I’m sitting poolside in downtown Toronto on a beautiful and quiet weekday afternoon. The sky is clear and the sun shining, but the tall buildings and high walls surrounding this isolated area have blocked out some of the rays. Still, people are enjoying the pool and deck, drinking, lounging, and chatting about nothing in particular. Some are in their early twenties, and some are seniors; they’re of various backgrounds and body types. Many of them are completely naked, and some are having sex.
This is Oasis Aqualounge, a bar and spa in Toronto nearing its five-year anniversary that is better known as an up-scale sex club occupying an old mansion. I am on my inaugural visit. After I sign in, which includes a waiver and spoken instructions on etiquette (no pictures or videos), I seek out my tour guide Fatima, Marketing Director at Oasis. She is by the pool talking to guests and friends, topless. It’s an observation that might matter in the outside world, but not here.
I’m joined here by a female friend of mine, and we are shown around the first floor: bar, lounge, hot tub, sauna, showers, and the aforementioned outdoor heated pool. The second floor is where things become a bit more interesting—though at this point it’s all interesting. A locker room (you’re given a key upon entry) is on one side of the hall; the other side is a show room and the so-called dungeon. The former is used at times as an event space—for all sorts of spectator sports—while the latter is for those kinky, adventurous, curious, and knowledgeable.
The third floor meanwhile is perhaps the most social space. A handful of interconnected rooms feature large chairs and couches that allow anyone to do as they please when and where they please. One tiny, cozy room is lit up and possesses double-sided mirrors; those hanging out in the bar area can watch at their leisure. The bar also has a stage and stripper pole. Condoms and other supplies are fully stocked in every room, and while patrons are encouraged to take time to clean up their area, and active staff are always on the floor (and serving drinks!).
A fourth floor meanwhile, is completely private: first come, first served, as it were.
It is a Wednesday, a day and night we were encouraged to visit as should provide the most representative yet varied experience. We arrived in the late afternoon; it was calm yet not at all empty, and outside was a scene you might see around any pool in the city; save for the sex and nudity. At the same time, the upstairs was sparsely populated, as only a few couples off on their own.
We leave for dinner (though food can be delivered or brought in) and return later at night; the club is open 11am-3am every day. Wednesday is one of three days a week where single men can enter (prices vary depending on day and whether you are a couple, single man, or single woman), while Thursday through Sunday, men can only enter if escorted by a woman. The night is more crowded, but this isn’t a club by conventional definitions; music plays but it doesn’t blare. There are games hosted by staff, and groups of friends congregate in certain areas. More people were having sex, off in open rooms, with others doing the same nearby, or right at the bar. Most people are simply in towels.
The curiosity—maybe concern—this night was as to how many single men might arrive. The prospect of naked women and intimate sex may bring out those less savory people, one might think. Surely they populate other clubs.
It wasn’t the case here, for the most part. It was clear that there were a handful of men of certain ages lingering and waiting, as if they were lining up and hoping to be selected. Still, no single men are allowed on the third floor on this night. Everyone we talked to had been previously, and we seemed the only first-timers, which by no means may us targets.
Some first-time man patrons might think that showing up will get them laid says owner and founder Jana Rodriguez. We chat briefly poolside, as she talks about those who think it some sort of brothel (there is no exchange of money for sex). It is charm and personality, she says, that will help you have an exciting night. She explained and I experienced that Oasis is neither home to some massive orgy that some might expect, or featuring an abundance of predatory men looking to get action.
Instead, truly, there were men and women of all ages and body shapes, some partially clothed, some completely naked.
There is something dishearteningly ironic about Oasis. At the entrance, you’re informed you must respect people’s boundaries and wishes; consent for anything is of the utmost importance. Upon reflection, there was something my friend and I believed to be true: you are more likely to be accosted or touched inappropriately, without your consent, at any other club in the city than Oasis.
It seems like men think it is okay when they are out, and when woman are dressed a certain way. At Oasis, you’re looked at but not leered at. You may be dressed in something or nothing, but that doesn’t change how people approach you, or what their (unreasonable) expectations are (there is no, ‘she was asking for it’ here). You don’t need to make up an excuse as a simple ‘no thank you’ will suffice if someone asks you a question, whereas at another club perhaps a woman needs to utilize the boyfriend excuse or retreat to her friends.
At no point did either of us feel uncomfortable, alone or together. At no point did we feel judged. We probably chatted with more people there than one might at any other bar or club. Sure, there is a social element to the place, but there is something powerful about it that removes pretense, that shows people in a more genuine state than as one seeking ulterior motives.
The strangest aspect of the night was simply how natural it was. People were friendlier than most social gatherings, yet absolved of indecency or creepiness. There is freedom but not chaos. There is beauty, positivity, and curiosity. When everything is out in the open—not just your body, but your intentions—everything seems more comfortable. And exciting.
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. You can follow him on Twitter @MrAnthonyWrites.
Photo courtesy of Oasis Aqualounge.