The 'civilized debauchery' of the modern sex club

Courtesy of NSFW
Originally Published: 

It’s likely that nobody knows for sure how long they’ve been around, but sex clubs have progressed since the likes of Caligula. The mad Roman Emperor from a couple millenia back was legendary for his dinner parties — which may have turned into orgies — where he sometimes reminded his guests, “Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody,” including beheading them. Fast forwarding to 2019, the concept of public sex in a community space has gone through several reincarnations. What feels pleasurable may not be all that different from the beginning of time, but the way we go about achieving it definitely is.

Some of the most popular, well-regarded sex clubs today, ironically, have strict dress codes that give their gatherings a more upscale feel — if their exorbitant membership dues didn’t provide that already. Though this hasn’t always been the case, many clubs today are very inclusive, welcoming members of all shapes, sizes, sexual preferences, and ethnicities. And even sex clubs with a name like Torture Garden are thankfully far more consent- and safety-first-minded than old Caligula appears to have been, which of course is incredibly important when thinking about the evolution of gender roles and rights.

Clearly, sex clubs that are deemed “progressive” have either adjusted to recent changing social tides or have been founded on more sensitively informed principles. Daniel Saynt, who two years ago opened the first headquarters to one of the most “elite” sex clubs in New York City — NSFW, which stands for “the New Society For Wellness” — says he owes much of his success to being woke, understanding such fresh social trends were on the way, and implementing their imparted lessons to the business as best as he can. The vibe of NSFW is an amalgam of best practices Saynt’s learned from being in the sex club scene for nearly two decades, with an infusion of recent social trends preaching safety for and sensitivity toward all people.

Clearly, sex clubs that are deemed “progressive” have either adjusted to recent changing social tides or have been founded on more sensitively informed principles.

“You expect it to be naughtier, but it’s really not,” Saynt says of the NSFW experience, where many events are billed just as “parties where sex can happen.” “It’s very civilized debauchery,” he adds.

Members of NSFW — there are currently about 2,000 of them — average 28 years in age and lean toward a more well-off social class. They practice “enthusiastic consent,” where “if it’s not a ‘hell yes,’ it’s a ‘hell no’” — a go-to catchphrase on the grounds. One of the club’s standing rules is “Don’t be a creeper,” and, when necessary, after an event the NSFW brass will send out a “creeper report” to members, discussing some inappropriate behavior that took place and reminding readers of the club’s etiquette demands. Saynt says there’s never been such a serious breach of code to where law enforcement had to get involved, but remains comfortable revealing that the practice exists.

Courtesy of NSFW

He adds that in his experience, most of the perpetrators who’ve ended up in creeper reports have just touched or kissed someone else without permission — many of them women who cross a line with other women, believing wrongly that, in representing less of a physical threat than a man would, they’d be privy to enhanced freedom. Sometimes a member ends up on the creeper report for soliciting contact with another member on social media, a bit of a breach of privacy. One of the reasons the offenses have been few and far between, Saynt says, is because of the preemptive measures the NSFW staff take, like having guests sign a form agreeing to house rules and consent mindfulness at the door, after engaging in a discussion of the expectations.

The reason enthusiastic consent is such a foundational component of NSFW’s culture is because Saynt, who’s 36 and bisexual, says he was sexually assaulted by men at sex clubs he’d attend in his younger days, and also had women forego permission to touch his body. He also describes a pressure at some sex clubs to engage in sex that “afterwards you didn’t feel good about,” because it was fornicating with people he might not otherwise have been into. All this coming from a tall, burly guy who at first glance would appear to be someone who could hold his own in a physical conflict. Still, Saynt had the needs of women most in mind when he began contemplating the NSFW brand.

“None of the clubs are designed for women; there’s no consideration about women in the spaces,” Saynt says. “Gay men have the best clubs out there; men control the best spaces, and they’re having these amazing sexual experiences and it’s not being shared with another gender, so [I thought] there had to be a way of building [a sex club] where women feel safe and women would feel like they’d want to go there alone. It’s a very unique concept that’s not out there at all.”

Gender aside, NSFW also has a “stay hydrated” rule, which also aids in keeping the space safe, from violent behaviors and just from people passing out. “Keep yourself in a mindset that is aware, and pay attention to what your body needs,” he says he tells his members. When NSFW events begin, there are condoms and lubrication freely available, which are other elements Saynt didn’t see at sex clubs he deemed less welcoming. “You’re just creating a dangerous environment where bad things can happen,” Saynt decries. “That’s not responsible.”

Saynt also decorated his club strategically, installing magenta bulbs, dangling mesh canopies, shag rugs, marble tables, beds with tasteful sheets and blankets, and other sightly additions — though, in spite of otherwise catering to a higher class clientele, he admits budget was a factor. “Keep it cheap because you’re going to have a lot of shit destroyed by people fucking on it,” he says of the furniture one might want to splay in a sex club.

Arguably the one thing that best keeps NSFW comfortable and safe is the sense of community Saynt’s built within the club. Members regularly attend off-site parties at strip clubs, nightclubs, and other event spaces, both in New York and in other cities like Miami. There’s also a closed Facebook group devoted to the club, where events are posted and people can exchange messages. You should get to know the people you’re having sex with, Saynt says, and adds that the members “want to have this place the rest of their lives,” so they dutifully follow the standards in place, and help police the space as well.

In short, when figuring out what his sex club, NSFW should look and feel like for members, he thought to himself, “Is it designed to harm people or heal people?” As opposed to Caligula, Saynt opted for the latter.