Nothing’s shocking

The Lifestyles Convention returns to the Reno Hilton

Lifestyles 2002 opened with the Sensual & Erotic Art Exhibition. Photographers weren’t allowed in any of the really photogenic events.

Lifestyles 2002 opened with the Sensual & Erotic Art Exhibition. Photographers weren’t allowed in any of the really photogenic events.

Photo By David Robert

“Do you mind if I show you my breasts?”

The woman addressed a group of about 60 people Saturday morning at the Reno Hilton. This could have been a group of Amway Rubies sitting in the nondescript meeting hall, with its expandable walls. The assemblage defied any demographic buttonholing. It was probably 90 percent Caucasian, with men and women represented in nearly equal proportions. Their ages seemed a fair representation of the population at large, perhaps slightly skewed to the 40-to-50 bracket.

There were bald men and overweight women; lots of attractive people, too. Exactly the same proportions of people you’d see at the company picnic. One guy’s T-shirt proclaimed, “Redefining monogamy since 1996,” but that hardly seemed unusual.

It was a little disconcerting, really. These people were too “normal.” It seemed as though they would show an identifying mark, something that an in-the-know observer could point to and say, “Oh, you’re a swinger.”

The speaker, a 50-ish, silver-and-blonde-haired woman, was a participant of the 29th Annual Lifestyles Convention, which brought about 1,500 couples to the Reno Hilton last week. It was the third time the swingers’ convention had been held at the Reno Hilton; the group was also here in 1999 and 2000. For those who don’t know, “swingers” are couples who don’t believe in monogamy, subscribing to the notion that sex among consenting adults can improve relationships. In other words, swinging couples have sex with people outside their marriages and committed relationships.

The woman in the meeting hall spread her blouse, told her story and showed the scar left by a radical mastectomy and the reconstructed breast. The left breast differed substantially from the one on the right, but then, when are they identical anyway?

This workshop was called “Sexy Questions.” People anonymously submitted questions about things they were too embarrassed to ask publicly: How do you use a string of anal beads? How do you close the deal when you meet a couple you like? There were other questions less suitable for a family newspaper like this one.

Sexy Questions was one of about 40 seminars offered at the Lifestyles Convention. Others include An Introduction to Swinging; The G-Spot and Female Ejaculation; Legal Issues in the Lifestyle; and Sadist, Masochist, Dominant, Submissive: Are You One of Us?

Some of the seminars seemed to translate directly over to the non-swinging sector, such as Heaven and Heartbreak: An Introspective Look at Sexual Possession and Jealousy, which felt more like a marriage encounter group than anything as provocative as how to swap out your partner without getting green-eyed.

One man, a 61-year-old retired widower from southeast Iowa, notable only because he was there without a partner, came to the jealousy workshop to work out his feelings of exclusivity. His 50-year-old girlfriend of six months is into swinging, but he’s not.

“I’ve seen some things this weekend I’ve never seen before,” he said. “I don’t know how much longer I can handle it. If I can just get through the next couple of days, we’ll be all right.”

He said he’d had a good time at some of the events, particularly a thing called the “car wash,” which he described as an oil-fueled group grope.

“Goddamn, if I could just have an experience like that every day,” he said.

The convention wasn’t all about education. Other events included the 12th Annual Sensual and Erotic Art Exhibition, the Ms. Lifestyles Swimsuit Pageant and the Men’s Best Buns Contest, a masquerade ball, Lingerie Bowling in the Reno Hilton’s Bowling Center and after-hours pool parties. There was a marketplace that featured sex-related merchandise, everything from lubricants to sex toys to things that defy description. The press was excluded from the members-only events. Thankfully, the media were also excluded from events in private rooms upstairs.

One of the most intriguing seminars, at least from the non-swinger point of view, was titled, “What Everyone Should Know About Protecting Themselves Against AIDS and STDs.” The speaker was Norman Scherzer, a professor of biology at Essex County College in Newark, N.J., and a visiting professor at Rutgers University, where he teaches human sexuality, human health and disease.

Scherzer said that having multiple sex partners is the single largest indicator of who may contract sexually transmitted diseases. That means, he said, college students are just as at risk as people in the “Lifestyle,” and maybe more so, since they engage in behaviors that augment the likelihood of catching an STD—such as drinking alcohol, which may decrease awareness of such symptoms as open sores or increase the likelihood of having unprotected sex.

He began with an update on the AIDS epidemic. There are about 40 million cases worldwide, he said, and there will be 70 million in 10 years. “Southern Africa is finished,” he said. “Botswana, for example, has a 39 percent AIDS rate. As the social infrastructure collapses, the country will return to a tribal structure, and everything will go down from there.”

Scherzer also noted an increase in new AIDS cases in the United States, primarily because the media have lost interest in the story, and young people who are becoming sexually active “have never seen the devastation caused by the disease.” He also remarked on a rise in the disease among people more than 50 years old (which he attributed to Viagra-type drugs), and a 24 percent increase of AIDS among women.

The disease news is no better on other fronts, with STDs such as hepatitis C, gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, papilloma (venereal warts) and genital herpes on the rise. Many of these diseases could be prevented by condom use, and their increasing numbers suggest a declining use of condoms, which feeds back to rising AIDS numbers.

Abstinence, he said, is the only sure method of preventing the spread of STDs.

“The only safe sex is abstinence, but to talk about abstinence with this group or with college students is—funny,” he said. “It’s like closing the barn door after the horse is gone.”

Scherzer also had a long list of preventative actions to decrease the odds of catching or passing on an STD.

First, he said, is a frank, open discussion about STD history with prospective partners, although he said large percentages of people lie.

Other techniques include: STD checkups once a year for people who have multiple partners; condom use; Nonoxynol-9 foam use for women; a close inspection of the region from the navel to the knees for lesions, with particular attention to lesions under the foreskin in uncircumcised men; a gentle washing of the genitals immediately before and after sex; rinsing the mouth with water (never brush teeth immediately before or after sex); urinating after sex; not having sex during times of compromised immune system (when getting over a cold, for example); covering open sores with waterproof Band-Aids or liquid skin (New-Skin Liquid Bandages); being hesitant to get a genital or tongue piercing; using condoms on sex toys; removing the bedspreads and blankets from hotel-room beds; avoiding sex during menstruation; and, for those who snort drugs, using your own straw.

One Reno Hilton security guard seemed particularly bemused by the goings on at the casino.

“They’ve been active, but no problems,” he said. “The biggest problem is keeping them in their own space. We’ve got families coming in and out of here. Not only that, but the Gaming Commission threatened to pull our gaming license if there was any nudity in the casino. They said they’d have people here looking.”

As the woman in the Sexy Questions seminar covered her breasts, she thanked the group.

“It’s wonderful to be with people who appreciate you for who you are," she said.