October 25, 2016

Return to Snctm: Who's on Top in Utopia?

I just had one question. One persistent, slippery question.
I just had one question. One persistent, slippery question.

By Alexa Day

I was enjoying a long, lazy summer when I first wrote about Snctm this past May. The goop.com sex issue sent me right through the looking glass.

I go into a lot of detail about Snctm in that post, but in essence, Snctm is a sex club catering to men with money. Applicants, both male and female, are evaluated in large part on their appearance. There are pool parties and masquerades and such, but honestly, if you read erotic romance, you probably already know what a sex club is.

About two and a half months after that post, an email from a Snctm member appeared in the LadySmut mail room. I have agreed not to disclose this person’s identity or to quote this person in such a way that would lead to this person’s being identified. For ease of reference and in deference to the classical tradition of storytelling, I will refer to this person as Nemo.

Nemo guessed, correctly, that I have not been to a Snctm event. Nemo said the reality of the events surpassed the press coverage, which was plentiful.

Nemo also said that Snctm was empowering for women.

I was skeptical about this at first. After all, nothing I’d turned up for the first post left me with this impression. But the journalist in me wanted to improve inadequate coverage and the eroticist in me wanted to know how this worked. So Nemo and I began to correspond.

Because I have agreed not to quote Nemo, I will distill our correspondence to these bullets.

  • Nemo suggested that I interview Snctm founder Damon Lawner, which I would be delighted to do if I could get hold of him.
  • Nemo assured me that security was incredibly tight at Snctm events.
  • Nemo emphasized that women outnumbered men at Snctm events. If those women wanted to undress and engage in a little girl-on-girl while the men looked on, well, they should feel perfectly comfortable to do that wherever possible. Seriously, Snctm is all about greenlighting girl-on-girl.
  • Nemo said that everyone at the Snctm events had loads and loads of money.
  • And finally, Nemo repeated that women were empowered at Snctm events.

That last point was really all I was interested in. Snctm has been compared to the club in Eyes Wide Shut and to the Playboy mansion back in its heyday. If that conjures up visions of naked women cavorting around for the enjoyment of wealthy men, well, the Snctm membership video seems to back that up. (BTW, that video link is probably the most NSFW link I have ever posted.)

I asked Nemo what I was missing. Nemo promised to call. I wrote down a list of questions.

And then Nemo ghosted me.

I’ve been ghosted before. It happens. But that’s not the way to change my mind. Indeed, that cemented my opinion that Snctm was not empowering for women. It certainly sounded like Nemo wasn’t able to answer my one pressing question.

I signed on to the Snctm email list a while back. From time to time, I received lovingly overblown messages from them about a Classe (yes, with the ‘e’), like the one on “bondage, impact and sensation play,” complete with “canapes and premium libations.” Invitations to masquerades and pool parties joined the rest of the promotional emails in my inbox.

Then, on September 27, I received the following email.

“For 2 months in a row our problem is too many amazing, gorgeous ladies and not enough men! This is something most clubs only dream of, but we are serious. Our prices are very high for men and free for ladies guest list. What this means is we have created a literal sexual utopia for gentlemen smart enough, successful enough, and lucky enough to attend our events. The ladies to gentlemen ratio is 4 to 1. 2 or 3 to 1 is what we are looking to achieve. ‘Blessed are those entering our hallowed halls’ has never rung so true as now.”

I have trouble squaring empowerment for women with “a literal sexual utopia for gentlemen,” especially when utopia is about having two or three women for every man. That’s lovely news for guys bringing a partner to the events, right? No need to be limited to the one you brought, it seems. If you’re a woman not interested in girl-on-girl, I’m not sure what that means for you.

Anyone feeling empowered out there? Don’t worry if you don’t. There’s more.

On September 28, I received this next email.

“From this moment forward to any and all gentlemen who request discounts and/or free entry here is our response. FUCK OFF. If you can’t afford Snctm, you need to be a real man and get your shit together. Enough said.”

