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Inside the Clothing-Optional Resort of Your Swinging Dreams pt.1

 BY DAVY ROTHBART July 18, 2017

The next frontier for adventurous—yet discerning—travelers? Vacationing in the buff. At least that's what a growing string of nude resorts are betting on as they fancy things up to lure a well-heeled clientele. Davy Rothbart ditched his drawers to find out whether there's actually such a thing as high-class nudity.


​One Tuesday this past spring, a taxi dropped me at the doors of Desire Pearl, a fancy "clothing-optional" resort on the outskirts of Cancún. The lobby, dotted with white leather love seats and lit with a purple glow, had the feel of a private lounge for Vegas bigwigs. But there was something else, too, a prurient electricity I could feel as I wheeled my way to the front desk. Around every corner, I knew, were naked people.

I'm no nudist myself. My mission was born of curiosity. You see, an inventive new concept in the leisure economy had caught my attention, a travel trend that seemed wildly contradictory: luxury nudity. Could that really be a thing? I wondered.

After all, the nudists I've met in my travels have tended to be hippies and Burning Man types. You know, the kindly folks you'll discover soaking in hot springs outside of Taos, perhaps bleating low notes on a didgeridoo. In other words, not the crowd I'd expect to be psyched about high-end vacation options.

The free spirits flocking to Desire Riviera Maya Pearl Resort, I figured, had to be a different sort. With nightly rates during high season of $700 to $1,500, this place wasn't for hippies. So, then, who was coming? And how was it that Desire Pearl and a string of establishments like it were booked solid for months at a time?


The receptionist at the desk seemed to sense my urge to uncork these beguiling mysteries. And she quickly sniffed me out as a newbie, scared to take off my clothes. "You'll be fine," she told me. "Jacuzzi Happy Hour starts at four. You'll make some friends. Just go with the flow!" Easy for her to say, I thought, noticing that none of the staff (all quite attractive) were naked.

A bellhop ferried my bags toward my room, past pungent trees heavy with tropical fruit. The view from the balcony of my suite was lush and magnificent. On the beach below, a spider monkey rested his chin in his hands, as though smitten with the scenery himself.

No matter how much sex you've seen in movies or on bookmarked sites on your laptop, it feels crazy to watch real people go at it, just yards away.

But as I followed the monkey's gaze, I realized he was staring not at the ocean and its glisten of afternoon sun but at a 1,000 percent naked guy, squatting close by, rigorously applying suntan lotion to his penis, balls, and ass cheeks. My first sighting!

The guy must have felt me studying him, because he whipped his head around and locked eyes with me. "Howdy!" he called, with a friendly wave. I waved back, embarrassed for both of us, and quickly slunk back into my room.

A half hour later, still uneasy with getting naked myself, I grabbed a complimentary bottle of Chivas Regal from the nightstand and took a slug to work up the nerve.

With a beach towel over my shoulders—and my soft parts dangling in the breeze—I strolled out the door and past three young housemaids, who gave me a chipper hello. (Back home, they would've had me arrested.)

Soon I laid eyes on the social epicenter of the resort: the gigantic Jacuzzi, wide as a helicopter landing pad. Heavily lotioned breasts swiveled in all directions like turret guns on a tank, while here and there penises wiggled, waggled, and flopped, flashing in the Mexican sunlight like perch in a trawler's net.

Picture a gaggle of parents convened outside an elementary school. Now imagine those same people naked as hell, day-drinking in a jumbo-size hot tub—that's what Jacuzzi Happy Hour at Desire Pearl looked like. I sauntered my way down the path.


The receptionist was right: it was easy to make friends. Within a few minutes, I found myself deep in conversation with a handsome airline pilot and father of three from rural Wisconsin, a man I'll call Rob. (I've changed the names and identifying details of the hotel guests.) He was chilling—half submerged and totally nude—on the Jacuzzi's steps.


At his side stood his pretty wife, Laura. She was topless but wore a pair of bikini bottoms as she scanned the scrum of naked bodies soaking before us, 43 by my count, including mine. Sipping cocktails from plastic cups, Rob and Laura told me it was their first visit to a so-called lifestyle resort. It was their second day here, and they seemed perhaps even more weirded out by the scene than I was. Rob turned to his wife, took a gander at the profusion of flesh and laughed: "Whoa. A lot to take in."

Just then, a large round man in his mid-50s with a jovial smile and graying hair splashed over and introduced himself as Karl from Colorado. He had the vibe of the world's most amiable polar bear. "First time here?" he asked.

Rob nodded. "We're that obvious?"

"Aww, don't mind me," said Karl, landing a paw on Rob's shoulder. "You'll get used to it. Welcome!" He pointed out a woman across the tub. "That's my wife, Karen. Karen!" he called to her above the fray. A big woman with a kind face and sweet disposition hustled over, her large breasts decorated with gold nipple rings that matched the ones in Karl's ears.

"We have a way of greeting people," Karen explained. With genial frankness, she asked Laura, "Mind if I kiss your neck?"

Laura hesitated. "I mean, sure, I guess."

Instantly, Karen and Karl sandwiched Laura between them. Karen planted soft kisses on Laura's ears and the back of her neck while Karl kissed her shoulders, then continued toward her clavicle. Laura laughed nervously, not repelled, just unsure what to make of all this; Rob looked on in quiet, bemused amazement. Then, just as quickly, Karl and Karen pulled away. "That's all," said Karen, smiling. "Just saying hello."

