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Damon Lawner founded sex club SNCTM — it ruined his marriage



From hardcore recreational sex to sensual recreational weed and erotic gourmet dinners, the king of kink is drastically changing his prurient lifestyle and business model. Almost.

For nearly a decade, beginning in 2013, handsome former model Damon Lawner ran Sanctum (often branded SNCTM), billed as the world’s most elite and erotic sex club.

The lucrative endeavor with kinky events from Beverly Hills to Manhattan and Moscow, got him out of a deep financial hole, and ultimately made him a millionaire.

But his involvement turned the father of two into a modern satyr enjoying the club’s erotic pleasures while destroying his marriage.

Just before Covid put a damper on any and all sex club activities, a sated Lawner sold his business, and cashed the check. 

Damon Lawner Sanctum
Sanctum founder Lawner says he lived the lifestyle of a sex club king, even though he was married. Now he is single and out of the sex club business — but setting up his own erotically-tinged venture.
Matthew McDermott for NY Post

Damon Lawner at Sanctum
The sex club lifestyle Lawner dived into brought glamor and success but he is now telling how it also ended his marriage.
photo by Elizabeth Lippman

And next month, on the Sunset Strip, he’s opening Puzzle, a plush “fine dining club” with a risqué theme, naturally. 

He’s also begun hawking another new venture with, what else, a sexual vibe.

“Sex Weed” is a new strain of marijuana that, he claims, “intensifies” making love.

The rapper Snoop Dogg is already helping to market it, along with word of mouth from other celebrity pals. But that’s not all.

Lawner's new venture, Puzzle, is being built with a risqué theme but will focus on fine dining, a departure from Sanctum.
Lawner’s new venture, Puzzle, is being built with a risqué theme but will focus on fine dining, a departure from Sanctum.
Photo Copyright John Chapple /

Lawner, 52, reportedly has a TV series in the works based on his life with the producer Brad Falchuk, Gwyneth Paltrow’s husband and the co-creator of TV’s “American Horror Stories” and “Glee.”

In 2017, Lawner first mentioned the project in an interview with The Post and also noted that Paltrow and Falchuk, then dating, were among the celebrities who attended the club.

Paltrow’s Goop website gave Sanctum a rave review, billing it as “L.A.’s Exclusive Erotic Theater” and the site’s editors did a Q&A with Lawner.

And Lawner’s currently the subject of a very candid 8-part podcast, “Sanctum Unmasked,” narrated and produced by Karley Sciortino, who pens Vogue’s online sex and relationships column.

Sanctum’s parties in Beverly Hills, Manhattan, and even Moscow, mixed glamor and eroticism but came at a price.
Matthew McDermott for NY Post

So how does an out-of-work middle-class guy with a wife and two young daughters — and a million dollars in debt after maxing out his platinum card — even come up the idea to get out of his financial hole by opening a sex club?

In Lawner’s case, it was an obsession that began when, as a 6-year-old, “I had my first sexual experience,” he told The Post, in a revelatory interview. 

“I was a 6-year-old boy and my mother’s sister who was a 13 or 14 year-old was being molested by another relative, and she would come into my room and she would play out that stuff with me, so I was exposed to full sexuality. My childhood was absolute chaos.”

He believes “unquestionably” that there is a “direct correlation” between those bizarre sexual experiences at such a young age and starting a sex club later in life, and with sexuality “becoming kind of a focus of my life.” 

Damon Lawner
Sanctum grew out of Lawner’s own life which he says was shaped by the “chaos” of his childhood, when he was sexualized aged just 6.
Photo Copyright John Chapple /

By starting Sanctum, “what I was doing was creating a state in which I could normalize some of the stuff that was going on in me, and turn it into some kind of celebration.

“In a way Sanctum was a healing process,” he believes. “It was very destructive on some levels and it was completely wild and crazy. I wanted to be special and I wanted to be appreciated and I wanted to be loved. I eventually realized Sanctum wasn’t the place where I could find happiness and peace.

“If I could go back in a time machine, I wouldn’t have done this [opening the club.] I would have found a way to make a living. But I was broke. I was desperate. I needed to do something. It was a choice to make and I made it.”

One couldn’t make up Lawner’s frenetic life in fiction.

Brad Falchuk Gwyneth Paltrow
Gwyneth Paltrow and then-boyfriend, now husband, Brad Falchuk, were spotted at Sanctum, while her Goop site praised it as “erotic theater.” Now Falchuk is reported to be working on a TV version of Lawner’s life.
Getty Images for Netflix

In the podcast, he describes himself when in his teens as resembling a “gorgeous California surfer boy.”

He was discovered by a scout for the fashion photographer Bruce Weber — “he made me feel really beautiful,” and he would model for the likes of Versace, pose with Christy Turlington, and even have his visage on a Sunset Boulevard billboard.

Then, came the dark side.

By the time he hit 25, Lawner says he was addicted to heroin, was “selling drugs to survive” — a time when “death sounded like a really good option.”

After a successful stint in rehab, he met his future wife, Melissa Bernheim, 18, also a gorgeous model, and daughter of an economics professor. 

“It was like, Boom! Done!” and they moved in together.

