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I Did It For Science:
Bartending at a Sex Party
Would it be easier than DJing a bar mitzvah?
By Emily McCombs
Anyone doubting humanity's link with primates should check out the scene at your average sex club. The "I'm horny — you horny? Let's hump" approach displayed therein is a primal ritual, complete with genital displays. The bartender, then, is the link between pure release of inhibitions and civilized sexual society as we know it. What are those clothed civilians thinking while serving drinks to half-naked swingers in the moments just before and after coitus? I decided to find out by stepping behind the bar at an NYC sex club one Saturday night. As someone in a committed relationship, would I feel out of place? And would the men there, surrounded by available women, ignore me or be drawn to me like forbidden-fruit flies?
The first time I went to a swingers club as a customer, I was terrified — my stomach flipped, my breath got short, and I seriously considered fleeing for another night of masturbating to HBO's Real Sex on the couch. Luckily, the gentleman who was accompanying me managed to prod me along by the force of his boner, and I ended up having a great time.
But that was a long time ago, and Netflix and snuggling have replaced getting naked and hooking up with strangers in my weekend repertoire. So when the grandfatherly proprietor of a notorious midtown couples club called me to ask if I could fill in for a sick bartender one Friday night, my first instinct was to say no. After all, I am a happily relationshipped and gainfully employed woman, no longer prone to the wanton sexual experimentation of my youth. What if I spilled things with my shaking, monogamous hands?
But then I reached inside my soul, to connect with the young girl who once took refuge in the nude, huddled masses, to the inner slut yearning to breathe free. Have I not a dirty mind, I thought, and two hands with which to pour? Could I not do my small part by intoxicating just a few of the perverts of the world?
• Tight tanktop
• Short skirt
• Cheap heels
• Open mind
I arrive about 8 p.m. to the loft space which will eventually be filled with swingers piling on each other in ever-more-gymnastic combinations. Trust me when I tell you: you do not want to see one of these places with the lights on. What seems glamorous and sexy in the dark looks sad and seedy under harsh overhead lighting. It must be sort of like how guys feel when they wake up hungover next to us the next morning, with our makeup smeared all around our eyes and last night's hairdo in a tangled rat's nest.
My pre-party duties include slicing and putting out the foot-long sandwiches, which only reinforces my long-time confusion about why the hell you need food at your sex club. I mean, how hard is it to have a sandwich before you leave the house to bang strangers? Is there anything less arousing than a bunch of old men sitting naked and spread-legged, balancing plates of samosas and mashed potatoes on their knees? Possibly only the mayonnaise that oozes out of the sandwiches onto my fingers as I slice.
I set up my bar, which consists of cans of soda and juice, an ice bucket, and a silver tip jar to which the owner tapes a few dollars around the sides. "If you want, you can take your top off later," says the kindly old shopkeep. Oh, can I? I think. But actually, knowing upfront how my toplessness is going to be received in a given situation could have saved me a lot of awkwardness in my drinking years.
For the first few hours, the only attendees are three or four single guys who space themselves out enough to reinforce their heterosexuality while they stare blankly at the porn playing in loop on one wall. Since none of them seem very interested in chatting, I familiarize myself with the cast of characters in the movies — the guy eating pussy while inexplicably wearing sunglasses, the supermodel-hot woman whose beauty is marred only by the giant dolphin tattoo on her hairless pubic mound. I worry a bit about the latter, since she obviously doesn't have any friends who love her enough to react appropriately when she says something like, "You know, I think I'm going to get a tattoo of a dolphin on my vagina."
Since most sex clubs and parties are BYOB, "bartending" is a bit of a misnomer. My duties for the night will consist mainly of opening beer bottles and stirring alcohol into mixers. By the time the place starts to fill up, it becomes clear that even given these modest demands, I am a terrible bartender. I make mouth-twistingly strong cocktails and receive an impromptu tutorial on ratios from a pot-bellied man wearing only socks. Something about his condescending tone combined with his nudity really amplifies my shame.
Couples start to filter in and the women are more likely than the men to come on to me while I label their bottles and fix their first cocktails. "She has nice tits, doesn't she Jim?" asks one mom-haired brunette of her mustachioed husband. Even though she's talking about my breasts, her tone is so sweet and sisterly, I have the urge to hug her and offer to French-braid her hair.
A (large-ish) part of me envies them their openness and apparent lack of jealousy about sex with other people, but another part of me remembers how annoying it was to make hours of small talk with weird Long Island couples in hopes of seeing some fresh body parts. My boyfriend's junk may be familiar, but at least I don't have to listen to stories about some cute thing his kid did last week just to touch it.
I can tell by the moans and odd slapping noise that people are starting to get down to business, but from my vantage point toward the entrance, I can't actually see what's happening. From behind the bar, I could just as easily be at a cocktail party with an incredibly bizarre dress code as at a full-on orgy. It's a little bit lonely, like the moment after you finish counting in hide and seek. Hey guys, where are you? Guys? But imagining what's going on back there is probably a lot more erotic than the reality.
Every once in awhile, a refugee from the action will show up drenched in sweat and ask me for water. Since there are an extremely limited number of places a naked man can store dollar bills, I don't expect a tip.
By 12:30, I am the most attractive woman who has ever lived.
After my initial loneliness, a circle of men forms around my bar and doesn't dissipate, despite the fact that there are naked people fucking in the next room. They all offer to give me massages — I wonder why I've bothered to pay a Korean woman forty bucks an hour to do this when a bunch of horny guys will do it for free. I remember that foot fetishists sometimes like to give pedicures and contemplate cutting my salon budget in half next month.
Not only am I gorgeous, I'm charming and funny as well. I perfect a bit for when I catch a guy watching one of dolphin lady's scenes: a dryly delivered "Do you like her tattoo?" elicits a hearty belly laugh from my admirers. I feel like one of those hot girls in high school who all the guys thought was really smart and nice, even though she was actually just hot. I want to move in behind the bar and live there forever, subsisting on Diet Sprite and poorly sliced foot-long sandwich while half-naked men and their wives tell me how much they like my hair, my shoes, my skin.
Unfortunately, all that sexual attention doesn't translate into tips — I make a measly eighty-two bucks on top of the fifty-dollar base rate. At the end of the night, my once-benevolent boss even takes back the starter dollars from the tip jar. I can see that I'd have to supplement the bartending with some light hooking to make this line of work economically viable.
I've never really believed all that stuff about it being sexy to leave something to the imagination. Yeah, right, that's why girls in porn have giant plastic circus tits and wear their hair in pigtails with a schoolgirl skirt — because men love subtlety.
But my experience behind the bar convinced me there was at least some truth to that. Some guys, when surrounded by naked ladies who were presumably good to go, were still drawn to me, the clothed and sexually unavailable bartender. Maybe it was the bar between us that proved so tantalizing; it's certainly true that some men love a challenge and I was removed from them by a literal barrier.
I've heard that same thing happens to the waitresses at strip clubs or the phone girl at the escort service — that men are constantly trying to convince them to cross the line, despite the proximity of plenty of other available women.
I expected to seem about as sexy as a piece of beef jerky in such a sexually liberated atmosphere, but people seemed to find my lack of participation tantalizing instead of tedious. Call me an attention whore, but all that pursuit felt sexy, even without the payoff of actual sex. I suddenly understood how ninteteen-year-old girls get talked into flashing their tits for video cameras in Cancun. Okay, I'll do it, just keep telling me I'm pretty!
As I wiped down the counters and refused Gramps' insistences that I take home the sex-cootie sandwich, I was left with an extra spring in my step and a slight throbbing in my clitoris. Next time I'm totally taking my top off.