Nov 2nd, 2020, 03:24 PM

Ryan's Secret: A Story of Sex Parties, Orgies, and Acceptance

By Lauren Nanes
Ryan lounging on his couch in Paris, France. Image credit: David Atticus.
Ryan lounging on his couch in Paris. Image credit: David Atticus.
When a 20-year-old fashion student is not working showrooms for luxury brands, he is chasing risqué sexual pursuits — from gay saunas and orgies to sex clubs and circuit parties in Paris. 

With a glass of wine in one hand and the other clutching a fluffy gray blanket close to his chest, one leg crossed playfully over the other, he looks oddly calm compared to his pictures. Relaxing on his couch in his Paris apartment, he seems softer and less intense than usual. Although still dressed impeccably, clean and smart in his outfit choice, there is an air of normalcy to him that is comforting.

At first glance, 20-year-old Ryan (not his real name, for reasons of privacy) can seem intimidating. Like a statue, everything about his appearance is intentional and perfected. His jet-black hair, a stark contrast against his pale skin and blue eyes, is methodically parted down the middle. His legs are long and sleek and he sits with the level of comfort of a man twice his age. His physical appearance is his veil, making him seem unapproachable. Still, he has a warm personality and occasionally smiles, as if playing a practical joke. A peek under the veil and all preconceived notions evaporate.

"People may be intimidated by me, which I like in retrospect, but I also like to think that I'm warm on the interior," he says. "I may not be as cold as my outfit might imply."

Reveling in the idea of looking powerful and confident when dressed up, Ryan's interior identity is intrinsically linked to how he looks on the outside. "I used to care so much about what people think. When I was younger," he adds. "I would worry if people would think I was gay for wearing an outfit that was too feminine or too out there. My dad would want me to wear things that were more casual and fit in with the crowd. Now I just do what I want."

Ryan. Image credit: David Atticus.

There are two sides to Ryan's personality — one obvious, the other concealed. He is well-dressed, attractive and, though distant, kind, intelligent and profoundly driven. "I like to describe myself as very caring and someone who takes pride in friendship," he says. "I don't have a lot of friends, but for the friends I do have, I would jump off of a bridge for them. I may look cold on the outside, but once you earn my respect and we have mutual trust I become very warm and comfortable." A fashion business major at the ESMOD university in Paris, Ryan turns to aesthetics as a way to express himself, rooting his individuality and freedom in his dress. Having worked for brands like Yves Saint Laurent, Vetements, Y/Project and showrooms like Gabriela Hearst and Plan 8 for Sagittaire A, he has more working experience than most young men his age. He is no stranger to long hours, always managing somehow to get his foot in the door. "I'd like to say that I have a decent work ethic," he says. "Sometimes it might take me a second to understand what we're doing, but once I understand I can really apply myself and move efficiently."

The concealed side belongs to a sphere that most never dare enter. When Ryan is not working showrooms or sales for luxury brands, he is chasing risqué sexual pursuits — from gay saunas and orgies to sex clubs and circuit parties across Paris. 

Ryan on his couch. Image credit: David Atticus.

Orgies and sex parties have a long tradition. Stamping sex parties with a reprimanding scarlet letter is a modern reflex. In the distant past, from the ancient Egyptians to the Greeks and the Romans, humans have always found tremendous freedom and belonging in hedonism. Orgies functioned as an outlet, granting people release from restricting societal roles into a space of free expression and thrill. Yet, the idea of doing something regarded as intimate and private in public holds a taboo charge.

Today, there are many misconceptions surrounding orgies and sex parties, mainly because they operate on a need-to-know basis. While some may picture sordid, freak-filled scenes of sexual chaos and insobriety, the reality is mundane. Sex parties and orgies are organized events based on understood codes of conduct. While some are attended by the rich, most are hosted in clubs, hotel rooms, or in someone's home. There are casual hang-out spaces for socializing, spaces for open play and private spaces for something more intimate. Often there will be snacks, drinks and a display of condoms and lube up for pickings. And most importantly, consent is paramount. 

Before he plunged into the world of sex clubs and hotel room orgies in Paris, Ryan was living in Michigan with his father. Originally from New Jersey, Ryan had moved to Michigan under less than ideal circumstances. His mother was an alcoholic who, he says, "was no longer physically able to take care of me, but that was the case for about two years. It just hit a tipping point where everyone saw that it wasn't okay for her to take care of me." Michigan also proved to be less than ideal. Extremely heteronormative in a small-town life, Ryan felt restricted and uncomfortable being himself. "I really hated living in Michigan and I was really uncomfortable living with my dad," he says. "My dad wasn't really there that much, he was usually busy with his girlfriend or work. I always resented my father for bringing me to Michigan."

