Thursday, July 16, 1998 | 10:17 a.m.
Las Vegas will truly be a swingin' town this week.
As many as 4,000 swingers from 36 countries will descend on "Sin City" and the Tropicana hotel-casino for the 25th annual Lifestyles Convention today through Saturday.
And these swingers aren't square dancers.
"They are more avant-garde in their thinking," said Robert McGinley, who might be called the father of modern swinging -- or "alternative lifestyles," as some prefer to call it.
In 1969, McGinley started the Lifestyles Organization and before that he was the founder of NASCA (North American Swing Club Association), which lists swing clubs from all over the world.
Members of the lifestyle are organized and ready to, if not step out of the closet entirely, at least become more public about their activities.
First names only please, except for those at the vanguard of the avant-garde.
Even at the dawning of a new century, much of society still considers swinging anti-social behavior, even though McGinley -- who holds a doctorate in psychology -- has seen dramatic changes from the old days when swingers were perceived as perverse in their activities.
Swingers today are a bit older, 35 to 49 instead of in their 20s and 30s, and better educated. Many consider themselves sexual revolutionaries.
They hold responsible positions and realize that the stigma that clings to the lifestyle is not as easily stripped away as clothing at a swinger's party, so they remain anonymous and pursue their pleasures among like-minded friends, and friends of friends.
When they wear clothing, they often have white collars and may be your doctor or lawyer or school teacher.
Steve Mason, a psychologist, radio talk show host, columnist and spokesman for the convention, said swingers range from the age of consent to couples in their 80s, with the vast majority in their late 30s and early 40s. The are generally college educated. The average couple is a male with a college degree and a female with two years of college.
Sexually, they may be bored and looking to put a little spice in their lives without giving up the spouse to whom they swore to be faithful.
"Swingers today are more sophisticated, better dressed and have larger discretionary income," McGinley said.
And, with big money to be had in the lifestyles movement, big business can't be far behind.
The Lifestyles '98 Convention is being sponsored by Air Jamaica, Air California and four international resorts that cater to those in the lifestyle. The Las Vegas convention is the largest in the 25 years the event has been held. Only 125 people attended the first one in Riverside, Calif. Last year 1,900 attended the one in Palm Springs.
This year's convention will feature 150 booths of interest to swingers and non-swingers, including one reserved recently by "The Jerry Springer Show" -- apparently an effort to recruit guests.
Along with the adult marketplace exhibits, the 8th annual Sensual and Erotic Art Exhibit will be held.
Both are open to the public, but the rest is strictly for conventioneers, who may attend any of the 40 hour-long seminars with titles such as: "Introduction to Swinging," "Hypnosis, Sex, Politics and Religion," "The Three-Way Experience," "On Being a Sexual Revolutionary," "Hang Up Your Hang-Ups" and "Getting a Little Kinky."
There will be various social gatherings throughout the three-day affair and The Museum of Sex, based in New York City, will be at the Lifestyles Convention to hold its first membership drive. The newly-created museum is devoted to the history, evolution and social significance of sex.
But the convention is not all about sex, McGinley emphasized: It's about couples -- after all, only couples may attend. And it's about relationships.
"Its about a man and woman in a heterosexual relationship interested in having more in their relationship, whatever that means," McGinley said.
He said that Americans are too hung up on sex.
"Sexual intimacy can be the most enjoyable, satisfying part of life together," McGinley said. "But in America, people are so into role playing ... and intimacy goes out the window and marriage becomes dull."
Swinging couples, according to McGinley, have a degree of honesty and communication between them "that is not common in American marriages."
McGinley said the first conventions focused on swinging, but the lifestyle has evolved and now the focus is on relationships -- which may include swinging, or not.
Mason and his first wife were swingers in the 1960s and 1970s. After 17 years of marriage, they parted friends but they still run into each other at swinging conventions. He met his current wife at one of the gatherings.
"A lot of mainstream couples who don't swing, but just enjoy the dances, will be at the convention," said the 58-year-old Mason, who admits his sexual appetite has slackened and that he now focuses more on friendships and relationships at the conventions.
"Everybody," Mason said, "has a lot of fun."