Print Article AA There's an unmarked black door at the end of a Pompano Beach strip mall, next to a laundromat and a dollar store and across the street from an Episcopal church. The only hint of what happens beyond the door is a worn sign leaning against a pole near the parking lot. It reads "Club Hedo. It's their first time here, and a few people stare as they amble past the pool table, wide-eyed and a bit nervous.
The clandestine club would fit right into a pleasant snapshot from There's a disco ball, a wooden bar adorned with Christmas lights, vinyl chairs situated around a few Formica tables, and a parquet dance floor replete with a single metal pole.
The young couple sits down on a leather couch. A mix of recent pop songs and older disco plays to the 20 or so people — nearly all between 40 and 60 years old — scattered about the room. Soon enough, though, they're invited to join a group of regulars — two men and three women — seated at a table.
Susan, a tall, year-old blond in a chiffon dress, locks eyes with the young lady in polka dots, takes her gently by the forearm, and guides her to the chair next to her own. Like most of the people contacted for this article, Susan asked that her last name not be published for fear that tales of her exploits might make it back to neighbors and coworkers.
By day, she's a Broward public school teacher, but on weekends, she puts on a little extra makeup, wears a slightly shorter dress, and comes to clubs like this. The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University estimates that as many as 4 million Americans participate in some form of group sex or couple swapping.
With its welcoming beaches, year-round sunshine, and fine appreciation for vices, South Florida has become the mecca of swinging in this country. Couples make sexual pilgrimages here from points all over the world. At least four different swinger cruises depart from South Florida every year.
While swingers anywhere can connect through websites and classified ads, South Florida has five on-premises sex clubs four in Broward, one in Miami-Dade, none in Palm Beach catering to a variety of different lifestyles. He can be found striding through his club with purpose, wearing black slacks, a black shirt, and a thick gold chain.
His employees are diligent, because they know he's a perfectionist and they dare not upset him. Every inch of the club must be spotless. Every employee must embody a delicate blend of attentiveness and discretion. He says he wants people to think of his place as "the swingers' club where everybody knows your name. And yet, Monte says, "It's about much more than the sex. People can have a few drinks and dance a little bit and get to know each other. Here's how it works at Hedonism — and the concept is similar at the other clubs: It's a private, members-only establishment, thereby not subject to public indecency laws or liquor laws.
The club is divided into two parts. The front room serves as a nightclub. Guests bring their own alcohol, but mixers are provided, and bartenders make the drinks.
There's a small buffet complimentary with the price of admission and a dance floor in front of a wall of mirrors. Then there's a back section. Once visitors get comfortable, they generally move into this area, which is partitioned off into a maze of separate lounges.
The "love parlor" has turquoise walls, a red pleather couch and chair, paintings that would not look out of place at your grandmother's house, and porn broadcast on a small TV mounted on the wall. A massage room and "group playrooms" have industrial carpeting, more vinyl-covered tables and cushions, and sex toys. Walls painted back, white, and purple add a gothic feel to some of the rooms. A "fantasy suite" includes six queen-sized mattresses.
These rooms are where the orgies take place. Unlike the other clubs in South Florida, which require guests to remove their clothing before going into "play areas," at Hedonism, you can undress — or not — whenever or wherever you like. Early in the night, the back area is quiet and empty. But by midnight, people have limbered up, and the hallways echo with a cacophony of guttural moans. Monte opened Club Hedonism in , but he tells people that partner-swapping dates back to the days of Julius Caesar.
By the s, the phenomenon had spread to the suburbs. But the modern, mass-market form of swinging didn't come about until the early s, on the heels of the sexual revolution. That's when Plato's Retreat, America's first on-premises swingers' club, opened in New York, in the cavernous basement of the Ansonia Hotel, in a defunct gay bathhouse where Bette Midler and Barry Manilow performed early in their careers. Almost immediately, similar clubs started opening in Boston, in Chicago, in Los Angeles.
Deenie's Hideaway opened in Coconut Creek in , and a handful of other South Florida clubs followed suit. Monte has seen the evolution firsthand.
