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Bringing sexy back to the Church St Village

Is Toronto in the midst of a sex boom?

Couches at Oasis Credit: Andrea Houston

Is the sight of writhing, naked tangled bodies draped over red vinyl sofas your idea of fun on a Saturday night? Perhaps the anonymous playground of a dungeon-like sex cave is more your thing. Maybe it’s a steam-filled sauna with dripping, towel-clad men in every corner.

Whatever your pleasure, there’s a smorgasbord of sexy spaces in the Church-Wellesley Village.

“I love that the Village is becoming a sexier place,” says Ryan Cook, owner of Urge, a new gay sex club at 199 Church St. “Especially at a time when many people have said the Village is dying.”

The Village has always been a hotbed of sexy haunts, but lately there seems to be a boom. New sex clubs, gay bathhouses and strip joints are opening their kinky doors in the gaybourhood, signalling a return to naughtiness.

“I love that sex is booming in the Village,” says David Wootton of the Church-Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (CWVBIA). “Sex is what started it all in the first place, so it’s important we keep it here and connected to the community.”

On Church St across from George’s Play, Flash is heating up the dancefloor with grinding flashers, strippers and private rooms in the members-only club.

Around the corner on Mutual St, Oasis is a soon-to-open members-only sex club for straights in the old Club Toronto building. Toni Johnson, owner of the shagadelic club, says she plans to make good use of the outdoor swimming pool in the summer.

Elsewhere, St Marc Spa is closing Nov 15, but the owners have plans to relocate to a “bigger and bolder location in the Village” sometime in the summer.

Further south on Church St, Urge, which opened its doors for the first time this month, is a small labyrinth of shadowy rooms and corridors that offers customers only one service, really: a dark place for sex.

Inside the converted Salvation Army laundromat, there are barely any lights, no bar and no dancefloor. There’s also no sign outside. It’s just dark, winding hallways with naked, sweaty men. The design is industrial with exposed pipes, chain-link cages and cubicles with glory holes that give the feeling patrons are frolicking in an abandoned factory.

“A bathhouse is a different mentality,” says Cook. “People tend to be there for a longer period of time. This is a no-frills sex club. Come here to take care of business, then leave.”

All this horny nightlife was made possible by a landmark ruling by Canada’s highest court. In 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned a conviction against the owner of a swingers’ club in Montreal, ruling that unpaid consensual sex between multiple adults in a commercial space was not criminally indecent. Cook said the ruling opened the door for clubs like Urge.

“That opened up the possibility for us,” he says. “Canada is far ahead of the rest of the world. So as a result, there’s more sex clubs opening up in the Village.

“I see us all [sex club owners] working together. We’re not at all in competition. We all serve different preferences.”

Todd Klinck, co-owner of Goodhandy’s, a “pansexual playground” that opened in 2006, says people looking for sexy nightlife were once relegated to dark alleys and backrooms.

“We went through this period where the streets were cleaned up and the Village was much less naughty. Maybe that had something to do with [former Toronto police chief Julian] Fantino,” he chuckles. “So I think we brought back some naughtiness. We opened as a direct result of the 2005 Supreme Court ruling.”

But not everyone is quick to get in bed with the idea of the Village as a sex district.

Dave Auger, general manager of Remington’s on Yonge St near Elm, says he doesn’t think the Village should be a sex destination in Toronto because it’s not what patrons want.

“I don’t think that’s the right focus,” says Auger. “What I’m hearing is patrons in the Village don’t want sex; they want entertainment. There’s the stigma that all gay people want is sex, sex, sex. Gay people just want a nightclub to go dancing and enjoy themselves.

“[Gay] patrons have been branching out throughout the city now. They go to Queen West, the club district, everywhere. Not just the Village.”

But, Wootton says, the Village and sex have always been intertwined, and they always will be. The sheer number of sex clubs in the area speaks for itself. The demand is there, and people want options.

“The number of sex clubs here is a sign of the times,” he says. “We’re a culture that doesn’t defy sex. We have a much healthier attitude toward sexuality and expressing sexuality. God, we’ve come a long way in 50 years.

“Thirty years from now who knows where we will be. Sex is almost perfunctory in a lot of cases. It’s recreational, and it should be treated as a recreational activity, which a lot of our sex clubs and bathhouses are really successful at doing.”