You Call It A Sex House, I Call It Home: BUST True Story

by Lila Donnolo

It’s 11 a.m. and I can hear spanking. Somebody’s happy, I think to myself, then mentally pinpoint the floor (third), the bedroom (the sound designer’s), and the lover (his girlfriend). Curiosity quenched, I turn my mind back to writing. It’s morning at Hacienda Villa, and approximately 15 percent of the residents are fucking.

I’m a founding member of this sex-positive intentional community, established in 2014 and housed in a gut-renovated brownstone in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The building was bought and restored by an investor and benefactor of sex-positive culture who wishes to remain unidentified, and the community was co-founded by Kenneth Play, our resident sex educator. The Villa is currently home to 14 members in 14 private bedrooms ranging from $750 to $1750 a month, with six residents on the third floor, five on the second, and three on the first. Amenities include three bathrooms on the second and third floors and private bathrooms on the first, a hot tub gazebo in the backyard, the N.Y.C. holy grail (a washer/dryer), and someday, when construction finally ceases, a basement event space that will host sex-ed seminars and erotic art installations.

The only way to become a member of the Villa is to already be known to our sex-positive community, or to be friends with someone who is. I found out about it through a friend of a friend, came in for an interview with Kenneth, and was one of the first to move in. After some growing pains, our new member process now includes a 30-day trial.

Many imagine the Villa to be a wild place of everlasting orgies where you wouldn’t want to touch the doorknobs. In truth, the orgies are minimal and generally confined to one person’s room. And since the cleaning ladies visit once a month, the doorknobs are perhaps cleaner than in most other buildings in the borough of Brooklyn. The Villa is typically quiet, or as quiet as it can be while housing an inspired DJ in a construction zone near an above-ground train in Brooklyn. Our house rules vary on a floor-by-floor basis—my floor has agreed to quiet hours from 12 a.m. to 8 a.m., knocking/returning later if someone’s bedroom door is closed, and contributing in some way to maintain the common area. 

Sex-positive does not mean that we have sex indiscriminately, or that we’re all fucking each other. (We actually have a policy against having sex with roommates, and that extends to all the floors.) It means we embrace a vast array of sexual interests and lifestyles among consenting adults. We believe sex is essentially good. We celebrate it. Sex is normal! Sex is healthy! Sex is an appropriate topic of conversation! Sex-positive means no slut shaming (and, in fact, no shaming of any kind). There are so many reasons why one might choose to engage in sexual play – friendship, bonding, romantic love, recreation, intimacy, healing, intrigue, work, performance – and when chosen deliberately in sound mind, they are all equally valid.

While the Villa welcomes those who practice polyamorous lifestyles, we are not a “poly” house. As of this week, five of the 14 “Villans” are engaged in some form of polyamory. Everyone has a different arrangement, and their relationships change and evolve. The sound designer used to have two serious girlfriends, but one of them broke it off, and he’s remained with his other partner exclusively for the past few months. The social worker has one primary partner and two regular lovers who have partners of their own. The photographer is monogamous. The DJ is dating.

As for myself, the sex I’m having here is no more frequent than when I was dwelling in non-intentional railroad apartments, but the quality of the sex I’m having has improved remarkably, because living here is a permission slip and an education. Having a sexpert like Kenneth in-residence as house manager means I can go to him for advice on everything from compassionate communication to how to effectively use an njoy Pure Wand dildo.

We Villans share an interest in returning to a more tribal, village-dwelling way of life, without leaving N.Y.C. I’ve wanted to live in an intentional community since I first visited one in Ashland, OR, in 2008, but I didn’t think it was possible in this city. Since I don’t come from a particularly close-knit family, I have sought family everywhere, and this is the place where I’ve found it. Last winter was the first that I didn’t experience seasonal depression, and it was because of my roommates’ kindness on brutal February days. I know that if I’m sick, someone will get me medicine. If I’m crying, someone will hold me until it passes. I am called on to do the same for others, and I’m glad for it.

Living here is a balm for the deep shame and secrecy I’ve experienced surrounding sex in our culture. Since sex isn’t taboo at Hacienda Villa, nothing is. We can talk about politics. We can talk about love. We can talk about death. We can get spanked at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday and then breeze into the kitchen saying, “Good morning!” In that way, it is wilder than your average apartment, but that’s only because we’re not keeping our kinks secret. We want everyone here to have a great sex life—and for us, that begins right here at home. –anna bella

Illustration by Rosena Fung

This article originally appeared in the October/November print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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