In May, I suspected that Snctm’s membership was made up of women Damon Lawner found hot and men he found cool. Still, this second email is a little jarring. One does not often find toxic masculinity in an environment that is empowering to women.

Want to try this club instead? Click to buy.
Want to try this club instead? Click to buy.

I think I was still rolling my eyes a little when I received yet another email. This one contained a link to an Esquire feature on Lawner. The title suggests that he is unhappy. I found this a little galling so soon after “FUCK OFF” but I read on anyway.

Esquire’s coverage of a Snctm masquerade includes all the luxe details. The giant mansion. The sumptuous food and drink. Topless women at the pool. When the feature opens, Lawner and Caroline, with whom he shares an open relationship, are evaluating someone’s membership application. The female applicant notes that she is a hyperpolyglot who enjoys dirty talk. Lawner is intrigued by the notion of dirty talk in multiple languages. Caroline suggests that the applicant probably “likes to get fucked really hard.”

You ladies feeling empowered yet?

Esquire also reports that “Lawner has tried to create a spiritual and erotic utopia where people of like minds and desires can have as much sex and romance as humanly possible, in as many different ways as the imagination can invent.” That sounds intriguing, no? It conjures up images of long conversations that might be inappropriate elsewhere, the kind of sensual, intellectual interaction that lasts for hours before anyone undresses. So how did he get from there to a “literal sexual utopia for men,” a place that can afford to tell potential applicants, guys who might have like minds but less extravagant budgets, to “FUCK OFF”?

The Esquire reporter also captures a disturbing moment between Caroline and another party guest, a man whose “vigorous” touch prompts her to flee the room in “obvious distress.” I remembered Nemo’s insistence that the parties were full of security personnel, but none are present in this account. Lawner follows Caroline out.

The next morning, he asks if he should have intervened.

The next morning.

I don’t think I need to say any more about that.

All is not lost.

Before the incident with Caroline, the feature touches briefly on a female Devotee, a performer in Snctm’s erotic theater. Dressed in a pig mask and a sign that reads “Touch Me,” she is led through the party by two other performers, who encourage guests to do as the sign says. The Devotee tells the reporter that “she loved the way the guests looked at her with a mixture of shyness and desire, men and women alike.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. This was all I wanted to hear. It took five months, but now we know that somewhere in Snctm is a woman who feels empowered by what the club has to offer her.

Actually, Esquire offers up a smaller feature — very NSFW — follows the Devotee into a performance with a Snctm regular known as the Bunnyman. Considering that this Devotee is the only woman to describe in detail how she’s empowered by the experience, that’s definitely worth a read. I’d certainly love to hear more from her, and from anyone who knows the thrill of power in a setting like this. I really am interested in the intellectual and erotic underpinnings that go along with this.

This does nothing to reassure me about what happened to Caroline or the environment in which it happened. That gives me very real reservations about the Snctm experience and the male members’ perception of it.

So while one of my questions is answered, others have arisen.

I know that readers of erotica and erotic romance are no strangers to the sex club, at least as it appears on the page. I found a new favorite in The Gentlemen’s Club by Emmanuelle de Maupassant, who leaves no question about whether the ladies of the club are empowered. Be sure to tell me who else is doing it right in the comments.

And follow Lady Smut. We’ll take you on a long trip sometimes, but the journey’s certainly worthwhile.


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  • Post authorKel

    So the first thing that I’d like to say is that the descriptions I’ve read in no way, shape or form make me think this is “empowering” for anyone but the people paying for the privilege… and since the “women get in free”… guess who is paying. Second, in very limited contexts is two women “performing” for attending males isn’t empowering for them. In fact, the only context I know of that gets there is two women already involved in a sexual relationship who both enjoy exhibitionism at a sex party that only has attendees who know the rules and care about at minimum their own reputations and ability to come to the next party… so no. This one fails on the empowering scale, too.

