I consider myself a sex-positive person, but I must admit that, when I was asked by O&AN to attend a Male Socials evening—a men's only sexy party held at The Social Club in Nashville—I was tempted to say no.

Don't misunderstand, I'm no prude: I've been around and have even visited a couple of bathhouses, including the well-known Steamworks in Chicago. Dropping in anonymously at such a venue far from home, in a big city, is one thing: attending an event in my own town was something else altogether.

What if someone I knew well saw me and thought worse of me? (I know it's irrational, because they are there too, but rationality doesn't fare well against fear!) What if I saw someone there I didn't want to see that much of? Or someone I did? But if reason couldn't overcome my fears, my curiosity, and a strong voyeuristic impulse, ultimately did!

The doors open at 6:00 p.m. for the Male Socials, I put it off until about 8:00 p.m. because I was feeling anxious. Finally I bit the bullet and drove down to Division Street. I parked in the lot above Frugal McDougal's—it’s a flooring place, I think—and worked up my nerve.

On my way in I passed a cop who was dealing with a man acting strangely. At first it looked like he was being wired up, and I felt sure a bust was going down, so I almost left. But then I realized the man was being arrested: he wasn't being wired up, he had taken his ankle bracelet monitor off.

So I gathered my courage yet again and went inside. Approaching a window, I put down $20 and filled out a form (something I'm told you only have to do the first time). This did remind me of checking in at Steamworks and I began to think, "Maybe this is a Nashville bathhouse!"

I then descended a long staircase and entered a very large room. From the outside I never would have guessed HOW large the place was. In the middle of the space is a raised platform for dancers, and there are poles for pole-dancing, and dozens of tables filled the room. But, when I arrived, the room was empty except for the DJ in his booth and the man behind the bar.

The club is BYOB and you can deposit your bottle with the bartender, who looks after it. He also supplies snacks and has various non-alocolic drinks available. I felt bad asking even for a cup of water, since he works for tips and I had brought no extra cash. He told me I could get him next time, and, knowing there probably wouldn’t be a next time, I felt worse.

Holding my cup I turned and approached the DJ booth. Up a short set of stairs I could see a smaller room with tables and lockers against the back wall (you just need to bring your own lock). I wasn't going to explore that section but at the top of the rise appeared a guy in his mid-twenties.

"Hey, James!" he said with a bright smile. "I didn't know you were coming tonight!" I explained it was my first time, and hadn't really planned on telling anyone. It turns out it was his first time, too, but he's young and cute, so someone had given him a thorough enough tour to direct me to the party.

My acquaintance led me to the staircase by the bar, which took us to the second level of the club. Along the way we passed a sign expressing the Club’s rule against unwanted advances: if someone says no, you stop and don’t continue to harass them. Upstairs I found, quite distinct from the nightclub vibe the downstairs gave, what I had expected from the Male Social at The Social Club. There was a long hallway that opened up at the end into a more open space and another door to a well lit room. Along the hall, men stood, not quietly waiting to snag a hookup or performing sex acts, but chatting pleasantly, occasionally copping a feel or exchanging welcomed hugs.

Immediately to my left was a doorway the opened into a narrow hall lined with doors. Men stood by open doors waiting for someone willing to join them in one of the small rooms. This looked like the layout of the video booths section of a classic adult bookstore, as many gay men will recognize. The insides of these rooms are far cleaner and more comfortable than those video booths though....

To my right a door opened into a large, darker room that I would check out later. For the moment I was feeling claustrophobic and wanted to get to that well-lit room at the opposite end of the hall. So I pushed forward, carefully avoiding bumping into or rubbing against people as I passed. As I came to a little row of tables, most of which hosted men smoking and talking, I could see that, in the open space across from the booths, there was a large, black ceiling-mounted sling. I didn’t immediately notice that, to the left of the sling was a little corral leading back to some curtains (I later was told this was the glory hole section).

Mostly I failed to notice this because there was a somewhat handsome Asian man in his mid- to late-twenties laying in the sling with his legs in the air. He seemed comfortable with the situation, and the men around him were watching casually, as if waiting. The “for what” became clear when an older, “wolf”-ish gentleman returned, wearing very little, from another hallway lined with doors. Almost casually, he grasped the hips of the man in the sling and resumed his pleasure.

I was immediately struck by how normal this all seemed to feel to those around me. There was no crowding, no attempt to sidle up and get involved. Mostly there was a lot of watching over uninterrupted conversations about mostly mundane things: work, family, travel and the like.

I took a moment to look around, though my eyes kept getting drawn back to the sling, where things were getting more … energetic. The crowd was more diverse than anything I’ve ever seen in Nashville’s LGBT community. There were guys who looked like they barely made the age limit (you have to be 21 to enter Male Socials) and guys who could have been in their seventies. Most men were in their late twenties to mid-forties though. I kicked myself for making assumptions: I had been expecting the place to be full of only much older men trolling for sex.

What was even more amazing was the racial and cultural diversity. Caucasian, African American, Asian, and Latino men intermingled both in and out of the little private rooms. Even if they came in together in small, homogenous groups, the social barriers seemed lighter. A young, Latino guy, probably twenty-five was leaving with his friend, but on his way out he grabbed my hand, told me I was cute, and asked me if I would be back next time. I barely had time to process before he was dragged off, though smiling over his shoulder at me. I’m definitely not cute but that was great for the ego.

