Forty years ago my friend, appropriately named Dick, used to buy a quarterly swinger directory, filled with ads for couples looking to have sex with other couples.
Both Dick and I were married guys. The idea of having sex with strange women titillated Dick. He was always excited when he'd find a listing for a swinger in our hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah. I made fun of his fascination, and he never told me whether he contacted anyone from the directory.
For being capitol city of one of the most conservative states in America, Salt Lake can surprise. As I've found out in recent years, there are local swingers communities within Utah's religious, conservative culture, something that doesn't fit into the popular notion of what people in Utah are capable of. There's a stereotype of Utah residents both outside and inside Utah. Even we longtime residents often judge fellow Utahns as a righteous and right-wing group of citizens. It's a perception that is more myth than reality, but perhaps that image helps to create a swinger subculture. If you're a swinger, you're putting one over on the religious types surrounding you.
An article in the December 24, 2008 issue of the Salt Lake City Weekly by Stephen Dark had the story of some local swingers who, in a perversely humorous way, perform swinging as a religion:
Welcome to a nighttime service at Eden church. If the trampoline is an altar, then the oral sex taking place on it is about as close to an act of devotion as this particular religious institution favors. Eden is a church unique in Utah—if not in the United States. It is a hedonistic order dedicated to those who like to trade their spouses for sex—better known as swinging. Adult couples gather in this 2,800-square-foot building to swap conversation, partners and bodily fluids, all under the grandmotherly eye of their pastor, Cindy, and her husband Vaughn, who requested their last name be withheld.
Cindy and Vaughn, 50 and 53 respectively, have been married for 33 years. Despite the reputation for promiscuity swingers have, Vaughn says, there are fewer notches on their bedpost than you might expect. “We’ve had sex with 30 or so couples” over the past two and a half decades, he says. Cindy is a stalwart of the local sex industry. She owned a lingerie boutique in South Salt Lake from 1989 to 1999. She grew so frustrated over battles with law enforcement over displaying sex toys, she decided in 1990 to up the ante: She started a magazine for swingers wanting to advertise for other couples called Talk and Play, which closed in 2000.
Like most hobbyists, people who swing need a place to gather. But the last thing Cindy wants, she says, is other couples leaving “their DNA” all over her home furniture. She decided to open a place where swingers could get to know one another without worrying about the prejudices of “vanilla people.” (That’s what swingers call those who don’t share their sexual predilections.) A place where—with apologies to the 1980s sitcom Cheers—everyone knows far more than just your name. Such a venue would have required Cindy to secure a sexually orientated business license. That would have exposed her and fellow swingers to possible scrutiny by the state. She was ordained a high priestess by the online Universal Life Church in April 2001. So sanctioned by Universal Life, Cindy opened a sanctuary for her fellow swingers in the shape of Eden’s hedonistic religious order. Universal Life’s only requirement, Cindy says, “is we do the right thing.”
Salt Lake's television station KSL, on an edition of its Eyewitness News, showed a story in 2006 by reporter Debbie Dujanovic about local swingers and attitudes of what is called "the lifestyle":
Vicky Burgess/Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist: "I think, because sexual relations and sex itself is more open, I think we're seeing more of it."
We found there are several parties where couples can meet. Randy Chatelain, Ph.D./ Marriage and Family Therapist: "I believe this kind of behavior is going to catch up with a couple, because where does it stop? What more do you have to involve to create the high?"
Hundreds of [swinging] couples pack a popular Sandy [Salt Lake suburb] nightclub.
"A lot of people nowadays have fantasies and they want to fulfill them with their significant other. This is the best way to do that." This man, who asked not to be identified, built a business, helping couples meet at parties. His website suggests spouses can be in love and still enjoy sex with others. "They figure, 'I would much rather do it with the person I love than have them do it behind my back.'"
From the looks of it, he's pretty successful. He has 4,000 members living in Utah. How fast is it growing? Four years ago there were 150 members. How common is it? Posing as a married woman, we signed up on a website aimed at so-called "swingers." In six days, 70 married men, most from Utah, ask to start a fling.
In 2005 I was shocked to find out a female coworker and her husband were swingers. She was very careful about who she approached, but she would approach a man, asking if he and his wife would like to join her and her husband. Her husband, whom I never met, was a puppeteer, pulling her strings. The man his wife was luring was less important than that man's wife was to the puppeteer. The puppeteer's wife was the bait, the other man's wife was the real catch. In all the years I'd known her my impression was that she and her husband were pillars of their church, who attended Sunday services regularly and lived a religious lifestyle.
Years ago I heard about another male coworker, who with his wife, would meet other couples at a local pancake restaurant, where they'd throw their car keys on the table. The keys they picked up belonged to the couple they'd be swinging with that night. I tried to imagine myself in that situation and couldn't. I tried to imagine that guy, who was fat and ugly, being a swinger, and I couldn't picture that either.
Considering for how many years I'd been fooled by my coworker, the swinger wife who with her husband posed as a church-going religious couple on Sunday after a Saturday night spent boffing other couples, or the fat, ugly guy swinging every weekend, maybe a lot of other people I know in Utah would surprise me, also.