The hypnotic techno music surrounded me with the acoustic thump of a porno flick. Naked from the waist up, I looked at my date ― clad in a towel from the waist down. Then, flush with anticipation and a little fear, I put my hand in his, and together we stepped into an exclusive sex club for couples in New York City.
I was a 31-year-old perks-rich, cash-poor woman’s magazine editor, who penned a column as the “Dating Diva.”
None of my readers would have believed what I was doing. My motto had always been safety first — I avoided travel to exotic locales, worried about drowning while jumping in the ocean waves, avoided eating raw fish and got nauseous on roller-coaster rides.
While I was cautious physically, I was reckless in relationships. Like a dog whistle, I attracted emotionally unavailable guys ― the man with bipolar disorder who collected antique nunchucks and had a parrot with an anger problem, the ex-Hollywood producer who wanted me to transform my physical appearance to his blond-haired, blue-eyed ideal, or the karaoke-loving, starving musician who lived in Colorado (and briefly in his car in Mexico).
It gave me an almost physical rush to fix or support these men to make them my perfect partner. Despite my best efforts, these relationships never worked out, leaving me broken-hearted.
So, when Lana, a woman I worked with, suggested I go out with Jim, a respected cardiologist who lived in a New York City penthouse, I started fantasizing that soon our hearts would beat as one.
Physically he was my type: tall, lean, nerdy, with glasses, although he was a bit too quiet for my taste. Over butternut squash soup and lobster tails during a double date with Lana and her boyfriend, Jim revealed that he was close with his mother and was amused that I taught courses on “Power Dating.” The wine flowed, our eye contact was strong and by the time the men paid the bill, I wanted to know him on a more intimate level.
I was thinking wine nightcap or dance club.
I agreed to join Jim, Lana and her boyfriend, Ryan, at an after-hours club for more drinks and found ourselves in a cab heading downtown.
The taxi stopped at a tall, gray, office-like building, and we took an elevator straight to the penthouse. The guys paid cash to the bouncer at the door, and we were in.
I saw two signs. One said “Men only allowed with women” and another said “No touching without permission.”
“Um, what kind of club is this?” I asked.
“Don’t worry, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” Jim said gamely as if he were a chivalrous knight of yore.
I felt blindsided by my blind date, who was apparently motivated by his groin more than his heart. I worried about what we’d do ― what he’d want me to do. But his smile glowed brighter than the neon lights of the room, and it was a public place. I figured I’d make a quick exit if anything went wrong. As I got psychologically ready for an adventurous evening I’d never counted on, I decided to also check my caution at the door.
Everyone got a locker to store their clothes in.
“Wait, I have to take off my clothes, too?” I asked Lana.
“It’s OK. We can leave our underwear on,” she said. “It’s like going to a topless beach. You’ve done that, I assume?”
In the face of her cool, I could only play along.
“Of course,” I said, pulling my dress over my shoulders.
Lana took off her dress and bra, leaving her thong on, and I followed suit. It’s just like going to a topless beach, I repeated to myself.
Then Jim entered the room. He had stripped off all his clothes, and I saw his toned legs, tanned chest and muscular arms. He had slung a small white towel around his pelvis.
As he took in my half-nude body, still in high heels, I noted with pleasure the admiration ― and lust ― reflected in his gaze.
He held out his hand and, taking a deep, shaky breath, I gave him mine. It was an adventure, I kept repeating to myself. It’s good to expand your boundaries. He smiled at me, and appeared so comfortable that I wondered how often he’d been there before, and with whom?
Lana took Ryan, her boyfriend, into another room and I was left alone with my date.
“Whatever happens, don’t let go of my hand,” I cautioned him.
“Don’t worry, you’re with me,” he said.
Holding on to his hand tightly, we walked into a lounge area stocked with free condoms. Most of the people milling around were in fairly good shape, though I didn’t notice any bodybuilders. I also saw a deserted buffet table, laid with fruit, veggies and slices of ham. I wasn’t hungry for sex-club crudité, and apparently nobody else was either.
