Sexual conventions

At first glance, the midnight pool party at the Stardust in Las Vegas seems relatively tame. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people are hanging out, ordering drinks at the bar and mingling. A few are dressed in revealing outfits, but there really isn’t anything shocking going on. The same is true at the “Bikes and Babes” party in the Stardust Pavilion that just let out. Feeling pretty comfortable, and perhaps a bit disappointed, I made my way to one of the ground-floor poolside rooms.

“You have to take your clothes off to come inside,” a guard at the door tells me.

My wife and I look at each other quizzically. We’d been prepared for someone to enforce a “couples only” policy. After all, this is Lifestyles West 2005, one of the larger swingers conventions in the country, if not the world. In previous years, the convention was held at the Reno Hilton.

Individuals aren’t even allowed to register unless they’re part of a couple, which is why my wife has agreed to accompany me on this particular assignment. But neither of us is prepared to disrobe simply to enter a hotel room. We decide to pass and check out the rules a few rooms down—which prove to be a bit more flexible.

“All we ask is that if you decide not to participate, you don’t hang around watching all night,” the next guard requests.

Inside the suite, we find a living area with a bar and several air mattresses thrown on the floor to accommodate the half-dozen or more naked people having sex. The scene is pretty much the same in one of the bedrooms, except that they’re using a pair of queen-sized beds (about three or four people to a bed).

Having been advised of the rules, we don’t stay long. Besides, there are a few more poolside parties to check out and several penthouse-floor high-roller suites hosting similar events.

Scenes like these are what people expect when they hear about 4,000 people attending a swingers convention on the Las Vegas Strip. But Lifestyles West, which ran from July 6-9, was considerably more than a four-day string of orgies. There were educational seminars on everything from “orgasm mastership” to the legal issues involved in swinging. A large convention hall hosted a huge “adult expo,” where couples could shop for everything from lingerie to sex toys. There were buffet dinners for several thousand people, and four theme parties at which nearly everyone—regardless of age or body type—dressed in something fabulous and revealing. And despite what went on in the hotel rooms, sex and nudity were strictly prohibited in public places.

A four-day pass to this year’s convention cost $689 per couple, not including hotel accommodations. Single-day or evening passes were priced anywhere from $120 to $205 per couple.

So what kind of people attend these events? Lifestyles Tours and Travel spokesman Gary Booth describes them as “typical middle America.” They range in age from 21 to their late 70s.

The people my wife and I encountered were of all races and nationalities, all age groups, and all body types. And they all had different reasons for attending the convention. Booth estimates that 40 percent of the people at a convention like this are serious swingers looking for similar couples for sex, 30 percent are couples where the woman wants to experiment with bisexuality (male bisexuality is not an accepted activity), and the other 30 percent simply enjoy the atmosphere.

A Las Vegas woman named Janet, who was there with her longtime boyfriend, hadn’t yet brought other people into their sex life—but they were interested in the idea.

“We have a pretty incredible sex life,” she explained, “so we just want to move that forward and enjoy and experience other people.”

Charlene, an interior designer from Los Angeles who rediscovered swinging in 1988 after her second divorce, cited the travel and reconnecting with people she’s met at other conferences over the years. “I’ve made so many friends all over the United States that I really like to come and see them and to hang out with them.”

Forty-four-year-old Eileen’s reason for attending the convention was probably more typical, however. On the last night of the convention she reported that she and her husband had sex with one other couple.

“But tonight,” the West Virginian quickly added, “I hope it to be a lot more.”