Searching for a way to escape, Ryan sold the idea of boarding school in Paris to his parents as an experience to learn about new cultures and become independent. Although not without pushback from his father, Ryan left the Roeper School for gifted children in Michigan and arrived at the American School of Paris to complete his final two years of high school. In a city charged with fashion and a hub for France's homosexual community, he finally felt free to grow into himself and explore his sexual identity.

SunCity bathhouse. Image credit: Lauren Nanes.

"I think I understood I was gay in the seventh grade, but I definitely was not ready to admit it to myself or those around me," he says. "Then, I came to Paris and it really was a whole new world of people. Everyone did themselves and it was inspiring to see everyone be so free." 

But his freedom and openness towards being gay didn't happen immediately upon his arrival to Paris. Still going out to clubs and making out with girls, he never truly had a coming-out moment until his final year of school in Paris. "I never had a moment or a breaking point in my life where I was like, 'I'm gay!', and did a whole Instagram post about it. In the twelfth grade I kind of opened the conversation by saying, 'Hey, I went on a date with this guy. What do you think of him?', and that was how I told people I was gay."

If you have ever walked the streets of Paris, you might have noticed a couple of blacked-out stores with the name, "SunCity" pasted on its door. One of the most popular modern day bathhouses in the capital, SunCity has locations everywhere, its largest being on the Boulevard de Sebastopol. Inspired by Hindu decor, these saunas are more than just places to hookup and have sex. There is a cinema to watch movies, a bar, a swimming pool adorned with LED mood lighting, a gym, steam rooms and, of course, a cruising area with private cabins for something a little more intimate. 

SunCity swimming pool. Image credit: SunCity official website.

Although they are strictly for men 18 years old or older, Ryan first went to a gay sauna in Paris when he was 16 years old. "I was looking at the website and it was recommended to wear flip flops because it's a sauna, I guess," he recalls. "My French wasn't that good and I had to google translate a lot of things so I was anxious about asking for flip flops. It was a rule on their website. But, when I walked in no one was wearing flip flops. That's what I focused on a lot. And then, I looked around and I was like, oh my god, everyone's naked here having sex."

Nervous and uncomfortable, Ryan initially attended as a voyeur, watching what people do and learning how they do it. "There's just this little entrance where a guy is selling tickets and then you're led into the back room with a towel and a little velcro band that you put around your ankle which has your locker number where you put your clothes," he says. "They give you condoms too, there's condoms and lube everywhere on the walls in dispensaries."

SunCity private cabin in cruising area. Image credit: SunCity official website.

His voyeurism quickly turned into participation. Void of judgement and a space only for gay men, Ryan felt free to embrace his sexuality. Fascinated by the prospect of a place with little guessing games, where everyone was looking to have sex, he felt he had found something certain in his quest for sexual experience. "I saw how easy it was to have sex there. You get to see everyone, so many different types of men," he says. "There'd be people having sex in the steam room out in public or if you wanted something more intimate you could go upstairs into the sex cabin and do something private behind closed doors. I guess that's where I learned a lot."

Ryan. Image credit: David Atticus.

Anonymity had granted Ryan a type of security lost in the outside world where heterosexuality dominated. "You don't know anyone. It's just you and your body," he says. "That's it. There's no judgement behind anyone you know." But anonymity wasn't just something he was granted, it was also something he learned along the way. And that become comfortable for him. "I learned to have sex without any heart or soul or emotion in it," he adds. "It was purely for physical pleasure. Sometimes I felt gross about myself physically afterwards. I would have just hooked up with a completely random guy in a somewhat public area who didn't give a single f*ck about me, but it was mutual. I would just take a shower and get over it." 

High off of men taking physical interest in him, Ryan continued to go to the sauna almost every weekend for six months. One club that he sometimes frequented was Le Depot, a gay club in Paris also owned by SunCity that boasts being an "unmissable venue for gay sex" on its official website. Only by the end of his first school year in Paris, when he finally felt comfortable enough to be gay in public, did Ryan start going to bars and gay clubs, leaving the sauna to be more of a pastime than a necessity. While Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays hosts dancing and parties on Le Depot's top floor, the other days of the week are exclusively for the downstairs where black rooms welcome sex and anything goes. 

"It smells like sex," he says. "You go in and there's always a bar around. There's drugs going on and it's not very apparent, it's not very open, but people are still taking some drugs like GHB or coke. And there's a lot of staring across the room. What's nice about sex clubs is that there's not a lot of talking. It's about what your eyes say to someone else." Without much talking, the name of the game at Le Depot is body language, he adds. Rather than striking up a conversation with someone you have got your eye on, you follow them into the smoke room or, "watch them go into a private cabin and follow them into there."

With his fair share of black room hookups, Ryan is no stranger to semi-public sex in dimly lit rooms. But in following strangers into underground backrooms, anxiety always accompanied him. "The first time you go in you're always scared," he recalls. "You're curious and you're anxious. I understand now what it was and what it meant to me. The sex club was a last resort to hooking up when no one was messaging me on Grindr. It wasn't really a place I'd go to dance and have fun. It was somewhere I could have a quick hookup and leave."

