Eros & Thanatos: Behind the Velvet Curtains - by Mad Mariposa
“So you guys? I need a fashion consult. What does one wear to a sex club? I have jeans, this long wrap-around skirt, and this lacey black top. I’m thinking the top with the long skirt, to be classy, with a hint of sexy up top. What do you think?”
Timothy chimes in immediately. “Wait, there’s no cleavage going on! And you’ll be all covered up in black. I say wear the jeans and a sexier top, so that you look appropriately prepared for watching, but buttoned down on the bottom so people know you’re closed for business.”
“Yea, you don’t want to look Amish! Here, let me lend you that sexy top I had in Thailand that you love,” Kristen says. She runs upstairs to retrieve it, and returns moments later. I try on the jeans and the multi-colored v-neck blouse, and return for a group assessment.
“Hey Kristen? So it’s okay if I get cum on your shirt, right?”
Kristen’s sister Sarah laughs the hardest and longest I’ve ever seen her laugh. This is a badge of honor for me. As she’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, I’ve always secretly aspired to impress her with my humor, and in the fifteen years I’ve known her, this may be the first time.
“He says nothing shocks him. NOTHING,” I tell them about my date.
“So ask him if he’ll eat your poo! Or SUCK on your tampon, hahaha!” Sarah and I are laughing so hard at this point, I can barely remember I need to drink the rest of my wine before I can face the situation.
My date tonight, the man I’m meeting at Ron Jeremy’s sex club, “Club Sesso”, I’ve just met through an online dating service. I’d signed up again the day before my birthday a month ago, as a present, or rather- challenge- to myself. This is my third date with Glen, and I’m both excited and nervous for the big leap we are about to take. Not that I’d planned to do anything with him or anyone else there, but Glen had revealed on date #2 that he’d had multiple experiences there, and so I knew he certainly wasn’t squeamish about the prospect of hooking up with strangers. When I first met Glen, I was relieved about how normal he seemed- 40, well-groomed, with short, brown hair, freshly showered, and well-dressed, wearing no ironic mustache or hipster skinny jeans, divorced amicably, he explains, and recently graduated from a master’s program.
It was on the second date that he explained what the “I’m not as wholesome as I look- I’m actually a bit of a libertine and GGG” meant in his profile. Being new to the world of kink, I hadn’t heard the Dan Savage term before. While I did, to my credit, google the terms GGG and libertine before I met him, and found this Wikipedia definition: “GGG stands for Good, Giving, and Game, and it means one should strive to be good in bed, giving “equal time and equal pleasure” to one’s partner, and game for anything—within reason”, my interpretation of this was, “hey, good, game, and giving- that all seems great to me!” instead of, “hey, is this some kind of a kinky thing?” As it turned out, it WAS some kind of a kinky thing. In fact, it was truly a kink thing, as Glen explained in detail while we sipped rose and nibbled on olives and cheese in the park.
I had to give it to him- Glen was 100% honest, not at all shy about telling me the things he’d been experimenting with since his divorce two years ago, which included sex in multiple threesomes, experiences with men, though he identified as mostly straight, and multiple trips to Club Sesso. He and his ex-wife had even paid for sex with a prostitute while visiting Amsterdam, where they had a bonding experience together over a 20-something, Eastern-European woman. But while he shared, my eyes began to gloss over a bit. I had to admit I felt a bit disappointed, as I really liked Glen, and found him to be intelligent and a great conversationalist. But I knew I was in over my head sexually, and that I’d likely bore Glen in this department. As I told him that night, I’m way more sexually vanilla. Sure, I’ve had plenty of partners, and I’m not Catholic or anything, but I haven’t even done ONE threesome, much less multiple ones. Still, when the topic of the sex club came up, I was fascinated. And while it was a bit disheartening to hear of his experiences, I couldn’t help but go further and further down that wormhole, asking one probing question after another. He seemed completely open about things he was doing, and it was such a refreshing thing for a man to treat me as adult enough to talk honestly with, instead of hiding his sexual tastes until we were in a relationship for two years and then admitting to being unfaithful the whole time.
I liked that Glen was courageous in this way. As he said, “well, I did write it in the first paragraph of my profile- I’m not sure how I could have been more clear.” Sure, I thought, that’s absolutely true. I just didn’t know what the hell GGG meant! So, as the date ended that night, after several glasses of wine, I found myself asking if I might go with him sometime, just to observe. “Sure,” he said, “tomorrow night?” But when I woke up the next morning, I suddenly realized what I was getting into. Asking Holly, who has been married for 15 years, with two kids, what I should do, I got my answer: “WHAT?! You HAVE to GO! Oh my GOD! For ME! I want to know what it’s LIKE! I have to live VICARIOUSLY through YOU! And if it’s cool, I might want to go back with YOU!”
