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Sexuality in Conversation

Inside the Arnold Fitness Expo, Or the Best Time to Swing in the Midwest

It’s Friday night in Columbus, Ohio, and Rick* is opening his first bottle of champagne. The orthopedic surgeon only lets a hiss escape. Popping champagne is for amateurs, and the Napa Valley vineyard-owner is a pro. The cuffs of his shirt were pressed to cut glass. In one fluid motion, he poured precisely eight ounces of brut into a solo cup and slid it across the bar to his companion Loraine*.

A few glasses later, Loraine* is kneeling in front of Rick, taking the length of his penis into her mouth. He tipped back his solo cup and gave a wink. Nobody batted an eye. This is why new couples are always coming to Club Princeton, and why the regulars keep coming back.

Club Princeton, the largest members-only social lifestyle (read: swinger) club in the Midwest, is a destination for couples and singles to meet, mingle and maybe have sex with other like-minded people at the adult playground tucked away on Columbus’ west side. The business of pleasure is lucrative year-round, but especially during the Arnold Fitness Expo weekend, when new and returning lifestyle couples flood the club for a taste of Princeton’s brand of hospitality.

“I’ve catered to the Arnold crowd since I opened,” Princeton founder Roger* says. “People plan all year to come to Princeton during the ‘Arnold’. It’s like a big reunion!”

The Arnold Fitness Expo, a three-day fitness festival named for Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been a Columbus institution for 30 years. Touted as the “nation’s largest multi-sport festival,” it draws 220,000 spectators and athletes to Columbus every spring for competitions, workshops and more. The local economy swells, bringing in an extra $51.4 million from the event. The annual Friday night ‘Arnie Appreciation’ party at Club Princeton, named for the fitness expo, has been a swinger pilgrimage for 15 years, and welcomed 400 members from across the U.S. to this year’s event.

“The whole city goes crazy for the Arnold. Princeton’s the biggest club, they’re going to cater to the biggest event,” Wayne*, a long-time Princeton member, tells me. He and his partner Renae* consider themselves lifestyle veterans, with 17 years of combined experience. “It’s good business. You’ve seen the door prices, right?”
It makes sense that bodybuilders who explore their physical limits would want to explore their sexual limits too.
After membership fees, door cover and taxes, a night at Princeton costs a new couple $113, in addition to the cost of any alcohol a member brings to the BYOB-only club. The steep price doesn’t dissuade out-of-town couples from entertaining their fantasies with single women, men, full-swap couples (sex with other partners) and soft-swap couples (up to and including oral sex with other partners).

“I always ask people what brings them in. It’s normally like ‘I’ve heard so much about your club, I’ve always wanted to try it,’” says Chantelle, a bartender at Club Princeton since 2011. “A lot of people into bodybuilding are into the lifestyle. Couples who come to the Arnold every year usually stop in both nights. It gets them out of their ‘regular’ routine.”

In addition to the clientele, a nightly, monthly or yearly membership gets you access to three stories of private and themed rooms, public play spaces, a full-size theater, an adult toy store, two hot tubs and a Sybian masturbation saddle, with all the attachments. All hallways lead to the club’s group play space, a corral of beds partitioned off by floor-to-ceiling glass. It could double as an operating theatre, if medical students required a drink rail and a high-definition porn projector.

“People from Chicago, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Atlanta come to Columbus just to spend a weekend at Princeton,” says Keith, the club’s general manager. “We are definitely a destination, and people want to see what we have to offer.”

What the club offers depends on who you ask. For couples toying with the idea of swapping partners, it offers a no-pressure atmosphere to dance, drink and maybe meet new friends. For the chiseled couple taking center stage on the top tier in the group play space, it offers a captive audience for their screaming orgasms. For couples like Rick and Loraine, Princeton offers a place to let go of inhibitions and meet potential partners, hopefully without running into their receptionist.

“It makes sense that bodybuilders who explore their physical limits would want to explore their sexual limits too,” says Sheba*, a founder of Columbus kink group, Adventures In Sexuality. “There are lots of events like the Arnold to explore your physicality, but not as many to openly explore your sexuality.”
It’s about more than sex. Sometimes you’ll walk into a house party and all the women are grinding on each other, sometimes we just play Jenga.
The Arnie Appreciation party piques the curiosity of voyeurs, exhibitionists and “vanilla” couples (the term those in the lifestyle use to refer to the general population) as well as seasoned out-of-town couples. “There are so many different variations of swinging, nobody comes in knowing exactly what they want,” Keith says. “They want to explore that in a safe, well-supervised environment.”

Princeton’s harassment-free atmosphere is a major selling point for newbies and veterans alike, but not all lifestyle couples are keen on the club’s environment during the Arnold Fitness Expo. “A lot of the regulars shy away when the Arnold is in town,” Renae says. “We’re not anti-expo, it’s just more for voyeurs and people who are really into body image. It can be kind of a turn-off.”

Though Club Princeton serves as the central hub for much of Columbus’ dedicated swinger population, becoming fully involved with the city’s tight-knit lifestyle community is about more than a membership. Getting together outside the club is what separates the old-school swingers from the weekend warriors.

“The clubs in South Beach and St. Louis don’t even compare to Columbus’ community. When I moved here, I instantly found myself in a circle of 200 like-minded people,” Renae says. “It’s about more than sex. Sometimes you’ll walk into a house party and all the women are grinding on each other, sometimes we just play Jenga or flip-cup.” “The sex definitely drew me into the lifestyle,” adds Wayne. “But the relationships keep me interested.”

Even for those who sit out major events like the Arnie Appreciation party, Club Princeton helped make Columbus the ‘swinger-Mecca’ it is. “Just having a premier club like Princeton here brings like-minded people together. It’s where I took Wayne on our first date,” Renae says. Though Roger and Keith have no plans to quit catering to the Arnold Fitness Expo, or any other major event, Renae and Wayne continue to frequent the Club Princeton, even if it means skipping a few parties.

“After going to Princeton, other clubs seem pretty boring,” Wayne says. “A woman can give a man a blow job at the bar, and nobody is going to bat an eye. It’s almost Utopian.” 

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