I was sixteen and returning from my yearly beach vacation with my mom when I first stumbled across a brochure in the airport for the sex resort Hedonism. While Mom waited in line, I covertly flipped through a Skinemax fantasy: tanned, busty early-twenty-somethings pranced half-naked around a beach fire, licking strawberries and sipping champagne, then slipped into quiet coves for more strawberry licking, now with whipped cream and full-on nudity. I wondered wistfully if I would ever get to visit that kinky Never Never Land.
Fast forward four years, and I was, miraculously, offered a free trip with my girlfriend to Hedonism III. The only problem: It was my mom making the offer, and her boyfriend would be coming as well. I got off the phone immediately.
The set-up would have had Freud salivating, and I took several days to contemplate my answer. Was the whole "oh my God I'm at a sex resort with my mom" thing really worth turning down a free vacation with all-inclusive drinks? All-inclusive drinks! The words followed me for days. And my mom had promised that we'd stay on opposite sides of the resort. When she'd be on the nude side, I'd be on the prude side and vice versa. In all practicality, she wouldn't even be there.
I detailed the plan to my girlfriend, Hadley. During our year-and-a-half-long relationship we'd had a few milestones: the let's-be-exclusive talk; our first "I love you"; meeting the parents; our first sex in a body of water (the Atlantic). Now, I had to pop the big question. I waited until our second bottle of wine over dinner. "So," I looked deep into her eyes. "How about my mom takes us to a sex resort?"
She looked dumbfounded, and I launched into a rambling monologue. "We'll never see them," I reasoned. "Our rooms are on opposite sides of the resort. They don't force you to get naked if you don't want to or throw you into an orgy or anything." I filled her glass to the brink. "Our room will have a Jacuzzi. And did I mention the open bar?"
"Okay," she said. "But I'm not getting naked in front of your mother."
Fifteen minutes into the taxi ride to Newark Airport, I remembered that my mom's boyfriend, Harry, had a very special type of Tourette's — every fourth sentence referred to their sex life. He claimed to be naturally polysexual, and often interpreted my protests of "I don't want to fucking hear that" as "please sexually proposition my mom in front of me some more." As we pulled the luggage out of the trunk, he pinched my mom's ass and giggled, "Gee, Sue, I can't wait to see what they're gonna do to you on that beach." Fighting back the urge to strangle him, I imagined tipping back a piña colada, surrounded by beautiful people.
As we arrived at the resort, I considered what I should say to my mom. "Catch you in a week" seemed a bit too direct and unappreciative. But Mom spoke first. "How about we meet at the bar in an hour before dinner?" Before I knew what I was doing, I had said okay. Surely it wouldn't be too hard for me and Hadley to shake Harry and Mom and disappear into the legion of young hardbodies.
I froze upon approaching the pool bar; there must have been a mistake. Where were the strawberry-and-whipped-cream people? Drooping breasts hung off slouched women like Christmas ornaments. Fat rolls sheltered shriveled penises. Wrinkled bare asses sagged into heart shapes. The restaurant was technically on the prude side, but this was clearly only in theory. I wondered if we should turn back, but there was nowhere safe. Our only refuge would be our room. I gave Hadley a sheepish glance, preparing to grab her and bolt, when my mom appeared, mercifully dressed in a bathing suit and toga. Harry stood nearby chatting up a sixty-year-old topless woman. Hadley reassured me it would be okay just as we heard Harry: "Nudity: it really just opens your heart," he explained, gesticulating. "Can't you feel the cosmic pulse out here?"
Hadley and I were the only guests at the bar under thirty. Most were over fifty. Had we stumbled into a Levitra ad? I suddenly remembered my mom's Tantra retreats ("a spiritual bonding community," she explained) and Harry's constant advocacy for polysexuality. I had one of those "holy fuck" epiphanies that only hallucinogens or watching a man with toilet paper wrapped around his dick chat up your mom can spur: I was a voyeur into my mother's kinky middle-aged sex life.
Panic hit me, but I fought against it. I hated people who were uncomfortable with open sexuality, and I would not join the prudes. But when Hadley disappeared to the bathroom, I gulped down two double vodka tonics. For a precious moment, they were the only things I saw that were stiff.
A thin, middle-aged blonde woman sprawled across the bar towards me as I put down the second glass. She asked what I was doing here. I explained. "But, but," she slurred. "Why'd your mom take you here?" Hadley crept back from the bathroom under a full ogle from the bar. The blonde, having spread to a fully prone position across the bar, demanded again why Mom had brought me. Good question: Why did she bring me to Hedonism?
I didn't fully know. We'd always been very close. Through her storm of bad boys, we'd stuck together; we bonded through the stolen money, kick-outs and move-back-ins, and in the end there were few walls left standing between us. As a result, she was relaxed and open-minded, and it was easy for me to tell her when I became sexually active. For her part, she'd turned to yoga and eastern spiritual practices to cope, and when she spoke candidly about the nudity in them, I felt no right to suppress her happiness with my expectations of conventionality. Still, I'd figured she and her activities would remain an abstraction at Hedonism — sure, she might be naked somewhere, but I wouldn't encounter any evidence of it or have to think about it. Then I heard a fat, gap-toothed man bellow at my mom across the bar: "I saw you in the hot tub!" I signaled for the bartender.