Having successfully negotiated my outfit- Kristen’s colorful cleavage top and the long skirt for easy access, in case I do decide to open for business- I bid my friends farewell, and start walking to the cartogo around the corner. As I walk, I do a brief autopsy of my current life. My god, how did I end up dating on Ok Cupid at 42 years old, and actually agree to go to a sex club with a total stranger? When I was 20, I had a relationship with such a kind, handsome man- someone I could have and probably should have married. He now has three kids with another woman, but we still keep in touch, and I know he wonders what has happened to me- why I seem a veritable mess when it comes to dating. I contemplate my strange fate for a good five minutes before deciding, oh well, you do the best you can at the time, and it always leads somewhere. Remember, your life is about adventure and stories. Don’t judge- just live it, and tell your friends so that they can enjoy it too.
I hop in my tiny clown car and drive like a bat out of hell toward downtown. I’m running 20 minutes late, and don’t want Glen to think I’ve changed my mind.
Standing outside the club, I text, telling him I’ve arrived. He comes outside immediately, and walks me through the admission process. The woman who greets me at the door is all business.
“Okay, welcome. Here are the forms for you to sign. Initial here, here, here and here, indicating you don’t hold us liable for any injury, physical or psychological, and here, saying you are not a sex offender. Then sign here and print your name and the date. Driver’s license?”
I hand over my license, and think, Jesus, my future in politics ends right here, I guess. I sign four pages of legal documents, not reading a single paragraph, and then pay the $10 admission fee.
The woman calls for someone to take me on a tour, and soon a short, adorable, curvy black woman in a red teddy arrives. Glen and I follow her through the door, and enter the first room. It looks exactly like any other dance club. Bar to the left, tables to the right, with regular-looking people drinking regular-looking cocktails. The median age is somewhere in the 30s, I quickly assess, which knocks off one premature evaluation I’d been housing- that only older, bored, pervy men frequent these places. There’s an empty dance cage on the dance floor, and I have a quick memory of having danced in a similar one many years ago, thinking, oh yea, I’ve got this. Nothing to see here- been there, done that. One of my favorite Steely Dan songs is playing, and I can barely focus on the words this red-teddied woman is saying as I’m carried away to memories of years past. Ricky don’t lose that number, you don’t want to call nobody else… So here is the buffet, and you can help yourself to that. And here on the right, here I’ll hold the curtain for you, is the couple’s room. Send it off in a letter to yourself…
Yes, there is a BUFFET directly across from the “couple’s room”, which is where couples copulate in total nudity, publicly, for others to watch. I notice they have veggie lasagna and I’m slightly tempted, but then I remember that Sarah had only an hour before joked about certain gas-heavy foods they hopefully didn’t have on the buffet:
“Oh! I wonder if they have brussel sprouts, or ask them if they have cabbage!”
“Or asparagus!” I add.
“For a golden shower they’ll never forget!” Sarah quickly retorts.
Red-teddy is explaining that if you’d like to play here, simply grab a sheet and cover the bed here, and when you’re done, go ahead and throw it in the laundry, here. I’m looking at her as she’s speaking, but it is very difficult to focus, not only because of the song, but because six couples are fucking around me. It is a blur of white thighs, moans, giggles, tits, and feet, and I can barely contain the creepy smile on my face. I’m not sure what an appropriate smile is in this situation, but I’m pretty sure I am not wearing one.
She walks us upstairs, where there is a bar to my right that eight or so people are sitting around, watching a manly woman tie rope around a naked man. He is lying on his side, fetal-position, silent. She is taking her time, wrapping and wrapping around him again and again. He looks bored, as do the people half-watching. They appear to be only using the bar as a staging point for their own interests. Most are facing out, watching the activity around them. There is a 20-something, slight, African-American man with dreadlocks drinking a beer, casually facing in the direction of the empty stripper pole in the corner. There are a handful of men in their 30s scattered around the leather arm chairs on one side of the bar, and a few women interspersed between them. I suddenly become self-conscious of the fact that I’m getting a tour of the facility as a first-timer, thinking everyone watching me knows I don’t belong here. It’s like being the new kid in school, if the school were all about fucking strangers, or perhaps like a cattle auction, where I am the newest cow being led across the stage for slaughter. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m forced to take a tour of a new gym- I can easily figure out the machines and find the locker room, but I’m forced to pretend I’m learning something from my guide, even though I just feel like I’m on stage, naked, exposed as the freshman I am.
