“I don’t know who are the animals and who are the humans in this zoo,” the bare-chested man in yellow shorts shouts as he bounces on a trampoline inside a nondescript Salt Lake City warehouse. He suddenly stops and lies down, half covered by a blanket, on the trampoline surface. A woman with spiky red hair and wearing a red chemise starts bouncing up and down beside him. As other couples watch from nearby sofas, she crawls under the blanket, forming a conspicuous hump over the man’s groin.
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.
Despite swinging’s media image as a 1970s relic of the pre-AIDS sexual revolution in movies such as Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm, “the lifestyle,” as adherents call it, is booming across the United States. The Kinsey Institute estimates 4 million in the United States swap sexual partners. Utah is very much a part of that boom. Check on Swingular.com, a Utah-based Website, and you can find thousands of online Beehive State swingers looking for like-minded couples. Some of those couples, no doubt, were at Utah’s first “erotic ball,” hosted by Swingular and three other local adult-party Websites this past Halloween at the Wells Fargo Center at 299 S. Main in downtown Salt Lake City.
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.”
With a $15,000 budget, Cindy rented warehouse space and, on Oct. 21, 2007, the day before her 49th birthday, opened the doors to her flock. “The way for ‘our kind’ to cope in Utah is to not fight the ways of the land but join them,” Cindy wrote in an adult Website ad. “We have a ‘couples’ church’ here in Salt Lake City where we can go and ‘congregate’ with other NSA [National Swingers Association] couples in the area.” Forty people showed up the first night, and Eden now claims 240 members.
Stepping inside Cindy’s ministry can feel like an oddly subversive act. In conservative Utah, where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses its wealth and cultural influence actively to promote its view of monogamous, heterosexual marriage, Eden’s members are living out their sexual fantasies with little concern for the mores of society around them. “Sex is not love,” Cindy says. Eden can be a harsh testing ground of the sexual and gender politics of the couples who worship there, not to mention the strengths and weaknesses of their relationships.
Women of Eden can certainly find swinging empowering. Eden women ask men if they want sex. Men, however, rarely succeed if they ask the same question. Sidestepping such apparent inequality, Cindy and Vaughn say the best sex they have is with each other—after a night of swinging. They prefer to swing separately, one-on-one with the opposite sex, behind closed doors. A spouse is more open, they argue, more sexually giving, if the other spouse isn’t around. Cindy and Vaughn, like other members of their curious order, see no reason why they can’t have it all—emotional intimacy at home and sensual intimacy with both friends and strangers at their church.
Eden opens its doors Friday and Saturday from 9 p.m. till the early hours every weekend, all year to fee-paying members. It’s $25 for an annual membership with $15 due at the door each visit. Swingers at Eden range from multimillionaires to a couple living on food stamps, from senior female corporate executives with a taste for 10-gauge nipple piercings to construction workers, from lawyers to doctors and nurses. “Take any five people coming out of a Mervyn’s department store,” Cindy says, “and they all could be swingers.”
Swinging in Utah nevertheless differs from other states. Its underground status outside Utah, local swingers say, is, in part, to keep single men away. Not so in Utah, where “the problem is the lack of single men,” Cindy says. Local swingers argue their efforts to fly beneath society’s radar reflects the state’s religious climate.
In Utah, Vaughn says, both LDS and non-LDS swingers fear their LDS neighbors, “might burn their house down,” if their sexual preferences became public. Cindy says her concern for anonymity is about protecting loved ones, including her 81-year-old Mormon mother, who would be deeply humiliated if she ever learned what her daughter does on the weekend. Fear of identification by co-workers or family members means all Eden’s members quoted in this story requested aliases.
Concerns over public exposure don’t stop many men begging their wives to join “the lifestyle,” Cindy says. Some quickly learn, though, they need to check their egos at the door. Wives can become commodities, hit upon left and right by women and other men. In swinging, Cindy says, “It’s the men that end up at the bottom of the totem pole.”
