No sex in the S&M chamber. Please.

Ever since I was post-fetal, I've wanted to go to a sex club.

My slight fetish for public sex and exhilaration with voyeurism aside, I've always just felt that a sex club would be the latex-seated home to my kind of person. Adventurous and respectfully perverse, that is.

But while I'd researched every sex club in my state and country and planet, I'd never been to one. I think it's the corniness they exude; the neon comic-sans font on the outdated website with the butterfly logo; the enthusiastic Yelp reviews from 50 year-old married couples named Terry and Terri that say things like, "The shrimp cocktail was fantastic and a nice touch!"

There are, of course, elite sex clubs and parties with more elevated game than that, but I could never afford them. Nor could I find anyone brave enough to go with me in the off chance I struck it rich.

Basically, I was SOL.

So, when I finally got the chance to go to a sex club abroad in Japan, I jumped at the opportunity … and by "jumped," I mean I directly asked some random Japanese chicks I met at a bar if they wanted to go to a sex club.

Why, yes. Yes they did. And it just so happened that it was around the corner. The stars had aligned in a decidedly penis-shaped pattern.

I don't know what it was called. I can't read Japanese.

It was in Shibuya, does that ring a bell?

Apart from those details, I knew nothing when I entered. By the time I left, I could have filled a book with what I learned. But since I'm not about to pay for printing fees, I'll just split the difference and distill the gist of it down for you here.

1. There are rules. So many rules.

I knew there'd be some. After all, the priority of most sex clubs is their customer's safety and comfort. Rules ensure those things. All aboard.

I was, however, unprepared for every corner of the club to have both its own rule book and an volunteer on-hand to assist with the enforcement and interpretation of these rules.

It took 30 minutes to be guided through the entire premises and be told what can and can not be done on every molecule of ground, which was simultaneously both comforting and overwhelming. It was drilled into my head during this introduction how important consent is and exactly how someone may or may not solicit my attention, but I also glazed over many of the intricacies. For example: I couldn't really tell you what color wristband someone had to be wearing that means "vaginal only," because, well, there were butts around. Tons of butts. I mean, look at those butts!

Was this Infinite Jest-sized rule book helpful? I mean … sure. Rules make sex clubs a safe, non-coercive environment that emphasizes respect and consent. And rules helped facilitate the quick background sex offender check the club host ran on us to ensure none of us were murderous rapists. Splendid. I liked that. 

Did I remember any of the other rules not immediately related to safety and consent? Such as what hours the bondage room opens or exactly how to uncuff someone that's been cuffed for too long? Lord, no. But then, I guess that's what the attendants were for …

2. No one is attractive

Terrible news: people that go to sex clubs? Not the world's hottest crew. Don't go expecting to find people there you want to bang, or watch get banged. Instead, go into it knowing you're about to have a weird night and that's that.

The clientele at most clubs is of the same demographic as any random sample of humans you'd find on the street; they just happen to be placed in an erotic environment. What does this mean for your weekend? Well, at the sort of mid-range tier sex club like the one I went to, you have the same chance of finding someone to talk to, let alone have sex with, as you do in literally every other place on Earth.

That's why there aren't a whole lot of people having sex in a sex club at any given moment, but there are a whole lot of people just sort of hanging out near the sex.

There are such things as members-only sex clubs that screen potential customers based on some subjective level of attractiveness. For that tier of club, you usually have to upload both head and body shots, then hope that you're both a.) "hot" enough to receive the honor of paying the exorbitant membership fee, and b.) that whomever is selecting the members has miraculously selected other people you'll find attractive.

Crapshoot, that one.

Plus, I actually kind of appreciated the shame-free environment of body confidence the club created … there were all types of bodies and faces, and no one really gave a shit what each other looked like. They were just there to be there.

3. Watching people have sex in person feels a lot like watching porn, which is free, so do that

I didn't go to this sex club to get laid; I just went to go.

That meant that I was relegated to watching people have sex. Which was fine. I wanted that.

