Interview with Terry Gould, author of The Lifestyle: A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers
Terry Gould: At some level most men believe that their wives could behave very licentiously if given the opportunity to do so, and that’s why there’s jealousy and fear. Everything inside us comes down to us from millions of years of natural selection and evolution. If a biological trait served some purpose it stayed with us. If it didn’t serve a purpose it left us. One of the traits that women have is the ability to have multiple orgasms. Some women can have fifty orgasms.
Kasidie: I know some of those women!
Terry Gould: [laughs] Right, so why is that? Why does man have one orgasm at a time and women can have a train of them? There’s a postulate that at some point in our evolutional history were receptive to more than one partner. When you look at the biology of sperm, you discover that only 1% are design to fertilize the egg. So at some point in our past history, sperm were competing in the women and may the best man win. So at this time there was no such thing as natural female monogamy. There was no chastity belt that nature provided women and men were very aware of that. So they stayed near them to keep other men away so they could be sure that the child she bore was his. So this is why we have all these rules and male dominance today, because men didn’t want to end up raising someone else’s child.
Kasidie: But we’re skipping a big block of time in human history here, aren’t we? Between now and the cave-dwelling days, haven’t there been civilized and educated cultures that have practiced non-monogamous sex, even group sex?
Terry Gould: There was a study in the late 1940s that found that 39% of cultures and societies throughout history have practiced some form of approved extra marital liaison. The spring festivals and solstice festivals, and in many cultures permit licentiousness. We have a day of the week we call Saturday. Saturday is named after the god Saturn and that’s where you get the word Saturnalian which means “Orgy”. So Saturday literally translates to “Orgy Day”. So it’s written in our culture.
Terry Gould: Well, Saturday is traditionally the day we can loosen up and do what we wouldn’t normally do on Tuesday.
Kasidie: [laughs] Speak for yourself!
Terry Gould: The origin of the day goes back to an orgiastic festival. Sure it feels good, but it benefits them in other ways. That’s what I found in the lifestyle. The rituals and erotic rites benefit them in social ways that keep them coming back. Those social ways are adventatious, usually towards their family life. It seems extremely paradoxical. They gain benefits from that lifestyle by meeting a slew of people they would not meet in their straight life. These people are invested in each other. They form non-sexual mutually beneficial relationships. You meet a computer guy at the club and he helps you out with a computer problem and you give him tips on stocks or investment advice. There’s constantly an exchange of knowledge or services.
Kasidie: It probably seems paradoxical to those who are not in the lifestyle… But to those of us in it, it’s very natural. Many relationships developed among swingers are completely non-sexual.
Terry Gould: Absolutely, and I think it’s a relief to a lot of people, that they can develop non-sexual relationships and to be able to engage others intellectually as well as physically. Something I’ve noticed is that those connections are not unique to the swinging lifestyle. When I would go to these swinger events I would feel like I was in Prague in the 1500s or in the Amazon amongst the Syriono tribe. It’s one species behaving in a way that gives you a window to other cultures at other times within that same species. I was amazed that people weren’t aware of it and nobody was already studying it. I went to a huge convention in 1996 and I asked couples to fill out an anonymous survey. 1/3 of the people had post graduate degree, 1/3 voted republican in the last election. 40% of the people actively belonged to a major religion and 80% were married. Very rarely did you see casual couples there.
[pullquote]“If you look at warrior cultures from way back throughout human history, you’ll find that there’s a large degree of spouse sharing. The reason there is because the warriors that get killed left their widows behind.”[/pullquote]
Kasidie: So we’ve established that much of this sexual behavior is not new to human history. But where does the modern concept of the lifestyle come from?
Terry Gould: In World War II, the United States & Canadian Air-force had all these bases across North America, training pilots to go overseas. These were officers usually the rank of captain or up, fairly well paid, and they usually brought their wives to live on the bases. If you look at warrior cultures from way back throughout human history, you’ll find that there’s a large degree of spouse sharing. The reason there is because the warriors that get killed left their widows behind. Those warriors that didn’t get killed took care of the widows.
Kasidie: So it was like a life insurance plan for the widows?
Terry Gould: Exactly. So you have this society of Air Force pilots living on the bases with their wives around them. These pilots had a very high death rate- higher than the death-rate of the other armed services. 1/3 got killed in combat so there were a lot of widows left. So swinging was going on all over these bases. These pilot were exceptional men. The Air Force chose the best of the best, and their wives were exceptional too. So you have these good looking guys and their beautiful wives who are risk takers. So when the survivors came back home after World War II, they moved to the suburbs but they still kept at it, and still kept sharing wives.
Kasidie: How did they find each other now that they were among civilians?
Terry Gould: There was this guy named Leidy, a former pilot who now travelled the country as a salesmen. He’d call up his buddies from the Air Force and he began making a list, which became known as “the Leidy list”. Every town he visited, the list grew a little longer. Then he passed copies of the list around to everyone who was on it. The Leidy list was basically the first swinger magazine because it was a way for people to get in touch with each other. That was the modern origin of the lifestyle. That list was passed around to upper middle class, suburban, married people and that’s basically where it stayed for the next 50 years. That’s why you see a lot of clean-cut people with healthy attitudes and above average intelligence in
the lifestyle, because that cohort stayed the same right from its origins right after World War II.
Kasidie: Not being a swinger yourself, I’m curious what preconceived notions you had about swingers beforehand. Before you went to that first party- the unflattering one you found in the newspaper- what did you expect to find?
Terry Gould: First of all, that first dance I went to was in a dingy basement.
Kasidie: I’m not surprised, most parties that are advertised in a paper are not the highest quality. You usually need to know someone and be trusted by them in order to find out about the better events.
Terry Gould: Yeah it was really tacky. The music was loud. Lets face it, sex is a very personal experience. You could go into a board meeting and get along fine with fifteen people sitting around a table. But when the subject of sex, or the possibility of sex comes up, it immediately becomes a personal experience. You’re either aroused or turned off. That’s why a lot of journalists when they walk into that lifestyle, if they’re not intrigued by it, their repulsed by it. They don’t give themselves the same discipline of mind that they do when they analyze the gay lifestyle, which is to treat them with dignity and respect.
Kasidie: Why do you think that is?
Terry Gould: Because we’re dealing with primarily heterosexual middle class people and I guess the mainstream media feels they’re well guarded enough that they can protect themselves and they’re no real oppression going on. When in fact, over the course of my book there was this constant pounding by mainstream media that portrayed swingers as gluttonous, weird and dangerous. It enabled conservative elements in society to start arresting them, raiding their clubs for all kinds of spurious reasons, like illegal alcohol sales and running whore houses. Law enforcement or DA or captain who wanted to make a name for themselves would phone the press before raiding a swinger club. In one instance in Montreal, the police phoned the press and then ushered these fifty swingers right out into the cameras. If you’d seen the video footage you’d see people with raincoats over their heads like it’s a mafia bust. This happened again and again.