“Good job, honey,” says the naked firefighter to his wife.
Their eyes are lovingly locked and I’m feeling a little left out. After all, I’m the one performing oral sex on him. She’s busy servicing my husband beside us.
If you would have told me a year ago that I would one day watch my husband get a blowjob from a stranger and not feel jealous, I would have laughed in your face. I’ve always been a jealous partner. If my husband or any ex-boyfriend so much as looked in the direction of an attractive woman, I’d assume he wanted to have sex with her. I’m infamous for love quarrels that almost always began with a jealous accusation.
Nothing seemed as dangerous to my firm grip on control than swinging, which is why when I was invited as a journalist to experience two all-inclusive swingers resorts in Cancun—Desire Pearl and Desire Riviera Maya—I said yes because it’s a free vacation, but in my head I said no to the simultaneously exciting yet worrying images that avalanched my mind of orgies and gangbangs and my husband pleasuring other women.
Jealousy wasn’t the only thing I feared. As a recovered sex and porn addict who has written profusely on the subject, I’ve made one too many destructive decisions in my sexual past. Though my addiction had been curbed since meeting my husband, thanks to a combination of efforts buoyed by his support, would a salacious vacation reopen the wound?
“They can’t force us to swing,” I told my husband (and myself) while we talked about our separate worries. As parents of a toddler, we were eager to drop her at my parents’ house and be childless anywhere for four nights. Why not a swingers resort?
He agreed, and then added, “They can’t force us to get naked either.”
Desire isn’t branded as a “swingers” resort. I later learn that their preferred description, “couples-only, clothing-optional,” is more inclusive of “vanilla couples” like us who could enjoy the fun without having to swap spit or any other body fluids with a stranger.
Weeks later, we arrived in Cancun in the rain. A funny taxi driver drove us to the secluded Desire Pearl, where smiling staff members greeted us in the lobby with champagne and waivers. House rules included respecting their policy that “No Means No,” agreeing not to take photographs of other patrons, and only having public sex in designated areas like the hot tub and playroom.
Making our way to our room, staff members stopped whatever they were doing—sweeping wet leaves, carrying luggage, patrolling the grounds—to greet us, looking us straight in the eye as they held a hand to their hearts.
“We teach them how to face a naked person, to talk to them to the eyes,” Alberto Martinez, the general manager of Desire Pearl, told me later when I asked how employees handle the nudity and public sex. I found it hard to believe they could get much work done with all the eye candy.
I should mention here that when the rain temporarily subsided and my husband and I ran for the hot tub, we found the “eye candy” to be just as diverse as the types of porn categories I used to dig through—very—at least when it came to body types. Among guests who ranged from their 30s to their 70s—mostly white Americans—there were thin bodies, plump ones, short, tall, small natural breasts, large silicones, small penises, large penises, hairy, and freshly waxed. And just about everybody appeared relaxed, confident, and happy in bare skin.
Feeling out of place, I quickly tore off my bikini top and my husband kicked off his trunks like he’d never considered doing otherwise. Though I usually felt insecure about my thighs and midsection, seeing all those body types squashed my insecurity fast—not because I thought I looked better, but because nobody seemed to be comparing. My husband and I ordered drinks and gave each other a look that said: Everybody’s naked!
Everyone was open and friendly in the hot tub, but it wasn’t a huge orgy as expected. Though I’m typically anxious in social situations, I felt at ease here. It’s refreshing what nudity adds to socializing. Like children who had not yet learned shame, people checked each other’s bodies out, tirelessly offered compliments, told jokes, and talked openly about their fantasies. Some of the conversations were ordinary too, ranging from jobs to neighborhoods—mostly white-collar and affluent, as the resort is not a budget one—and we were surprised by how many people talked about their children. Of the countless couples I talked to over the four days, we met only two without kids.
“Do your kids know where you are?” I asked one couple from Ohio.
“Absolutely,” the husband answered. “In fact, our 16-year-old daughter picked out her mom’s lingerie and sexy costumes for the themed nights.”
When they noticed my look of surprise, which quickly turned into admiration, he explained further. “Everybody back home knows where we are. We tell our colleagues, friends, family, everyone.” Then he offered a simple, yet revolutionary idea: “The way we see it, if they have a problem with our lifestyle, we don’t want them in our lives anyway. Makes things easier.”
Another woman raved about buying her teenage daughter a vibrator for Christmas and the surge of pride she got when she saw the vibrator unwrapped and under her daughter’s bed.
