Inside the infamous club of sex, celebrities and a $1million dollar membership fee

Source: Supplied
Source: Supplied

Even before the movie Eyes Wide Shut propelled sex clubs into the public domain, it has always been a hot, but hushed up, topic. But with airing of Showtime’s 8-part documentary on the workings, business and behind the scenes look of arguably one of the most exclusive (and expensive) membership only clubs, the industry has been thrust into the spotlight.   

The history of sex clubs

Sex parties, in one form or another, have been a around since the days of Roman bathhouses, however it was the 1972 book, Open Marriage by Nena and George O’Neill that really reinvigorated the practice and brought the topic into the mainstream. The book advocated for polygamy and emotional commitment and brought about a surge of ‘key parties’ and heterosexual swinging clubs. Perhaps the most famous sex club of the day was Plato’s Retreat which opened in the basement of New York City’s Arsonia Hotel in 1977 by Larry Levenson, the self-styled, ‘King of Swing’. The club had an adult playground with walled-off private areas, a jacuzzi, a swimming pool, a dance floor, and the infamous ‘mattress room.’ Plato’s Retreat was frequented by celebrities such as Richard Dreyfuss, Sammy Davis Jnr and the cast of Saturday Night Live. Levenson described the club as ‘a monument to sexual freedom’.

Locally, Johannesburg is home to one of the oldest established swinger’s club in South Africa, which started in 1996. Invitations to the club are given only once you have passed a screening process, then will you be able to enter the discreet establishment. Another Joburg based club, which claims to be SA’s largest discreet fantasy environment, says it has well over 6500 members, some from as far afield as France, Holland, Germany and Morocco.

Big money and exclusivity

Today the most exclusive clubs are big business, working on an invite-only basis, or strict application process. Perhaps, the most zeitgeist lately is SNCTM, the Los Angeles-based, members-only elite sex club that was in the news recently because of a very public feud with a former member.

Described by owner Damon Lawner as “erotic theatre” the club’s basic membership for the club starts at $20 000 (R237 000) a year, with the most expensive package called the Violet Key requiring a once-off fee of $1 million (R11,82 million).

It has also been rumoured that celebrity guests have included Gwyneth Paltrow and Bill Maher. Elon Musk was also linked to the industry when a journalist recalled spotting him at a sex party at a venture capitalist house in Silicon Valley. Although he claimed that he left before the party got truly “interesting”.

Business etiquette

The only way for clubs like this, that deal in fantasies, to be successful is if they have rules attached. And while the rules differ from club to club, most of them focus on making sure that the patrons are safe and don’t feel exposed or judged. There is a strict code of privacy for most and members are not allowed cell phones or cameras.

As the world changes and the conversations about sexuality becomes diversified, will we see sex clubs move from beyond the shadows? Or is that just part of its’ appeal?

Learn more about the industry in the 8-part docuseries, Naked SNCTM which explores the inner workings of the exclusive LA based club, as they interview the owner, staff and members. Watch it on Showmax, but remember - adults only! It contains scenes and themes of an adult nature.

Get a free 14 -day trial if you are a first time user when you sign up for Showmax, and if you’re a DStv Premium subscriber, get Showmax at no extra cost. Find out how here. DStv Compact subscribers get Showmax for R49. Find out more here.

This content is sponsored by Showmax and co-created with Brandstudio24 for Channel24.