More private, so-called "bi-wives clubs" popped up in neighborhoods across the country. Many of the biggest clubs, including Plato's in New York, closed. In the '90s, a series of raids on South Florida sex clubs scared even more people away, even though the criminal charges were dismissed.
So for years, Monte says he kept his club out of any kind of spotlight. He has the small sign that stands out front, but he puts it up only on weekend nights.
His business subsisted on word-of-mouth advertising. Then they'd tell a few of their friends. In researching his book The Lifestyle, published in , journalist Terry Gould found that a third of the group-sex participants he spoke to had postgraduate degrees, almost a third voted Republican, and 40 percent considered themselves practicing Protestants, Catholics, or Jews.
Says Monte, as he prepares for a busy weekend night that will include dozens of couples: His slicked-back dark hair matches his closely cropped beard, and his white, buttoned-down shirt is undone to his sternum, revealing a large dragon medallion. Karen, a short, shapely blond, has on a sheer, white Guinevere-style dress with a slit up the side and carries a silver lighter with the word Slave engraved across it.
But we live in a time of birth control. As he speaks, he caresses Karen's leg. She explains that she came of age in the '70s and always had a bit of a wild streak. She got into "the lifestyle" — the most common term used to describe swinger culture — six years ago with her husband. They started "soft swapping" — when the women engage each other but there is no interpartner intercourse.
In the beginning, they would swing only with single women. After a few years, though, there was a guy or two she "felt like going all the way with," and they began "full swapping. It was titillating to watch. But that was also part of the thrill. Susan steps outside for a moment to smoke a joint with her friends, then returns, still reminiscing about her husband. This used to be their favorite club. But one night three months ago, he suddenly died.
They'd gone to the club that night. When they got home, they finished off a passionate evening in the bedroom. Unlikely as it may seem, Susan says, fellow swingers have become some of her closest friends. Mark and Karen call her at home to see how she's doing. They get her out of the house. As Mark hears Susan telling her story, he slides his hand over her leg.
One of Susan's friends, Sandy, dances around the table in a short, white, tennis-style skirt and a vest with nothing underneath. Then she removes her vest. Tonight she's here with Luis, a rather large, bearded biker she's been dating for a few weeks.
They met at a motorcycle rally, and Sandy invited him to the club. He doesn't drink or do drugs — he counsels teenaged addicts, as a matter of fact — and he doesn't mix the biker club with the sex club. As the night rolls on, Luis asks someone for a pen and jots a note on a napkin. He slips it over to Sandy. Then she folds the napkin and gently tears it in half.
Each of the five swingers' clubs in South Florida is geared toward a slightly different demographic and has its own rules and unique characteristics: The Rooftop Resort in Hollywood is a hotel that's especially popular among Europeans.
On rare occasions, there is some tension between its mixed clientele of traditional nudists — who often downplay the connection between nudity and sexuality — and swingers, who might have a threesome where the quiet sunbathers normally sit. Tucked into a wooded stretch of Hillsboro Boulevard in northwest Broward is Deenie's Hideaway, the longest-running on-premises swingers' club in the country. The building is set up like a large house, with social areas downstairs and bedrooms upstairs.
It's not rare to find someone napping on a bed or unopened condoms in the parking lot. Susan, who prefers Hedonism, calls Deenie's the "truck-stop swingers' club. Everyone here is in the lates-to-earlys age range. There are toned, tanned business types and plump, relaxed retiree types. They are white, black, Hispanic, and Asian. Today, there are couples playing volleyball in the pool, a few more drinking in the hot tub, and a few men hovering around a supersized grill.
Three women talk quietly at the bar. About half the people here are wearing clothes. If you didn't know that a few couples had wandered upstairs — where no clothes are allowed — to have sex with one another, it might seem like a backyard barbecue with a few nudists. On a recent Sunday, two women in their late 40s, both wearing bikini tops over their surgically enhanced chests, are making out on a deck chair next to the swimming pool.