Pausing at the entrance to one of the private rooms, Jim took my face in his and kissed me deeply, his tongue exploring my mouth with a fierce passion.
I closed my eyes, as the sounds of sweaty flesh slapping into flesh on the huge water bed nearby and the participant’s orgasmic groans laid the soundtrack to our make-out session. I tried to stay in the moment as we kissed. As he tried to maneuver me to a settee, my wine buzz started to dissipate, and I was petrified I would sit or lie down on someone else’s bodily fluids.
“Do you want to stand and watch people fucking?” he asked in a conversational tone, like he was asking me if I wanted to watch TV. I nodded, mesmerized by the scenarios surrounding us.
We watched six couples cavorting on a huge water bed in one room, while neon lighting illuminated patches of the graphic action. In another room, a strangely silent group was playing a party trick game of naked Twister. Jim let go of my hands and his fingers probed me while we watched.
Though the action was explicitly sexual, I didn’t find it sexy. It seemed so mechanical and impersonal, like a male porn fantasy. I personally prefer my sex with dialogue, eye contact and a bit of teasing. This just felt surreal.
I startled, as a large, hairy hand cupped my butt. I felt a man’s heavy breath near my ear. “No,” I yelled, throwing my body toward Jim at the crude intrusion. “Stop. I don’t want to be touched.”
“Dude, didn’t you read the sign. Back off, she’s with me,” Jim said, casually slapping the guy’s hand away.
Shocked out of my reverie, I’d had enough.
“Jim, I’m ready to go,” I said.
“Sure, let’s get out of here. We can go back to my place.”
In the cab, I was dying to talk about my experience. “That jerk should have been kicked out for breaking the rules.”
“It happens,” Jim said.
“The people having sex seemed so detached.”
Though he was a man of too-few words, we jumped each other when we got back to his place, both of us fueled by fantasies.
The next morning, over breakfast, I was proud of myself for stretching my limits ― but I didn’t find Jim particularly interesting or exciting away from the steamy incubator of the sex club.
Eventually, I realized that I had got it all wrong: While I had taken the safe road physically and had led a somewhat pedestrian life, I’d been finding adventure in the roller-coaster ride of putting energy into men who couldn’t possibly fulfill me.
I vowed to build more adventure into my life, not my love life, and to learn my own value, apart from being with a man.
So I focused on accruing sensory experiences. Over the next few years, I took belly dancing lessons, smoked “flavored tobacco” in a hookah bar in Amsterdam, was hoisted up on a float and threw beads to the crowds during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and learned how to do healing energy bodywork from a Tibetan monk. I tried my hand at whitewater rafting and found I loved the feeling of being in control of the boat, as I rode the waves, the taste of seawater on my lips, the wind lashing at my hair.
I learned how to meditate and found a good therapist. As I became more confident, I started attracting men who weren’t afraid of intimacy.
When I met my husband, a South African export with spiky blond-streaked hair and a shark tooth necklace, for the first time, someone joined me in my experimentation. He helped get me over my fear of eating raw fish and challenged me to do things like go on safari in Africa, go Jet-Skiing in the ocean and ride on an ostrich.
He was as much a communicator as a co-conspirator. When I told him I had gone to a sex club on a blind date, he was curious but didn’t judge me. When I told him I was the “Dating Diva,” he asked to see my column. And when I admitted that I had always struggled with boundaries and intimacy with men, he had the perfect response.
“We can sort that out.”
We’ve dealt with infertility, medical scares, family upheavals, lots of arguments (which we always resolve) and raising a very active 9-year-old daughter during our 13 years of marriage. I don’t have to change myself, or him, to prove our love.
And although no sex club visits are on our horizon, maybe when our daughter is in sleep-away camp this summer, we’ll go to a bar and pretend not to know each other. Or maybe we’ll just stay at home, have a quiet dinner and surf through Netflix.