Commercial Coupling: The Business of Swing

The Desire Resort in Mexico is a great place for swimming...and for swinging.


Dec. 15, 2006 — -- From the outside, the resort looks just like any other along the sun-soaked beaches of Los Cabos, Mexico: pools and bars and volleyball. But before long, it's easy to see signs that this place is different.

In the gift shop, not far from the sun block, were boxes of Viagra.

Outside by the pool were big red beds, draped with wispy curtains. And these beds were not for tanning. It was very quickly clear that at this clothing-optional resort, most enjoyed that option. Nudity was the norm. After all, this was Desire, the second-best-known "swingers" resort on the planet.

Swinging is when husbands and wives, or boyfriends and girlfriends, swap partners with other couples and sleep with people who are not their husbands and wives, or boyfriends or girlfriends. And Desire is just the latest example of entrepreneurs cashing in on what they see as a growing lifestyle and, as a result, a lucrative business opportunity.

Robert McGinley, the 72-year-old founder and CEO of Lifestyles Organization, the world's leading company devoted to "swinging," believes that one specific element makes swingers resorts successful.

"Freedom -- freedom of expression, freedom to be what you want to be, freedom to be stark naked nude next to someone, and they don't care," he said.

"They want to be able to, if they're, say, here in the Jacuzzi or in the disco dance, and get turned on by another couple, those two couples want to be able to go someplace like this bed that I'm sitting on right here and take it a step further -- sexual exploration."

You can call it wife-swapping, call it creepy -- call it what you like, but it appears that the business of swing is booming.

The Desire Resort opened under the pretense that McGinley's travel agency would fill the hotel 365 days a year with guests eager for Desire's special amenities, like the outdoor beds, or as they're called at the resort, "designated play areas."

McGinley agrees that these are not the type of things a traveler might find at the average Holiday Inn.

"We're offering something nobody else offers. It's as simple as that, and there's enough people out there that want what we're sitting on," he said.

There is no way to know for sure how many people are into the lifestyle, but rough estimates run from 4 million to 8 million.

"It's a multimillion dollar business," McGinley said, though he hesitated to divulge just how much money the resort makes each year.

"Well, let's avoid that question," he chuckled. "Just to say it's multimillions."

McGinley's Lifestyles is the product of a nearly 40-year evolution. This all began at a discussion group in the 1960s, during which members of the group quickly moved beyond discussion. Thereafter, McGinley hosted conventions and parties and launched a swingers club, Web site and travel agency, booking swingers on special swing vacations all around the world.

Lifestyles takes a commission on every aspect. But again, McGinley was a bit evasive on the exact size of the commission.

"I can't tell you that," he said. "I can't. We get a good percentage."

And who are the people taking advantage of Lifestyle's services? ABC News reporters John Berman and Roxanna Sherwood met people ranging in age from 30 to 65 years old. There were doctors, lawyers, business people and everyday people.

One couple, Shawna and Frank Garguilo, run a food-importing business in Arizona. They take an average of three swinging vacations a year.

"You know, there's a lot of people that are into Lifestyles. More than people think," said Shawna Garguilo. "It's your neighbors."

Her husband, Frank, readily agreed.

"You know what amazes me?" he asked. "The vast variety of people that are attracted to it -- that participate in it. It's every walk of life. It's casino host, to blackjack dealers, to drivers, to lawyers, to professionals, to Internet gurus -- there's everybody here, and the lifestyle does not target one separate economic distinction or professional distinction. It covers everybody."

"The biggest thing that we enjoy is that people are down to earth. There are no barriers to try to break through to start a conversation and meet new people," he said. "That's the No. 1 thing besides the fun that goes along with it. We've been to both a Lifestyles-type and then followed up with it on an ordinary-type vacation, and the experience was so different and so disappointing."

Tony and Joleen Morales have been in the swing lifestyle for 15 years. They were high school sweethearts who married at 19. Like many of the other couples at Desire, they radiated a sense of happiness. They described basically stumbling upon the lifestyle.

"It was probably about nine or 10 years into the marriage. We kind of got curious," said Joleen Morales.

Her husband, Tony, explained how it happened.

"We were watching something on TV, and I don't know, it was something about the lifestyle or whatever it was, and I said, 'What do you think of that?' And she looked at me and said, 'You think about that too?!'"

A visit to a the resort's grand opening in early November offered a wide variety of couples and a shocking display of sex around every bend and on every cushion -- an incredible display of sexual openness.

