My wife and I are into porn. We’ll jump into bed with two bowls of ice cream and the latest issues of Architectural Digest, Dwell, House & Garden (the British version) and D Home and lose ourselves in pages of lovingly photographed opulent mansions. But nothing beats the real thing: live-action home tours.

Home tours exist behind a façade of proper societal behavior. With the valets and the smartly dressed people alighting from gleaming luxury cars, the gatherings could easily be mistaken for ordinary house parties. But something far different is going on. We the voyeurs are there to see the house itself, to stroke the expensive furniture, to ogle the seven-figure contemporary art collection, to quiver self-consciously in the intimacy of the owners’ master bedroom—and for the really hard-core enthusiasts, to poke our noses into the master bath and closet.

The hosts, of course, are complicit in the performance. They open their homes to strangers to experience the thrill of exposure, those envious eyes devouring every expensive detail. Or maybe I’m projecting.

A few summers ago, because of a semi-substantial contribution we’d made to a charity gala, we were invited to an appreciation party at John Muse’s house—that 25,000-square-foot English-country-styled manor on Preston Road. He lives within walking distance of us, but this being Dallas and it being August, we drove. The valet line was backed up about 50 yards down Preston in both directions, which should have set off alarms. Sure enough, it was an outdoor party. The house was off-limits. If I had been an active-duty general, I would have called in an air strike to put us all out of our misery. Instead, I drank prodigiously, sweated copiously, and complained slanderously—and traversed all eight of John Muse’s acres as I trekked from side yard to other side yard where the port-o-potties were lined up. It reminded me of the Cattle Baron’s Ball, without the fun. At one point, my wife and I braved being shot by security forces and climbed the stone stairs to peer into the house itself, if anything just to fantasize about the air-conditioning. Our efforts left two greasy nose prints on the faux French doors. The experience proved that the phrase “even bad sex is good sex” does not have its analog in the home tour realm.

Then there was the tour of John Muse’s neighbor, Harlan Crow’s house. Once more, an extortionate charity contribution was the ante, but this time we verified, before writing the check, whether the tour would involve entering the actual home itself. We drove again, out of habit, but the valet was more reasonably staffed, so we murmured appreciatively how wonderful the Crows were. The estate also comprises eight acres, but the house is a whopping 35,000 square feet. The main party was in his library, which takes up a whole wing of the house and makes the Morgan Library in New York look like a cramped bookstall. You could fit my Highland Park McMansion in it without having to butter the walls. In fact, Harlan’s library is a recognized standard for whether a house is big or not. As in: “Their house is so big that it wouldn’t even fit in Harlan Crow’s library!”

If your tastes run in the more “art house” direction, you can always join any number of groups associated with the Dallas Museum of Art and enjoy home tours on the cheap. A recent standout was Jennifer and John Eagle’s house in Preston Hollow. They spent a bundle renovating the two-story mid-century modern house previously owned by Bob Crandall, and the results are boffo. The dining room table sits on a small island floating in the middle of an indoor pool (a feature I thought impractical for serious dinner drinking). Home tours are something you usually want to take slow, attuning yourself to the rhythms of the house’s architecture. Unfortunately, my wife and I arrived late, so we had to make it a quickie. We high-tailed it directly to the master suite. In Mrs. Eagle’s closet, five Birkin bags in various hues and skins were lined up on a dressing table. Probably a hundred grand worth of purses alone. In house porn parlance, this is known as the “money shot.”

House tours tend to end abruptly. We were standing outside, having said our awkward good-byes to the hosts. I had avoided saying I would call. I lit a cigarette and said to my wife, “When we get home, let’s have some ice cream.”

Write to [email protected].