She walks us over to the private sex rooms and explains that if the door is closed, it means it’s occupied and you are not invited in. But if it’s open and there’s someone in there, you may observe, and if invited in, join, if you like. One door was closed as we walked by, but the others were open and unoccupied at the moment. As this was only 10:30pm on a slow Wednesday night, my date tells me this isn’t unusual.
On our way back downstairs, just before our guide lets us go, she points out a sign on the wall with instructions for appropriate behavior in the club. The rules include:
1) Ask before you touch, 2) Ask once and only once, 3) ”No Thank You” means “NO”, 4) Treat everyone with dignity and respect, 5) Don’t stalk or follow anyone around the club, and 6) Don’t be creepy.
With this, she tells us our tour is over, and since it is my first time here, I’m entitled to one free drink of my choosing. “Just tell Jenny down at the bar, and remember, have fun!”
“So, what shall we do first?” Glen asks.
We head down to the bar, where I take advantage of my free drink by ordering a top shelf whiskey with a beer back. Glen has a beer, and as we’re standing around the bar, I take a moment to look around at the people near us. I catch eyes with a few men as they walk past, and think, oh no, please don’t come up and talk to me, but none do. I realize Glen’s presence may be a bit of a barrier to strangers, and I’m happy he’s there.
For the next hour or so, Glen and I wander around, upstairs and down, checking out the various areas. Downstairs consists of the dance floor and bar at the entrance, followed by the couple’s room and buffet area, then the private rooms in the back. As we walk past them to see if anything’s happening in one now, we see that the door that was closed only a minute ago is now open, and a staff member is cleaning the bed with some kind of heavy-duty cleanser and a rag. God, what a job, I think.
We make our way upstairs, where we run into a couple there Glen knows. We chat for a moment, and Glen introduces me, saying, “it’s her first time here,” which is met with congratulations and curiosity. I am a bit overwhelmed at the attention, and hope it doesn’t lead to an invitation.
As we walk upstairs, we find a spot on a leather couch near the stripper pole. Glen says he’d just had sex as of last week with the woman we just met. I realize that likely occurred after Glen and I had our first date, and if I’d thought Glen and I might end up a couple, I may have been saddened by this news. But, having assessed that Glen was someone who needed this kind of outlet, I wasn’t.
“It’s kind of a slow night, being Wednesday. And it’s only 10:45 too, so kind of early for much to be happening. Saturday nights it gets pretty crowded in here. You should have seen New Year’s Eve this year. They packed about 800 people in here, and some craaazy stuff was going on.”
I thought to myself, wow, this guy’s really committed, to be here on New Year’s. This must be like his Cheers. You wanna go where people know, people are all the same, you wanna go where everyone knows your name. I guess everyone does know Glen’s name here, as I realize when he starts pointing out people in the club he’s played with.
“See that tranny over there?” he asks. He’s tilting his head toward a tall transsexual standing near the balcony. I had noticed her right away, of course, as she was wearing a long brown wig and a short skirt, sexy black stockings and high heels, which made her stand about seven feet tall. “Well, I was in a room with her and a couple of others recently, and had some play.”
“Whoa, okay. So…. How was that?” I ask tentatively.
“Oh you know, interesting.”
“Is she pre or post-op? I mean, transsexual or transgendered?”
I hope I am remembering to use those terms correctly, suddenly insecure about what the difference even was.
“Oh, she’s pre. I mean, she still has male parts.”
“Oh, okay.” I spend a few seconds imagining the scenario with Glen and this woman, and eventually conclude that I have no idea how this may have worked. I also realize it’s not my business, and take these questions as further evidence of my inherent vanillaness.
I notice a handsome, Nordic-looking man nearby, standing near the tranny, trying to look casual as he sips his mixed drink. He is tall, blond, in his 30s, and looks vaguely Dutch or German. I momentarily contemplate inviting him over for conversation, but chicken out, deciding he’s probably a sociopath or I wouldn’t be attracted to him.
Glen asks me what I’d like to do next, and I suggest going back downstairs. I want to check out the couples’ room, as it seems to be the only thing going on at the moment. Glen agrees, and suggests we could just go and stand in there for a moment to take in the atmosphere. We slip in through the velvet drapes, and stand in the middle of the room for a minute. The space is only about a 10 by 15 foot room, with three beds on each side of the room, separated by white sheets, and so as we’re standing there, our presence is palpable. I am facing Glen, trying to pretend I’m involved in a conversation, when I’m really just using this façade to observe the sex happening through my peripheral vision. After a minute or two, it becomes too awkward to stand here any longer, and I suggest we go back upstairs.
