I'm sitting inside the "dungeon" at a hotel in Niagara Falls. It's really just a nondescript meeting room, a washout of grey and beige, but no one's thinking about the backdrop right now.
In front of me, a woman with a bright turquoise mohawk named QueenEh is whipping her sub—a blindfolded man tied to a stripper pole—with a purple leather flog. His skin reddens then raises with angry looking welts. Directly to my left, Lindsey*, a blonde with a lopsided tiara on her head, is on her knees giving a blowjob to her partner; her arms and hands are crocheted behind her back with candyfloss pink rope. Towards the far end of the room, across from me, a woman lying atop a table is having hair mousse sprayed on selective parts of her body and set on fire. And to my right there's a lady suspended in the air by a red harness.
"Now that's what you call a swinger," whispers a spectator.
The hotel, generic by any measure, has been transformed into a den of hedonism for the Niagara Falls Lifestyles Convention, a swingers' Valentine's event now in its 10th year. It's thrown by a company called TABOTA, which also runs The O Zone Swingers Club in Toronto, and this year has drawn 400 people.
Walking inside, we immediately see all the kitschy fixings you'd expect: artificial roses, lacy hearts, condoms, menstrual sponges, and heart shaped candies that dot the hallways. To keep outsiders from knowing what's taking place inside, entranceways have been haphazardly papered over. But me and a photographer—both virgins to "the lifestyle" as swingers say—were granted full access to document the weekend's shenanigans. As part of the deal, we are not identifying the hotel.
Immediately, we head out to the poolside courtyard, which has an all-inclusive vibe—there's a buffet, bar, even a salsa dance teacher—except some people are naked. The outfits range from Hawaiian shirts and sundresses, to tight black mesh and PVC.
The first couple we hang out with, Kevin, 49, and Morgan, 50, have been swinging for decades; they take us into their room to give us a historical perspective and tell us what to anticipate. The rules haven't changed much over the years, they say. Primarily: no means no, ask before you touch, and practice safe sex.
"You get so many people who go to the club and think they can just have sex," says Morgan, who has shoulder-length ashy blonde hair and is leaning against her headboard in a bikini. "People need to make connections."
The couple is celebrating their 14th anniversary, and say they only started swinging together a year and a half into dating. Morgan, who is bisexual, says it didn't work with her ex because they didn't have a good relationship to begin with.
"We loved playing apart," she says, noting that prior to joining the lifestyle with her husband he had cheated on her.
"A lot of couples think 'Oh, let's try swinging, it'll fix whatever problem we have' and no, it makes it worse," adds Kevin, whose shirt features sideways bold-faced type that says "If you turn your head to read my shirt you owe me a blowjob."
The pair always "play" together, often looking for other couples, which actually sounds quite complicated.
"We're looking for chemistry for all four us."
They say they don't feel pressure to hook up; they're just here to chill, and if they end up "playing" with others, that's just a bonus. Having said all that, these two are definitely down to fuck.
"Do you wanna know how many people I've slept with? I have no idea," says Morgan. "If I've fucked the husband, I've fucked the wife. Hundreds."
With that in mind, we head to the pool for the wet t-shirt contest, swinger style.
"Let's see some titties shaking!" screams a guy behind me, who quickly gets his wish.
It starts out with 15 women in white tank tops and 10 dudes in black boxer briefs (which doesn't seem fair), who, after getting sprayed by water guns and dumping water in their own underwear, gyrate, strip, and hump pool railings. One man starts doing pushups, letting his dick touch the ground each time.
They're narrowed down to five couples based on audience cheering, which is when the host asks, "Have you heard the term human sundae before? It's gonna be absolutely delicious."
Each woman lays on the ground while her male partner covers her body in ice cream and sundae toppings. Dick push-up guy sprays whip cream on his partner's vagina and appears to be eating her out, while another dude places a banana over his partner's ladyparts. I think the former is going going to win, but in the end it goes to the pair who makes the biggest mess, which includes Lindsey, the sub I later see giving head with her winning tiara.
At this point, we're hungry, so we pop into the restaurant next door. The American couple next to us at the bar asks why we've been taking photos. When we tell them we're on assignment for VICE, the wife, Tracy*, gets super excited.
"(My husband) always says I should've been a porn star," she says, with a slight upstate New York drawl.
Tracy is a petite brunette dogwalker who looks a lot younger than her age—40—especially with her pigtails. Her husband Craig*, a banker, is stocky and speaks with a hint of gruffness.
