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The hidden world of sex clubs
By Harley Dennett & Ani Lamont
Mamma probably didn’t include the etiquette of sex clubs when explaining the birds and the bees, and with online hookups at the click of a mouse, do gay men still know how to cruise?
Despite the growth of internet sites devoted to matching gay men with their ideal sexual partner, Sydney has seen no loss in sex-on-premises venues and backrooms continue to open on Oxford St and in inner west adult shops.
James, 26, first went to a sex venue seven years ago and it became part of his lifestyle while he was learning to fit in to other gay spaces. He said sex clubs still had appeal for young people, although he now goes less frequently than he used to due to the rising cover charges.
The internet is the ultimate fake space. But at venues you have pretty a good chance at least, he said.
Whether young or old, going to a sex club can be daunting the first time, so he suggested going with a more experienced friend if you have one.
But if you don’t have someone to be your guide, Sydney Star Observer has gathered some tips from the venues.
Remember they’re safe environments, and I don’t just mean safe sex, they’re safe environments created for gay or bisexual men to explore their sexuality, Mike Hannah from Signal club on Riley St said.
Each club has its own characteristics and caters to different segments of the market so he recommended first-time visitors explore the venues to get a feel for which is right for them.
You’re obviously going to run into a cross-section of men from all walks of life. There are guys who are pushier than others, guys who will cruise you in different ways. That’s just life, something you have to learn to adapt to.
The number one rule for all venues is -˜no means no’. Staff are also there to help if needed.
The more common problem for both first-timers and seasoned users is thinking they’ve paid their entrance fee, so they have to have sex to get their money’s worth, Hannah said.
If the right man or situation presents, sure, but it’s really important that people can walk out of these places without having done anything they don’t want to do.
You have to get used to cruising for your own technique and style. You get used to it after a while. It’s just a matter of coming in and finding a space that you’re comfortable in.
There are several different types of sex clubs with different sets of rules and expectations. Some have saunas, spas and steam rooms, like 357/Sydney City Steam, Bodyline, Kens of Kensington and Kingsteam.
In those -˜wet’ venues a towel is provided and visitors are expected to undress and put their clothes and shoes into lockers provided.
Visitors remain clothed in the -˜dry’ venues, like Signal on Riley St, Headquarters on Crown St, the Pleasure Chest on Oxford St, and adult shop backrooms. Visitors usually stay for a shorter period at dry sex clubs, typically between half-an-hour to two hours.
Some are more laidback, while others are more hardcore in terms of the types of sex scenes favoured by the clientele.
Another non-negotiable rule in all venues is the ban on drugs and alcohol. However, several venues have needle disposal boxes as part of harm-minimisation efforts encouraged by ACON and the City of Sydney.
All venues carrying the ACON Code of Practice logo, which is most of them, have condoms and lube freely available in all areas where sex takes place. The City of Sydney also has standards of cleanliness and safety that all venues must abide by.
An informal rule is to put mobile phones away in lockers, if available. Taking someone’s picture is likely to get you kicked out.
Ty Dovans of Sydney City Steam at 357 Sussex St said everybody has to have a first time so it is OK to be nervous, and it doesn’t hurt to tell the staff that it’s your first time so they can show you around.
Watching where you walk was important, he said. A first-timer is easy to pick as he walks into mirrors and walls.
If you walk into the sling room or wrestling room you are indicating that’s what you’re looking for, so look inside rooms before entering, he said. Likewise, entering a black room is inviting people to touch and grope you.
As long as you leave the attitude at the door and look confident you’ll enjoy yourself, Dovans said.
But once you’re in the door and you’ve found what’s what, a first-timer is still going to learn how to let men know whether he’s interested or not. While the male mind can sometimes be likened to that of the caveman, cruising is usually more subtle than clubbing your preferred man over the head and dragging him away.
James said most of it comes instinctively when you watch how others behave. Looking someone in the eyes shows interest, and looking away says -˜no’. In darker areas you can’t see people’s eyes, so a hand gesture replaces it. Touching someone shows interest, and flicking someone’s hand away says -˜no’.
But if you feel lost, ACON runs a four-week workshop on cruising and the etiquette of sex venues.
It’s a funny little world filled with mostly non-verbal communication -” eye movements, hand movements, things like that. People just need to be aware of the etiquette, which is the art of cruising, I guess, ACON’s workgroup coordinator Gavin Prendergast said.
The best thing to do if you’re a first-timer is go there and watch what’s going on around you, and you can pick up a lot from that.
The general rule and most important rule on etiquette in sex-on-premises venues is -˜no means no’. If you say -˜no’ to someone when they approach you, that should be the end of it. Some guys are a bit persistent and can buzz around following you, but if someone rejects your proposal you should leave it at that and move on to someone else.
Being polite worked both ways, and being subtle about making advances or rejecting someone makes it easier on everyone.
You don’t want to scream at somebody -˜no, get away from me!’ You can just very subtly look away or disengage from their body communication, or move their hand off you softly. At some point, you may need to go speak to the staff.
Safe sex can be communicated by reaching for a condom, Prendergast said, which is always within reach.
The viewpoint that we stand by here at ACON is that the condoms and lube are there. They’re available and you have the tools there in front of you. Nothing’s stopping you from using them, so go ahead and use them.
James said HIV positive men almost never discuss their status before sex in a venue, even though it’s required by law, so it pays to take charge by grabbing a condom.
Respecting yourself goes a long way to fitting in at sex clubs, he said.
The best way to find out if sex clubs are for you is just to take a look, Hannah from Signal said.
Some people have the impression, and I know a lot of authorities have the impression that gay men come to places like this to roll around in their own filth and that’s just not the case. I like to think our customers come here and leave with their dignity intact.
info: If you’d like to know more about venue cruising grab a copy of the Sex Venue Guide from ACON.