Content warning: This article discusses eating disorders.

The discreet black door with the little keypad is wedged between a residential condominium and a convenience store. I stand still for a minute and begin questioning myself: should I go inside or turn around and leave? 

My risk-seeking brain tells me, “Yes, go inside,” while my hopeless romantic heart screams, “What the fuck are you doing?” With all the self-made noise suffocating me, I decide that I am not going to live on what-ifs — so I listen to the former. 

I take a deep breath and finally open the door. 

A well-lit hallway welcomes me, and the white walls lead me to the left, where I face a counter that has glass panels with a staff member behind it. They smile at me as I walk in. They greet me, politely ask me for a valid ID, and then they buzz me in. 

This is Oasis Aqualounge, a sex club located in downtown Toronto, on the corner of Mutual Street and Carlton Street. It hides its activities from the rest of the city, as sexual intercourse is considered taboo and exclusively for the bedroom, not to be looked at by others.

Women especially often grow up thinking that sexual intercourse is a shameful act when it’s premarital, not heterosexual, or done out of pleasure instead of necessity — and this mindset begins from their families to the sex education curriculum in their region or country. Depending on a person’s hometown, sex education in some schools lacks context regarding various cultural connotations and the psychological dimensions of sex that involve emotional connection

For example, Ontario’s sex education curriculum includes teaching sixth-grade students about the impacts of watching pornography and the importance of sexual consent and communication. Meanwhile, in countries such as the Philippines, Mexico, and Italy — which have a predominantly Catholic population, a dominantly patriarchal society, and a strong purity culture — a curriculum for comprehensive sex education barely exists, or educators shy away from the topic. 

For teenage girls in these conservative environments, the only free and accessible resource to find out what sex is and what it looks like is through the internet — whether it is social media, movies and television shows on streaming sites, Wikipedia, Wattpad “smut” novels, or pornographic sites like PornHub. 

Admittedly, I was one of those girls. So, when I first heard of Oasis, I assumed it would be a full-blown orgy. I imagined people participating in all kinds of sexual activities left and right, whether it be with partners or in group settings — as I’ve seen before in various television shows or read on Wikipedia. 

Thankfully, I was mistaken — it was one of the most wholesome scenes I’ve seen in Toronto, and I’ve never felt so safe and secure in my own body and mind in my entire life. 

Before my experience at the club, my sexual partners were often dishonest with me, making me think that they were interested in me apart from sex, which led to my early sexual experiences being motivated by their pure lust under the false guise of love. Oasis, on the other hand, showed me that sex didn’t have to be full of lust, lies, and perversion — it can be an activity that genuinely connects two vulnerable people physically and emotionally. 

Honesty and boundaries

As I enter the main area, I listen to the staff member’s instructions. The establishment sets ground rules for everyone’s safety: everyone takes consent very seriously; you must be comfortable seeing others engage in sexual acts; staff roams around to ensure that everyone is safe and no one is recording anything; inclusivity is prioritized; no one can judge anyone’s body or sexual orientation; there are some designated spots where you cannot engage in sexual acts; and you are not required to take any clothes off. 

The club’s rules lifted a massive weight of anxiety off me. I wasn’t afraid anymore about someone suddenly hurting me, taking advantage of me, or pressuring me into anything I didn’t want to do. Oasis prioritized safety and consent over everything, and it made me feel secure about my environment. I became more hopeful about reaching my ideal sexual experience — but I still had my doubts. 

I’ve always wanted the kind of sexual experience I read about in Sally Rooney’s Normal People — where the two protagonists, Connell and Marianne, care for each other inside and outside the bedroom, entrusting their vulnerabilities to one another and showcasing the awkward but realistic parts of having sex, like undressing in front of a partner or switching positions. 

That depiction of sex has often been far from true for me. In my experience, sex usually feels performative and choreographed. In a 2019 study, it was revealed that a whopping 77 per cent of women admitted to faking their orgasms for various reasons. Like those women, I’ve also faked an orgasm — reused the enthusiastic moans and the “oh, yes, more” statements — or lied that I climaxed. Heterosexual coitus never felt authentic, and for a while, I thought it was normal to not fully enjoy it. 

Pornography plays a part in the notion of sex being an act, and I’ve found it ruins my intimate experiences. I relied on it to teach me about sex because, as a teenager, my parents weren’t open to talking about intercourse. Any mention of it triggered them to judge me, berate me, and demand I repent to God. 

As another Oasis employee gave me a tour of the whole building, I noticed that there were TV screens on each floor playing pornographic videos on mute. While I wasn’t surprised, the videos solidified my perception of what sex feels like — a performance. I still felt like every move, every word, and every expression during intercourse is supposed to be calculated.

Body image

After the tour, I go to the locker room and stuff all of my belongings there. I undress and quickly cover myself with towels, ashamed of how my natural body looks. At that point, I begin to doubt that anyone in the club will find me attractive. Just by looking at all the conventionally attractive adult entertainers on the screens, my disdain for my physical appearance grows stronger. 

