My Friend, The Sex Addict
Three hours was pretty much my limit. Since 9pm, I’d been pinned to my seat in a dark corner of “La Chambre”, Sheffield’s “top class venue for liberated adults”. And in that time I’d managed to avoid eye contact with just about everyone in the room, which is quite an achievement in a swingers’ club. All around me, men dressed in towels or boxers’ shorts were eyeing up the handful semi-naked women, hoping for an invitation to join them for some “adult fun”.
Barry the manager couldn’t believe I was leaving so early, particularly as I hadn’t been upstairs yet. “You can’t leave without having a look in the playrooms!” he said, leading me back through the crowd of towels and up the stairs, as if leaving without a peek would be like going to a pub and not drinking. He walked me up and through the building until we were standing at the foot of an enormous bed in a dimly lit room. On it were nine naked men kneeling round a single naked woman, her body hardly visible beneath the sprawling mass of male flesh that was probing her in a slow, methodical silence. Slightly set apart was another naked man who was playing with himself – he was the husband, and would have “last poke”. All I could hear was the woman’s occasional muffled moan, until Barry leaned over to me and whispered proudly, “Isn’t that great?”
It wasn’t the first or the last time I’d be taken aback during the months it took to research the film Hypersex. I’d set out to make a documentary about highly-sexed and totally liberated men. I wanted to see what unfettered male sexuality looked like, as I felt deep down that there was something in all of us men that needed to be kept in check. I wanted to find a man who had let himself go, to see what it could tell me about men, sex and maybe even my own limits and boundaries.
So I contacted friends, journalists, sex shop owners, prostitutes and literally hundreds of their clients. I prowled round bars and strip clubs, trying to spot the players. I wrote to men who advertised in papers for sex with strangers (one 80 year old man replied), and trawled the internet for contacts. After two months I felt I was getting nowhere – anyone with something to say wouldn’t or couldn’t say it on camera.
Then a friend told me about a club for swingers outside Manchester, a place where “anyone could pull, and they have sex on the premises.” Two hours later the door of Cupids was slammed in my face, but one of the staff had told me he ‘had a disease but didn’t want to be cured’. These were the men I wanted to meet, and it was obvious that swingers' clubs were the place to find them.
These clubs are big business on the continent: Amsterdam and Paris have vast, custom-built venues which provide their middle class clientele with lavish bedrooms in palatial surroundings, and unlimited food and drink after a one-off entrance fee. Apparently in France there’s one in every town. But in England it’s more of a cottage industry: dotted around the country are around 30 seedy clubs, mostly in converted pubs or massage parlours, with exotic names like “Xanadu”, “Club Voyex” and “Isis Quest”. They run nights for couples only, but there’s usually at least one night a week when they’ll let in a small army of single men who pay up to £60 to mingle with swingers. Safe sex is one of the rules, but it’s never enforced.
I became quite comfortable trotting round these clubs, shaking hands and introducing myself to some of the ‘singles’. They were quite a bunch, and impossible to categorize: I met farmers, teachers (a lot of teachers), two millionaires, a dustman, an ex-submarine engineer, car salesmen, and even an undercover cameraman. I would talk to anyone who would listen, but mostly they would do just that, and then politely walk away. A lot of them had been burnt by the media or knew people who had been “exposed” as swingers, so I was hardly high up the guest list. At a club in Leicester, no one would have sex until I’d left.
So for the next few months, I commuted between my home in London and various swingers' clubs in Rochdale, Sheffield, Leicester and Manchester (there are quite a few in Manchester). I saw a blindfolded woman have sex with 57 men; watched a simulated rape; I narrowly avoided being locked in a grope box, saw a man propose to his girlfriend while she was chained up in a club, and felt sick while watching a bukake. It was like stumbling around in my own bad dreams.
And then there was Janet. She was a regular at one of the more upmarket clubs in the Midlands, and a lot of the men had pointed her out as a “fire starter”, someone who “got the ball rolling” when things were quiet. Sure enough, by 11pm Janet was down to her stockings and stilettos, kneeling astride an inflatable crocodile in the middle of the club, performing oral sex on the four men who had clustered around her. “Get your cocks out!” she shouted at the rest of us, “my record’s 12”.