Back at the upstairs bar, where the same slow rope-bondage has only barely progressed onstage, Glen and I make conversation. He asks how I’m feeling, and I tell him I’m okay, enjoying myself, not nearly as freaked out as I thought I might be. “If I make it through tonight, my friend says she might want to come back with me.”
“Why do you keep saying if you make it through tonight? What are you afraid might happen?”
I choose my words carefully. “Um, oh I don’t know. I guess I was just afraid I’d be overwhelmed and need to flee. But it’s really not anything that unusual, I guess. I mean, I’ve been to sex shows in Amsterdam and Thailand before, and this really isn’t that much different.” The difference, of course, is that in those places, sex professionals were having all the sex, and here, it was interactive. I knew that I could, if I wanted, at any moment, walk up to someone and ask them to play, and it might be on. I guess the fear I had was the same one I got when standing on the edge of a cliff or on a tall bridge. While I valued my life, some distant inner voice or compulsion always seemed to linger in my head, telling me I could, if I just took one step, jump and end it all. I knew this didn’t make me crazy, as this was actually the Freudian concept of Thanatos, the death drive:
Freud theorized that the duality of human nature emerged from two basic instincts: Eros and Thanatos. He saw in Eros the instinct for life, love and sexuality in its broadest sense, and in Thanatos, the instinct of death, aggression. Eros is the drive toward attraction and reproduction; Thanatos toward repulsion and death. One leads to the reproduction of the species, the other toward its own destruction. *
I guess this collision of instincts, toward the erotic and life, and death and destruction on the other end, was what really scared me. It’s what was inside me that I feared. The same thing that made me sad when I went into exotic dancing clubs- all that sex and desperation mixed- so much that lives and money were exchanged for the chance to satisfy, or at least fantasize around, those opposing instincts. But I’d made a pact with myself recently to go in the direction of my fears- to address them head on and do the things I was afraid of in order to drain them of their power- and this was one of those fears.
As Glen and I are talking, an attractive woman in lingerie takes the stripper pole. She’s no more than 30, in good shape, blonde, wearing a bustier. She’s casually circling the pole, not really doing anything impressive, other than being with the pole, and as that’s the only thing going on upstairs at the moment, people begin watching. In only a minute, another woman gets up and begins walking behind her, holding onto her waist with one hand, the pole with her other. Now they are slightly more interesting, and a few chairs at the bar pivot to watch, while a small crowd forms around them. Glen and I stop talking and watch them for a few minutes, but in that time, they do nothing more interesting than walk in circles. I am mildly annoyed by this pseudo-lesbian erotica, not because of some homophobia inside of me, but because I’m thinking, I paid $10 and I’m buying my own expensive-ass drinks for THIS? Shit, I could do better pseudo-lesbian erotica than these bitches! Hell, I HAVE done pseudo-lesbian erotica better! Starting from when Lucie and I would give stripper shows for Jon West when we were 11. Of course, that was all her idea, as she was a very sexually experimental kid (due in no small part from a really messed up mom who introduced her to such things- like her dildo- as a child). We would give these shows from the closet- yes, the CLOSET- in my old bedroom. Poor Jon, or I guess I should say- LUCKY Jon. He must have been the horniest, yet sexually unfulfilled, 11-year-old in the whole neighborhood.
But I digress. After several minutes of boredom and disappointment- I mean, I came to see some sex, not this amateur hour bullshit- Glen asks what I’d like to do now. I have to give it to him, Glen has been 100% gentlemanly and considerate this entire time. Of course, he didn’t pay for my admission or drinks, but this was an internet date, and I generally follow the unspoken but widely-adhered to “going Dutch” policy of internet dating. Sex club or coffeehouse, I was paying my way. I suggest we go back downstairs, grab one more drink, and actually go sit in the couples’ room. He agrees, and we return downstairs. While standing at the bar, I make an off-handed comment about how no one has really looked at me in any interested way, nor even bought me a drink.
“Oh! Well I’ll buy you a drink!” Glen says.
He buys me a beer and then tells me he needs to use the bathroom, and he’ll be back in just a moment.
“Will you be okay here while I’m gone?”
“Sure! Sure, yeah I feel fine. Go ahead.”
Glen walks away for a moment, and as I’m standing near the bar now, a man quickly walks past me and says hello. I say hi back in a non-inviting kind of way, and he keeps walking. Just as he passes, another man walks up from the opposite direction and says hello, and the same thing happens. It seems as though both wanted to make conversation, but I am oozing shut down for business, and so they give up. It’s flattering to finally get some attention, but a bit scary too. Before I can contemplate talking to someone, Glen returns and says, “ready?”
