Swingers, from those not in the know, are thought of as sex crazed and immoral.
As a result, they are often so deep in the closet about what they call "the lifestyle," their friends and family frequently know nothing about it.
But a few brave couples are willing to "out" themselves for the sake of TV exposure (and not the nude type) on Discovery Fit & Health network's new four-part series set in Atlanta "Secret Sex Lives: Swingers," debuting Saturday at 10 p.m.
Since this is basic cable and not "Skinemax," there is no nudity or explicit sex acts. And to protect the Atlanta couples to a degree, they only go by first names. Otherwise, we learn the basics of how the "lifestyle" works, from the parties to safe words to the lingo.
I talked to Rebecca, one of the women who has been swinging for awhile but given her Christian upbringing, harbors guilt about it. She goes to a preacher the first episode and he doesn't exactly give her good news from a faith perspective.
Since the show was taped early last year, Rebecca said in an interview, her guilt has subsided "up to a point... I'm in a really good spot not feeling so guilty all the time."
But as of three weeks ago, she had yet to inform her family members of the upcoming show. "We're waiting for the last possible minute," she told me. "They're God-fearing Christians."
Swinging, she said, "is one of the last taboos. People automatically assume we're sex addicts or want to have sex all the time, that we can't have regular friends or lives, that it's all consuming. We just decided it would be cool to show we're just normal people who do some crazy things to enhance our sex lives."
In reality, the couple has to agree that another couple is attractive and worth sleeping with. That doesn't happen as often as you think because it's hard enough to find two folks willing to sleep with each other. How about four?
Rebecca also said the women usually lead. "If the woman isn't into it, it won't happen," she said.
She said she isn't trying to convert people to their way of life. Rather, she just hopes the show "will open up conversations among viewers."
Atlanta, she said, has a big swinging community with at least three large reputable clubs. Couples from all over the Southeast travel to Atlanta to partake, she said. She heard about the TV show through her on-line swingers group.
Rebecca, a warehouse clerk, and her fiance (at the time of the taping) Chris, a logistics consultant, did worry that appearing on the show might impact their jobs. "We're going to keep our fingers crossed," she said. "We still hope to be able to maintain the life we have now."
She said she and Chris first began talking about fantasies about six years ago. She told him she had always been curious about being with another woman. They attended a swingers club called Trapeze. "That's how we got into the lifestyle," she said. "Just curiosity. It evolved over the months. Now we're a full swinging couple."
Not that it's any easier than a monogamous relationship. "I get jealous," she said. "It's a real thing. Even when we love each other and want to do it together, once in awhile, someone's feelings will get hurt."
Why did this show end up on Discovery Fit & Health? (It's a two-year-old network that is a merger of the old FitTV and Discovery Health.)
Jon Sechrist, Discovery Networks International vice president for production and development, said with TLC and Discovery in general "our bread and butter has been overturning stones and peaking into hidden worlds. This show was pitched to me 18 months ago andit excited me. It was a topic I had heard about but didn't know about. When we started digging, we found it was much bigger than we had thought. Many characters on our show were not typically what we would think of as swingers. We thought this would be an interesting topic from an entertainment and psychological perspective for our audience to learn about."
Indeed, health and fitness is not just physical, he said: "It's emotional and sexual, too."
He admits he is always amazed people in these subcultures (sister wives, the Amish, little people, et. al) are willing to be on camera. "It's a confession in some ways," Sechrist said. "We all search in our lives for acceptance. This is a way to get that."
The production company fished around the country in cities such as D.C., Denver and Las Vegas but found the most interesting potential cast members in Atlanta. "We love the contrast," Sechrist said, given the conservative Bible Belt nature of parts of Atlanta.
The show does not feel nearly as staged or overly produced as those on networks such as Bravo and VH1. "We promised them we would tell their stories in an authentic way, not in the way MTV might tell a story," he said. "We brought them a certain comfort level."
Even then, one doctor couple skipped out before the first taping because they got nervous. And another seen in the first episode - Jaymee and Everett - bowed out after the first episode. Jaymee, who had just had a baby, just wasn't comfortable getting back into the "swinging" lifestyle. "Their priorities changed," he said. They brought in a new couple they had ready as a back up.
The four-episode run could easily become a longer term series, he said. "There is a lot more story to tell with these relationships," he said. And chances for a renewal are already good based on feedback from the show already airing on Discovery networks internationally (Australia, Poland and the U.K., for instance). And if the show does well enough, much bigger sister cable network TLC might pick it up -as they did "Jon and Kate Plus Eight."
He said while the show has no nudity ("I'm not in the business of doing porn"), "we wanted to make a sexy, smart show. I'm not going to lie to you. When we shoot shows, we get embedded. We shot a lot. But we know who our audience is. You will see some stuff. It's pretty edgy from a psychological perspective. Then again, I think 80 percent of sex is psychological."
Sechrist said he came in with his own misconceptions about what the couples would be like. "I was surprised how young, attractive and well spoken these couples are. They are professionals," he said. "I was expecting hippy types from the 1970s, older and unattractive."
He was also amazed how open the lines of communications are with these couples. In fact, that's a necessity for a successful swinging coupleship. Trust is key, he said. "There's something very healthy about that," he said.
He warned the couples that they will be judged by viewers - and not always kindly.
"I've already seen comments on the blogs," Rebecca said, from folks who have seen it in other countries. "Conversations are going to get heated."
She has seen all four episodes and is happy how she's portrayed. "They did a good job editing," she said, "and making good stories."
She also told me why she thinks insiders dub it "the lifestyle." "I think the term swinging got such a bad rap in the 1970s. We had to call it something else!"
The other two couples in the first episode not mentioned in this story are:
Jewelry designer Dana, who is taking care of her ill father, and her fiance Loveless, a communications consultant. As of last year's taping, they had been in the lifestyle six months and both are comfortable with it.
Swimwear designer Hali and electronics developer Bryan are two years into the lifestyle. There is a big age difference and she is annoyed when she's called a "trophy wife."
"Secret Sex Lives: Swingers"
debuts 10 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, Discovery Fit & Health