The idea was “consensual adultery”,’ explains Gay Talese, a celebrated New York writer and ‘participating observer’ at the retreat, whose bestselling 1980 book about the sexual revolution, Thy Neighbour’s Wife, put Sandstone on the map for many Americans.
‘The theory is that if both parties know what the other is doing, or thinking of doing, it can be understood and perhaps condoned without it being a cause of divorce. They were re-defining “‘sin”’.’
When I tracked down Barbara Williamson this week, now 74 and running a wildlife sanctuary in Nevada, she told me they had personal motives, too — though many would regard them as utterly misguided.
Their quest for this perverse Utopia started in 1968 when — inspired by Atlas Shrugged, the libertarian thinker Ayn Rand’s novel about industrialists who drop out of an oppressive society — Williamson gave up his electronics firm and his wife threw in her insurance sales job.