Sweating Up the Sheets
The first time a City Weekly reporter ventures to Eden, it’s after 11 p.m. on a Saturday night in mid-November. Pastor Cindy is at the door. With her ample build, mass of red curls and boisterous, smoky voice, everything about Cindy is generous. She describes herself as a BBW—a big, beautiful woman. Raised in the LDS Church, she left in her teens after her family moved to Denver. If it weren’t for her sexual appetites, she could be a Mormon mom, she says: “I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs.”
Cindy and Vaughn first went swinging in 1983. It was, Cindy recalls, “terrible.” They wanted to attend a New Year’s Eve swingers’ party at a couple’s house in Fruit Heights, a quiet, upper-class community in Davis County built on once-prolific fruit orchards. First, though, the hosting couple had to approve them.
When Cindy and Vaughn arrived, the host couple split them up. The man took Cindy to one room, the woman took Vaughn to another. Vaughn was put off, he says, by the woman’s “lack of cleanliness.” Cindy was equally unimpressed. Her partner “had a pump-up dick and he beat me to death with it,” she recalls.
But Cindy and Vaughn got their revenge. They went to the New Year’s Eve party and, Cindy says, “fell in love with two other couples and took them home.”
Inside the church that Cindy built, the event room boasts a small glittering disco ball, a stage and a series of sofas. Here, members play card games called “Flaunt It” and “Fuck Your Neighbor” and sexual dare games with cards shaped like apples. The more sporting-minded can play “pussy golf,” which involves a putter, a golf ball and a woman naked from the waist down.
The piece de résistance is the trampoline, that night festooned with blankets and pillows. Six people played on it the night before, Cindy says. A sign says “Petting zoo, no poking, only petting.” Cindy recommends sex on a trampoline as a highly pleasurable experience.
What kind of sex you have depends on what kind of a swinger you are. “Soft swingers” kiss, touch and watch. “Hard” or “fast-lane” swingers go all the way. Each couple has its own rules, whether it’s no kissing because it’s too intimate, or that only the wife has sex—and only in front of her husband.
One rule, however, applies to all: Couples must use condoms. In 30 years of swinging, Cindy never encountered anyone who contracted an STD from “the lifestyle.” While bisexuality and bi-curiosity are extremely popular with women swingers, men shy away from contact with other men for fear of HIV, she says. Homophobia might also play a part, she adds.
The three playrooms each have sheeted mattresses. The largest room, which boasts three mattresses, can accommodate up to 10 couples at a time. Cindy and Vaughn contemplated beds with frames but discarded the idea for fear of lawsuits if people injured themselves falling off. It’s all highly hygienic—folded towels, washcloths and a box of condoms in every room. Cindy takes home the soiled sheets and towels each night and launders them. As yet, there’s no shower available. “People don’t usually get that involved anyway,” she says.
Tears in the Dark
Two couples sit at a table quietly talking. One couple, Troy, 33, and Michelle, 32, who take their aliases from their favorite porn stars, have swung before. Michelle was so upset by her first experience, it took her and Troy several years before they tried again.
Troy and Michelle say they are practicing Mormons. Parents of a blended family of six children, they attend their ward on Sundays. They grew up Mormon, Michelle says, broke away from the church for a while—“then we went back for the kids.” Troy speculates that if his ward bishop ever learned of the swinging, he and Michelle would be swiftly excommunicated. The church forbids sex outside of marriage. Not that he followed that rule either, Troy says. Michelle says she has no problem managing a double life. “Sometimes it feels like I’m living a fantasy.”
Michelle is bi-curious, if not bisexual. She experimented sexually with other women when she was younger. Three years ago, Troy brought up introducing others to their sex life. Michelle reluctantly agreed. They found a like-minded couple on the Internet, had dinner with them at a Chili’s restaurant, then on another night hosted a barbecue at home. Michelle found herself in the dark in the living room, with the other husband “trying to get me going.” The other wife was working orally on Troy. Michelle started crying. “I was done,” she says.
They talked their problems through. “We reassure each other all the time,” Troy says, “we make sure [our marriage] is not dead.” Michelle says there is no question of their own marital commitment. “It’s about having monogamy, too.”
