At swinging convention, sex is on everyone's mind
By Adam Tanner
Mon Jul 24, 8:37 AM ET
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Vera Rhodes has come a long way from her conservative upbringing in Pennsylvania's Amish community.
There she was a virgin until she married at age 30. Now, she is an enthusiastic 54-year-old member of the millions-strong "swinging" community who speaks openly of her encounters with multiple sexual partners.
"Last night it was really special," said Rhodes, who is divorced and makes a living giving massages in the Midwestern state of Iowa. "There was a couple from Mexico, a couple from Virginia and a couple from Ireland, from Australia."
"I like to participate in life as much as possible," she said with a broad smile.
Rhodes was among some 3,000 people gathered Saturday at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas for the annual Lifestyles conference, a five-day, $700-per-couple event that offers a mix of seminars, socializing and sex.
Early Saturday, Rhodes was back for more, joining the action in a suite where more than a dozen couples were having sex.
The conference organizer, Robert McGinley, 72, president of The Lifestyles Organization, estimates that there are 3 million swingers in the United States alone. He founded his group in 1969 and began holding the annual conferences in the 1970s.
He said his firm brings in millions of dollars in annual sales from organizing tours to swinger-friendly resorts, Internet sites and from conferences. The Las Vegas event is the largest annual U.S. swinging event, he said.
"The lifestyles community is rapidly expanding," he said. "It's an expanding economic powerhouse."
The crowd at the Stardust appeared mostly middle-aged and middle-class. And many were nowhere near as active as Rhodes. Organizers estimated that perhaps 40 percent of the couples were attending their first conference.
"I'm still thinking about it; we've been monogamous for 26 years," said one middle-aged newcomer from Palm Springs, California, who said she was raised a Roman Catholic.
At one seminar, several women were overcome as the presenter demonstrated a sexual device -- one passed out in the packed room.
For all their enthusiasm, few of the swingers tell family and friends about their hobby.
"Socially, we're pariahs," said Drew Alexander, 40, who attended with this wife Tina, 38. "We're behaving in a way that's completely against the ingrained Catholic values."
Another couple did not want their names printed but were far from shy. They made love early Saturday in the hospitality suites where couples wandered from room to room to watch the action at close range. They emerged from their experience beaming, saying seeing others sparked more passion.
One attendee who stayed completely on the sidelines was the man behind the event.
"I've never been a big swinger, that's not the point," McGinley said. "What I would like to do is bring a new understanding of sexuality in our lives and our relationships."