Moral Sex

City Hall Puritans crack down on sex businesses. Expect the courts to decide if the new laws are constitutional.

In the classic film It's a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart's character is given the opportunity to see what would have happened to his community if he had never been born. Without him, the quiet tree-lined downtown of family-oriented Bedford Falls becomes the garish, loud and decadent main street of Pottersville, lined with "adult" establishment and vice. The film's message is about the power each one of us has to affect the people around us, and in a broader sense, the community we live in. We can decide whether we want our neighborhoods to look like Bedford Falls or Pottersville, whether we want safe and wholesome business areas or the "combat zones" of porn shops and "adult entertainment."

--former U.S. attorney general Edwin Meese III, board member,

National Family Legal Foundation, 1996
he clock is about to strike midnight, and the dildo stands alone. Inside a west Phoenix swingers' club, the dance floor is dead, except for the plastic phallus at its center. Thick and riven with fake veins, it stands motionless amid the swirl of disco lights on the chessboard tile.

"Welcome to Saturday night at Discretions!" the deejay howls. "Everyone out there in the mood to get laaaaaid?"

If they are, they're awfully quiet about it.
Most of the men and women scattered among tables and booths in the club's main room sit impassively. A few appear mildly amused.

Members of the Phoenix City Council looked just as bored on December 9 when they voted to ban places like Discretions as part of a crackdown on sex businesses.

Short of a successful legal challenge, Discretions and the city's five other swingers' clubs--no-alcohol nightspots where adults dance, watch pornography and, sometimes, engage in consensual sex--must shut down by January 8.

The reason, according to the new law: ". . . The operation of a sex club is inimical to the health, safety, general welfare and morals of the inhabitants of the city of Phoenix."

But only a handful of Phoenicians has even heard of Discretions. Located in a secluded industrial zone near 27th and Grand avenues, it bills itself as a "private social club"--single men pay $30 to get in, couples pay $10 each, and solo women get in free. Newcomers must present identification and sign a contract that, in part, swears they aren't with law enforcement or the media.

No more than 30 people are in the club on this Saturday night. About half in attendance are middle-aged heterosexual couples. Four or five unaccompanied women float about. The rest are nondescript men.

The walls are adorned with 12 Day-Glo paintings under black lights, depicting men and women interlocked in various sexual positions. Each painting corresponds inexplicably to a sign of the Zodiac. A young woman serving juice and sodas at a bar shows off her painted nails, which match the X-rated paintings.

Off the main room, there's a smaller one where cheap pornography is playing on a big-screen TV. It also has a gynecological exam table, stirrups and all, though no one's strapped in. A bearded man in an easy chair absent-mindedly tugs on his exposed penis. An obese blonde suckles occasionally on another man's flaccid member as he reclines on a couch. One breast sways out of her black evening dress.

Across the club, behind a latticed wood screen, is a hot tub. A portly, hairy man with a scraggly mustache sits alone in the tub, arms outstretched. He hauls himself out, ties a white towel around his gut, and trudges around the club. Furtive eye contact is his prime mode of interaction.

The big guy cruises the buffet line, where a frosted blonde in her late 40s is stacking Ritz crackers and processed-cheese squares onto a plate. He makes his way to a dimly lighted hallway in the back of the club, and peers into a room marked "Four or more only."

Inside, two queen beds are pushed together. They are empty.
The deejay raves on: "All right, ladies, it's blow the deejay hour! Get wild! Not too wild, though, or you might have sex with someone, right here at Discretions. Woo-hoo! Yeah!"

Hot tub man sashays over to the dance floor, where two women--one slight, one heavy--are spinning circles around the dildo. He tries a few awkward dance moves. The women shimmy away from him. He crosses the club once more, strips off his towel, and reimmerses himself in the chlorinated froth.

The deejay returns to his microphone.
"Hey, everybody, don't know if you heard yet about the new Nazi law or not. But in honor of its passage, it's Fuck the Phoenix City Council Night here at Discretions! Yeah, baby! Whoo!"

The gathering remains unmoved. The dildo has vanished.

Our dear heavenly Father, as we come upon this time of this council meeting, I pray your guidance and your blessings upon this time. . . . I pray for these leaders who have been chosen out to serve. That you would give them wisdom as they hear the debates, more that you give them understanding. I pray also that you would guide their decisions, realizing that the highest authority still stands within the heavens. So Lord, we pray that we would have your will and purpose in this meeting today. We ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

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