Squirrel Creek Lodge, a 18,000-square-foot former steakhouse in Littleton, Colo., looks a lot like any other event space used for corporate get-togethers and run-of-the-mill wedding parties.
But Squirrel Creek has hidden depths. Nearly every weekend, droves of people visit for racy parties where open-minded couples meet other open-minded couples looking to spice up their sex lives.
Many participants call it “the lifestyle,” although it's also commonly known as swinging.
Owner Kendall Seifert said Squirrel Creek is the biggest venue of its kind in the nation.
Among other things, Squirrel Creek hosts Scarlet Ranch, a 50,000-member swingers club that Seifert started more than a decade ago, before selling it. Members and guests come to the facility not necessarily to have sex, but to “go out to a club without kids,” he said. “No thumping music, no bar fights.”
“I think there is less sex here than in the parking lot of the Stampede (nightclub) on any night,” he said. “The allure is you possibly could go have sex, if you wanted” — but in one of Squirrel Creek's six downstairs playrooms, not the parking lot.
For a busy event, 1,500 or more people show up, Seifert said. Nearby businesses are tapped for additional parking. Area hotels offer special rates and shuttles to people who come in from out-of-town.
During a recent tour of Squirrel Creek, with its long bar, huge kitchen and array of games, workers were seen cleaning up an indoor pool party from the night before — the inflatable pool had collapsed and blow-up pool toys were scattered around. Squirrel Creek hosts fashion shows, volleyball tournaments, dance parties and more, most of it taking place on weekends.
On weekdays, Squirrel Creek hosts corporate parties, serves dinner to members and entertains different groups that want the facility more for its space than its provocative weekend vibe.
Long before she got married, Emily Bitti knew monogamy wasn't for her. Good thing that her husband agreed.
For about a decade, the Colorado pair have hit swingers clubs, attended meet-and-greet events at bars, booked vacations at adults-only resorts, and gone on dates with people other than their spouses.
Where some couples might dabble in partner swapping, it's a way of life for Bitti and her husband.
“I can't even imagine us being in a traditional marriage,” said Bitti. “It would be way too boring.”
Swinging is not something that is routinely tracked by academics. The largest study, conducted in 2000 by Bellarmine University sociologists Curtis Bergstrand and Jennifer Blevins Williams, found that 84 percent of swingers are married couples or in relationships and had been together for a little more than 10 years.
Among swinging couples, marital happiness averaged 78.5 percent, compared with 64 percent of the general married population. Women on average are 31 when they embrace the lifestyle, while men are 35. Seventy-two percent belong to religious institutions, compared with 61 percent in the general population.
Bitti prefers the term “sexually social” to swinger. It seems more approachable and friendly, she said.
“We are just about being who we are, but we are all living in the closet. People are worried about losing their jobs, their kids,” said Bitti, who along with her husband is so enthusiastic about the lifestyle that they are one of the lead couples on a Playboy Channel show called “Swing.”
Bitti is out about the lifestyle, in part, to help drag it closer to the mainstream.
The stigmas still thrive, but they appear to be eroding, said Denver sex therapist Neil Cannon.
“There are more people who are willing to find more creative solutions to how to make their marriage or relationship work,” he said. “It's hard for some people to get all of their needs met in one relationship. In America, everybody assumes we are monogamous and that's the only way to live.”
Exploring the lifestyle is not for everybody, he said. For one thing, concerns about sexually transmitted diseases alarm many people. Practicing what Cannon calls “safer sex” is simply imperative. Also, jealousy renders many people incapable of letting a spouse run off with others for romps between the sheets.
Those who succeed, he said, tend to bask in their partner's joy, regardless of whether it bubbles up from a career triumph or a sexual escapade with another adult.
And many of those who thrive in the lifestyle appreciate places such as Squirrel Creek.
In the past, Cannon said, “there were lots of places, but they were small, in people's homes. I think it's important to remember that markets make businesses — businesses don't make markets. There are people who want to do this.”