Tracy is saccharine sweet, and quite honestly, not someone I'd expect to be a swinger. Maybe it's the pigtails but she just seems way innocent. Her words reveal otherwise.
"I ate my first pussy last night," she says, giggling. "It was amazing."
The couple, high school sweethearts who've been married 22 years, are on a paid swingers' website that costs them about $150 a year, which is how they found out about the Niagara event. They have two kids, aged 18 and 22, and say no one in their family or friend circles can know about their pastime.
They've only been in the lifestyle a year, their interest in it was sparked when they had sex on the beach in Aruba next to another couple.
"We talked but didn't touch… It was so hot," says Tracy.
Craig is straight and enjoys watching Tracy have sex with other women and men as much as he likes engaging in it himself. As for Tracy's preferences, she tells us she is very drawn to "black dick."
Craig says he and his wife use destination swinging as an excuse to get away for weekends, which also allows them to avoid potential clingers.
Afterwards, "you're kind of on a high for three days."
As we wander back into the hotel, we run into dick pushup man, a US army veteran named Jason. He's quite clearly drunk and immediately takes us back to his room, gives us some sloppy kisses, and encourages me to cup his balls. (I obliged—when in Rome etc.)
Jason, 36, is charming and seems harmless, but he's also a bit of a frat boy—his belligerence stands out in the crowd. His wife, who goes by the pseudonym Jessie Jewel, enters the room to see what's going on and I immediately feel awkward, especially because he keeps kissing me behind the ears and trying to touch my ass.
His wife seems used to it. "He's a fucking maniac. We think he's done but he's never done," she says.
It turns out she's a doctor; she offers us samples of a drink with nitric oxide that supposedly "stimulates your sex organs." (I grab a few but have yet to try them.)
Jessie Jewel tells us about one of the rooms occupied by a guy with a BDSM toy chest, including wands used to electrically shock people. We rush to find it. It does not disappoint.
Liam*, the toy master, walks us through each of his many gadgets—flogs, whips, vibrators, paddles.
"This is one is called evil motherfucker," he says about a horsewhip.
This is where we meet QueenEh, the woman with the blue mowhawk, and Lindsey, the wet T-shirt winner. They take turns being Liam's subs.
QueenEh strips and lies on a bed and has Liam whip her with a leather flog. Asked if it hurts, she says, "I've had a baby with no drugs, this is like 20 percent of that." Later, he lights two candles and dots her body with blue wax. Her partner, who is observing all, later scrapes the wax off and stimulates her with his hand until she squirts, crying out loudly.
I tell QueenEh I don't know where my G-spot is and then I compare my small vibrator (which I brought along) to the giant wand she has. "I feel ashamed," I say.
"Oh honey," she replies, looking a bit sad for me.
Next, Liam gives us a crash course in electrical play. Basically, he has a portable electrical generator that he turns on and holds to his body, so the currents are running through him; using a bunch of attachments he can then transfer electricity to another person (even onto their clit). Of the charged pompom, he says, "someone once described this as a thousand mosquitoes."
Using a low setting, he tests a couple of glass attachments on our arms. It feels a bit prickly, and makes a buzzing sound, but it's not intense by any stretch. But then Lindsey, whose arms have just been crocheted behind her back by another woman, bends over on the bed and Liam demos some of the stronger settings on her.
"You wanna see something cool? Turn the light off," he says. When we do, all we can see is the purple glow of the electrically charged toy, and hear Lindsey squealing in pain (and pleasure?).
As the night wears on, we meet new parents who are just taking a break from their baby (and later observe them in a foursome), a young married couple who say they're here to flirt more than anything else, and pass by a game show, karaoke, and a full on dance party playing 2000s hits like Nelly's "Hot in Herre."
There are also a lot of people fucking, obviously. Fucking in the pool; fucking on picnic tables; fucking upstairs in the "playroom" where there are three different beds to accommodate gang bangs. Even the people hooking up in their rooms mostly leave their curtains pushed aside, so everyone else can get a peek.
The openness seems to be as much of a draw as the sex.
Morgan, the cam girl we started the day off with, is one of the few who said she'd be OK with us using her real name. But even then, she believes her friends would treat her like a "leper" if they find out she swings.
"We're no different, it's just something we like to do with consenting adults," she says. "I'm gonna be in a walker being like 'do me from behind.'"
*names have been changed to protect privacy
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