The Reluctant Adventurer: An Evening at Ron Jeremy’s Portland Sex Club
Friday, November 07, 2014
When you’re in an establishment and you see this sign on the wall, you know you’re probably outside your comfort zone.
My comfort zone was somewhere in Utah, perhaps, when I spent an evening at Club Sesso in downtown Portland last month. “Sesso,” as the regulars call it, is billed as “Portland’s premiere swinger’s club.”
Owned by Ron Jeremy, America’s most trusted name in on-camera intercourse, the website claims “The swinging lifestyle in Portland and Southwest Washington has wanted an upscale erotic lifestyle club for several years” and that Club Sesso “has answered that demand.”
A few weeks prior, I’d mentioned that I needed something new for my column to “Joe,” the polyamorous married guy I’d been seeing.
“We should go to Sesso,” he said casually. He and his wife had gotten a membership when they decided to open their relationship.
“Um. Sure,” I responded. “I mean, sure. Why wouldn’t I do that? I could do that. I could easily do that. That sounds great.”
It didn’t sound great.
I pictured a fully naked, un-Cinemax-y version of the party scene in Eyes Wide Shut, and me, completely clothed but inexplicably also in an Elizabethan costume ball mask, awkwardly watching and taking notes.
I managed to avoid going for almost a whole month, but I finally ran out of column material and had to take him on up on it.
Even though it seemed like things were likely to be awkward for me, I was quite curious about what it would be like, and having an escort who had been before was very comforting.
“Don’t worry Mom, my date’s totally been to a sex club before.”
See how comforting that must’ve been for my mother when I told her at our weekly dinner?
We decided to go on fetish night because that was likely to be a lot more interesting than a standard weekend night. The website said fetish clothes were encouraged, so I wore the closest thing I had—a velvet pencil skirt that laced all the way up the back.
I felt exactly like I did the night I went to see Missing Persons in high school and tried to dress “New Wave-y.” Except instead of being worried that everyone would know I was square, I was worried everyone would know that I had never had sex in public and/or with seven people at once.
Before you even enter Club Sesso, you’re asked to sign and initial an extremely long form essentially saying that you know what you’re getting into and you won’t sue them if you’re traumatized by what you see or do.
When you finally enter, it just looks like another club, with largely the same clientele. There’s a bar to your left and a very small dance floor to your right. The only tipoff that this might be a sex club is that to the far right of the dance floor, there are two huge black Xs available to tie your date down while you tickle them, spank them, or do whatever they have specifically requested you do to them. That is something you don’t see at, say, a Dave & Busters™.
Oh, and there are giant TVs with porn. Everywhere.
Since the issue of consent around BDSM (Bondage, Discipline and Sado-Masochism) has recently been in the news, it’s very important to make clear that whatever was happening to the men and women in the club, even the ones who were tied up, was completely consensual. Oftentimes, in fact, the person being “punished” or tied up is the one ultimately in control as the one dominating them is simply playing a role the submissive has asked them to play.
This night, the featured fetish seemed to be Shibari, which I knew nothing about, but was captivated by.
Shibari, meaning “to tie” in Japanese, is an ancient form of erotic rope bondage that originated in 15th century Japan as “Hojo-jutsu,” the martial art of restraining captives.
It’s now evolved into an erotic art, where people use complex knots and rope placement to create beautiful shapes on and with the body, oftentimes using rigging to dangle the body from the ceiling whilst doing super fun things to it.
Some Shibari practitioners even position the knots on pressure points, similar to Shiatsu or acupuncture.
In Portland, even our fetishes are artisanal.
My date “Joe” and I stood on the second floor of the club and watched a man take at least 20 minutes to shackle a woman using Shibari, and the whole thing was intensely intimate. She stood in the middle of the dance floor, blindfolded and naked as he slowly pulled an inch-wide roped across and around her body, making and un-making knots to bind her. They clearly knew each other well, and every move he made was painstaking, purposeful and strangely affectionate, stopping every few minutes to whisper in her ear.
It made me wish they had those earphones, like on museum tours, so I could hear what he was saying.
They did not.
“What does ‘DM’ stand for?,” I yelled over the music.
“Dungeon Monitor,” he answered.
