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Sex Clubs Abound in Toronto, Ontario But Swingers are Targeted

Inside Club Wicked’s “exhibitionist room” a tanned blond wearing aviator shades and a tight, cropped police uniform straddles her husband.

A dim bulb in the sconce lamp over the bed bathes her in red, wraps around her curves. The humidity of the place smells of scented lube and sweat. The pounding bass from Euro Dance music is leaking from invisible speakers. It almost overpowers the screams and whimpers. Almost.

The blond smiles slyly at the two-way mirror, at the towel-clad couples in the other room who are watching.

A curious couple peeks through beads on the doorway. “Can we play?” they ask, and wait for a nod before hopping onto the bed.

Beside them, a window overlooking the traffic and bustle along Queen St. W.

Swingers are the latest target of Toronto council.

“We’re not into legislating morality between consenting adults,” insists Etobicoke-Lakeshore Councillor Peter Milczyn. “It’s when you’re creating those establishments in residential communities then it’s set up as a conflict.”

At a council meeting in June, 33 city councillors voted in favour of a motion to close two Etobicoke swinger clubs — Club Hers and Menage a Quatre.

The two clubs are part of this city’s flourishing swingers scene. From clubs to cruises to condo parties, Toronto has become a swinger’s destination, eclipsing Montreal as Canada’s swingers capital, those in the scene suggest.

Busloads of American swingers travel here, because it is legal in this country for consenting adults to practice open, explicit sex acts within the relatively public confines of a club.

However, the same city fathers who preach diversity, who embrace immigrants, multiculturalism, Toronto’s large and well-established lesbian and gay community have difficulty with swingers.

Etobicoke-North Councillor Rob Ford, who supported the motion to close the clubs, said he doesn’t feel swingers clubs reflect what Toronto stands for, even if they do attract tourism. Yet, it was only last year when the city invested $150,000 for racy ads as part of their Live With Culture campaign to boost tourism.

“Families and people like that,” Ford said this week. “They’re the ones who bring the money to the city.”

“Toronto being sex capital of the world wouldn’t bode too well with tourists in general,” he said.

This fall, the city manager will begin work in consultation with the police, planning department, public health, fire services and municipal licensing and standards to oust the swinger clubs.

“I don’t think our staff know what’s going on here and I want to find out and get these shut down,” local Councillor Mark Grimes previously told the Sun. “I’m hearing from the community that single men are getting out of cabs, there’s prostitutes loitering around the area, they’re picking them up and going into these clubs.”

There is certainly a lot going on inside the clubs.

On a Saturday night at Wicked, it looks like a scene from the movie Eyes Wide Shut, but without the masks.

Husbands and wives begin kissing wildly and hands start to wander. Some change partners and others opt for the anonymity of “glory hole” booths. On the top floor, a hallway fan buzzes to dry off the sweat. There is chatter on the patio where towelled and naked bodies go for a post-sex cigarette. There isn’t even a tinge of pushiness in the air as the couples walk hand-in-hand and climb into bed with four other couples too busy to notice their presence. Between the moans of ecstasy, you can hear fiendish giggles.

But “Toronto the Good” has always struggled with morality issues. City and law enforcement officials have at various times over past decades cracked down on strip clubs, massage parlours, prostitution and public sex, particularly the kind practised by gay men and lesbians.

Most infamously, however, Toronto is known for the gay bathhouse raids in 1981 that saw police swarm into clubs where gay men were having open, consensual sex.

As much as the gay community was outraged by the “Gestapo” police, as gay rights activist George Hislop referred to them at the time, the public was equally shocked.

The raids prompted heated debate and self-examination about human rights and tolerance and the protests that erupted in response to the raids eventually gave way to Toronto’s Pride Parade that sees the mayor, police chief and councillors participate.

