Early this month, I found myself on the penthouse floor of a swank SoHo hotel, being greeted by a fit, stylish Matthew McConaughey type wearing nothing but a towel. It wasn't how I'd expected my morning to go—but with Damon Lawner, the founder of one of Los Angeles's most luxurious sex parties, nothing is ever quite what you'd expect.
Of all of life's little luxuries, sex is easily the most affordable. Yet just because sex can be free, that doesn't mean there aren't people out there offering luxury upgrades on the experience. If you're looking to spend a month's rent (or more) on accessorizing and amplifying your sex life, there are plenty of options out there for you: $15,000 vibrators. Multi-million dollar bras. Elite sex parties where you can rub elbows (and maybe even genitals) with the cream of the crop.
But what are people paying for when they purchase these items? Does dropping several grand on a sexual experience actually lead to a better orgasm? Or, like so much conspicuous consumption, is the real pleasure in spending that much money on sex simply the thrill of knowing you're loaded enough to afford do so?
Let's start with the the world of sex parties for the ultra wealthy. As a plebe myself, I've mostly had access to sex parties of the not particularly elite type. But thanks to a friend, I was able to score an introduction to Lawner and SNCTM, his GOOP-approved "erotic theater." Channeling Eyes Wide Shut, SNCTM is a traveling party where masked members in formal wear can watch a performance troupe put on a sexy show—and then retire to private rooms (or public areas) to put on a show of their own.
Lawner stresses that SNCTM is not a sex party. You could certainly be forgiven if the fact that it is, in fact, a party where guests are allowed, and even encouraged, to have sex gives you "looks like a duck, quacks like a duck" vibes.
What Lawner seems to mean when he asserts he's not throwing a sex party is that getting access to sex itself isn't why people shell out upwards of $75,000 annually to attend his monthly events. As Lawner told me, anyone capable of throwing around that much cash is likely able to get laid (and at a significantly lower price point). So what does that amount of money—which works out to around $6250 per event—get you?
It seems to be a mix of benefits. While more average sex parties might trot out a burlesque performer or two to dance in the middle of a hotel room, SNCTM offers a cast of ten female performers, whose erotic offerings are showcased with professional quality lighting, sets, and costumes.
Curation is another perk: not just in terms of who your fellow party guests will be (though Lawner takes pride in ensuring a good mix among the hundred party attendees), but also when it comes to your experience at the event. Lawner recounted tales of enabling guests to explore fantasies—like, say, a woman who wants to experience double penetration—by connecting them with other guests who might be a suitable match.
"My role there is definitely a facilitator, and an introducer, like a conductor almost. A conductor as in music and a conductor as in electricity. Plugging in the right people and conducting the symphony," Lawner tells me. Rather than opening the doors to the party and expecting everyone to fend for themselves, Lawner actively works to make sure everyone's having the best possible time—as do his cast members. "Their role, more than anything, is to get people turned on and interacting with each other."
And then, of course, there's privacy. Members who buy in at that $75,000 level (who Lawner claims include a number of notable names) get access to special rooms where they can explore their fantasies away from the prying eyes of the normals.
"Some [high level members] are extremely recognizable, especially in LA, and they need to have spaces where they can hide out—where the masquerade masks come off. Even in a room full of people that have been screened and approved… sometimes you have people that are superstar sort of people, and they just feel more comfortable having their own space."
It should be noted that while you can spend thousands of dollars to attend SNCTM, not everyone does. Lawner grants free entry to a number of people, and the recently debuted Stardust Group allows twenty- and thirty-somethings the ability to access parties at a cheaper price point. It's unclear how many people are actually buying in at the super elite level, but according to Lawner, at least someone out there is. Who, exactly, those people is still a mystery, though Lawner intimated that the owner of the hotel I met him at is a member, and noted that Fifty Shades producer Dana Brunetti has attended, and that the aforementioned GOOP profile may have come about after a well known GOOP founder appeared at the party.
Unfortunately, SNCTM events are closed to the press, so I wasn't able to personally confirm any of Lawner's claims, but a friend who attended reported back that the event did, in fact, live up to the hype, as do the handful of people who've commented on the club's Yelp page. But in some ways, the marketing of the event is as important as the actual experience. Because as Lawner himself confirmed, luxury sex is rarely about sex itself.
For more proof that luxury sex is more about branding than it is about boning, I made my way to Babeland SoHo, the boutique sex shop where Beyonce and Jay-Z once dropped $6000 on sex toys (sources have informed me that the $3500 Lelo Olga dildo was among their purchases).
Although the Olga wasn't in stock the day I visited Babeland, a number of other high-end vibes were available for purchase. The most expensive item I got my hands (yes, sadly, just my hands) on? Lelo's gold-plated Yva, a $3900 variation on the classic Nea vibe; which, at present, can be purchased for $89.10.
What makes Yva "better" than Nea? Literally, just the gold plating, which replaces Nea's hard plastic exterior. Both products have the same shape, interface, and inner workings; anything Yva can do, Nea can do cheaper. Granted, there's something to be said for gold's temperature sensitivity—the Yva is probably better than the Nea at sensation play—but whether that's worth a 4000 percent markup on price is entirely up to you. (Or you can just take my word for it that it's almost definitely not.)
If gold-plated vibrators leave you feeling like multi-thousand dollar vibes are for suckers, you're not alone. But not every high-end sex product is quite so transparent a rip off. For just two or three thousand dollars more than the price of an Yva, you can get your very own made-to-order Dore Alley Bed from Stockroom.
Unlike the Yva, the Dore Alley Bed's price point feels somewhat justified. It's a beautiful, sturdy steel frame bed that wouldn't feel out of place amidst the wares at a place like Design Within Reach—but unlike the similarly priced bed frames of DWR, the Dore Alley Bed can be converted into a fully functional BDSM dungeon with the addition of a few restraints or a sex swing.
Other "probably worth it" items from Stockroom? Custom latex and leather designs, which can easily cost thousands depending on how involved your vision gets. As with the Dore Alley Bed, much of what you're paying for is the work that goes into crafting a bespoke piece of fetish equipment: and unlike the Yva, you're actually getting a unique item unlike anything available at a lower price point.
Feeling despondent over your inability to fork over thousands just for a sexual experience? Fortunately there are some ways to get access to the the upper echelons of eroticisim for cheap or free—at least in the case of SNCTM. "If I feel like someone should be be at the club but can't afford it, then I make sure that they can attend. Even if it means a free ticket, which is often," Lawner says.
Though free entry is generally reserved for women—in particular, those who are young, hot, and sexually uninhibited—some men do make the cut. Lawner told me of one gentleman who managed to score repeated free entry to SNCTM, who he describes as, "just this beautiful, Brazilian guy. He's this perfect gentleman, his body is amazing, he's got a big dick—he's like every girl's fucking dream. And no ego," as well as stamina rarely seen outside a porn set.
"He was on the bed, and there must have been ten women in a row," he said. "One would come on to his face, and the other would be fucking him, and then the next one would come off the face—it was like this rotation of women. He was just there to pleasure women. It went on for two hours. He stayed hard, he didn't come, he was just a pleasure toy."
Not a gorgeous sex machine yourself? Then just take comfort in the knowledge that, while it may be possible to buy yourself a better orgasm, the return on investment maxes out at a pretty low price point. Once you get into the luxury sex territory, you're largely paying for design, aesthetic, and the knowledge that yes, you're a person who can spend thousands of dollars on sex. If that's your kink, it might well be worth it—but personally, I'm gonna save my cash for that Dore Alley bed.
Luxury Week is a series about our evolving views of what constitutes luxury. Follow along here.