So, this mid-November, Michelle and Troy gave swinging a second chance at Eden. After lengthy conversations until 2 a.m., Troy and Michelle, Cindy and three others hopped on the trampoline. Later, Michelle would describe the trampoline adventure as “awkward at first.” But “once you got up to each other, I noticed nobody cared what you looked like, it was just about what feels good.” Everyone started touching each other, “and it just flows, I guess.”
The Toy Department
Troy and Michelle liked Eden enough to return the following Saturday night. The other couple present are new both to Eden and to swinging together. Cassie is 29, an office manager. Mitch, 32, is a construction worker who visited swinging clubs in Arizona when he was younger. They sat in their car for half an hour watching other people go in before getting up the nerve to enter themselves. Mitch introduced the possibility of swinging after he and Cassie had been married for nearly three years. She says he suggested it “in the worst possible way he could”—while they were having sex.
The first thing a woman thinks about, when faced with a proposition like that, Cassie says, “is ‘What’s wrong with me?’” To add insult to her injury, she’s the more sexually driven of the couple, he more prone to having “headaches.” When Cassie learns Michelle and Troy typically have sex five times a week, her jaw drops.
Cassie has her own reasons for swinging. “I always thought about the idea of another woman. This is my way of getting what I want.” The notion of Mitch watching her with another woman turns her on. After some conversations, they decided swinging “is like you bring toys to the bedroom, it’s an enhancement of what you’re doing,” Cassie says. “That’s how I’m looking at it. I don’t know how I’ll look at it after.”
A third couple, also new to Eden, arrives after midnight. They don’t provide names. The 28-year-old woman is in office administration, the 27-year-old man a mechanic. They’ve been together for 10 years.
Around 12:45 a.m., the reporter leaves. Without the scrutiny of the media, Cindy says later, the three couples got to know each other better. Troy and Michelle played together on the trampoline, under the stage direction of the 28-year-old woman who ordered Troy to pull his wife’s hair. Then they made fun of porn in the TV room. Troy and Michelle departed at 3 a.m. A little later, the 28-year-old woman straddled Cassie and unbuttoned her shirt. “Do you mind me being aggressive?” she asked. The two couples came out of their playroom several hours later.
When Michelle found out later the other couples “had got into it after we left,” she was a little upset. “But it wasn’t like I was mad.”
Finding What You Want
A week later, on Friday night, Nov. 30, Eden’s security is a 32-year-old goateed engineer, August. Everyone volunteers at Eden, whether to be the doorman or provide the finger food. When August first came to Eden with a girlfriend, he walked to the front door and almost left for fear of what might be on the other side. Still, he hasn’t indulged in the sexual high jinks of the swing church. “I’m kind of picky,” he says. “I’m looking for a personality more than a body type per se.”
This night is designated as a pajama party. August is at the door, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but other members are feeling more festive. Lisa sports a negligee. Her husband, who refuses to give any name, wears shorts that boast a 15-inch-long yellow-cloth tape measure dangling from his crotch. Cindy asks if the tape accurately measures his manhood. “I wish,” he says.
Lisa has a dirty gurgle of a laugh. “We’re a hedonistic church,” she says proudly. “Cindy’s our pastor, and we do a lot of praying.” At Eden, praying consists of, she chants in mock-orgasm, “Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!” Lisa says she was raised Mormon and lived the church’s standards. She married to fulfill family expectations. Her former husband constantly accused her of affairs, so finally she took him up on it. “I got out of the relationship and out of the [LDS] church. To my mother’s dismay.”
Her husband wants anonymity. He’s a federal employee. “I don’t know anyone where I work who would be accepting of this,” he says. He and Lisa have been married five years. “She’d tell you I’m emotionally detached anyway,” he says. For him, swinging comes down to sex. “Why watch porn when you can live it?”
Michelle and Troy hang out by the food table. They promised Cassie and Mitch they would attend the pajama party the night the two couples first met. Michelle wears a red negligee and Troy pajama bottoms and a T-shirt. Cindy threatens to pull down Troy’s pajamas the moment he takes his hands out of his pocket. Later, she finger-paints whipped cream on Lisa’s bare breasts. August licks the cream off Lisa’s nipples with dutiful élan.
