Take my wife... please.
For an estimated two per cent of the population, that classic one-liner has an automatic -- and quite serious -- retort: "OK, as long as you take mine."
In the 1950s, the media dubbed it "wife-swapping." Today, it's known by the less male-centric term "swinging." Or just "the lifestyle."
Regardless of the name, this free-love, mate-sharing lifestyle -- which Penthouse magazine once described as "the primary indoor sport of suburbia" -- definitely did not fall out of fashion after Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice crawled into bed together on the big screen in 1969.
In fact, you might say folks took that movie's tagline, "Consider the possibilities," to heart: The swinger movement in North America is four million strong, according to a 2005 segment of ABC TV's newsmagazine 20/20. And some say it's just now coming out of the closet.
"It's huge," says Kevin, a Winnipeg swinger and entrepreneur who's planning to open Ooh Zone, a private "adult-lifestyle nightclub" in the city next winter.
"I think there's a whole younger generation that's more sexually free-spirited. It's not the old wife-swapping days," says the 42-year-old construction industry executive, who asked that his surname not be published. Kevin and his wife, a local business owner, have been married 20 years and swinging for nearly three.
Their market research, they say, suggests their "adult playground" should be able to attract a membership of 500 people in the first two to three years.
Ooh Zone will be on "off-premise" club, meaning there won't be any actual "play" on site. "It's a private meet-and-greet club, not a sex club," Kevin says. (The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2005 that sexual activity between consenting adults in private clubs is legal, but Manitoba's liquor laws are another matter.) Single women will be welcome, but single men will have limited access.
There are currently at least two web-based swingers clubs in Winnipeg. Each has between 200 and 300 members.
"We do have a turnover every year of about 50 couples, but new couples always seem to join to fill the void," a member of one club's executive writes in an email. He points out that many swingers in the city rely on classified ads and websites like swingtown.com instead of organized groups to find each other. He asked us not to print his group's website address in order to discourage gawkers, cheaters and others who aren't serious about the lifestyle.
Serious swingers, you see, aren't simply looking to have sex with other people. Typically, they're married, emotionally monogamous, middle-aged, middle-class couples with families. And while it may seem counter-intuitive, they say they're having extra-marital sex in order to enhance their own relationship.
"Just hearing him having fun with someone else is itself sexually gratifying," says Christine, 35, sitting in the living room of her Riverview home.
"It helps us expand our repertoire," says her husband, Mitch, 38. "We really learn what's enjoyable for each other."
"More heads, more ideas," his wife chimes in.
Christine and Mitch have been married for 10 years and have three children under the age of eight. They've been swinging for eight years and estimate they've "played" with 14 different couples. He's straight, she's "bi-friendly."
They say they're having sex with each other more often now than when they first got married.
"I don't know about other couples, but generally after an encounter, (Christine) and I have sex with each other," Mitch says.
"We shower off the other person's scent first," Christine explains. "I want to smell him and I want him to smell me."
Their last "encounter" was the night before this interview. They had another couple over for drinks and dinner, and then everyone ended up in the same bed.
The backdrop of this conversation -- stacks of folded laundry, piles of papers and books, toys, a big aquarium full of guppies -- is decidedly more domestic than debaucherous.
That's par for the course, according to Terry Gould, a Vancouver-based investigative journalist who spent two years exploring America's swinging playgrounds and interviewing dozens of "playcouples" to write The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers. Twelve years later, it's still considered the definitive book on the subject.
Swinging is not a fad, Gould says, but rather a worldwide subculture that allows couples to combine responsible family values with the "erotic cultivation" of their marriages through the practice of rites they celebrate as fun and natural.
"Swing club parties almost always take place in safe, bourgeois surroundings and function according to strict rules of middle-class decorum," he says in an email interview.
"...Thus, middle-aged, otherwise conservative wives can dress like Lady Gaga, flaunt themselves erotically on the dance floor with a dozen partners, and not worry about some aberrant masher spoiling the fun. They can express themselves bisexually or heterosexually with men and women of all ages, and then go back to work Monday morning."
Christine and Mitch usually meet their playmates at good old-fashioned Manitoba socials. Their club holds about eight such events per year. From there, people who connect usually go off to a hotel or private residence or rent a room at Aquarius bath house.
All the couples interviewed for this story emphasized that their definition of swinging is not sex with strangers but more like "friends with benefits."
"Our club is more social than sexual," says Quinn, 51, who is bisexual. "The sex is more of a byproduct of the friendships among people who are open-minded and sexual in nature."
"We also go bowling, play pool and have trivia nights and family barbecues," his wife Maggie, 47, adds.
Quinn and Maggie have been married 15 years and have three children, ages 12 to 23. They got into the lifestyle four years ago after a spontaneous threesome with a female friend. Shortly after that happened, Quinn went up north to work for three months and returned to find his wife had signed them up with one of the local swingers clubs.
(Despite its early reputation, the lifestyle, Gould found, is largely controlled by women. Or, as he put it, "the men initiate, the women perpetuate.")
Quinn and Maggie have a core group of around eight playcouples. They usually play around once a month although they went to back-to-back parties last weekend. And while orgies have broken out on occasion, it's a rare exception. Sometimes, a house party is just a house party.
"A few weeks ago, we had a party -- a murder mystery dinner. A couple of females were dabbling on the couch, but the rest of us ended up doing karaoke," says Marcie, a 38-year-old mother of two children, ages 15 and two.
She and her husband, Troy, 35, have been swinging five of the six years they've been married. They're both bisexual.
Their swinging circle is their social circle. Troy says he's never heard of a "key party" in Winnipeg in the four years they've been swinging.
"We don't just jump into bed," he says. "There has to be some form of friendship evolve out of it. There has to some connection, but it doesn't have to be a love connection."
Friends with benefits don't let friends cross emotional boundaries.
"There are a few paradoxes inherent to middle-class spouse sharing that your readers should be aware of," Gould writes in an email.
No. 1: Only happily married couples have happy experiences.
The ones we interviewed stressed that trust, openness, honesty and good communication are crucial to being able to get past the jealousies and insecurities that will inevitably arise.
"If you don't have that baseline relationship already with your partner, swinging isn't the choice to make," Mitch cautions. "It won't solve problems, it will cause problems."
For those who want to take a swing at a lifestyle that allows them to have their cake and eat it, too, Christine suggests taking things slow.
"Swinging is a progression. When you first start, you make rules and you say you can't kiss the other person and you can't go out of the room because I need to see you. And eventually that just goes out the window."
And when the green-eyed monster rears it's head?
"There's nothing to be jealous of," Christine says. "I know who I'm saving my last dance for. I know who I'm going home with. I fell in love with him for a reason and that reason remains."
"Swinging is social-sexual intercourse with someone other than your mate, boyfriend or girlfriend, excepting the traditional one-on-one dating. It may be defined as recreational social sex. The activity may occur at a swing party, a couple-to-couple encounter, or with a third person in a threesome. Though single men and women are involved, it is primarily an activity of couples."
-- North American Swing Club Association (NASCA)