Los Angeles Shuts Down CenterSEE Home

By Jeff Booth

Of all my experiences with censorship and the attempts to control people’s behavior, this was the most personal. It cost me a great deal.

It took place in 2005. I was on the board of advisers for the largest swing club in the United States. It was located in downtown Los Angeles, and had 20,000 square feet. Part of the space was used by the CenterSEE for our Erotic University classes. It was one of the most unique spaces in the country to hold classes in.

The facility had been built out for use as a swing club, an erotic art museum, an adult store, and for shooting adult movies. We could use a dungeon for a BDSM class, or a large area with private curtained beds for a couples massage class, or use any of the other unique environments including a dedicated traditional classroom. We had the run of the place during the day on Saturdays, which was a time when they had no other events scheduled. It was an amazing place.

This entire facility was dedicated to sexuality. There were foot fetish events. There were adult product expos. What ultimately did them in, though, was the swing club. Not that their days weren’t numbered from the day they opened their doors. Los Angeles is a surprisingly conservative town when it comes to sex. We are so prudish that with more beaches than probably any other county, there is not a single nude beach anywhere even close.

Did you know that swing clubs are illegal in Los Angeles? Actually, that is not technically true. But the city declared that these events were held without the proper “sexual encounter license”. So, how do you get such a license? You can’t.

The city had begun their harassment long before they officially shut it all down. Building inspectors came in and shut the place down several times. The last was when they declared that the occupancy was 30 people. That was for a building of 20,000 square feet. The owner fought that and won.

Sure, the parties did everything they could to comply with the law. They were private membership only events for couples over 21 only. No cash was taken at the door. No alcohol was sold to keep the ABC out. They were not advertised or publicly promoted. They did not impact the neighborhood, which was industrial and a ghost town at night. They had their own private parking. The local vice cops came in to visit and the owner worked hard to create a good relationship with them and assure them that no prostitution was taking place.

Once the city decides to take you down though, they will. Sure, if you could just walk into an event like this, I suppose people could encounter it accidentally and be offended. Of course, that was not possible. You’d have to do some serious searching to get invited. So what reason did the city have for shutting them down? Even if the laws on the books apply, we all know that the city has limited resources, so why go after this while meth dealers continued to peddle their wares within the same part of the city? How much did it cost for the undercover officers (who had to come in pairs) to infiltrate these events? Sure, its fun for them to be there, but in reality, I’ve talked to a few vice cops who have dealt with issues like this and they would much rather be going after serious crimes instead of the activities of consenting adults done at a very private venue.

Was it a health hazard? Not any more than private behavior is, and in this environment condoms were generally used and strongly encouraged and they were everywhere within easy reach. Studies of couples only swingers time and time again have shown them not to be a high health risk. A major business that offers people an opportunity to hook up and has far more involvement with prostitution is little regulated in this regard- hotels. People are still going to have sex, but swing clubs provide a safer environment and typically provide safe sex education and supplies.

The bottom line was about controlling people’s behavior. The city of Los Angeles succeeded in shutting down this amazing facility, but in fact, they did not succeed in changing anyone’s behavior. It was just human folly destroying something that meant a lot to a lot of people, including myself. Nothing positive was accomplished for anyone.

We lost the physical space that had been the home for our classes, but it motivated us to create the virtual space of our online Erotic University.