In that moment, a murmur swept across the Jacuzzi. Half the folks in the water turned their attention toward one of the six cabanas that ring the oversize tub. There, a tall, young, freckled woman was giving her boyfriend a sensual blow job, her ass waving in the air behind her. Rob's and Laura's eyes went wide. I have to admit, no matter how much sex you've seen in movies or on bookmarked sites on your laptop, it feels crazy to watch real people go at it, just yards away.

Sure, I'd prepared myself to see some amorous behavior, but I'd imagined it'd be fleeting and discreet. Swinging, I had deduced before arriving, was a fact of life at Desire Pearl—and the possibility of a little public sex (perhaps with someone new) must have been a draw for some couples. I knew all that. But even when the trailhead signs warn about bears and rattlesnakes, you're still a little surprised when you see them.

Although it may be a key attraction for some, the prospect of sex with strangers isn't explicitly advertised by Desire Pearl. There's talk, on the resort's website, of the "erotic," "sensual," "open-minded atmosphere" but almost no explicit mention of swinging. Why all this coded language? According to Daniel, one of two Americans who work at Desire Pearl selling vacation packages, the obfuscation allows for a level of discretion, even deniability. If your colleagues or acquaintances from church start Googling around about your vacation, they're not going to learn too much.


Of course, as Daniel notes, not everybody is here for sex—you've got plenty of standard-issue nudists, and also people just drawn by the edgy atmosphere. "Only some are swingers," he told me. "Others like the freedom of hanging in the pool naked." The appeal is pretty broad, actually: It's a tranquil destination where you can step outside of everyday life. There's an open bar all day and night and a slew of naked people you can flirt with and maybe have sex with. Think of it as Vegas on HGH, a place to let your id off the leash. "The demand is large and growing," one longtime Desire Pearl staffer told me. "People want ultimate freedom. We provide it."

As they say, though, ultimate freedom isn't free. A stay at a high-end clothing-optional resort can set you back double the cost of similar accommodations at a traditional resort. This is because enterprising hoteliers seem to have made the shrewd observation that they can charge extra for delivering the one thing that nudists and swingers want most: other naked people.

At the same time, of course, it's not as if the overhead costs are any steeper for a resort that welcomes the clothes-less—which means profit margins can be tantalizing.

In Cancún alone, Desire Pearl competes in the clothing-optional category with its spunky sister resort, Desire Riviera Maya, and the anything-goes play palace Temptation. Meanwhile, down the coast, toward Playa del Carmen, a nudist resort called Hidden Beach also does brisk business. Elsewhere, in sun-dappled locales like Panama, Curaçao, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, St. Martin, and Antigua, resorts of varying luxuriousness and libidinousness have cropped up to serve the naked. (Desire even offers a flourishing line of cruises for those looking perhaps for sexual adventure out on the open sea.)

All of these places have tapped into what seems like an eager market. The people I met in the Jacuzzi aren't hurting for dough; they can afford to pay a premium. These are doctors, dentists, and systems engineers. Folks who have done well in tech or real estate. Many are repeat customers. Despite the high room rates, Desire Pearl is booked solid for months. With as many as 10 million to 15 million Americans identifying as swingers, it just makes sense that a niche service within the travel industry would rise up to snatch their vacation dollars.

Ed, a Canadian metalworker I met during a game of water volleyball, helped me put my finger on what makes a place like Desire Pearl so enticing. "Look," he said, "my life back home? It's great and it's comfortable…but it's also kind of boring. I go to work. I come home. I go bowling. I putt around on my ATV. Someone's always telling me, 'Do this. Do that.' Here, I can do whatever I want. There are no rules."


Ed's got it mostly right, except for the bit about the rules. Turns out, there are a few and they're laid down in a booklet distributed at check-in. Here you'll learn that sex—beyond the privacy of one's room—is permitted only in the cabanas near the Jacuzzi or in a spot described in the literature as the Sin Room.

One edict, above all others, is meant to be strictly obeyed: "No Means NO!" For an ecosystem like the one at Desire Pearl to work, guests have to understand that unwanted sexual advances can be shut down quickly and easily. Frequent visitors, like Karl from Colorado, talk about the resort as a self-governed community. He compares the guests here to punk rockers in a mosh pit, sworn to their own unswerving code of conduct. Instances of sketchballs crossing the line are pretty rare, according to Daniel, the sales manager. "We don't attract those kinds of people," he explained. "They tend to just be creepy in their own cities, not pay thousands of dollars to come down here and be ostracized."

Some rules can seem downright odd. For instance, nudity—encouraged in plenty of places—isn't allowed in any of the resort's five restaurants, where the attire can sometimes get pretty formal. The rigidity with which this guideline is observed can seem ironic. One day I watched as a woman was reprimanded for being topless at the buffet while, out the window, another lady was being railed from behind by a guy she'd just met in the hot tub.

Of course, policing decorum and occasionally laying down the law at the buffet can be crucial to maintaining order. And ultimately, this goes a long way toward distinguishing Desire Pearl from the kind of low-rent swinger fuck pads that exist back in the States. There seems to be a consensus that once people start going topless at the buffet, all bets are off. The slope to chaos is slippery. Rules, however arbitrary, create a world of civilized play. Guests, after all, would prefer to see themselves not as rabbits fucking one another senseless but as lords, out on a rabbit hunt.


Source: GQ.com​

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