“What do you do?,” I asked.
“It’s our job to monitor the play to ensure that no one gets hurt and that everyone’s following the house rules.”
In talking to him, I learned that DMs are trained in BDSM safety practices and first aid, and they have absolute authority—if the DM says it’s over, it’s over. This particular DM had been volunteering at parties and fetish nights since the 80’s, and trained people in fetishes like rope and boot play.
“Have you ever seen anyone get hurt?,” I asked.
“Sure. I’ve seen people get cut too deep during knife play, or drop 10 feet to the ground during rope play and break bones. It can get ugly.”
I saw how difficult this job had to be at one point when a man being whipped at one of the Xs started screaming. How do you differentiate a passionate scream from a hey-this-really-hurts scream? Maybe the pain made him forget his safe word.
I saw the DM run towards him, but it appeared all was fine.
This was all so much more complicated than I’d thought.
Once we were back watching the Shibari Show™, my date started rubbing my lower back, and we kissed. I felt self-conscious for a minute, but then realized we’d just passed a room with a naked couple engaged in full-blown 69 and a bar at which a good 20 people watched a man strategically place a magic wand on his girlfriend while she dangled from the ceiling from ropes and giggled.
We were, by far, the least interesting thing within a 50-foot radius.
At Sesso, you can choose your level of exhibitionism. You can have sex in the couples’ room, filled with about ten futons, each with a folded sheet and two condoms at the foot for your pleasure. You can, like the 69ers, choose a bed in a room with a giant window so everyone in the club can marvel at your skill, or just use one of the rooms with a door you can close and have some (why would you want this?) privacy.
Joe and I chose the couples’ room. I told him I’d make out with him in there just so I could say we did, but that I wouldn’t sleep with him. I’d tell you more, but you know what they say – what happens in the couples room…smells like burritos because it’s right outside the buffet.
Speaking of which, we did decide to try the buffet at the end of the night, since I was going to write about it.
It was build-your-own burrito night, (BTW, “Build Your Own Burrito Night at the Sex Club” Is the name of my next book, so don’t even try to call dibs) so Joe and I filled our plates and sat in what would’ve looked like a break room at JC Penney if it weren’t for the woman at the next table whose breasts had mostly freed themselves from the prison of her bustier.
The food was fine, although they did run out of tortillas, which pretty much ruined my entire night. Even with that emotional devastation, sitting there and eating canned refried beans was definitely the most comfortable I’d been all night.
I was weirdly not all that uncomfortable watching people engage in all those acts that were largely foreign to me. It was fascinating.
But I was surprised to discover that what it wasn’t at all for me, was sexual.
There was something about the public aspect of the acts that robbed them of their sensuality for me. It felt a little like we were at the Sex Zoo, like I could’ve pressed a button under the window of the 69 couple and heard a recording about the history of human sexuality. Even the Shibari couple, who were incredibly sensual, seemed more like performance art than sex. Which, if you’re in public, it really is.
In all, I’m glad I went. I get to cross “spend an evening at a sex club” off my bucket list. (Well, first I’ll have to add it, then I’ll cross it off.) Afterwards, though, I mostly wanted to go somewhere with Joe and make out in private.
Compared to the rest of the people in the place, I know I was sort of a square, but once we were out in the real world, I suddenly felt decidedly hexagonal.
Club Sesso, 824 SW 1st Avenue
RECOMMENDED FOR: Exhibitionists and those who love them, swingers, fetishists, rock climbers (the ropes will come in handy!), squares who are hexagon-curious.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Definitive squares and those uncomfortable with naked bodies, live sex acts, porn, booze, fetishes, and the knowledge that there are all types of bodies in the world and that all those bodies have sex.
- The Reluctant Adventurer: Bikram Yoga
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- The Reluctant Adventurer: Dating the Polyamorous
- The Reluctant Adventurer: Fellatio Class
- The Reluctant Adventurer: Learning New Lessons as Principal for Almost a Day
- The Reluctant Adventurer: Nightclub Zumba
- The Reluctant Adventurer: SHARE
- The Reluctant Adventurer: The Flotation Tank at Float On
- The Reluctant Adventurer: The Grotto
- The Reluctant Adventurer: Voicebox Karaoke