This certainly was a week of firsts for me. It began with my first trip to a bathhouse. Certainly, I was nervous during that fact-finding expedition, but given the gay atmosphere, I felt like I was on somewhat familiar ground. But now I was really wading into uncharted waters. So it was with fluttering stomach and trembling knees that I passed through the doors of Oasis Aqualounge, Toronto’s sex club for straight swingers.
The first things I saw were tits. Lots of them. Big ones, small ones, perky ones, long ones; tits, tits, tits. And that was just the staff. A whole bevy of girls clustered around the club’s entrance area, cheerfully chatting as though they just happened to have forgotten to put on blouses before going to work. It was oddly natural and a little endearing. One tall, bespectacled gal greeted me politely, expertly blocking me from entering the club without seeming aggressive or causing offence. Turns out that solitary men, gay or straight, aren’t admitted to Oasis. You have to be a woman or be accompanied by one to get in.
It’s a smart rule, when you think about it, and one put in place from the get-go by club owner Toni Johnson.
“Otherwise it would just end up a sausage fest,” Johnson says. “Women need to feel comfortable here, and that’s hard to do when there’s a bunch of single guys leering at you.”
Despite all the tits — I see plenty more as I make my way into the patrons’ areas — there seems to be very little leering happening at this clothing-optional establishment. There’s lots of laughter, plenty of smiles, and — oops! I just saw a girl’s completely shaved beaver — everyone seems to be having a friendly evening out with friends. Naked.
The crowd definitely leans toward a middle-aged demographic, though there are a few younger couples milling around the sumptuous outdoor pool area. But these skittish colts remain fully clothed, clutching to their drinks as they furtively look about in guilty titillation. Johnson gives me a guided tour through her establishment, clearly proud of the renovations she’s done to the heritage space that previously housed a gay bathhouse, Club Toronto.
“We gutted the place,” Johnson says. “I had the best time with it. It cost way more than I was prepared to pay, but it really was worth it.”
Johnson certainly got her money’s worth. The club’s impressive staircase has been tenderly refinished, and the baseboards and mouldings are either original to the building or exceptionally good reproductions. The main rooms are tasteful, with comfortable seating and soft lighting to flatter more mature complexions and figures.
Then, suddenly, the club’s main purpose hits me right in the face. Dead ahead of me, crouching on the most adorable red vinyl banquet, is an elderly man with his face firmly planted between the legs of an audibly appreciative older lady. She’s moaning softly, twining her fingers through what’s left of his hair. It’s a scene that, given my own predilections, may not inspire arousal, but it still strikes me as sweet. Our society tends to banish any right to sexuality once we cross middle-age, and I love that this couple is openly, flagrantly flaunting their sex lives to anyone who might happen by.
There are other such scenes as I continue my tour, brushing past happy couples and trios as I make my way to the main bar area. The evening’s show is about to start: an impossibly tall, drop-dead-gorgeous black woman named Shani will be teaching female patrons the art of booty popping and strip seduction. As Shani shepherds her nervous flock onto the dancefloor, I’m in awe of her confidence and encouragement toward the women as they lose their inhibitions and bump and grind on their men.
The feeling here is unabashedly one of female empowerment. This ethic reaches its apex on frequent all-gal nights, hosted by such places as Aslan Leather or the Pleasure Palace, where lesbian and bi women can get their freak on without having to worry about male voyeurs. Johnson welcomes these women, as she does anyone who is respectful of others and just looking to have a fun, sexy time.
“Look, the bottom line is that we’re all sexual beings, men and women,” she says. “It’s not up to any of us to judge who’s fucking who, as long as it’s adult, it’s consensual and it’s fun. And if they want you to join in, too, then that’s all the more awesome.”