Tony Morales said it can initially be shocking for those considering getting involved in the lifestyle.

"It can be very frightening for somebody who's not done it before, and they can come in with preconceived notions of what they think it is going to be like," he said. "They are not necessarily prepared for what's happening before their eyes because they already have in their heads what it should have been like. And it's not always the same thing."

His wife agreed.

"Jealousy sometimes comes up as an issue," said Joleen Morales.

The Moraleses said that getting involved in the swing lifestyle is only for the strongest of couples. Only those firmly rooted in their commitment to one another can handle sex outside of the marriage, they said.

When discussing the lifestyle, many couples at the resort had the air of people who harbor a great secret to health and longevity.

The Garguilos said that it all started for them during their honeymoon, and their relationship has only grown stronger ever since.

"We respect each other. It's a fun thing, it's a new thing," said Shawna Garguilo. "I believe that it keeps our relationship alive in a lot of ways. There's a lot of people that are married that go out and cheat on each other. Why? We can do it together.

"I am with my husband. I know what he is doing. I am here. I'd rather him and me have a relationship that we can share things like that together, instead of trashing our marriage and going different ways."

They say that with such shared interests and such a deep sense of trust and honest communication, lying and cheating is never an issue. The misconceptions that nonswingers have about what it is like to be in the lifestyle was something that many couples at the resort were eager to talk about. The Morales also said that, despite what many might think, sex is not the first thing on their minds when they meet a new couple.

"No, no, no, we're not wired that way," said Joleen Morales. "Once or twice, I mean, I have."

Tony, her husband, continued: "This isn't just about sex. And those folks out there in the lifestyle, I think that they tend to immediately think that it's all about sex and that it's drunk Roman orgies all night."

But those types of nights aren't unheard of.

"I'm not saying that it doesn't happen," Joleen said.

Tony agreed.

"Those things do happen," he said. "But that's not necessarily the taste for every member in our society."

But despite the "Roman orgy" scenes taking place, the raging, wild abandon of the glowing couples never disrupted the mellow mood at the resort.

And how about the employees at a place like this?

A Mexican bartender at Desire, who preferred not to be named for this report, said that he and the other workers were very nervous about the grand opening and about what to expect. He explained that Mexican culture is inherently conservative and Catholic, so he said he was not alone in anxiously wondering what it would be like to pour drinks for naked people.

He said, however, that the feeling quickly fell away, and that within only three hours of the opening, he and his colleagues were used to the nudity.

"The sex becomes normal," he said. "It's just sex after all."

Silvina Modolo, a nonswinger who runs promotions for Desire at its sister resort in Cancun, told us that clients at Desire are happier and more easygoing than clients at nonswinger resorts.

"When I first started working here, I wasn't familiar with the nudism. It was a little shocking, but after about a month, guests were so friendly, openminded, and that made it easier to work around nudism and the lifestyle," she said.

But she said that frisky guests do occasionally proposition her to join in their fun.

"Yes, at the hotel in Cancun, and here at Los Cabos in the last two days. They try to see if I'll crack or break, but they expect that it's a policy, like any workplace -- that you don't get involved with clients."

And that's true -- there is a policy. The rule at the top of the list in the Desire Resort brochure is an emphatic: "No means No."

Most of the couples at the resort readily acknowledged that it is one rule that must be honored for the sake of a happy vacation.

McGinley, the "King of Swing," said he is not some kind of evangelist and that he is not trying to recruit the rest of us into his lifestyle. He just wants to be there for the people interested.

"Nothing is best for everybody," McGinley said. But those people that want it will be attracted to what we do, because of the way we promote, the way we advertise, just like Coca-Cola advertises."At 72, Robert thinks about his legacy as one of the founders of the modern swing movement.

"We would like people to be able to express themselves more appropriately sexually without fear of condemnation or handcuffs coming upon them," he said. "I don't mean out in public, but why not resorts like this on American soil, for example? Why not?"

Despite the fact that swing clubs are free to operate legally in the United States, many of the couples at Desire described a level of hostility from those who disapprove of the lifestyle, which can be a downer.

But that might not stop McGinley. He sees almost limitless opportunity in the business of swing. He expects his revenue to double in the next year.

"What I hope to accomplish is a chain of high-quality resort hotels all over the place that couples like this can experience -- not just one or two but a number of them so they can have different locations, but also open the experience up to many people. But only those people that want the experience."

So would he like to see resorts with outdoor love beds dotted across America?

"Well, not across America, but at least on beaches," he said, with his trademark chuckle.

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