But up close when it's happening three feet from your face, the sex you see feels less live and more pornographic. At the club I went to, we watched couples fuck from behind a window. At many other clubs, there may or may not be windows, but you're not allowed to touch the couple having sex unless you're invited to by them. So if you're playing voyeur like I was, not only are you removed and at a distance from the action, but you also have no control over it.

… Eerie similarity to porn, wouldn't you say?

In fact, I've watched sex club porn, and being at one in person felt exactly as distant. Still erotic, but not the orgy of the flesh and sensory overwhelm I'd envisioned. That's not a bad thing per se; I was just surprised the parallel between porn and live voyeurism.

That's why if you're strapped for cash and you're not going to a sex club specifically to fuck someone you're already fucking in public, I'd fully say stick with porn. It's kind of a waste of money to get the same feeling you would at home with your crusty-yet-trusty PC.

If you've got some spare change and you're already with a consenting partner whose into being watched though, definitely do it. Most people there are hoping people like you will show up.

4. It sucks to be a single man

The entrance fee a single woman or couple was $100. For a single man, it was $300. Welcome to the only place on earth where men are financially discriminated against.

Many sex clubs have this pricing structure to curtail the potential for sausage festivities. It encourages women to join, and dissuades creepy men from entering who might not respect or understand the sex club's rules and ethos.

That's why if you're a single man, I'd 1,000 percent recommend bringing a female friend with you and posing as a couple. You'll save literally hundreds of dollars. Or tens of dollars depending on where you go. Either way, you'll make papa proud.

That, or be rich.

… Or take your chances at a more affordable club. Some clubs don't price discriminate against single men. Some are even free. But in the absence of the right planning and regulation, that can create a weird vibe, hence the massive price discount for having XX chromosomes.

5. Sex clubs are just bars where people can also have sex

I had this idea in my head of a sex club being this slow-motion orgy you walk into a la Eyes Wide Shut or something. The walls would be crawling with dick, boobies would be pressed against windows, seductive glances would lead to public acts of affection … but naaahh.

Sex clubs are literally just bars where people also fuck.

Take the crowd at a bar, any bar, then put them in a darker room with more neon lighting. Add scantily clad rule enforcers. Add porn on the walls.

Nothing's different except the setting. There are still people awkwardly trying to talk to each other; friends who can't hear each other over the music, wayward attempts at pickup lines, rounds of shots, a bartender who thinks you're invisible, and a bloody dart board for those times when you can't hit the target figuratively, but still can literally. Great.

It's the exact same scene as it would be if there was no sex happening, only picture one brave couple finger-banging in the corner.

Of course, this wasn't a high-end or particularly kinky sex club that I was at; it was just your typical, run-of-the-mill neighborhood fuck palace you waltz into with your crew of newly made Japanese friends. So, I'm still holding out hope that the next sex club I go to will be something more than a glorified version of the Chili's Margarita Bar, but … the one I went to was nearly identical. That's a compliment, I think …

6. You're in good company

The people who've taken the time and effort to come here did so for the same reasons as you did … and that's kind of like a weird hug you didn't know you wanted.

While almost nothing is sexy about a sex club, especially if you're only there for ethnographic purposes, there's some small solace in knowing that while you're there, you're amongst your peers. You're in an elite group of people with similar perversions to yours; who are as adventurous, open and jaded to watching people have sex as you are. It's kind of nice to be among your people, even if those people are people you wish to holy Christ you hadn't seen naked. This was the only expectation I'd had that was actually met.

The admission process is responsible for this; the fiery hoops you have to catapult through to even walk in tends to screen for people who are too inebriated, immature, or ignorant to enjoy what's inside. It's not like a strip club; there are no frat after-formal bro fests, no squeamish girlfriends, no immovable regulars masturbating in the same chair they always have for the last 40 years.

Instead, the attitude and vibe is generally homogenized in that everyone, at least outwardly, is respectful, accepting and enchantingly kinky. No one has to do anything with everyone. There's no pressure, no sinking stomach feeling that you're doing something wrong. It's just kind of fun and light and funny, and if you want it to be more than that, you can make it so. I don't know where else you can find that sense of transient belonging and temporary squad-dom … I guess that's why they call it a club?

[Originally published November 9, 2016]