March 28, 2011— -- At a lofty backyard performance space in Brooklyn, N.Y., Derek and Gillian, a hip, professional couple in their twenties, take sips from their red Solo cups. He slouches a bit in a green Grandmaster Flash T-shirt and jeans; she goes for a more upscale look in a sleek black dress.
They look like any twenty-something couple at any trendy New York party – except they weren't invited by friends to hang out. They're here because of a new social network, designed for swingers who may want to swap partners for the night.
The pair isn't even on Facebook, but as active members of Brooklyn's swinging scene (or the "lifestyle," as its adherents like to call it), they recently signed up for the newly-launched iVoyeur.com -- a social network that says it's for "sexy swingers" and "curious sensualists."
Like any online community, it lets users create profiles to share photos and interests. But instead of posting basic bios, members pull back the curtain to reveal their fantasies, fetishes and sexual "play preferences."
"You post something to meet someone who you envision as being more spicy than the average person," said the founder, who uses the name Alan Ramone in his capacity as CEO of the company. "You post information about yourself – these are my likes, these are my dislikes. ...But it's more sexual in tone. It's not, 'I like my hair brown.' It's sort of, 'Hi, these are the sexual pleasures I enjoy thoroughly. Are you interested?'"
Ramone, a New York divorce lawyer by day, said he's been part of the so-called "lifestyle" for 10 years and started the site to give his community a private, porn-free place to find each other online.
"There's probably, what, like 10,000 porn sites on the Web? And we're totally uninterested in that," he said. "Ours is a lifestyle that is very discrete. It's more high-end."
As members join the site, online monitors review the content to make sure that images and text encourage a safe and appropriate environment.
Lifestyle Is for 'Adventurous People, Sexually'
Pictures that show too much skin or look pornographic are deleted. Profiles that promote violence, profanity, or illegal or underage activity are removed. Ramone said he also invested in online security systems to make sure that users' private information can't be compromised.
In addition to the social networking piece, the site offers articles on food, wine, health and other topics relevant to the lifestyle.
What exactly is the "lifestyle"?
"There's a whole glossary," he said. "[It's] basically a swinging style of adventurous people, sexually."At one end of the spectrum are couples who take part in the "full swaps," or sexual escapades in which nothing is off limits. At the other end, you have the "voyeurs" who just watch, and the "vanillas" who are interested, but not involved at all.
The community also includes "bulls," single men who "play" with other peoples' wives; "unicorns," the bulls' female equivalent; and "newbies," who are new to the whole experience.
"I'm sensing a trend -- it's unofficial because I'm still doing my homework -- that the lifestyle people actually stay together longer because they have so much spice now in their lives and they're not worrying about their husbands and wives cheating," Ramone said. "It's because they share -- openly and honestly."
But sexual health experts warn couples considering iVoyeur, and the community it supports, to think carefully before social networking for sexual swapping.
"As a professional and a clinician, my first question would be: What do you want to get out of it?" said Judy Kuriansky, a New York couples therapist and author of "The Complete Idiots Guide to a Healthy Relationship." "What is your intention and how is this going to impact your life?"
In the field of sex therapy, she said, couples are encouraged to share their fantasies as long as they're not hurtful to others. But carrying out the fantasies is another matter entirely.
"I would never say, carte blanche, go out and act on your fantasies," she said.
Could So-Called Swingers Just Be Cheaters?
She also said that while the site may invite swinging couples to take part, "it opens the possibility that people would be going behind their partner's back."
Even worse, she said, this kind of website could allow people to take their fantasies to a dangerous level by setting up false accounts and luring other members into situations that are unhealthy, unsafe or illegal, she said.
"This is the issue with sexuality and aggression on the Internet," she said. "The caution is for sites like this to really be aware."
But Ramone said that for the past two years he's been working with lawyers, marketers, engineers and public relations teams to try to keep the site safe. Since launching in closed-beta seven months ago, it's attracted about 10,000 active users, who get to use the site for free since they're helping it work through early-stage glitches. (It opened to the public last month, but is still in a free testing mode.)
When the site is fully up and running, it will charge users about $30 a month for the service, he said.
That's not a small sum, considering that there are options that exist for free (he said some lifestylers already use Facebook, for example). But Ramone said he's done his homework and believes that the size of the market is "mind-boggling."
According to his research, there are 3 to 6 million active lifestyle people in the U.S. and about 25 million in the world. (Kuriansky, however, estimates that the numbers are lower.)
"Lifestyle people live throughout the world and it's a whole independent economy," he said.
iVoyeur already sponsors and hosts lifestyle events around the country – from $100-per-couple Friday night events, like the one in Brooklyn, to $600-a-pair lavish weekend getaways on private yachts. But Ramone hopes to boost their frequency and, eventually, expand those options to other parts of the world.
"You go to the party. You have fun, you laugh, you talk to other people that are exotic, erotic, that are full of spice and life and don't judge you," he said.
iVoyeur Takes More 'Integrated Approach' to Sexuality, Member Says
One New Yorker, who asked to be identified as "Kenny," said that he and his wife have been hosting swinger parties for the past five years. With the group Chemistry NYC, they claim to reach a mailing list of more than 2,000 people.
The group tries to create an open environment for anyone with sexual preferences that exist outside society's conventions, he said.
"This is a big, broad area of sexuality where they can go and meet other people and have an open a discussion about that," he said.
He said he recently joined iVoyeur because, unlike other groups that focus purely on sexual activity, iVoyeur, like Chemistry, takes a more "integrated approach that sexuality is a part of your whole being."
Even though the site is still new, he said, it's already helped Chemistry connect with other New Yorkers who share their sexual philosophy.
"I really think iVoyeur has the potential -- they're still finding exactly what their voice is what their place in the market is, but my personal opinion is they're really going in the right direction," he said.