Your Local Neighbourhood Meeting Place: Pleasure Salon

When I first heard about the Pleasure Salon, I (probably like many others before me) immediately pictured a sweaty orgy. It doesn’t help that the salons take place at a bar that used to be a massage parlor—aptly named “Happy Endings”. But rather than being about hooking up, the Pleasure Salons are social gatherings that build community among New York’s seemingly disparate sexual subcultures.

Taking place on the first Wednesday evening of every month, the salons bring together sex workers, polyamorists, sex activists, nudists, tantra practitioners, and many others under the banner of tolerance and non-judgmental support.

I headed to Happy Endings right after work, hoping to meet other sex activists and to find inspiration for new article ideas (I write about sex and sexuality for places like AlterNet).

The crowd at Happy Endings looked like any other bar scene. There were a few people in drag and a projector played “Deep Throat” on one wall—but nothing crazy.

While in line to get a drink, I asked a smartly dressed man if he could tell me about other sex-related events in New York. He whipped out his blackberry and started sending me invitations to a bunch of parties going on that weekend. What was I into? Kink? Fetish?

A tall man with thick glasses jumped into our conversation to argue that kink was different from fetish. After a heated but brief debate, the tall man turned to me and asked if I was a top or bottom. I said I was probably more of a bottom, then listened as he described several advanced bondage techniques.

A short, stout man walked up to us, and when the bondage expert noticed him, he pointed to my sandals and said to him, “She has pretty feet, doesn’t she?” The short man nodded eagerly in agreement, and I reluctantly let him massage my feet for a little bit.

I spent the rest of the night talking to many interesting people, munching on cheese and crackers, and accepting drinks from friendly regulars who wanted to welcome me to the Pleasure Salon community. It was a good time!
The next day, I was curious to learn more about the Pleasure Salon, so I contacted Patricia Johnson, Selina Fire & Mark Michaels—the event’s founders and hosts—to set up interviews.

When I returned a month later, Mark and Patricia greeted me at the entrance. Patricia looked beautiful in a long silver gown, and Mark complemented her well with his white suit jacket. We went off in search of a quiet place to talk, but the best spot we could find was one of the steam rooms in Happy Endings’ “bathhouse basement.”
As we sat on the tiled benches under a red light, Patricia and Mark told me about how they met when Patricia attended one of Mark’s tantra classes in New York. “We soon began practicing together,” said Mark, as he glanced at his wife flirtatiously.

For the past twelve years, the couple has been teaching tantra classes together and their book, Tantra for Erotic Empowerment was named one of USA Book News’ “Best Books of 2008.” Together with sex blogger, Selina Fire, they have hosted the Pleasure Salon gatherings every month for the past four years. They do not charge any entrance fees to keep the event absolutely accessible to everyone, but accept donations to help pay for food.

In a phone interview, Selina recalled the first time she met Patricia and Mark at the Dark Odyssey Summer Camp—a multi-day retreat replete with a “group grope room,” a dungeon and themed play spaces.

“We had a wonderful talk there about how we wished that something like the Dark Odyssey could happen in New York to bring together multiple sexual communities in dialogue,” said Selina.

There are no dungeons or group grope rooms at the Pleasure Salon, so if you show up hoping for some kinky fun, you might be disappointed. But if you identify with any alternative sexual community, you would likely appreciate the welcoming and non-judgmental atmosphere at the Pleasure Salon.

“What we wanted to do was to bring together people from very diverse sexual communities in an environment where everyone is embraced,” said Patricia. “Together, we’re a big political force and it’s important that we join because we ultimately have the same goals.”

There are now Pleasure Salons happening in Chicago and in Adelaide and Melbourne, Australia.

“We would love to see Pleasure Salons all around the world,” said Mark, “People learn about our idea and make it their own, but the only requirement is that the salons should be welcoming.”

If you want to learn how to start a Pleasure Salon in your area, contact the hosts at