I could tell James was nervous when we met at the White Horse to pre-game. We were on our way to a sex club—the first time for both of us—and we knew it was going to be weird. It was Halloween, and James had brought along some cheap drugstore masks for us to wear. “For your protection,” he said, handing mine over. “You don’t want these people to be able to see your face.” When he’d forwarded me our reservation the night before, I’d been alarmed by the house rules, which included things like, “Personal hygiene is of the utmost importance” and “No ALWAYS means no.” I wondered what kind of freaks would go to such a place, besides us.
Aside from the sketchiness of the place itself, part of what was weird about this outing was that James and I are not a couple. We’re friends from work. We’ve gotten closer in the three years we’ve known each other, and there’s always been something faintly illicit about our relationship, partly because he’s a straight, married man and I’m a straight, single lady, and partly because our rapport was never wholly innocent: yes, we have similar politics and senses of humor, but we’re also attracted to each other. We banter and flirt. People who don’t know us usually assume we’re sleeping together. But the truth is, I’m no home-wrecker and James loves his wife. As much as we’ve danced around the edges of propriety, there’s a line neither of us would cross.
In fact, when James asked me to join him at an underground sex club, my first question, posed via text message, was, “What are you going to tell your wife?” “Did I not mention Emily’s in France this week?” he texted back. Here’s the part of the story where I could—and, according to several of my friends, should—have told James he was on his own. Like I said, I’m no home-wrecker. I’m a feminist who cares about other women, and I happen to like James’ wife. Instead I said, “Let me sleep on it.” When I woke up the next morning, I told him I was in: I was curious, I wanted to hang out with James, and I thought it would make for a good story.
To gain admission to a secret sex club (at least the one we went to) you need to be invited by people who are already “in the scene.” Our guides for the evening were James’ strange but sweet fifty-something friends, Mike and Sheila (James and I are 31). Sheila’s been swinging for a while, and she’s since brought Mike, her widowed fiancé, into “the lifestyle” as well. The club operates in the manner of a speakeasy—it’s tucked away on the second floor of what appears from the outside to be a lighting store, and there are four levels: a coat-check and registration area, where James forked over $80 for the two of us (it would have been $120 had he shown up alone; he got a discount for bringing me and there’s no charge for single ladies); a bar/lounge area, where “bartenders” pour mixers and open people’s wine bottles (the club doesn’t have a liquor license); an area with couches and chairs for getting to know other club-goers, and, on the top level, an area with beds and curtains, for really getting to know them. People go there to indulge any number of fantasies: to swap partners, fuck strangers, watch other people having sex, or have sex while other people watch.
When James asked me to join him at an underground sex club, my first question, posed via text message, was, “What are you going to tell your wife?”
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