When she’d finished, I sat down at her table and tried to give her my pitch – maybe she knew someone who would talk to me…. I was mid-sentence when a man called Dave wandered over, grabbed Janet’s head and dropped his penis into her mouth.
What is the etiquette for talking to a woman who’s got someone’s large cock in her mouth, I wondered. Should one look away until they’ve finished, or would this seem rude? Perhaps one should watch and admire? Or blithely carry on talking? Or do what came naturally - just look a bit embarrassed and smile nervously. Janet caught sight of me shuffling in my seat, and briefly took Dave’s penis out of her mouth, wiped off the spit and said, “don’t worry, I’m still listening.”
This conversation clearly over, I thought maybe Dave might be worth talking to, and approached him to tell him what I was doing. “That’s great Olly,” he said, “but are you for real?” What did he mean? “Well,” said Dave, “are you here just to spy on us, or are you here for real?”. He pointed to his naked wife who’d come over to join us. “Look at her,” he said. “Would you feel it up?”
A lot of people had been cynical about me being from the media, but no one had ever laid down a gauntlet like this, and the conversation quickly became something of a standoff: to refuse to grope Dave’s wife would, in a strange way, insult him – it would convince him that I was ‘aloof’ from his lifestyle, an outsider who’s not worth talking to. But if I did grope Dave’s wife, well, that would mean I would have to grope Dave’s wife, and right then there were few things in the world I found less appealing.
“I don’t mind ‘feeling it up’ Dave,” I said breezily, about to change the subject…
“Go on then” he said, not smiling any more. “Feel it up.”
Knowing that if I didn’t I would have to leave, I gently placed my hands on Dave’s wife’s breasts, and smiled at him. ‘Yep, they’re definitely tits.”
“What about down there” said Dave, gesturing to his wife’s pubic hair.
I paused before briefly placing my hand between Dave’s wife’s legs, and said, “And that’s definitely a fanny”.
Satisfied, Dave laughed, shook my shoulder and announced that I was, after all, “for real”. He then told me that he couldn’t talk to me on camera, which made me feel physcially sick.
I was still struggling to understand what they all got out of this, and I never quite bought their line that it was ‘just a bit of fun’, and that monogamy was unnatural for us human animals. For all the basic animal desire that was pumping around those rooms, it was obvious that people were there for some pretty complex reasons. A lot of the women talked about the buzz they got from the power they wielded in the clubs, dressing up (or down) in sexy clothes, teasing the men with their availability. They seemed to come alive under the gaze of so many lustful eyes, but at the same time they seemed so hungry for love and affection, and had confused it for this explicit desire. A few had hinted that they had experience of abuse, or were in abusive relationships, or more commonly that they were only there “for him”, and it was tempting just to give them a tenner and call them a cab.
It was harder to understand their partners’ motives. Some obviously thrived on the jealousy that would spring up between them and their wives or girlfriends when they were having sex with other people. They loved the power of knowing that this woman was ‘theirs’, and that she would come back to him at the end of the night, and that this would in fact be an affirmation of their relationship (this didn’t always happen, of course). Others just relished the sight of what was going on, and it was perfectly acceptable to go the club just to watch – some men went regularly just to do that. It also allowed both him and her some legitimate infidelity, the chance to cheat on each other while not breaking any rules, and I’m sure this arrangement saved as many relationships as it destroyed.
But I knew that this wasn’t a game I could play. The regulars often boasted that entering a club was like stepping into a porn movie, which was kind of true – just that there weren’t any porn stars . This was ‘readers’ wives’ sex. It was ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and while I didn’t find that sexy, I did become intrigued by this juxtaposition of the everyday and the seemingly exotic. I suppose that was why I was interested to meet Paul.
I’d first seen Paul in La Chambre in Sheffield, one of the most popular clubs in the country with over 12,000 members. Paul and two women were completely naked, rolling around on a mattress covered in foam while the women beat his erect penis with a large rubber dildo. Throughout the whole bizarre spectacle, Paul had never stopped smiling. It was a strange kind of show, but like so many of these bizarre sights, after a few minutes it actually seemed quite normal, even a bit tedious, and I was soon back at the bar with an alcopop. When he’d finished, Paul came over and introduced himself, and in a jolly, everyday way, told me about his extraordinary life.
