Beyond Key Parties: Lauren Wise’s Swap Club

I have amassed a pretty amazing (and talented) group of friends in my adulthood. Some of those friends happen to be best selling authors, so when one of them asks me to take a look at something, I typically say yes. As it turns out, a childhood friend (of a friend), named Lauren Wise, had written her first book. Swap Club is a sex-filled novel about a marriage on the verge of going from stale to (possibly) spicy. Wise’s book is having great success in Canada (with a feature film based on it currently in development) and it probably doesn’t come as a huge surprise why a friend thought I might be interested in it.

It’s not like this would be my first encounter with erotic fiction. Years ago, I had the opportunity to take part in a large, okay, very large, conversation about a particular erotic book that had achieved global success. To be honest, I didn’t care about whether it represented reality or a healthy relationship, or whether it deserved the notoriety. What I did (and continue to) care about is that women of all ages and demographics were turning on and talking about it aloud. Women were unapologetically taking ownership of their desires. Working in the world of human sexuality, I understand that erotica serves many purposes: it can turn us on, activate our fantasies, allow us to vicariously live through someone else’s sexual experiences, and provide us with material for our own partnerships.

Because I rarely say no to friends, and because I love a good erotic story, within 24 hours, Swap Club was sitting on my kitchen counter. Within another 24 hours, it was read cover to cover. It is the story of Valerie Matthews, a housewife on the cusp of turning 40, who wants to rev up her marriage by joining a secret Montreal sex club for married couples. Yes, it is exactly what you think it is. Consensual spousal swap in a town much smaller than you would think. Sure, you might be imagining the potential challenges, but.…imagine the possibilities (wink).

While BDSM-inspired erotic fiction may not be for everyone, Swap Club feels universally relatable. Val Matthews is a housewife, mom, friend, and daughter. She is in a long term monogamous relationship and she’s trying to figure out when her life, her sex life in particular, became so routine. You could easily substitute Montreal for any cosmopolitan stateside suburb or small city (like my own hometown of Long Island, for example). You could substitute her marriage for yours. Val Matthews could be you — or me. And she’s funny, which makes sense because Wise cut her teeth in comedy. She knows how to develop characters with the right balance of humor, neuroses, self-deprecation, and sex, lots of it.

What I enjoyed most about Swap Club is that it’s a book driven by personality first, and sex second. Don’t get me wrong, the sex is fun to read (note: have a partner or battery operated accessory nearby). Think about it: what would you do — and what sexual personality would you take on — if you had the ability to spend one night each month with new partner? What fantasies could you explore? What would you do if your partner agreed to this set up? But the accessibility of Swap Club lies in the fact that the sex doesn’t feel gratuitous. Every encounter Val has is another step in her journey to understand who she and what she wants out of this stage in her life. And of course, Swap Club makes you think: what would happen if a certain person in your community showed up at your door for sex? Who would you want showing up? And what would you do if he or she did?

A good erotic book doesn’t just turn on your body, it turns on your mind, too. Swap Club does that, and you don’t even have to switch partners to make it happen. But if you do (consensually), that’s cool, too.