By 1 a.m., it’s clear Cassie and Mitch are not making an appearance. Michelle and Troy don’t seem to notice. Michelle rubs Lisa’s husband’s bare chest through the netting that surrounds the trampoline as he bounces up and down. Cindy suggests Cassie and Mitch found what they were looking for on their first visit. “Some couples meet a couple they really like, then they’re a unit from then on. They start hanging out at each other’s house, and we never see them again.”
Occasionally, people swing, Cindy says, hoping to save a troubled marriage. They’re not interested in each other sexually, but they want the marriage to survive. “Swinging won’t save your marriage,” Cindy says. She counsels swinging only for those who have “a healthy, strong relationship in the first place.”
She works hard to prevent jealousy and personality conflicts at Eden. The walls are painted pale green to settle people’s nerves. Still, some people do get jealous, Cindy says. One recent male visitor asked 10 different women for sex. He found two couples willing to go with him and his wife into a room. The door closed, then 15 minutes later the man stormed out into the night. “He couldn’t stand seeing someone else with his wife,” Cindy says.
And Cindy knows jealousy. She and Vaughn once got to know a couple from North Salt Lake. Vaughn and the other couple’s wife got on well sexually. Too well for the woman’s husband. “He accused his wife of being in love with Vaughn,” Cindy says. When the couples would swap partners, the man would tell Cindy to lie still so he could listen to his wife’s fervent cries in the room next door. That was enough for Cindy. The two couples stopped seeing each other.
Having sex with strangers is one thing; getting emotionally involved is something else altogether. “If Vaughn wants to have sex with someone, that’s fine,” Cindy says. “If he fell in love, I’d leave him,” a sentiment her husband wholeheartedly endorses.
Come All Ye Faithful
For a lifestyle with such a wild reputation, after three visits, a City Weekly reporter has little prurient material to report. It goes like that, says EMT nurse David, leaning against the wall, his muscular arms folded over his chest. Behind him in a dimly lit room is a massage table, Eden’s most popular item.
David is a longtime swinger. He knows the Californian scene well. There it’s more relaxed, he says—if driven underground by the sheer number of single men seeking to join in. Going to a bar in Salt Lake City, he says, can be an uncomfortable experience because “people get hung up on externalities,” like his ethnic good looks. At Eden, he’s found a mellow acceptance. So he hangs around, gives massages, and if anything sexual happens, “that’s just fine.”
Cindy puts her arm around David, nearly 20 years her junior. “I need to get my massage,” she says, “because I missed out on it last night.” They disappear into the massage room, a “do not disturb” sign hanging on the doorknob.
Meanwhile, August, the doorman, watches Lisa and her husband on the trampoline. Others mill about in the shadow. The last time Lisa and her husband came to Eden, their energetic motion atop a wooden sawhorse was so forceful, they broke it. “[Lisa and her husband] add a lot of spice to the party,” August says.
Moans come from the massage room. It’s Cindy, acting out the reason she started the church in the first place. The moans get louder, more urgent. Cindy likes her casual encounters on a one-to-one basis. Some of the best swinger-sex she’s had was with a gray-bearded man married to a French woman. He invited her back to his house after he complained she never paid attention to him. “I just thought he was out of my league,” she says.
Whatever its worshippers’ needs, Eden offers a solution, even if it’s nothing more than letting a geographically frustrated duo on their way home blow off some sexual steam. Cindy’s husband Vaughn recalls a married couple who rushed in from a local nightclub’s monthly Friday-night swinger meet-and-greets, worked up by the flirting at the get-together. They paid the fee and went to one of the playrooms. The door was left open, whether to encourage watchers or because they were in such a hurry, Vaughn doesn’t know. Either way, the couple got briskly down to business. They took a break and the man came out for a drink, before returning to his wife.
“What’s going on?” Vaughn asked him, curious about their frenzied pace.
His answer: “Just too damn far to Orem.”
For more information, contact Cindy at EdenChurchMail@comcast.net.