it’s an issue, then (couples) probably won’t (last long in the lifestyle),” Melfi said. “Jealousy isn’t a part of my lifestyle anymore. And it hasn’t been for a long time.”
Melfi said he doesn’t feel jealous when he walks with his girlfriend and other men look at her. If they weren’t, he said it would be time to find a new girlfriend.
Among swingers (lifestylers), there are different degrees. There are hardcore swingers – the couples who have intercourse with other partners. Then there are soft swingers who don’t. Instead, they sometimes choose to only fondle another couple, perhaps merely engaging in oral sex.
The ILA Web site, , suggests that no matter what level of lifestyling takes place, it should be discussed, and boundaries should be set before any sexual activity begins.One question that arises when the lifestyle is discussed is whether it’s considered cheating.
The ILA Web site said, “If you think that it’s OK to be with other people without telling your other half, then it is cheating.”Melfi said, “People think it’s cheating, but I don’t know how they can say that when both parties know, and both parties are there 95 percent of the time when they involve someone else.”Lifestylers range in age from their 20s to their 50s. And between 10 and 30 couples attend Taboo Tampa each night, according to its Web site.
While Melfi and Hannaford are anxious to educate about the lifestyle, some communities, particularly in Tampa, aren’t ready to listen.
“I don’t think the government accepts it here at all,” Melfi said. “I think it’s because of their ignorance. And the people that protest it are very closed-minded and don’t understand it or even want to understand it.”
Hannaford said, “So many people here in America are afraid of sex.”
After nearly two years of operating Taboo Tampa at 5606 N. Nebraska Ave., Melfi was forced by the city of Tampa to shut down his club. Melfi had his final gathering at the Seminole Heights location on Sept. 6.
The city argued that Melfi was operating the club illegally and threatened to fine his property owner $500 a day if Taboo Tampa continued to stay there.
“Some of the picketers felt what people were doing was going into my club to pay for sex,” Melfi said. “But that wasn’t the case at all. They were paying for a place where people could socialize.”According to Taboo Tampa’s Web site, couples pay $40 to enter the club, single men pay $70 and single women pay $5.
“The bottom line, I think it’s something personal,” Melfi said. “And I think it’s too bad that here in Tampa we haven’t been able to keep it that way.”
Taboo Tampa has since moved to the nightclub at the Travelodge Hotel at 820 E. Busch Blvd.Melfi said the people in the lifestyle are careful to practice safe sex, and scientific studies show that swingers have fewer sexually transmitted diseases.
Melfi said if anyone thinks the swingers lifestyle is something they want to explore, get involved by speaking with people who already participate in it. He said join with an online club or go to an actual club similar to his with a partner.
But the one thing to remember, Melfi said, is, “Take a baby step and try something.”