Women’s bathhouses are safe places to explore sexuality.
From the outside, it looks like a regular warehouse, dark and dingy, the metal panelling chewed with rust. But inside, it's a devil's wet dream.[rssbreak]
It's just after midnight. Pride Week has officially begun. Except for two young girls smoking under a streetlight, this side street near Carlton and Mutual is almost abandoned. Above the door is a rainbow sign: Club Toronto. Even the name is inconspicuous. The sky is spitting rain, jewel-toned neon lights bouncing off the slick pavement.
The door leads to a narrow flight of stairs. At the bottom is a ticket booth staffed by a woman with greasy black Billy Idol hair.
"Twenty bucks," she says.
Her flannel shirt is unbuttoned, exposing a naked strip of flesh. I slide a crumpled bill under the black bars, and she buzzes me through.
Welcome to the Pussy Palace.
It's my first time at a women-only bathhouse. The website recommends leather and lace and has tips on negotiating casual sex, but so far it's more like the Mafia. I feel a ripple of nervousness.
The door swings open.
There's a burst of steam. The room is full of soft, bare bodies dancing, getting out of the hot tub, rubbing up against each other. I'm speechless. In awe of glistening, sweet nakedness - and suddenly feeling like a huge geek in jeans and a T-shirt.
Goddesses in lingerie and G-strings dance together in a circle, absorbing the music, worshipping it with their swaying hips. But that's just the beginning.
Moans and pleasured cries come from every corner of the building. It's easy to lose your head once inside. It's like a giant labyrinth: four floors, countless nooks and crannies, orgy rooms and dark rooms. Long, constricted hallways and stairwells, bodies squeezing past each other in the dark.
There are a couple of hundred women here, most in their mid-20s and obviously in search of a sexual education utterly unlike anything you'd find in Cosmo.
Long lines form outside themed rooms. There's the G-spot room, massage room, lap dance room, fuck room, butt-plug room, chick-with-a-dick room, porn room and S/M room. All staffed by volunteers. There are demos on fisting, strap-ons and female ejaculation.
Some are here simply to watch.
"Thwack!" A dominatrix in tight, vixenish leather paces the floor, doling out whiplashes and spanks. Seven or eight young women are lying face down a table, bare bottoms quivering in the air. "You like that, do you?" Thwack! Thwack! The femme fatale keeps up a steady stream of abuse. Her victims grip one another's hands, biting back fits of giggles.
"Since 1998, we've been creating safe spaces for women to explore their sexuality," says Suzy Yim, one of the Palace's eight committee members. A few times a year, they take over a male bathhouse to host an all-women event.
Some have come here with lovers, but most are with friends. Men go to bathhouses to hook up; this club on any other day of the week would be marked by silence and anonymity. But today there's lots of grocery-store-line chatter and laughter. You could be at the hairdresser's if it weren't for people fucking.
One volunteer working the erotic massage room has almond eyes and soft, cinnamon skin. I didn't bring a bathing suit, so I strip off my jeans and T-shirt and climb into the hot tub after her, naked. She tastes like sweet chai tea. Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit wails in the background.
We end up in one of the private rooms - the one shaped like a prison cell. We start kissing, but then there's a roar from the room next door, a wild gorilla shriek of an orgasm. We glance at each other and burst into laughter.
I find out she's a business student at U of T. Her girlfriend's in another room having a threesome with two other women she just met. "I couldn't do it," she says. "I don't know why." She sounds so sad. I give her hand a squeeze.
Some things are better left to fantasy.