What I Learned About My Sexual Insecurities From Visiting Sex Clubs

Photographed by Natalia Mantini
As hard as I tried, I could never really LET GO and lose myself in sex. When a guy’s head travelled south I’d claim I "wasn’t really into" oral, always conscious of his proximity to my jiggly, stretchmarked thighs, my curvy stomach hanging over him. I couldn’t accept these features on myself as sexy, despite finding them sexy on other women. As for my vagina – did it smell? Was my pubic hair gross? Could he see my bumhole? Could he tell it was a bit stubbly? Would a hairy bumhole be something he'd never seen before? And while on the topic of bumholes, should I bleach mine?
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Girl on top was out of the question for me; from that angle I thought my nose would look even more bulbous, the rolls of fat around my waist more pronounced and my mind would become preoccupied with my biggest fear: was I crushing him? The poor guy was probably only having sex to avoid hurting my feelings was the inevitable conclusion I'd come to. Hardly a thought that serves as a precursor to a mind-blowing orgasm.
It was refreshing, then, to see a fully naked woman being eaten out on the dance floor of a sex club by a man she'd just met, not a care in the world.
Our British sensibilities prevent most of us from openly associating with swinging and fetish clubs, but these discreet venues can be found throughout the UK in towns from Bristol to Brighton to Birkenhead. And thanks to a growing online presence, it’s easier than ever to connect with likeminded friends before you’ve stepped through the door.
I’d impulsively agreed to be at this particular party when a friend asked me to be his date. Though single women are generally welcome at swingers clubs, only a handful of single men are granted entry per event. A Tesco chocolate cake sat on the bar in honour of a club regular’s birthday and I nervously downed wine from a plastic cup, trying to ignore the giant black dildo pummelling a woman’s backside on a flatscreen behind my friend’s head. Suzanne* stopped by to welcome us, introducing both her husband and her boyfriend, before explaining how we were under no obligation to do anything we weren’t comfortable with.
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While regular party clothing could be worn on the dance floor, upstairs we were expected to undress appropriately. As we congregated in the changing rooms, the jovial chatter made it clear this was as much a place to explore one's sexuality as it was a place where old friends came to catch up with each other. The playful atmosphere loosened me up a little. It was sexually charged, no doubt, but definitely not sexually aggressive. Despite wearing nothing but a pair of French knickers, I felt confident that nobody would touch me without my permission. Definitely not like that time at uni when someone on a dance floor grabbed me by the f***ing pussy.
I was one of the youngest people in the club (I'm in my mid 20s) and my friend and I both received plenty of attention. On one level this was enjoyable, but take those appreciative glances away and I was hyperaware of what I considered to be my flaws.
Initially, I felt uncomfortable when men looked at me as their partners stood beside them. Although this was, after all, a swingers club – I should have expected it – I couldn’t help thinking how crushed I’d feel watching my partner admire another woman. Or perhaps that’s a young woman’s insecurity talking. Despite my young years, fears of ageing have already started to consume me – is 27 too early for Botox? Should I have started ages ago? It’s said that women develop a sense of empowerment once they hit their 30s and I wondered whether the women at the party, being slightly older than me, had found what I’d been searching for.
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We followed the moans down the corridors, peeking into various "play" areas. These ranged from rooms of sprawling wall-to-wall bunk beds to a medical examination room complete with stirrups and speculums. Peeking at the writhing bodies, I felt as if I was experiencing something sacred and it occurred to me that these people’s partners – or other people's partners – weren’t noticing the features that women are conditioned to feel ashamed of. And absolutely no one was wondering why someone hadn’t bleached their bumhole. It was a revelation to see women embracing their bodies and having a bloody good time.
I met George*, who explained how people often spent months getting to know each other before moving on to the next step. He told me about a young woman, new to the club, who’d declared: "I’m gonna have you tonight!" George responded: "No you’re not – my wife’s over there." Emotional security was the last thing I’d considered in relation to sex clubs.
Having been dumped hours after losing my virginity, I believe I had come to associate sex with abandonment ever since. I would rush to the bedroom not for self-satisfaction but in a misguided attempt to make men fall in love with me, while bracing myself for the pain of heartbreak. I had come to the swingers club expecting couples in stale marriages throwing themselves at every fresh body who walked through the door, but I was wrong. Without that connection – be that with a lover or a naughty new friend you've nurtured a relationship with – it’s difficult to feel safe in an intimate space. It's connection and trust which are the difference between feeling ashamed and feeling like a goddess. 
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Although I’m pretty sure I’ll never try actual swinging myself, the experience has piqued my curiosity enough to want to return to the club. They say surrounding yourself with people you admire is the best way to grow. And while the club didn’t suddenly make me feel 100% comfortable in my own skin, it did definitely help me learn to put my insecurities aside and view myself the way other people see me. I've still got a long way to go when it comes to feeling truly confident but it's a small step in the right direction. And guess who got on top the last time she had sex?
*Names have been changed.
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