We again walk through the velvet curtains and into the couple’s room, where every bed is taken. Glen and I sit down on the bench along the back wall to observe. The couples on my left and right are only about two feet from me. From my vantage point, I can see everything going on. The couple on my right is doing it doggie-style. The woman, white, a bit chunky, is facing the wall, so I can see her butt in the air. I think, oh! So this is what men see when they do that. I’ve never seen that up close before. The man, a light-skinned black man, skinny, is right in front of me. I can see his butt clearly, and almost see the decisions he is making. Interesting viewpoint, really, to see behind the man behind the woman.
To my left, a couple is just laying there on their sides, facing one another, being affectionate but not having sex. Further down the way, a couple is having sex, missionary. Two other couples look as though they’ve finished, and are just lying there naked.
“So, this is interesting, you know,” I say to Glen. “I mean, no one’s doing anything out of the ordinary. You know, it’s just regular sex, like the kinds I’ve had. No kink, or even homosexuality, or anything. This isn’t really weird, or anything to see. I guess I feel kinda- validated- sexually, I guess. I mean, I’m more experimental than THESE folks.”
Glen tells me yeah, this is pretty mild, really. Kink does happen here, but nothing seems to be going on tonight. “It’s a Wednesday night, of course.”
I’m left wondering what a Saturday night, or a Halloween, might be like.
“I guess if I was going to be into anything kinky, it would be those furries people,” I remark.
“What? Really?” Glen replies. “I’ve always wondered who was into that stuff. I mean that’s pretty hard-core! You’re totally covered up! You don’t know what the other person looks like at ALL! And they don’t know what you look like. You could be having sex with someone you know, or like- your grandfather or something!”
“Hahaha! I know! I guess that’s the appeal. I mean, if kink is kinda about exposing the repressed sexuality beneath all the vanilla exterior, that’s what I like! I’d be completely hidden, thus, completely open to do whatever I might want to try, without worrying about judgment! But I’d want to be some kinda really cute animal, like a kitty, or a raccoon, or maybe a creepy bunny or something.”
“Yea, but then there’d be all those claws and stuff in the air, and what a mess to clean up after, with all the fur.”
“True! Haha but still worth it, I think. I mean, I’m not saying I’m going to do it, but I get the appeal. Like the way Halloween allows people to whore it up for the night. To really get outside of themselves and be anything they want for a while. It’s the reason I love that holiday so much- I get to be someone else for a while.”
Glen and I intellectualize for a while about sex, repression, and fantasy, and after twenty minutes, we decide we’ve seen everything we’re going to see, and decide to leave.
Glen drives me home that night, and I invite him in for a drink. He accepts, and I pour us two crappy white wines that have been in the fridge for far too long. The drink is really just an excuse to make out with Glen for a bit, which we quickly get down to doing. We kiss for a bit, stop for sips of wine, then kiss some more. I realize I’m entirely too tipsy to function doing anything more, nor do I want to, as I’m actually kind of afraid of Glen’s sexuality, and any diseases he may have acquired in his sexual walkabout the past couple of years. Despite the fact that he says he gets tested frequently, I fear what hasn’t shown up in tests yet.
I tell him I’m tired and should probably go to sleep, and Glen, gentlemanly as always, says okay, that he’ll head out now. I walk him to the door and thank him for a genuinely entertaining evening.
That night, as I’m lying in bed contemplating the night’s events, I have a nice thought: Maybe I’m not so vanilla after all. Maybe I’m not sexually boring. Maybe I’m just – selective. Those people tonight are using the club as a way to grow themselves sexually, to get out of their normal routine, and try something or someone they can’t in their normal relationships. But I’ve spent most of my adulthood single. I’ve had relationships, sure, but most of my time has been alone. I’ve been able to do whatever I wanted. I’ve had lots of partners and lots of variety. I don’t need a sex club to get outside of myself, and I don’t need a sexual walkabout. Hell, I’ve BEEN a sexual walkabout. What I really want now is ONE person who feels the same way. Glen and I are opposites in this way. He wants experience, but I need to take it down a notch. I’m ready for the predictability of a stable relationship. It’s not boring to me, because I’m not boring.
At this, I’m comforted. I have conquered my Eros, and faced Thanatos down. I’ve won the battle of my own demons and desires. I drift off into a deep and satisfied sleep, like a Greek god after an epic battle, having secured my place in the universe.
Read more of Mad Mariposa's writing here.