Pick Me Up

Turnout at Houston's swingers clubs swells with the young, hip and restless

It started with her legs. "I'm not going to lie," Tucker says. They were the kind of legs that pull you way up on a smooth trip that ends, through no fault of their own, too soon. Tucker, 25, knew what that was like. He had been flying high as an airline pilot for Continental, but lost his job after 9/11. He needed a pick-me-up.

Payton was walking away from her old life too, away from a child custody battle with her deadbeat ex-husband and into a nightclub. Tucker was the bouncer. He bounced lines off her all night. The last one was "Do you want to watch a movie at my place?" It was a place without a VCR, he confessed in the living room. In the end, you could say, they made a movie of their own.

But for Tucker, their young relationship was about more than just Payton's svelte legs, blond hair and humongous 36DD chest. It jumped him, emotionally. "What I noticed was, even after a couple of weeks, all of my decision-making was no longer 'How does this affect me?' " says the combat-hardened former marine. "I was thinking, 'Would she like this? How would this affect us?' I didn't mean for it to happen; it started doing that, you know?"

Scott and Kaylee, owners of Club Radiance, appeal to 
younger patrons through their Web site and hip-hop 
DJ.
Daniel Kramer
Scott and Kaylee, owners of Club Radiance, appeal to younger patrons through their Web site and hip-hop DJ.
Peter and Cherie visited Encounters to decide if they 
wanted to become swingers.
Daniel Kramer
Peter and Cherie visited Encounters to decide if they wanted to become swingers.

And so Tucker learned to love. "She made me want to be better," he says. And Payton learned from Tucker how to be naughty. The small-town Catholic had never used a vibrator. That was remedied. She had never confessed her fantasies. Tucker teased them out. And he found that the 22-year-old mom was…not a perv exactly. But she wanted to sleep with him and another couple all together, if, you know, that was cool and everything.

A year into their relationship, Tucker and Payton, whose names have been changed along with others in this story, found a couples bar called Wish's. They paid a steep cover and agreed to a mandatory ten-drink minimum. They were led through a crowd of retirees and seated next to a shriveled man and woman who were married -- just not to each other -- and who covertly met in Houston twice a year "for business." Ten drinks down, the couple began ordering everyone round after round of shots. They left without picking up the $400 tab. Wish's made Tucker pay it. "Fuck this shit," he remembers thinking about swinging. "It's stupid. We're not doing this."

Two weeks later, Tucker and Payton discovered Radiance, a very different, brand-new couples club close to the airport and their home. They decided to give Payton's fantasy one last shot. They parked in a strip mall near a dollar store and walked in a metal door, past walls tacked with panties. They were nervous. The strobe-lit dance floor jiggled with bare breasts. Payton swilled chilled red wine. But the people who sat down with them were young and attractive, and they just wanted to talk and crack jokes. It was like Cheers, yet taut with sexual possibility.

The next week Tucker and Payton went back, found a couple and were driven to their house. They parked in the garage and just talked. "What is okay?" the couple asked. "What is not okay?" In the bedroom, Payton caressed and kissed the woman. Tucker and the husband watched, then joined in. Far from being disgusted in the morning by what they had done, Tucker and Payton wanted more. They went to Radiance almost every weekend. Payton competed in a beauty pageant there and won a free trip to Jamaica. The prudish girl from the Bible Belt suddenly found herself in a weeklong competition with the sultriest divas from swing clubs around the nation.

The victor -- young, freewheeling and beautiful -- would be called Miss Hedonism.


Until recently, most people saw swingers as the kind of players that nobody besides other swingers would want to have sex with. They lived in tract homes beneath giant televisions. They worked in plastics, ate bloody steaks and fruitlessly Jazzercised. Maybe they'd mow the lawn; maybe they'd fuck the neighbors. They might have been your parents.

Graying suburbia still rules "the lifestyle," as swingers call it. But as the ranks of swingers have grown -- from a few thousand in the 1950s to more than three million, by some estimates -- the old folks are being joined by people who don't look like them at all. A new crowd of sexual adventurers is emerging that is increasingly youthful, urban and even fashionable.

"It's not your father's swinging! Or even his and your mom's new friends'!" wrote Esquiremagazine sex columnist Stacey Grenrock Woods in April. "Erotic clubs for the young and hip are popping and spurting up all over the place."

Houston is no exception. Near the airport, geriatric Club Connections and Rumors passed away and Radiance opened in 2004, packing in twenty- and thirtysomethings with hip-hop and a flashy Web site. Rick's International built Encounters near the Richmond Strip, a swing club that caters to much of the same crowd that might otherwise dance at Joia and M Bar and other redoubts of yuppie scenesters. Encounters created more floor space this year and began hosting Desirous Party, a periodic theme fete organized by and for the young and beautiful. "The majority of our crowd…they take care of their body," says David, 35, the burly, bronzed, spiky-haired organizer, "and if you do that, you want to show, I guess…what your mama gave you."

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