Have you ever smelled the lingering scent of anal sex? A mixture of sharp body odour, with a pungent hint of excrement and undertones of condom latex. In a darkened basement, lit only by ultraviolet strip lights and the glare from the screens showing hardcore erotica 24 hours a day, it hangs heavy in the air.
The dense aroma, which fights with the smell of industrial cleaning chemicals, is a reminder of last weekend’s guys-only darkroom party, a regular event that the Erotheek 3000 cinema manager “Eljarro*” is proud to organize.
“When we came here, this place only had one old video cabin,” he said. Eljarro and his boss took over ownership of the Erotheek 3000 porno cinema in Groningen two years ago. In an era where the internet is killing such cinemas around the world, the entrepreneurial smut-vendors knew they had to innovate.
“So we opened a huge basement with 15 private video rooms, a sex swing, glory holes, beds, chains, darkrooms, and separate hetero, gay, transgender, and mixed rooms,” he said, smiling with pride.
Before Erotheek 3000 welcomed patrons into its subterranean pornucopia, people had to go elsewhere for anonymous sex with strangers. Around the outskirts of the city, and in secluded areas of the city’s Stadspark, swingers and singles talked online and arranged meetups, risking a public indecency citation and a hefty fine.
Now, behind an unassuming façade on Groningen’s upmarket Gedempte Zuiderdiep, Erotheek 3000 is the only business in the city centre offering such a diverse range of services.
This is a different world than the shopping street outside. As long as human beings are interested in exploring the dark and taboo elements of their sexuality, clubs like this will find customers, and people like Eljarro will turn a tidy profit by offering them what the internet cannot.
Eljarro plays the role of shopkeeper and matchmaker. As well as organizing theme nights and parties, he moderates a forum on his club’s website, where people can organize “dates” at the club.
These dates seem to be the exception rather than the norm though. In the half hour Eljarro sat at the store counter being interviewed, a steady stream of around 15 single male customers came through the doors. They paid the €8 entrance fee and slipped between the heavy vinyl curtains into the basement.
Down there, Eljarro showed off the club’s new décor. Metallic surfaces gleam, and the black walls in the darkrooms are coated with sperm-resistant paint. Despite this, semen tends to stain, and staff here spend hours after closing time wiping down the mess.
Eljarro shrugged as he said this. Jizz mopping is an understandable downside of the job. Customer service, on the other hand, is more enjoyable.
“People who come here are curious,” he said. “They come to buy toys or pills (erection pills are Erotheek 3000’s most popular item), then I invite them down to see the basement. Most of the time they like it, and keep coming back.”
“People don’t buy porn DVDs anymore. So we give them something more personal, something real.” Perched on a wipe-clean leather sofa, Eljarro explained his marketing strategy, while the “thwock-thwock-thwock” sound of rhythmic masturbation came from the video booths around him.
Several men drifted around the basement as Eljarro talked. Some stopped to watch some porn, while others cruised from room to room looking for some company. There’s no rush here though. The entrance fee buys a patron a whole day and they can come and go as they please.
For several hours the crowd here was all male. Though women and couples don’t pay an entrance fee, men make up most of the club’s customer base. Eljarro began to explain how he plans on evening out the gender balance when he was interrupted.
Above the ambient chorus of fapping, a new sound could be heard. Flesh slapping off flesh, shuffling, groaning and grunting. Behind another vinyl divider near our sofa, two male customers are getting intimately acquainted with each other.
*“Eljarro” is a pseudonym that the manager uses on forums and message boards. Due to the nature of his work, Eljarro would rather withhold his real name.