You enter a seedy building and have to give a passcode to a hairy man wearing nothing but a leather harness (he doesn’t reply). You contemplate leaving — until you hear the man unlock what sounds like a dozen deadbolts. Without uttering a word, he leads you down an endless tunnel, and when you’ve reached the final destination, he smiles and says, “Enjoy.”
You take your first step inside and feel your boots sticking to the hardwood floor. It’s darker than you imagined (you expected it to be dark, but not this dark). Suddenly, hands emerge from corners of the room, seemingly unattached to torsos. You hear moans and screams, unsure if they’re in pleasure or pain. Then — as if by magic — someone is inside of you.
This was how I imagined sex parties before I attended one, and yes, I admit it sounds a little like a zombie apocalypse. Let me set the record straight: I have been to those types of sex parties, though I admit you have to be in a certain mood to take advantage of this kind of scene — or instead be a person who really loves anonymity and grime (as many men do).
That being said, not all sex parties are like a leather zombie apocalypse. These types of parties are fairly limited to gay men in New York, San Francisco, or maybe Berlin. Most of the time, sex parties, especially if they are inclusive of women, tend to have brighter lighting and more dialogue. And if you’re lucky they’ll even have a smorgasbord of meats, cheeses, and other hors d’oeuvres.
The first sex party I attended was with my ex-boyfriend. He, too, is bisexual and this party was for all genders and sexual orientations. I was reluctant to go, but he assured me it was a safe space. The party goers were an assortment ranging from men in their early 20s (like myself) to women in their mid-60s.
We did something called the “opening circle” whereby we all said our name, gender pronoun, which genders we’re attracted to, and what mischief we were looking to get into that evening. Answers ranged from the adorably platonic (“I just want to cuddle and maybe make out”) to the more sexually adventurous (“I want to get double fisted”).
By the time it was my turn to speak, I had prepared my curt response: “I’m Zach. Bisexual. This is my first sex party, so looking to observe and just have sex with my boyfriend.” In unison, three women replied, “Can I watch?” I laughed, and said, “Sure.”
Before the hosts sent us off to go play, they informed us how to go about asking for something: First, you approach someone and say, “Hi, I’d really be interested in doing X with you. If you’re interested, come find me.” And then you walk away. If that person is interested and has time, they’ll find you later. That way, it doesn’t make the rejection blatant and painful. Personally, I loved this way of asking for consent. It was direct, but in a manner that respected both the suitor and the one being propositioned.
Given the diversity of sex parties — from seedy backrooms to the Kumbaya-style opening circle — it can be difficult to navigate sex party etiquette. I speak from experience.
For example, if I was at a leather sex party in the basement of a gay bar in Manhattan, I would not say, “I’m totally down to bone you. Find me if interested.” Believe me, if I did, he’d raise an eyebrow and cock his head to the side. Instead, I would lock eyes with him and give a naughty smile. If he does the same, that’s when I proceed (cautiously) with implicit consent. Similarly, I would never in a million years touch someone at the Boston sex parties I went to without receiving explicit verbal consent.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand some of the confusion surrounding sex party etiquette. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules. You’re going to have to use your social skills and your gut, and err on the side of caution. If you have never been to a sex party, but are interested, I would highly recommend doing some reconnaissance.
Try figuring out the type of party it is from the flyer (if there is one), or from friends. If you think you know people who’ve been or know the people/group hosting, just ask them. If you don’t, take a buddy and have him/her/them floating around in case you start feeling out of your element. Of course, you always have these magical words at your disposal: “Hold on, I need to go pee.” This allows you an opportunity to get away if you feel pressured.
Believe me when I say that sex parties are some of the safest spaces I’ve ever been to. For women, I would argue they are significantly safer than many bars. There’s an overwhelming sense of community, sex positivity, and communal responsibility to keep the space safe. You can also explore your darker desires, and let go of some of the internalized shame some have surrounding sex — even staunchly sex-positive people like myself.
You never know what you’ll learn about yourself or your desires from attending a sex party. Besides, what else are you doing on a Wednesday night anyway?