Ryan's search for physical adoration continued past Le Depot, his curiosity leading him into Paris hotel room orgies. Through the popular LGBTQ+ dating app Grindr, Ryan would receive messages from men inviting him to hotel rooms with six, eight, sometimes even ten men looking for group sex. If, after exchanging photographs, Ryan was interested, he would agree and be on his way. "Going to gay saunas and participating in three-ways kind of prepares you for this stuff," he says. "Even going into sex clubs, there's a lot of people around you that want to have sex with you and are staring at you. But, that's just how it is. You don't have to say yes. It's in your control to say no or decide to do something private. But, there's also something interesting about doing something in a public area."

What Ryan likes most about orgies is that he has options. An unusual place for courtship, his selling point for participating in orgies is that he can find someone that he likes in a concentrated group of people. But, that's not all he likes about them. The feeling of being desired is what he truly craves and in an orgy that satisfaction is infinitely easier to get. "It's the idea that there are people around you that are admiring you," he says. "If someone is purely interested in having sex with you from just one look, it feels like admiration and it's confirmation that I like to get from a third party. It's comforting."

Ryan's first sexual experience was at age 15 with a man that he had found on Grindr. "I regret it being my first sexual experience because it wasn't that great and he was much older, in his early thirties I think," he says. Ryan dove head-first in to sex, teaching himself about sexual health through personal experiences along the way. "With Grindr, at first, there's this big fear of meeting up with people and the sad thing is no one talks to you about STDs in the gay community," he says. "No one talks to you about HIV and the actual risks, or how you should wear protection. You're only really taught, in a very traditional setting, how to have sex with a girl. With straight people, protection is usually used so they don't have a baby, but with gay people it's so you don't get HIV and die."

Experiences like Ryan's are not an anomaly. With the world becoming more accepting of gay culture, homosexuality is becoming more incorporated into everyday conversations and popular culture, but much still remains secret, leaving boys to figure it out for themselves. "Growing up, you know, you're not supposed to have sex with men," he says. "In a heterosexual upbringing it's never talked about. You just want to experience it and you don't really have the same opportunity as heterosexual people do in high school where you can date and flirt."

While quick hookups and group sex are not the loving relationships Ryan hopes for, they do satiate his desire to connect with another person, even if only for a little while. "I do like the physical pleasure of it," he says. "No one has forced me to do it. I do it because I like it. I like being paid attention to and as much as I'd love an interpersonal relationship with someone I just struggle immensely in that department. It may be sad, but that's my reality and the next closest thing to a relationship is anonymous sex. Sex is just so easy and abundant in the gay community. It's not something I'd like to do forever, but in the meantime that's what keeps me going."

Ryan looking into the mirror. Image credit: David Atticus.

Sex is an integral part of the gay community. Unlike straight people, the homosexual community's identity is intrinsically linked to their sexual preference. Semi-public places like gay saunas and sex clubs are not just hubs for sex and empty pleasure, they are uniquely gay — a space for the homosexual community to be free and have fun with their own. Gay sex culture is not inherently polygamous, just as straight culture is not inherently monogamous. Public, liberal and uninhibited sex is not bizarre or unruly. It is a direct, public effort towards sexual acceptance in a community that has suffered hatred and oppression. Sex culture within the gay community is purposefully free and indulgent, making up for lost time through liberation. 

Squeamishness towards orgy and sex party culture within the gay community seems to be everlasting. "It's because the world hasn't really accepted gay people fully yet," says Ryan. "Nike may put some flags on some shoes, but that doesn't mean the world is ready to accept gay people in everyday culture. I don't know why the public wouldn't accept sex clubs. I guess it's seen as gross or not acceptable to sleep with so many people anonymously, but I think it's kind of liberating. If it's not for you that's fine, but for you to judge someone on their sexual ambitions is wrong."

Taking a drag from his cigarette, Ryan smiles and says, "I don't want to be defined as a wh*re, but then again who wants to be defined as a wh*re? I'm open about my sexuality. I'm comfortable with it. I like myself, to an extent. I don't know anyone who is perfectly content with their inner-selves. I'm me. I think we're all individuals figuring it out. The person who has the final say in it all is you."

Many of us will never know what it is like to fight for the acceptance of our sexuality. If you do, you know that it is not easy. Sex will always be taboo. It will always be whispered about. It will always keep us curious. But, the one thing we can all agree on is that sex is part of who we are. Whether you have lots of it or not, whether it makes you squeamish or confident, sex makes up who we are. Looking at Ryan on his couch, comfortable and smiling while sharing his most intimate experiences, he looks undeniably free. Self-exploration does that to a person — it liberates them.