A short, lean man has a locker near mine, and he apologizes for our elbows touching. I don’t mind at all and find it sweet that he said sorry for such a menial thing. I say that it’s okay. Once he leaves, I look at my body and think to myself, “He’s cute, but he probably wouldn’t go for me.”

Hearing criticism from my crushes about my body always hurt the most. I would hear them tell other people, “I would never like her because she is fat and ugly,” “She could be pretty if only she tried losing weight,” or “She’s fat, I don’t think I want that.” This lowered my self-esteem, and I firmly believed that no one would love me because of how I looked.

So, as a certified people pleaser, I did what I thought would solve my problems. I tried losing weight, hoping for someone to finally love me. Not necessarily romantically, but just as a friend, a family member, a niece, a daughter, a person. I thought that it would be life-changing, and everyone in my life would see me as an attractive woman, and I would finally be happy. Looking back, I would have rather been fat and happy than skinny and depressed.

Did I get recognition for losing weight? Yes. 

Did I get the validation I wanted at that time? Yes. 

But did all the recognition and validation make me happy? No. I still cried myself to sleep every night and wished to be enough for someone else. I slowly learned that changing my body didn’t make me content, and I shouldn’t equate it to my self-worth.

When I leave the locker room wrapped up in a towel, I realize I’m the only one who isn’t nude. People are either topless or completely nude, and when I see that, I admire them for being comfortable with themselves. But I still don’t feel like my body is enough for this establishment, despite the nudity around me. The toxic beauty standards remain and burden me, like a heavy backpack that I can’t wait to take off. 

Sex as connection

I roam around the first floor, trying to find spots where I can talk to people. I go to the hot tub — and to my surprise, I see the same man from the locker room floating there, fully naked. It feels weird seeing him in that state, and out of sheer awkwardness, I start walking away. When he notices me leaving, he says, “It’s a safe space, you don’t have to do anything here.” 

I turn and ask if I could join him in the hot tub. He says yes. 

I remove my towel and placed it on the hooks attached to the walls. My anxiety over my body heightens. I sit near him, and we introduce ourselves, I tell him my name, and he tells me that his name is Bryan*. He’s a bit older than me, a freelance contractor, and lives outside the GTA. As he introduces himself, I can’t help but look into his big eyes that are focused on mine. 

“You’re cute. Is that okay to say?” he tells me. I smile and tell him it’s okay, and I said that he’s cute too. It doesn’t feel like he was objectifying me at all — it feels like he’s more interested in who I was than what I looked like.

We instantly connect, and we go up to the fourth floor, where there’s a private playroom. It starts off with gentle kisses on the forehead and caressing. He looks me in the eyes and tells me with sincerity that I’m beautiful. 

To be that vulnerable with someone I barely know was scary, but throughout my time at the club, he never objectified me. When I was there, he made me feel good about myself — he never judged my physique or my double chin whenever I lay down. He didn’t want me to pretend to enjoy sex — he was eager to please me. He asked if I liked whatever he was doing, and I learned to be honest. I didn’t need to put on a facade, I asserted my boundaries, and I suddenly was able to embrace the natural feelings and sensations that arose.

We took breaks in between sex, and we got to know each other at an emotional level, which I don’t do with casual hookups. I asked him why he came to Oasis, and he said it was his safe space. It was a place for him to be himself, to not be judged by others — to be free. 

He gave me a glimpse of his life. He told me about his interesting beliefs and personal values. He loves kids and treats his niece like his daughter. He wants to move to Toronto, but he can’t afford it. He reminisced a lot about his past, and explained that he’s figuring himself out. He doesn’t want to date anyone at the moment, which I completely understand and appreciate. He was far from perfect, but he was honest and kind — like most people at the club, perhaps. 

What we can learn

The audience at Oasis talked freely about sex — something that I believe the general public shies away from. Everyone talked freely about anything you could think of — bondage and discipline/dominance and submission/sadism and masochism, threesomes, you name it. There was no cringing or discomfort. 

When I think about my past private sexual experiences with others — whether I was dating them or not — I’ve never reached that level of openness. I’d never felt safe with them, afraid that if something bad happened to me while I was alone with them, no one would believe me.

Oasis modelled my ideal sexual interaction: focused on care and mutual pleasure. While the environment was specifically curated to fulfill sexual desires, I learned what to take with me into the real world and what to ask for in future relationships — such as clear boundaries, vulnerability, and honest communication with a partner. 

Bryan waited for me in the main area while I grabbed my things and prepared to leave. He gave me a final sweet kiss before saying goodbye. I traced back my steps, from the playroom to the main area to the discreet black door. I left the club fully dressed and fully content with my experience — with heightened expectations and standards for what I wanted from sex. 

*Name has been changed for privacy concerns.