Two young men walk along a street in Madrid's bohemian Lavapiés neighborhood in the early hours of the morning, peering down at the screens of their smartphones. “I think it’s here,” says one. They stop and look around them. There is no bar or disco; only a black door that is vaguely lit up and which opens by chance, spilling three thirty-something men out on to the street. “It’s in there,” says the other, pointing back at the entrance to The Ring, one of Madrid’s many sex clubs. The door swings shut. You have to ring the bell to cross the threshold. A few seconds later, the door opens again. “You have to be a member to come in,” says a voice from inside.
Before paying the €10 entrance fee, which includes a complementary drink, there’s a form to fill out. Then you can go inside. “It’s the first time I’ve come,” says one of the boys whose friend, a former customer, has assured him he can keep his boxers on if he wants, but advises him not to remove his shoes.
At a spanking party, a man arrived carrying a box, wrapped like a present and inside it was a whip
They have arrived during a “naked or underwear session.” There’s a locker where they can leave their clothes and a bar where they receive a complementary drink, along with free condoms – safe sex is promoted in these clubs. A couple of sips and they’re ready to head to the basement.
Downstairs is a labyrinth of different spaces. In the middle of one of them is the boxing ring that gives the place its name. Inside the ring are three naked men, one of whom is standing while another performs oral sex on him. The third man masturbates as he watches. Below the ring, another couple of men are enjoying the show.
“Having sex is in no way wrong,” says Celia Blanco, a journalist and sex expert who presents Cadena Ser’s erotic program, Contigo Dentro. “I think we’ve managed to get rid of some of the taboos attached to it so we can deal with it with more openly.”
Without a trace of embarrassment, Blanco talks about the various hetero sex clubs she has been to in the capital. They are usually referred to as “swingers clubs,” though some prefer to describe them as “free clubs,” as in free sex. “At a spanking party, a man arrived carrying a box wrapped like a present, and inside it was a whip,” she recalls.
Though there are between 20 and 30 of these clubs in Madrid for both heterosexual and gay clientele, there appears to be no lesbian equivalent in the city, though these do exist elsewhere in Spain.
A hetero club charges around €50 for a single man, which gets him as far as the bar where he has to wait to be invited inside by a woman
“We wanted to get away from the stereotypical image of these places,” says a spokesperson from a hetero club called Momentos, near Doctor Esquerdo street. It features two swimming pools, a sauna, a dungeon, a cage and a confession box. “That is why we focus on details, such as the music and themed parties.”
There are, of course, differences between the heterosexual and gay variety, such as the sex toys. La Cruz de San Andrés – a cross for bondage – and the gynecologist’s chair are very popular among hetero “swingers,” while swings go down well among gays. Popular with both are the so-called glory holes – a wall where you can insert various parts of your body for the enjoyment of those on the other side.
Prices and access also differ. While a gay sex club will cost around €10 a head, a hetero club charges between €20 and €30 for couples and €50 for a single man, which gets him as far as the bar where he has to wait to be invited inside by another customer, generally a woman who has entered for free.
“I feel very safe”
Verónica Martín, 33, went to a sex club for the first time just over a year ago in Berlin. “I went with a casual sex partner who suggested it. It’s pretty normal there.”
Since her experience in Germany, she has tried it a few times in Madrid. “I like it,” she says. “It’s a space where you can do what you feel like, whether that’s just looking, masturbating or interacting with other people. I feel very safe and very comfortable, and that’s important to me. You can see that the organizers care that things go well. I’ll definitely go back.”
Although these clubs are gradually being perceived as normal, there is more fascination attached to them than to a traditional sex shop, perhaps because they have managed to shed the furtive element. “The take on it is slightly different,” says Aurelio Catón, 41, who runs Boyberry Madrid, a gay sex club in Malasaña. “We are no longer embarrassed to go to a place where you can have sex. People have always done it; the hard part was to admit it.”
In contrast to The Ring, Boyberry Madrid has big windows that look out on to the corner of Valverde street. Through them, you can see a bar and stalls selling erotic goods. It is also a licensed sex shop with a live show. The area for having sex is hidden behind a curtain.
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“Boyberry is inspired by the idea that there is nothing taboo or dark about sex,” says Catón. “That’s what makes it different from before, when these kind of places were seen as clandestine and seedy.”
Boyberry is open every day from midday until 3am, and serves between 100 and 150 customers a day, with even more on weekends.
Recently, a similar kind of club was closed for exceeding the legal number of people allowed in. The police report also mentioned drugs. But according to Catón, numbers at Boyberry are tightly controlled not only by the license, but also because customer comfort is important to them. “As far as drugs are concerned, it’s the same as in any other bar,” says Catón. “Their sale and consumption are not allowed. In general, the customers get this and there’s no problem.”
Thursday afternoon is a busy time at Boyberry. Entrance is free; you just have to pay for a drink. Behind a black curtain, a number of boys are enjoying the delights of the glory holes. “Just seeing and touching through the hole is intriguing,” whispers Emilio, 23. Downstairs, there are private cabins, with big comfortable beds. The lighting is so dim, it’s practically pitch-black, and there is porn being shown on various screens.
“Darkness is part of the décor,” says Catón. “In reality, our business model is the same as a bar’s. We make money from selling drinks. The only difference is that we offer a comfortable, safe and fun space for having sex.”
English version by Heather Galloway.