    Yes, performing can be a rush, and it can be a trip, and a performer can certainly get off on the audience’s energy… but despite this, it’s a job. No matter the rush, and the energy and the feelings of power the performer receives, they are being paid to provide the service. They bring the empowerment; it’s about them, not actually the situation. I don’t think a paid performer can truly give us any reassurance that the environment is generally empowering “for women”.

    No matter how much the literature reassures anyone that’s it’s all about the booth babes, saying it’s empowering for women is kind of like saying that being able to be married off to a rich old man when you’re 14 is empowering for women. Sure, you might “get” a lot from it, but you’e kind of an idiot it you think it’s your own power. There are a lot of opportunities for sex parties, for alternative lifestyles and groups, and while they’re not perfect (they do involve humans, after all), they’re a hell of lot more respectful than… that.

    • Post authorElizabeth SaFleur

      Well put. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

      Reply to Elizabeth SaFleur
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    The language seems to me to have all the hallmarks of a preppy guy and his friends who had a dream and were like: If we build it they will come.

    But I’m sure it’s far more complicated running a sex club than they ever bargained for. Certainly their concept and branding might get them attention, and I personally know women with an exhibitionistic streak who would definitely go to a place like this, hang out topless by the pool, and revel in being a Pretty Young Thing for the sense of power and prestige that it gives to them.

    However, the more you talk about Snctm, the more it sounds like a bad sub-plot from Gossip Girl, with Damon Lawner as Chuck Bass, and Caroline playing Blair. Those plots always tend to end with the venture folding or being sold off as Chuck, wiser but more jaded moves along to the next thing.

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorKel

      I also thought it was strange how the article focused on how pretty he is… okay, he’s an attractive man, he still sounds like an entitled child. Most people in the entertainment industry (and the club scene is) are at least paying lip service to conventional attractiveness rules. It sounds like he worships at the alter of conventional attractiveness, US-puritanical sexual mores and self gratification. It’s not necessarily a bad combination, but it’s a little hollow eventually. He should get a hobby, preferably one that has nothing to do with sex, being pretty, or breaking rules.

      On Being_Pretty: Sure. Everyone wants to be found attractive, and some people find it more gratifying from people who do_not_know_them. More power to them finding a way to do that. Hopefully they don’t build there self-worth on that, though… it’s a very shaky foundation (most people age out of “pretty” and “stunning” is a lot harder), and other people are never as reliable as you need them to be, especially not strangers.

      Also, do not run your life like a movie. We call it Fantasy for a reason. It’s okay (good!) to visit, but it’s not really how humans are meant to live.

    • Post authorAlexa Day

      Yeah, it’s something else, right? It definitely has me shaking my head.

      Reply to Alexa Day
      • Post authorcarlyquinnauthor

        I watched the video and wasn’t too impressed by that either. I certainly have gotten a different vibe about “club atmosphere” from my reading. Though I recognize it’s often not a true depiction in the books, the performances on the video left me utterly cold.

        Reply to carlyquinnauthor
        • Post authorAlexa Day

          Well, that’s the thing. If you’ve been reading BDSM clubs, the reality doesn’t look at all like Snctm. The real BDSM club is basically the diametric opposite of Snctm. BDSM clubs aren’t being touted as a sexual utopia for one sex over another. No one is being told to FUCK OFF without having actually done something to deserve that. Money isn’t the driving factor. Nonconsensual activity is handled swiftly and effectively — not the next morning with half-hearted questions.

          I’ve been to BDSM parties, and this is no BDSM party.

          As to the video, I wasn’t all that impressed, either, but now I’m not sure you and I are the target audience.

          Reply to Alexa Day
          • Post authorcarlyquinnauthor

            You sayin’ I’m no poser!!
            I agree.

          • Post authorAlexa Day

            Hey, we are keeping it real. 🙂

            Alexa Day
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