Commercial party houses

Dear Alice,

In a response to a letter regarding a threesome, you mentioned something called a "commercial party house." Can you provide more information on such places, like what can one expect from a visit, where they are located, who frequents them, etc.? Thanks.

— Will Try Anything Once

Dear Will Try Anything Once,

A commercial party house is more commonly called a swing club. Swing clubs are businesses that provide an environment for partners to have sex with each other, with someone else, with many people, with partner swapping, and even have solo sex. Swing clubs are located in most major cities. In New York City, for example, swing clubs cater to people of all sexual orientations and genders, and to those into S&M (public or private). Some have Asian spa environments and some have dancing. Listings of clubs usually can be found in sex books, alternative newspapers such as The Village Voice, and alternate lifestyle magazines. Most swing club regulars tend to be older; however, it's common to find younger participants, too.

At swing clubs, there are clear "rules," etiquette, if you will, concerning choices about how, to what degree, and with whom, if at all, someone would like to participate. In heterosexual swing clubs, for instance, single men are not allowed in by themselves; they are permitted to enter the club only if they have a woman partner with them. Same sex behavior between or among men is taboo, while encouraged among women.

Because a visitor may have sex with several partners and not know each partner's sexual history, a swing club provides an environment where it's easy to pass and receive sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as herpes or HIV. Condoms are available at many clubs, but it is difficult to say how careful and consistent guests are with using protection. Of course, participants are not eager to get or give an STI, so many are careful about their health.

If monogamy and risk reduction are important to couples, they can go to a swing club and have sex with their accompanying partner. In this way, a person can still be monogamous and safe. If both people know they are infection-free and protected from pregnancy, if applicable, then they may not need to have safer sex. If partner(s) are changed or added, and they have oral, vaginal, or anal sex, precautions, such as condoms and other safer sex strategies, can help keep all involved healthier.

For more information about how to protect yourself and others during a visit, check out the Safer Sex and Sexually Transmitted Infection (STIs) categories in the Go Ask Alice! Sexual and Reproductive Health archives.

Last updated Mar 19, 2015
Originally published Mar 15, 1996

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