“You look at the very few raids that have been done in places and so-called bathhouses in recent years so obviously there’s a much more permissive attitude on the part of politicians. The public interest groups that support these places are much more vocal and politically connected,” said Staff-Sgt. Al Verwey of 13 Division. “There is generally an attitude that if the public isn’t complaining about it very loudly, the police aren’t going to enforce it very rigorously.”

There is some irony, then, in the city’s current confrontation with swingers clubs.

“People always get bent out of shape when heterosexuals want to have sex, and I don’t get that,” said Peter Bochove, owner of gay bathhouse Excess Spa on Carlton St. and an activist in the 1981 raids. “If everyone going into this club knows exactly what they’re going into and kids aren’t walking by giant signs, then no one’s being harmed.”

Elizabeth Abbott, a celibacy history research associate at University of Toronto, describes Toronto as a “formerly repressed city” where the 1970s finally happened and many immigrants moved in.

People are gravitating towards swinging, Abbott notes, because there is too much stress on staying with one person and the element of curiosity is overpowering.

“The city isn’t suspicious anymore, it rigorously loves diversity,” she said. “We’re a changed culture where it’s now seen as wrong to criticize different lifestyles.”

And the bottom line: Swingers clubs are legal.

The Supreme Court of Canada made them so in 2005, ruling that two Montreal swingers clubs that allowed sex on the premises between consenting adults did not violate decency laws because it didn’t harm society.

Club Wicked has a doorman who not only keeps out the young, impressionable and curious, but turns away those who don’t meet the club’s standards of physical attractiveness.

Aurora Benzion and her husband Shlomo [pictured] told the Sunday Sun their club allows experienced, curious adults to indulge in sex with other couples in a safe environment. But at the same time, they’ve built a “positive” relationship with their community.

“It’s better than a nightclub because they’re not drug addicts or … long lineups or people who make a lot of noise,” Shlomo said.

Club Wicked evolved from the “sex mansion parties” the couple ran in 2003. They moved to a space at Richmond and Church Sts. a year later but found it too cramped and, in 2006, landed at Ossington Ave. and Queen St. W.

Their regulars come weekly from all over the GTA, Hamilton, Oakville and Niagara Falls. The owners boast 30,000 members on their website worldwide. Tourists from Boston, Chicago, Tampa and Germany have all come here to swap partners and the Benzions are organizing some buses from Michigan to come to Wicked.

“We’re becoming a destination for liberated Americans,” Aurora said. “I don’t think they can find this kind of entertainment in their country anymore. Our clientele is very upscale.”

The higher echelon of society — lawyers and doctors — as well as regular blue-collar folks can be found within the walls of Wicked on any given night. Though, to make it to the upstairs Shlomo’s Penthouse area where all the naughty stuff goes on you have to fall into the Benzions’ ideal of “fit and attractive.”

“Going on the main floor doesn’t give you entry to the penthouse,” Shlomo said.

Those who fit the standard exchange their clothes for a towel and a key to a locker. Lingerie is also permitted. Riding a feverish wave of alcohol mixed in with hours of grinding with old and new partners on the dance floor downstairs has put them in the right mood. And when people get up to the on-premise VIP area, the inhibitions slide off with the towels.

Patrons walk down the hall past a giant lip-shaped couch to a rectangular area composed of several mattresses pushed together where at least a dozen couples can “play” together in a larger setting.

Aurora suggests swingers clubs are part of a trend that is seeing more people explore their sexuality. Many got into the “lifestyle” (although some prefer to be called “hedonists”) because it allows them to explore their fantasies together without cheating.

“The younger people are less worried about what will people say,” she said. “People who are over 40 want me to blur their faces if I take party pics of them but those in their 20s and 30s are fearless.”

Ruthy Muller of Happy Hedonist and Club Prive, an off-premise Mississauga swingers club in business for the past 14 years, said that although swinging may be more popular, the number of swingers clubs in Toronto hasn’t increased all that much.

An online search for such clubs in the area reveals about 27 but a number are transitory, opening and closing within months.

