TORONTO (CUP) —Everyone is naked.
As the DJ spins music on the first floor of Oasis Aqua Lounge in downtown Toronto, a few men in their 20s sprint from the pool to the hot tub without bathing suits. One floor above them, two women — also naked — are perched on a sex swing. Across from them, a man — again, naked — is tethered to the wall in chains and leather binds.
These were just a few scenes from the Jan. 21 “epic student sex club adventure,” an event organized by the University of Toronto Sexual Education Center (SEC). The party invited university students from across the Greater Toronto Area to visit Oasis Aqua Lounge, a water-themed sex club a few steps north of Ryerson’s campus.
The sex party was one of the first of its kind at a Canadian university. Rather than talk about sex, the event encouraged students to push personal boundaries and explore their sexuality in a safe environment. That step — from theory to practice — sparked a media firestorm. The story drew hundreds of comments on the Toronto Star’s website and was shared more than 21 000 times on Facebook — making it the fifth most viewed story on thestar.com.
But would anyone show up to the sex party, or was the hype all talk? I went to find out.
On Monday night, a sea of about 200 students formed a line outside Oasis. Protesters walked up and down the line, yelling things like “God loves you!” They were Christian protesters from York University’s United Through Worship student group.
“I think it says something about where our society is going morally,” said Natalie Smith, a member of the group. “This is encouraging them to devalue themselves, whether it’s STDs or unwanted pregnancy.”
But SEC said they made sure to keep the event as safe and sex-positive as possible; condoms and packets of lube were piled in bowls across the club. The event had a laid-back vibe; students could grab a drink at one of the many well-stocked bars, and a DJ in the corner blasted beats from a turntable.
On the third floor of the club, Ryerson student Kay Poli lounged as couples had sex around him. Pornography played on TVs on the walls. For him, the event was nothing new. “I’ve been here before,” Poli said. “What I like about this sex club is that it’s open to all genders, all orientations.”
Poli is one member of a new generation of students who frequent Toronto sex clubs. In fact, Oasis has hosted dozens of student-friendly events before.
According to Jana Matthews, the club’s co-owner, university students are a regular presence at Oasis. “We did the same event with [SEC] last year and . . . everyone that was here loved it,” Matthews said as she puffed ultra-thin cigarettes in her office.
“It was [they who] convinced us to have a student night. So many people were interested we started to do it every Monday, and we have for the past eight months.”
At Steamworks, a private men’s bathhouse on Church Street near Wellesley Avenue, students are invited to realize their sexual desires.
“You can’t go in there — it’s men only!” shouted an onlooker as I tried to enter the bathhouse. I decided not to listen and pushed through the door. “You’re going to see a lot of things you don’t want to see!” he yelled after me.
I entered a dark corridor lit only by yellow lights. A heavy-set man with a large beard passed by me. “You know this is a male-only spa right? You can’t be in here.” I smiled and kept walking towards a glass-enclosed front desk where a well-kept man stood.
The receptionist, Teymour Nadjafi, explained that students often visit Steamworks. “About one in five of our clientele is a student. They are in here almost every day,” he explained. “I think students would still come even if we didn’t offer any student discounts. I think they find it good for self-discovery.”
Steamworks offers a free 90-day trial membership to students.
Despite the media hype, it’s clear sex clubs and bathhouses are nothing new to university students. Toronto’s sex club scene isn’t huge, but it’s far less underground than one might imagine.