I was taken by this kind of openness. It was the kind I wanted to have with my own daughter when she grew up, and the direct opposite of what I had with my own mother, who had only once addressed sex with me as a girl, pointing to my crotch and saying, “Don’t let anyone ever touch you down there.” I learned not just from my parents and our Catholic background, but from TV, books, and songs—from fairytales to rom-coms to pop songs galore—that nobody respects sluts, men are the ones who cheat, women are the ones who cry, relationships are fragile things. And even though I considered myself to be much healthier now, I still had hang-ups. Jealousy was one of them, but so was judgment of the kind of people I would meet at the resort.
Like many, before I arrived at Desire, my knee-jerk reaction was that swingers were strange, maybe even pitiful. It was something middle-aged people did when they were bored with their spouses. It was probably the husband’s idea. But after visiting the resort and actually talking to the people there, I realized how wrong I’d been. Nobody seemed bored or out of love. People who’d been married for decades kissed and fondled each other in public like teenagers. And women weren’t just pulled along for the ride. Many of them had initiated the decision to come to the resort, or if they hadn’t, they had still been the deciding party.
“The ones who make the decision to come here are women,” Martinez explained later to me. “The one who accepts is the woman.”
Women did seem to be more aggressive than men at the resort. Most compliments I received were from women—You’ve had a baby?! No way! And most passes came from women—I can’t stop thinking of kissing you. May I? And while some husbands were often quick to start a friendly chat with women and men alike whether they seemed sexually interested or not, women often held back from chatting unless they wanted something more, scanning the tub or dance floor as if stalking prey.
“We’ve been here six times,” a Midwestern man told us after we’d left the hot tub for the lobby bar, where people mingled in lingerie or sexy party outfits. His wife, sitting beside him and studying the room, had swirly designs around her nipples. She didn’t seem interested in talking to us. “Six times,” he repeated, “and we’ve never been off the resort grounds.”
I found this surprising, especially with Chichen Itza just a short drive away. Did they really spend their whole vacation having sex?
When the man told us that they weren’t swingers, I found it even harder to understand why they would come here. “We just think of it as live porn,” he said.
Like us, they were a vanilla couple. We’d meet several of them over the next few days. One man told me that he wasn’t against the idea of swinging, but nobody had met his wife’s standards yet after nine trips. A petite blonde woman, his pretty wife didn’t look at me or my husband while he confessed this. This ignited a tinge of insecurity in me as I wondered: Do we not meet her standards?
“Isn’t it dissatisfying?” I asked him.
He laughed. “Sometimes the excitement of wondering whether or not it will happen is enough to last the whole year. Fantasy can often be more satisfying than the real thing.”
Of course, there weren’t only vanilla couples. After dinner that first night, having not seen anybody have sex publicly, we decided to head back to the hot tub now that it was dark.
That’s when we witnessed our first public orgy. Though I read it in the waiver, my initial reaction was that it was against the rules.
“Is this allowed?” I asked my husband quietly.
But he didn’t answer. He was busy watching the two couples swapping and moaning, a tangle of limbs under the moonlight.
When one of the men enjoying a blowjob switched with his partner so she was now on the receiving end, he waved us over.
I looked at my husband who was looking at me, waiting for me to decide—swim away or join in. That’s when I experienced the key feature of the Desire concept: I decided for the both of us. When the man waved us over, we stopped being a vanilla couple and became swingers. At least I did. With jealousy still at the forefront of my mind and my husband probably sensing that, I fooled around with two other women while the men watched and only touched their respective partners. At one point, I looked over at the nearby pool bar and met the bartender’s eyes. They really don’t break eye contact, do they? I thought.
After we were satisfied, I untangled from the two other women and we all swam over to the bar like old friends, each of us giggling and nuzzling our partners—turning back from exhibitionist goddesses to doting wives.
“I’m Ginger,” said one of the women, extending her pruney hand to me for a handshake. “Nice to meet you.”
Over the next few days, as if that first night with the group had unlocked something in us, my husband and I played a game of how far will we go? We booked a sensual couples’ massage at the spa where my male masseuse and my husband’s female masseuse brought us close to orgasm with their hands before pushing our massage tables together and letting us have at it. We met up with the same couples from the hot tub for more water play, which eventually moved to somebody’s bedroom and I watched my husband grope other women’s breasts while the other men groped mine. Then I watched him get various blowjobs while random faces dove between my legs. All along, while guards came down and boundaries got pushed, my husband and I checked in with each other and the other couples did the same.