What wasn’t surprising was the diversity of dress. There were some real exhibitionists there, but fewer than I expected. Some men walked around naked, having locked up their clothes and wallets. These carefree souls were more than happy to stand and chat with it all hanging out, and for me that’s a bit distracting. More than a few times, I had to remind myself that some guy’s eyes were up there. Other men wore only underwear. In retrospect it seems to me that the younger guys there favored jockstraps. Thank you, Andrew Christian! One twinkish young man wore a seductive white, button-up shirt, entirely unbuttoned, over his jock: I suppose he was being modest, though he needn’t have been.

Finally, I made my way to the well lit room, where I found more lockers, two pool tables noticeably worse for the wear, and in the back of the room a St. Andrew’s cross and some other implements often associated with the kinkier side of things. But that equipment was not particularly high quality—certainly nothing near what you would find at The Mark in Nashville—and such play is uncommon at Male Socials, or so I was told when I asked a few men. One of the men I asked, a daddy bear, seemed disappointed when he found out I was merely curious.

I was really at the point of sensory overload by that time—in real time about twenty minutes after entering the building—so I hung out and tried to behave nonchalantly. I thought leaning against a wall and watching a pool game between a gentleman in his sixties and a college-aged African American cub in a jockstrap would render me invisible. Instead it drew the interest of most everyone who came around.

Was I going to play? What was I into? People were friendly, not aggressive but definitely outgoing, and gradually, despite myself, I got drawn into a conversation with the men playing pool. As people came and went, I met men who had driven in from Chattanooga, Huntsville, and Kentucky for the party, and people from as far away as New York who happened to have discovered the event while here on a trip.

One man asked the Huntsville man why he had come so far for the event, and the man said, “Someone I met up with online told me I could have some good sex here.” Fair enough, I thought. The men talked and discovered they had a common acquaintance. Apparently the Huntsville man’s reputation for legendary prowess in the bedroom preceded him. Now that he had been identified, the man he was speaking with led him away to one of the little rooms in the hall nearest the sling.

I followed the men, walking past the room they chose, to get a better look at the smaller, private rooms. Some had their own sling, while others had simpler furniture, like platforms covered in vinyl for easy cleaning. In each room I found paper towels and cleaners, just in case. I also saw condom packets all around, for those who wanted them. Many did as they seemed to disappear over the course of the evening. On my way back out, I could hear the Huntsville man living up to his reputation from the hallway.

The last room on my right before emerging back into the sling area was larger than the other small rooms and had a large window into the wall, so I stopped for a look. Inside a man who had brought sex toys was demonstrating some of his goods on a couple of willing subjects, while a crowd of ten or so stood watching with more than simple sexual interest. They were learning something, so I decided to name this the classroom.

The sling held a new subject now, a hairy, attractive man in his late thirties, who was making himself available to potential tops, but business at the sling was slow. It turns out that *really*, *really* public sex, which for me is epitomized by the sling at the “halls crossroads,” isn’t as popular at the club as you might imagine. Sure, while I stood around the pool table, there was a guy receiving oral in a chair a few feet from me, but that wasn’t the norm.

Most men paraded around, flirted, and chatted before pairing (or tripling) up and taking it behind closed doors. Then there were more semi-enclosed spaces like the classroom. Another such area was in the dark room I had passed on my way in: when I finally visited that room, I dubbed it the orgy room. The middle of the room has an upholstered platform big enough for a large number of people to have sex on at once and the walls of the big room are lined with “booths,” or as I like to call them, sex cabanas.

I didn’t see any sex in the orgy space during my visit, but the largest of the sex cabanas is more secluded than the rest. As you enter the dark room, it is to your right, while the orgy area is to your left. It has a half wall, and, though there is a large open-air window into the space, it is somewhat obscurable by sheer curtain.

As I came into the orgy room, about a dozen men gathered around the door and window of that space, so I squeezed in between a leather daddy and a chubby younger guy and peeked in. On the padded platform on the right side of this sex cabana, one thin man in his forty was having sex with a younger guy in missionary position, while another coupling of men was trading oral sex to their right. In the middle of the room one bear sat, while a young guy in a jockstrap took care of him. More than enough show to go around.

I didn’t stay there long, but made my way back toward the pool area. Along the way I heard a nude older gentleman giving career advice to a hot, lean, muscular young man in a leather harness. Then they hugged and said goodbye, calling each other by name. This sort of casual friendship was the thing most on display, and most surprising, during my visit to the sex party.

After slowing to observe a few more encounters along the way, I made it back to the pool room and ended up staying far longer than I had intended. A middle aged African American man had joined the group and the pool was now a doubles game. One tall, handsome, thin young graduate student was unburdening himself about having been left by his boyfriend of over a year, so another of the men shared his experience of having a seven year relationship end the same way. After sharing words of mutual encouragement and respect, they got back into the game and lighter conversation.

As the night drew to a close, another young acquaintance of mine showed up, also his first time it turned out. We talked some before he went off with a friend of his looking for a playmate, and then I made ready to slip away. But it didn’t go quite like that—our little crew from the pool room had to all say our goodbyes first, and I got the longest and most sincere hug from that tall graduate student before I left.

If you had asked me to describe the Male Socials before I visited, I would have described a large, uninhibited sex party full of unattractive men, to be honest. To be sure, it’s a venue within which sex is sought and encouraged, and where, no matter what your tastes, you’ll find some attractive men. In reality, though, what I found was far more of a social club—blurring the race, class, gender and sexuality boundaries that so often dissect our community—than a wild sex party. I didn’t see that coming.


Why I canceled my YMCA membership

Maryland Farms YMCA hit with sexual assault lawsuit

Keep readingShow less