Damon Lawner Melissa Bernheim
Lawner married Melissa Bernheim, also a model, and became an IT couple, not just in Los Angeles, but later in Bali.

After five years, they wed in Las Vegas.

“I saw us as the modern bohemian couple, the IT couple.” 

They got a house above the infamous Chateau Marmont hotel on Sunset Boulevard, best known as the place where comedian John Belushi overdosed on heroin. 

Back then, he and Melissa partied hard, hung out with a mélange of young celebrities — Cameron Diaz, Sandra Bullock, among others — and recreationally did the sensation-altering drug MDMA better known as ecstasy or molly.

But Melissa wanted to settle down – “she wanted a traditional life,” he says, and have a family. 

In 2005, when Lawner was 35, Melissa became pregnant, and Damon was thrilled.

Damon Lawner
Lawner is opening Puzzle, a plush “fine dining club” with a risqué theme, and was wearing a Puzzle themed robe as he showed The Post preparations for the Sunset Strip venue.
Photo Copyright John Chapple /

They bought a home in Hancock Park, an upscale neighborhood, in LA.

They were living the high life, driving a Porsche, spending like crazy, mostly on credit cards.

And then, in 2008, the global financial crisis hit.

“I’m in Whole Foods,” recalls Damon darkly in the podcast. “$120 for groceries, and my card’s declined. This is the end of the road.”

And it nearly was.

The beautiful, IT couple was broke — the house foreclosed, the Porsche repossessed.

“We were homeless,” says Damon.

They were forced to sell off everything, even his adored Rolex, and were almost a million dollars in debt to Amex.

His father, son of a wealthy Long Island businessman, offered an option: join him where he lived in the exotic island of Bali, a province of Indonesia, where living was inexpensive and laid back, and off they went.

There, he became friends with the owner of a popular bar, and began hosting parties, and became a popular figure in Bali’s nightlife scene, the way he tells it. 

Inside Sanctum
Sanctum played to images of glamor: men wore tuxedos, women designer lingerie, and everyone wore masks.
photo by Elizabeth Lippman

But word got out about his success and soon a member of the Balinese mafia appeared, demanding a piece of the action, and when Damon sort of laughed it off, he was kidnapped by the mob, his life threatened, and forced to pay a ransom..

Melissa had had it and demanded they return home, and Damon reluctantly agreed.

It was now 2013, he declared bankruptcy, and the once boujee couple and the two kids were forced to set up housekeeping in a room next to her mother’s kitchen.

An attempt at selling real estate didn’t work out. 

For entertainment — no more expensive partying — he began renting videos and one that intrigued him was the Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman film, Eyes Wide Shut, about an erotic members-only sex club. 

For Damon, it was eyes wide open; virtually on the spot he decided to open his own exclusive sex club for the one percent.

The grand opening of Sanctum, also known as SNCTM, initially promoted on Facebook, was in March 2013 in a rented Beverly Hills nightclub, with a lifetime membership fee of $1,500.

With a promise of anonymity and with only the most gorgeous couples screened personally by Lawner, the money rolled in. 

Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Eyes Wide Shut
Lawner was inspired by “Eyes Wide Shut” to create Sanctum. The movie is an erotic thriller starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
©Warner Bros/courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection

Inside sex club Sanctum
Being the ringmaster of the Sanctum circus seemed like a fantasy deliver, but Lawner says that being in full-time residence ended his marriage, to his regret.
Matthew McDermott for NY Post

And as Karley Sciortino, the sexy narrator of the Sanctum Unmasked podcast, says, “One of the most elite, exclusive and controversial sex clubs in the history of sex clubs” was born.

After a couple of years the self-styled king of swing purchased a rundown Tudor mansion close to Beverly Hills, fixed it up and it became known among the swinger cognoscenti as the Sanctum Mansion.

And with all the gorgeous women seemingly open to anything sexually – from straight sex to BDSM — the married father of two dove in head first, personally enjoying all the kinkiness.

Before long he was in full-time residence, his marriage was on the rocks and he and Melissa eventually divorced.

“The heyday of the club was around 2017,” Lawner told The Post. “That’s when I moved into the Sanctum Mansion, and that’s when I was really all in. I was drinking the Kool-Aid. I was just in it, and I was all about it, and I was doing incredibly well, and I did come out of this a millionaire.” 

Damon Lawner weed
The Sanctum founder’s new ventures include his Sex Weed marijuana enterprise which he says Snoop Dogg and other celebrity friends are spreading the word on.
Photo Copyright John Chapple /

He sold Sanctum in 2019 and “it wasn’t a month or two later that Covid hit. 

“It was an unbelievable stroke of luck,” he boasts. “The club [under the new owner] was closed for over a year.”

He says that one of his dreams has always been to start a mainstream business, but one that was “exciting and sensual,” and besides Sex Weed, his new marijuana business, it has been starting his “fine dining club” called Puzzle, in West Hollywood.

“It’s members only. It’s not a sex club and I don’t want to have people having sex in there. But, it’s definitely foreplay for sexuality.

“People love sexuality and they love to meet people and they want to come with partners. I’ve already sold 60 percent membership, and I have a great client list, celebrities and people who believe in me.”

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