By the end of dinner, Hadley and I were committed to getting shitty. We escaped my mom and Harry and stumbled amidst the genitals that occupied the bar stools and hot tubs along the veranda. We drank fast and heavily. I remember little: an elderly woman in a see-through fishnet dress collapsing on the pavement; a couple with sheep puppets strapped to their crotches sitting quietly in the corner of the club; an erection emerging like a telescope over the bubbling waters of the hot tub.
My mom called in the morning and suggested we meet for breakfast. I sighed but accepted. I'd just spent months away at college, and after this trip, I would disappear again. Instead of two separate couples shadowing each other on opposite sides of the resort, we were very much here together, and I only hoped for a shade of normalcy in the daylight.
Breakfast was clothed and pleasant, but I cringed as the resort MC announced the days' activities over the loudspeaker: "Pimps Vs. Hos Nude Pool Olympics," "Pimp and Bride Find Your Mate," and "Human Sundae/Body Shots and Chants." My mom suggested something seemingly innocuous instead: snorkeling. But this was Hedonism, after all, so snorkeling was encouraged au naturale. As we sped toward the reef, my mom mouthed "No" to Harry, but, like a horny prom date, he kept pleading, "C'mon, Sue, do it. C'mon." The motor cut and the boat drifted to a stop. Everyone stood, flung off their life preservers and stripped nude. Harry stood up. "Don't look, Hadley!" my mom warned, but it was too late: with one clean motion, Harry unpackaged the package. He stood for a moment before jumping into the water, proud and almost posing. My mom, laughing, apologized to Hadley before jumping in, following Harry's pink, thin body swimming in circles near the boat. The captain watched us after everyone else had jumped in, breathing into our masks and staring at our flippers until we finally followed. The reefs were spectacular, but every few minutes, Harry floated across my view like the Nevermind baby.
Finally, we worked out a compromise honoring my mom's need to spend time with me: half of each day together and half separate. The hours spent with her were pretty agonizing. Harry flirted lewdly with everything that moved, and I responded with a steady diet of drinking and quiet rage. We'd meet on the prude side to play ping-pong or pool, but then Harry would interrupt to join a nude conga line or whistle up at the Sun Coast Swingers soliciting from a nearby balcony.
It had all become a little clearer to me: my mom had invited me here because she wanted to carry on our tradition of yearly vacations; time with me was more precious than ever, now that I'd left home — and her. But she also wanted to please Harry, a man she actually liked. This was her way of trying to make everyone happy, but I wondered whether she was happy. At the first convenient moment (when Harry zipped off to the men's), I asked if all his flirtation didn't bother her, if she didn't find it insulting.
"Not really," she replied. "This place gives him a chance to feel free and not get scared, relationship-wise."
Did I detect a hint of misery in her voice? I contemplated digging deeper ("Don't you think he's been spending a little too much time with the nipple-ring woman?" or "Is he really here for you or for the lesbians with the inflatable dildo?"). But then I noticed her eyes: rested and clear and bright. They'd always been marked by dark, sulking rims that grew with each man's relapses and confessions. But this time she had found something that worked. How could I stand in her way? On the other hand, was I obliged to witness her way?
Either way — and despite Harry and his happy hot dog — the resort still managed to ignite my sex life with Hadley. When we were alone, I came to be fully comfortable and enjoyed everything. Pre-dinner hot-tub orgies below my window? Kind of wonderful. Poolside, blind-folded, identify your wife's pussy contest? A once-in-a-lifetime sight. The woman getting creative with sausages at breakfast? Ditto. We'd always enjoyed certain risks, and late night hot-tub misbehavior and half-naked raft foreplay sparked excitement. There was also an undeniable appeal to being the constant object of desire. Sans-strawberries, we were making it work, and even participated in Fetish Night. That night, we collapsed into post-coital sleep, still connected at the wrists by our Fetish Night handcuffs.
When it was finally time to leave this erotic Eden, I filled up a large water bottle with a mudslide and drank it in the shuttle bus bound for the airport. As we stood in line for the flight, my handcuffs suddenly slipped out of my suitcase. As I scrambled to scoop them up, my mom blurted to everyone in line, "They were just for a costume party!" and then whispered to me, "People might think those were for sex."
I choked down my laughter; she had the same aversion as me. There are just some boundaries that neither parent nor child wants infringed. In the year since the trip, I've been able to accept my mom's semi-swinger lifestyle. I want her to be happy, and thirty years from now, given the choice, I'd rather be booking tickets for Hedonism XLII than stagnating in a sexless marriage. But as my finely crafted beer-gut shields my genitals from that Caribbean sun, I'll make sure to have left the kids at home. n°