This article originally appeared on VICE Canada
When it comes time to update my resume, "swingers club tour guide" is a job I tend to leave off.
But over the course of three months in the suburbs, that's exactly what I was: the friendly face introducing new couples to the rules and layout of one of the region's busiest adult-only venues. I can't tell you where it is. Or who goes there. Or who runs it. I can't even tell you how I ended up with the job, though that's because I'm not totally sure myself.
Go ahead. Throw as many jokes at me as you can. I've heard them all before.
"Did you sleep your way to the top?"
"Tell me about the ins and outs of the business!"
"I bet you got so many tips!"
The hours varied. There was no job description ("Visit Exotic Suburban Locations! Meet Interesting New People! And Fuck Them!"). I'd start with some icebreakers. Show people around. Play the orientation video (that's right). And answer any questions people might have. I met hundreds of people of all ages, from all walks of life, taking their first tentative steps into a world that was generally waaaay outside their comfort zone. And in the process, I learned a lot—not just about people, but about romance, life, and the business of sex.
And for reference, the pay was OK, but the perks were amazing. (Sorry).
Everybody's Nervous The First Time
It doesn't matter: young or old, male or female, locals or out-of-towners, the first time you set foot in a swingers club, you're nervous as hell. And fair enough: swingers clubs are weird. You're in a strange new place for the express purpose of checking out, fooling around with, or boning other people's partners. There aren't a lot of social situations that can prepare you for what is essentially three floors of naked strangers. You have no idea what to expect. Keys in a bowl? Mustaches and track-suits? Gold masks and red robes, a la Eyes Wide Shut? The first time my partner and I set foot in the place, we were skittish as fuck (luckily we ran into a couple we knew from our regular lives that night, which was actually really helpful after it stopped being weird).
And of course, everybody deals with it differently. A lot of couples go through that orientation holding onto their partner's hand like grim death. Some people laugh a lot when you show them the hamper for used towels or the dungeon or the lube station. Some people talk too much. Some people ask a lot of questions about etiquette and protocol (for the record, during our orientation, my partner and I were somewhere between the "laughing too much" and "grim death" subtypes). And the job of a tour guide, aside from familiarizing people with the rules and giving them an idea of the layout, is to make the whole thing a bit less terrifying. Explain how a typical night goes. Play them the aforementioned orientation video (I've since run into one of the actors in that thing, and believe me, it was an incredible act of will not to bring it up). Lay out where the "play spaces" are, and where they're not. Introduce them to a few couples who are already there, to the bartenders, etc. Here's the mouthwash. Here's the water cooler. Here's the basket of condoms and rubber gloves. Yes, as a matter of fact, we do have dental dams.
I suspect that's why I was offered the job in the first place; newcomers need a friendly face, someone nonthreatening, inoffensive, and polite to ease them into a strange, new world. Someone who they could also have sex with.
Swingers Clubs Are a Business
Just because there's at least one sweaty fuckfest going at on at any given time doesn't mean that swingers clubs are a free-for-all. In fact, creating an environment that makes everyone feel safe and comfortable takes a hell of a lot of work on the business side of things: contracts, decor, logistics, staffing, and rules. The club itself was (and is) open to folks of all different ages and proclivities, but its clientele tended be a bit older, folks with a few years of marriage behind them, along with careers, kids. Folks who had already outgrown the downtown club scene and were looking for something more relaxed and upscale. In a space like that, rules set the mood.
Ours were fairly simple: No single dudes. No full frontal on the bottom floor. No photos or cell phones. Guys in "play spaces" had to be accompanied by a woman at all times. Ask for permission first. And before they even set foot in the club, couples were required to fill out and sign a four-page form which laid out all of their responsibilities: behavioral standards, dress code, even a clean bill of sexual health. In the interest of managing the experience, new couples also have to send photos—although I've never heard of anyone being turned down for membership on the basis of a picture (if that outrages you, let it be known that at least one club in the US requires couples to send their BMI).
At the parties themselves, payments needed to be taken and contracts signed. The lineup out front needed to be managed. DJ sets were meticulously worked out beforehand, to build to a climax an hour or two before the place closed. The photo booth needed to be set up and staffed. Decor and themed decorations needed to be set up (basically all the parties are themed). And of course, security needed to be on hand to make sure everyone was playing nice. I never witnessed anyone being thrown out, but I'm told people have been banned for drug use in the past. Generally speaking, though, during the time I worked there, people were always very well behaved.
Well, apart from the obvious.
Some People Totally Bring Sex Workers
Yep. Even after all the vetting, and contracts, and precautions, I once gave a tour to a couple that I'm 98 percent sure included a sex worker. I could be wrong, but when there's a portly, balding dude with questionable dental hygiene who looks at the floor throughout the tour, and the woman he's with is fit, gorgeous, personable, fawns over him unnecessarily, and talks openly of her past beginnings in the sex industry, it certainly raises some questions. And even in places geared toward sexual freedom, the presence of sex workers can be a pretty big no-no.
Don't get me wrong: this isn't a condemnation of people who work in the sex industry. No doubt she was there to help this squat little bald dude fulfill a fantasy, and get paid for it, and good on her for it. But swingers clubs in general—and the one where I worked in particular—aren't really the place for that. They're specifically for couples and single women, and coming into that environment under false pretense raises some serious concerns—safety and informed consent among them. What happens if they start being sexual, and somebody else wants to join in, unaware of the situation? Considering that the forms ask detailed questions about the nature of a couple's relationship, how much information on those forms can be trusted?
In any case, the woman was lovely, and the sweaty little dude made me nervous. But a tour guide's primary job is to make people feel comfortable, and nothing says "uncomfortable" like outing some guy in front of seven other couples. Ultimately my detective work didn't go much further than asking, "So, how long have you two been together?" (He stared at the floor and mumbled "Not long," and that was that).
I let it go after that. Later on, I wondered if I should have.
Sexy Parties Aren't That Sexy for Staff
No question, swingers parties can be sexy as hell for the people attending. For staff, though, even a "sexy" environment can end up being just another day at the office. You're bussing glassware. You're cleaning up spills and puke. You've heard all the music a billion times (if I never have to suffer through Ke$ha's "Take It Off" again, I'll die a happy man).
Any club environment brings with it a fair pile of logistical challenges. When you stack two floors of sweaty naked people on top of that, the challenges multiply accordingly. One minute, I'd be running an extra bottle of vodka to the bar next to the stripper pole. The next, I'd be replenishing towels and lube upstairs, or wiping down the plastic cushions on the top floor. Somebody's looking for the dungeon! The door to the sex-swing is locked! The lineup outside is getting unruly! On one occasion, I watched a patron in precarious heels fall down the stairs, and spent the next two or three terrifying minutes checking to see if they were going to need an ambulance. There can also be staff conflicts which, with the wrong people, have descended into the realm of slut-shaming (I once saw a caterer throw a stack of plates and scream, of the boss, "She can fuck all she wants, but that doesn't mean she can run a party!")
All told, it can add up to a pretty unsexy evening of work. In addition, staff are contractually forbidden from having sex while working (single tear), something the club's owners took very seriously—and for good reason. Engaging in sex while being paid to work blurs the distinction between work for pay and sex for pay, potentially opening the business up to all kinds of legal trouble. I certainly never attempted it myself, but never fear, wannabe swingers club tour guides: there's nothing illegal about taking a couple on a tour, getting their number, and then taking them out the following weekend for an in-depth tour of your genitals.
Author's name has been changed.