This life revolved entirely around sex, more than anyone I’d ever met. Sex was the touchstone for virtually everything he said or did: work provided him with money to enjoy it. Time off gave him the leisure to pursue it. Medication offered him the chance to do it longer, and he would inject his penis to guarantee a 5 or 6 hour erection. He visited the club every week as a single man, but would go to the couples’ nights as well if he could persuade someone to be his partner. He told me his family knew all about it, and that this was his hobby – “I just don’t do anything else” he said, and it was striking how happy he seemed as he said that, and how fun he made his life sound. “My life is what everyone wants,” he said, “but not everyone dares to do it”, and I wondered if he was right. He invited me to come and film him, and over the next five weeks he let me and my camera into the world of a sex addict.
Paul was into anything sexual, and he soon introduced me to something I found even weirder than the clubs. “Dogging” turned out to be a popular and secretive hobby – couples and single men meet up in secluded car parks for a kind of sexual jamboree: the couples will “put on a show” in their cars, and men will watch through the windows. Sometimes the woman will wind down the window to let the men join in, occasionally performing oral sex on those gathered outside. If she’s up for it, she’ll get out, lie on the bonnet and take on the crowd.
The car park Paul first took me too was about to be in the news. A man had recently taken his girlfriend there, and the next day she tied him up and buried an axe in his head. The story touched a nerve: I’d met a number of women in the clubs who seemed to be there for their partner’s pleasure and not their own – these men seemed to be on a different kind of high. The managers kept an eye out for this (among other things, it spoiled the atmosphere), but it still went on. One manager proudly told me that if it wasn’t for his club there would be a lot more rapes on the street.
But I didn’t think Paul was a rapist, and I don’t think he got off on power over other people. “I’m into consensual sex between adults” he explained. He became my guide to a number of remote woodland car parks where doggers would hang out at all hours. He explained to me the system of codes and signals that they used to make contact – flashing rear lights mean the driver wants to talk. Flashing interior light mean the occupants are going to put on a show. Hazard lights mean danger.
And it was dangerous. On our first visit to a car park, I sat in the passenger seat andopenly filmed Paul in broad daylight as he drove in. I carried on filming him as he pulled up alongside a couple in a car, and began talking to them, and then it all kicked off. I don’t know what was more frightening: the speed at which the man in the car ran round to my window, or the terrified scream of his wife telling him to stop. It was the scream of someone who’d seen him fight before. I spent the next 25 minutes talking myself out of a kicking, and only escaped by wiping the tape. After that Paul started receiving threats for taking me there in the first place, but he still took me back when I’d worked out how to hide the camera.
Throughout all this, I couldn’t help but like Paul. He was good company, thoughtful, and quick-witted. He mended cars, loved his village home, and dreamed of flying helicopters. He introduced me to his parents and his kids, his brothers and even his ex-wife who lived a similar kind of lifestyle. They were all incredibly candid: his ex-wife laughed about him, and thought he was a pervert who couldn’t have a relationship. His mother was a bit saddened, but was glad he wasn’t hurting anyone. But his 14 year old daughter hated it, and wished he would stop.
But I knew I was getting sucked into Paul’s life. I made an uncertain trip to a car park on my own, not really sure if it was for the film or for fun, and found myself creeping round bushes at one in the morning and getting advice from a veteran Peeping Tom. “You want to have a think about whether you want to get into this,” he whispered to me in the darkness. “It’s like crack cocaine.”
I always told myself that I was there for a different reason, that I enjoyed a different kind of high from Paul and this man in the bushes. They were turned on by it all, but I just enjoyed its childish naughtiness, creeping round bushes then running off when I heard a car door open. I’d enjoyed the clubs, too, simply for their lack of taboos, for how shocking and completely different they were from the world outside, and for the strange camaraderie among the people on the scene. So at first I thought that my motives made me different from the people there, but now I think that they make me the same: they were there because they loved the risk and the naughtiness too, but just in a sexual way that I didn’t yet feel. “Once you have your first hit,” the man in the bushes had said, “you’ll be absolutely hooked”. It was a good time to stop.
So I left Sheffield and the clubs and Paul, and I didn’t look back. Maybe one day I’ll want more, but right then all I wanted was to go home to my normal life, to read in bed under a shared duvet, and to have sex in the dark with my faithful girlfriend.
Some names have been changed