“The younger generation doesn’t really need (clubs) because things are so open,” Muller said.

Swinging legend has it that the lifestyle began during the World War II among the United States military. It was built on the idea that because of the high mortality rate of pilots, if they ever crashed, another pilot would care for his wife emotionally and sexually. In more recent decades, swinging came about with the sexual revolution.

But the traditional 1970s perception of “wife swapping” isn’t what the clubs are about. Clients range from voyeurs and exhibitionists to those who have public sex with their partners or indulge in threesomes, foursomes or orgies.

Robert Pollara, “the new kid on the block” in the city’s swinging scene, came from Florida to Toronto to open Menage a Quatre, another on-premise club, in June.

“I don’t think anybody in the neighbourhood had any idea that we existed nor would they have until Mark Grimes got on TV and started ranting and raving,” Pollara said. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years now and with the ’90s and the help of the Internet, swinging really became pervasive.”

“It hasn’t gotten to the extent in Europe where there are 60 clubs, but the baby boomers have hit that point where they’re looking for something more to do.”

Swingers clubs follow a strict code, though it’s not necessary under the Supreme Court decision. Discreet signage is more of a courtesy for the community.

The etiquette is that all play must be between consenting adults and a waiver is signed by all members coming to the on-premise area that they understand what the club is. The waiver also doubles as proof of membership in case any prostitution accusations arise.

“There’s not very much the city can or should do,” Excess bathhouse owner Bochove suggests, arguing the gay community experience shows the Supreme Court decision trumps anything municipalities can attempt to do, including public health inspections or zoning.

“But at least then people can sue the city,” he said.

Even city officials have trouble with where the lines are.

Mark Dimuantes, Toronto’s municipal licensing and standards senior policy officer, said swingers clubs don’t require a licence but added “it probably wouldn’t be a good idea for the city to licensed them because then they become an accepted land-use.”

Brampton’s Club Eros founder Ron Michaels, who operates the longestrunning swingers club in the country at 36 years and the third-longest in North America, suggests whether the city likes them or not, swingers are here to stay.

“It used to be more of an underground phenomenon,” Michaels said. “I don’t think there are any more swingers now than 20 or 30 years ago; they’re just more open about it.”

WHAT’S LEGAL AND NOT …

BODY RUB PARLOURS

Legal, but …

The city’s municipal licensing and standards division said there are currently 25 body rub parlours that have operating licences. Both the owner and masseurs must have their own licences. Toronto Police said there must not be any prostitution on premises including topless, nude, bodyslide, reverse bodyslide, oral, intercourse or manual release. Massage room doors have to be unlocked.

STRIP CLUBS

Legal. Like body rub parlours both the owner/operator and dancers must have licences through MLS. If a dancer touches or allows a client to touch her — even through clothing — the dancer and establishment could both be charged under the bawdy house legislation. Municipal Licensing and Standards said the “lap dances can happen but there’s not supposed to be any physical contact.”

SWINGERS CLUBS

Legal. In 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada said activity at swingers clubs “can hardly be supposed to jeopardize a society as vigorous and tolerant as Canadian society.”

Most club owners will keep a list of members and, be discreet with their storefront and make sure everyone who enters the club knows what they’re getting into — possible consensual sex behind closed doors.

GAY AND LESBIAN BATHHOUSES

Legal. Peter Bochove of Spa Excess won a court case against the city of Toronto in 1988 when he found out they weren’t renewing leases for bathhouses. There are no restrictions in zoning because they’re not classed as “adult entertainment” so the city leaves charges in the hands of police under the Criminal Code for lewd activity.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of time in court and there’s a lot of things that were done over the last 25 years,” Bochove said. “What grey areas that remain are in the common bawdy house laws, which are on the books and it’s still possible to go to court for those charges, but it’s not going to go anywhere with the Supreme Court of Canada.”

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