Swinging to the rules in condoms and latex gloves

A LARGE blonde clad in black Lycra and chiffon strode purposefully into the lounge. She ignored the small group gathered there and stared straight ahead, grim-faced, as she marched into the 'dungeon' next door. Two smaller dark women scurried after her. 'She's a professional 'dominatrix' from San Francisco, and they are her slaves,' said a man beside me.

Europe's first Pan-Sexual Safer Sex party was about to begin, to coincide with the ending of the International Conference on Aids in Amsterdam. Swingers were here to learn how to swing safely in the Aids era.

Safer-sex kits comprising condoms and latex gloves, together with more obscure pieces of equipment, were provided at the door. And swingers must swing according to the rules: ask before touching; don't crowd; use gloves or other protective devices at all times; and don't get drunk. There was a plea to bring cash because 'fund-raising activities will be incorporated into your orgasm'.

The venue was an inconspicuous house on the Marnixstraat in Central Amsterdam, where Mistress Shiva, a pleasant, if rather masculine-looking woman in a shiny grey frock with a battered black rosette in her yellow hair, ushered in the guests.

Her lounge was unremarkable, but the magazines in the rack suggested a woman of exotic tastes. Pictures on the dingy beige wallpaper hinted at a preoccupation with leather, dog collars, ropes and chains.

The first guests - who had paid pounds 120 for a double ticket - shuffled in, eyes downcast and slightly sheepish. They were directed to the 'rubber room' to change - next to the 'hospital suite' for those who liked to play at doctors and nurses. They were young women and men in their early thirties, some middle-aged men and a transvestite or two. They reappeared noticeably more extrovert.

Fantasy clothes depend on your fantasy, according to the organiser, Tuppy Owen, author of The Sex Maniac's Diary. Tuppy wore just a dog collar arrangement with chains and an uncomfortable looking basque. The evening's chef - guests are fed morsels by chopsticks - opted for a black lace body stocking. A documentary maker from London, she was just there to watch. 'Exhibitionists need voyeurs.'

Only one man arrived ready dressed for his fantasy, in a waiter's outfit with a bowler hat. He stood silently in a corner, looking like the 'Homepride' flour man but seeking domination not lumpy flour.

Between 60 and 70 guests were expected from all over Europe, Tuppy said. They included two deaf people and a man in a wheelchair. 'It is a wonderful opportunity for the disabled to integrate their sexuality with the able-bodied,' Tuppy said. She had wanted more sex club owners to come to spread the word about safer swinging. Unfortunately the event clashed with a South of France nudist convention. Most of them had gone there instead.

Robert Morgan Lawrence, of the Queen of Heaven Safer Sex Club in San Francisco, was Master of Ceremonies. With the aid of monitors - professional sex workers or, to the politically incorrect, prostitutes - they would intervene in a 'lust situation' that was becoming unsafe, he said.

Mr Morgan Lawrence is a veteran of safer sex parties in the US, and wants to extend the practice to irresponsible swingers in Europe. 'We want them to know that hot behaviour is still around, and it can be safe and erotic. There is no other way for them to learn this.' Swinging never went away, he said, despite the Aids scare. The parties just became smaller and more private. Now they were on the increase but swingers often refused to acknowledge that they were at risk from HIV or other diseases.

In Britain, swingers tend to be from middle and upper classes and assume that HIV is not a problem for them, Tuppy said. 'We really have to change that.'

Party small talk was coming to an end. In the dungeon room, the dominatrix and her slaves were getting impatient. I was invited to stay and offered some cling film in place of a fantasy costume. I made my excuses and left.

(Photograph omitted)

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