“Hands and mouths are OK, right?” some husband asked.
“If you put your penis in another vagina, I’ll murder you,” some wife responded.
“Are you feeling OK?” my husband and I took turns asking each other. “Is this OK?” The answer was always yes.
What I found most surprising about seeing my husband pleasuring someone else was that I didn’t feel rage, resentment, or fear. This was probably because I was doing it too. Even more, I wondered if I’d been wrong about how it would feel to swing—natural, fun, and freeing—then what else could I be wrong about? Maybe my recovery from sex addiction was more about indulging my sexuality than restricting it. Maybe swinging and non-monogamy weren’t things to hide from the people I know back home, including my child, but something to offer as an honorable possibility, an alternative route to the same old stories we get fed about marriage through our families, our churches, our media, and beyond. And maybe jealousy, control, and possessiveness weren’t the best ways to keep my marriage intact. Maybe those were surefire routes to breaking us apart.
But it’s not like we abandoned our boundaries completely. Some of the best sex I had on the trip was with my husband alone in our pristine, childless hotel room, as we went over our daily adventures.
On our third day, as we moved from Desire Pearl to Desire Riviera Maya, which had an even more rambunctious crowd, we met a firefighter and his wife at the bar. We hit it off right away, talking about our respective neighborhoods back home, our jobs, and our children. They had been in the lifestyle for years now and when we told them what we’d been up to the last few days, they explained we’d been doing what is called “soft swap,” which seemed to be a level higher than “vanilla.” Unlike “full swap,” soft swap couples do everything but penetrative sex, and my husband and I both vocalized that we were cool with that; we had no intention of going further.
“Everybody has their style,” the firefighter’s wife said. She had kind eyes and a soft voice. She smiled often and asked thoughtful questions, which I liked. She seemed to care about us, which I later learned was important to her. She didn’t like having sex with people she didn’t want to be emotionally intimate with. Connection turned her on.
Hours later, I’m going down on her husband and she’s going down on mine. Despite what she said about connection, the firefighter’s wife seems far more interested in her husband than mine, and I’m OK with this, though I do wonder if I’m doing a bad job. After we switch positions a few times, the firefighter says, “You guys want to try full swap?”
Since I haven’t had an orgasm, I consider it, but I look to my husband first. He doesn’t say anything, just stares at me. Again, the decision’s mine, but I’m starting to feel uncomfortable with the responsibility.
To buy time, I ask a question that I rarely ever asked at the height of my sexual addiction. “Do you guys have condoms?”
They both shake their heads. I scan the room quickly. Surely, at a place like this, condoms would be as abundant as miniature bottles of shampoo. There doesn’t appear to be any around. I check the fridge, an odd last resort.
My breathing slows and I feel the mood shift. The husband and wife settle into our bed to cuddle and chat and I nuzzle into my husband beside them, but I have no interest in chatting with them anymore.
The wife tells us a story about another swinger couple they know back home. “It’s funny the things you end up getting jealous over after you start swinging,” she says. “Our friend is very short and has a tall husband. She watched him have sex with multiple people and had no problem for years. But then one time she saw a woman at a swingers club get on her tippy-toes to kiss him and that’s what drove her mad.” She laughs. “Being shorter than him was their thing, special to them alone. This woman was taking her place in the most surprising and unusual way.”
Watching her kind eyes bounce from her husband back to us, seeing her soft curls on my pillow, feeling her light caress on my arm as she talks—I suddenly want them to leave immediately. It’s not that I regret what we’ve just done or that I don’t like them, but I simply like my husband more and I’d rather chat with him. He and I almost crossed our final boundary and I feel the need to connect and talk frankly about how we both feel.
Though I think unsafe sex is dangerous, I’m suddenly glad there are no condoms in the room. I politely tell the couple that we have dinner reservations and they get the hint and gather their things. What could have turned into a long evening of shared hopes and fears, more insight into our pasts, and warm stories about our children back home, has instead turned into something quick and semi-anonymous and somehow that feels safer and sexier, too. And though I’ve had my fair share of loose and casual sexual experiences in the past, I don’t feel bad about this one. I don’t feel bad about anything I’ve done on this trip or anything I haven’t done. And there’s another, even more arousing reason I’m glad we didn’t do the full swap: We’ve left something to explore for next time, should there be a next time. Based on how much we’ve been talking about it since we got home, I think there just might be.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.