“In the fall of 2017 I went to a swinger club in the city where I live. This was not to work on a project but to expand my idea of myself and my sexuality. My experienced that this was the ultimate sexual safe space for a woman. It was a place we could come and have any kind of sex we wanted without the risk of being raped or assaulted. The next thing I noticed was the diversity. Every woman in there was desired; no matter her size, age or other physical quality. And the third thing was that – it was the ultimate free space that allowed a woman to express her sexuality – free from shame and free to explore our lusts and desires. The project is not a documentary about a swingers club. It is a comment on what it is like to exist in a female body in our society.” taken from her site.
I can speak out of my own experiences, in this specific club, nothing else than that.
I have used the club as a mirror, a prism, to look at my society, culture and structures through.
First of all, you can’t walk into a swinger club with a camera. In all sexual enviroments I have entered , cameras and phones are banned. I was able to make this images because I had been in the club over a longer time, six months to be more precise. People knew me and I had gained their trust. And even then it wasn’t easy. I started to talk with the people behind the bar, I corresponded with the owner and we developed different ways to do this during the way. I photographed over a period of nine months. So this kind of project is very much about time, a whole lot of amount of time.
When I first went there, I expected it to be located in a back yard or maybe something a bit remote, maybe among some industrial buildings. But it was just right there, in the middle of daily life street with cars and bikes driving by and people carrying grosery bags into their appartments. I felt unsecure and exposed in the beginning. I didn’t wanted to show any kind of shame around my interest. The entrance is a tiny corridor with a tiny counter at the end. After you have paid, you continue to a changing room where you put all your clothes and belongings into a locker. And then you enter the dark maze. Well, it’s not all dark, there’re tiny lamps all over with a dimmed light that makes everything a bit golden and glowing. The first room you enter is the bar. Behind the bar is usually a woman, but sometimes a couple or a man. The woman takes you key and maybe serve you somthing to drink if you want. They decide how much you are allowed to drink and it’s not allowed to enter or being in the club drunk. On the other side of the bar there is the bathroom with toilets, showers a sauna and a jacuzzi. The house has two floors. On the first floor is the bar, which is the ”heart” of the club and the bathroom, then there’re two small private rooms, one small open room, one big where you are only allowed to enter as part of a couple (a ”couple” can be several people), another private room with windows ,glory holes, small corridors and gateways that can also be used. On the second floor there’s a bigger open space for more bdsm related activites,one dark room, three tiny half private rooms and a cinema that shows porn.
You are only allowed to have contact through eye contact and never (ever!) to touch. So if I don’t want contact, I just look away. The bar is more fluid, it is a place for more easy conversations and a lot of flirting. Some people like to have sex in the open areas with others watching. Sometimes some of the people standing around and watching are being invited to join but they have to be clearly invited and are not allowed to stand to close. And others like it better in the private rooms.
I was very fascinated by some of the other women who also came there as singles, like I did. But they did it in a totally other way, they really just threw themselves into i with a joyful greedyness that I found very cheerful and liberating to watch. These were the women that I photographed. After I have been given permission to photograph, I approached these women slowly and humble. I ve told them that I was a photographer as well and as a user and that I was fascinated by them. At this time I didn’t knew that I was going to be able to create out of it at all. A lot of people who use the club are, of course, exhibitionists so most of them were just very happy to be asked and enjoyed it a lot. Others were on a more self developing and exploring journey and used the outside eye as a new kind of reflection to insight.
My images are staged, I always work that way. I see, explore and experience things and then I stage images that communicate this. But even though they’re staged by me. The people did get aroused by each other and by me directing and documenting.
I wanted to make images that could communicate how it feels to be inside a female body in this kind of space. A lot of visual culture around sexuality and women, has the male gaze. I wanted to expand these narratives. I wanted to make images that communicated how it felt more that how it looks. And at the same time I wanted to give these women a sense of being looked at with another kind of attention than the male sexual desire. I wanted them to feel seen as whole and complex persons.
What I found out about myself is a lot. A lot a lot a lot, haha. I am a second generation feminist, it’s very much the bottom line in my that my body and my desires belongs to me. And yet I was confronted with a scary internalized urge to please men, like I owned them something. I felt like a tease, walking around there in my underwear and not saying yes to any of them. I had many conversations with one of the women behind the bar about this. ”You’re not here for charity” she told me. This is actually the one place where you can get whatever you want, just say it and you’ll get it. And again I was confonted with another strange thing, the feeling that I wasn’t allowed to receive. I like to have sex in a way that the penis is not the essential part. I feel that the penis is so culturally overrated. It’s not that I don’t like it, I really do, but it is just one thing on a body, one thing, not some kind of divine magic stick. I like skin, whole bodies and brain. Brain is the absolute main thing that turns me on. And I like hands, fingers, and mouth. And penises. But not penises as a first thing (Must add that I’m hopelessly hetero.) And I felt like if I wanted to interact with most of the men there, the penis would be so central. After a long time, when I actually started to have actual sexual interaction (after loads and loads of conversations and watching and exploring in my own way), I just laught at the men when they tried to put their penises inside me. I was like, what, why? We’re having a great time here, everyone’s happy, why do that absolutely have to go into my vagina?! And this kind of behaviour led me into the whole scene of dominance and submission. I was approached by so many men who called themselves ”natural dominant” and they tried to convince me to submit to them. They kind of wanted to release my inner sub and I was like YOU JUST KILLED HER, hahaha.
My headline of the project have two points:
The swinger club is the ultimative sexual safe space for women. This is because it’s a business. It’s still like this that there’s a whole lot of more men than women. In our society we have some structures that makes men violate womens boundaries, if that kind of behaviour came into the club, women would have bad experiences and then they wouldn’t come back and then there wouldn’t be any club/business. There are some very explicit rules and if you don’t follow them, it will actually have consequences for you. In a sharp contrast to how it works in our society.
The other thing is that the club is the actually a free sexual space for women. Free of shaming for having an explicit sexuality. In our society it can have incalculable social and professional consequenses for a woman to have an explicit sexuality. Inside the club it’s the opposite. In a culture with very narrow ideas on how a attractive female body looks like, it is also a free space to be desired even though you are bigger, older or in any other ways different than the beauty standards. This is a importaint thing because erotic capital has been important for women since they haven’t had access to the same possiblities as for example making financial capital.
I think these angles are the feminist ones. Then there are the intersectional ones. That the expectations towards gender roles are a prison for everyone. I am very happy for metoo about the explicity of the structures of power through sexual violence, but not at least from the angle of men that was starting to show up. Suddenly I had access to knowledge from men about how it was for them. Men being taking away a whole essential part of their emotional spectrum as kids (the boys don’t cry-concept) and then girls and young women are being slut shamed if they explore their sexuality which makes them passive and then the men have to be active and taking the inititives and that means loads and loads of rejections and that combinated with the lack of a vulnerable emotional language can make men kind of having a quite transgressive behavior and tell me – who’s is profiting from that? No one in my opinion. More fun, play and conversations into sex please.
To a woman who’s afraid to go to a place like this – first, ask you self why, have that conversation with yourself, with your partner, with your friends, with your therapist, with people around you. There are a lot of healing possiblities in conversations. Then do your research, look at the webpage of the club… what do they communicate? Do they have excplicit rules? Call them, talk to them, ask about their rules, about the atmosphere there. And then go there, by yourself or with someone you feel really safe with, a partner or a friend. And then explore in you own pace. YOUR OWN PACE! One of the mantras of the club I visited was ”Always regret what you didn’t do (and come back for more) than what you did do (and leave with an bad experience)”