In this debut memoir, the co-founder of a famous clothing-optional resort and, later, of a sanctuary for wild cats, describes her experiences.
Sandstone Retreat—officially, the Sandstone Foundation for Community Systems Research—was founded in 1969 by John Williamson, “an aerospace engineer turned free-love visionary,” and his wife, Barbara, the author of this book, who’d been a successful life insurance salesperson. The 15-acre California estate offered “a sensual playground for adults,” she says, and was part of “a radical social experiment….[in] total sexual freedom, where sexual possessiveness and jealousy did not exist.” The author describes how she and her husband found, renovated, and decorated the rooms (velvet upholstery, shag carpeting), as well as how the cooperative retreat/commune was run, with the Williamsons charging membership fees and employing a small, live-in staff. For the author, who says she grew up in an emotionally cold, rejecting household, Sandstone was about self-knowledge, intimacy, and happiness. She says that she learned to deal with sexual jealousy (although she notes that the first time John had sex with another woman, she cried all night) and to delight in her own bisexuality. Various media outlets reported on the retreat, which was featured in a 1975 documentary, although the Williamsons sold it in 1973. They eventually settled in Nevada, where they founded Tiger Touch, a nonprofit exotic-feline sanctuary; John Williamson died in 2013. The author writes that she “saw more naked stars [at Sandstone] than any other woman of that era!,” but she rarely shares explicit gossip, which may disappoint some readers. She presents the place as an unalloyed Eden but, childless herself, doesn’t discuss questions such as how its model of free, open sexuality could possibly work for families with children, or how Sandstone would have coped with HIV and AIDS. The author also doesn’t address those who might have sought sexual liberation but lacked the money and/or good looks to fit in at a place like Sandstone. She also writes of obtaining her Siberian lynx from an exotic-cat breeder, without mentioning that many animal welfare organizations frown on this practice. Still, the author does a good job of communicating the joyous, affectionate flavor of the era’s approach to sexual liberation, making an interesting contrast to the prurience of contemporary observers, such as Gay Talese.
Despite its subtitle, this uneven book is less a self-help manual than a recommendation to remove one’s sexual boundaries, with good results guaranteed.