What Happened When I Went To My First 'Play Party' (AKA Orgy)

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You know you're curious.

By Estelle Fortier

I’ve always been in awe of my friend Zoe. She’s British and willowy and extremely well read. She also frequents play parties – which is in-crowd speak for classy orgies.  

After years of me asking her what these are like, she finally suggested that I see for myself. We live on different sides of the country, but a friend of hers was hosting a party in my city on Halloween night. Did I want to go?

I’ll try almost anything anything once.

There’s a wide gamut of play parties out there, from pay-at-the-door free-for-alls to highly exclusive events that require either a personal invitation from the host or a letter of recommendation from someone the host trusts in order to gain admission (Zoe’s email on my behalf included a character reference, a brief bio, and photos). 

Personally, I’d only ever attend the latter; the rigorousness of the subsequent vetting process reassured me a lot.

Once I was confirmed, I got an email from the host with logistical details about the party (address, time, etc.), and an impassioned essay extolling both the imperativeness and beauty of affirmative consent. More on that in a second.

A few of my friends initially expressed interest in trying to find a way to come with me, but ultimately they all chickened out. I didn’t mind. Going alone, I figured, would force me to actually engage – however I chose to – instead of just standing in the corner being awkward.

“For your first party,” Zoe advised, “don’t play with anyone.”  (Again, that’s the term the community uses to describe sexual contact at one of these parties.)  “Just look around, get the lay of the land, make new friends.”

Make new friends?

I’ve never been interested in totally random sex. Sure, I’ve had a few alcohol-saturated one-night stands, but they were all with guys I already knew. The prospect of meeting someone and then ten or fifteen or fifty minutes later nailing/being nailed by him in a room full of people – with or without their participation – holds no appeal for me.  So it was easy for me to do as Zoe recommended and set my personal boundaries days before the actual party. 

The most I would possibly do, I decided, was get naked. But I would have no physical contact with anyone else, not even kissing.

Another thing I needed to do, Zoe told me, was make sure I had a great outfit – both outwear and underwear. A good bet for a play party is sexy cocktail attire (think black, lacy, sheer – with black, lacy, sheer underneath), “but when in doubt, go with the theme and go with it hard.”

Since the party’s theme was Cleopatra, I wore a white backless Helmut Lang dress, tons of gold jewelry, and crazy makeup. Underneath, I wore a white lacy thong and white, satiny heart-shaped pasties, purchased especially for the event. (In retrospect, I would have blended in better in all black, but I was glad to be able to signal my status as a play party virgin – people knew, right away, to tread lightly.)

I felt empowered and excited, right up until I pulled up to the imposing mansion where the party was being held.

That’s when the panic set in. However much I wanted to intellectualize it, I was about to go enter a totally unfamiliar space to witness an orgy. My heart pounded in my chest. My hands grew clammy. What if someone wanted to have sex with me, and I felt pressured? What if no one wanted to have sex with me, and I felt ugly?

What if this turned into Eyes Wide Shut?

It won’t, Zoe replied to my frantic text. Just pop in and check it out. If you don’t like it, leave.

Reasonable enough.

I got it out of my car, and the valet whisked it immediately away. A couple of strapping bodyguards checked my ID against the guest list, then escorted me inside down a gorgeous mirrored hallway to a side room where I was asked to turn over my jacket, purse, and phone. “You can come back here any time,” one of the guards said, noticing my trepidation.  “We just don’t allow phones inside the actual party.”

One other guest was disposing of his personal items at the same time: a seven-foot-tall guy with hair down to his butt. He wore only a cape and tiny, tiny shorts; in his hand was a giant plastic silver mallet. “Fair maiden,” he boomed as he saw me, throwing the mallet at my feet. “Are you worthy to wield my hammer?”

Two seconds into my first sex party, and I was already being accosted by a C-grade pornstar Thor.

“Hahaha!” I choked, and fled.

Outside, I was greeting by the soothing, stinky-sweet odor of weed. A girl who looked uncannily like me sat on the high-concept metal bench, smoking a joint and staring pensively into the darkness. I sat down beside her, trying not to hyperventilate, and she asked if I wanted to share. Did I ever. I told her what had just happened to me, and she nodded thoughtfully. “The thing is, whatever you don’t want to do, even if it’s pick up his weird hammer, you can just say no. In fact, you should.”

“You’re right,” I said. “I totally know that. And I do that, usually, like at a bar or whatever. I’m just nervous.”

“I get it. But here, it’s all about honesty and respect.”

“Honesty and respect,” I repeated. It would be come my mantra throughout the night. “I like your outfit.”

“Oh, thanks,” she said, brightening. She was wearing a black lace lingerie dress with a stuffed octopus tied around her waist. “Do you know what I am?”

“Octopussy?”

She laughed. “People keep saying that. I guess I could be. But what I actually am is tentacle porn!”

We finished the joint and went back inside.

It was set up like any upscale cocktail party: a beautiful, modern living room that looked straight out of Architectural Digest, with plenty of space cleared for a dance floor. There was a DJ on one wall and a bar at the other. Costumed people stood around, chatting over cocktails. 

Gradually, I calmed down. The weed gave me a soft, calming buzz.

I introduced myself to a few people; we chatted about the normal, everyday things everyone talks about at parties (Where in the city do you live? What do you do? Who do you know here?). The other guests looked a little more alt than my usual crowd – more piercings, more tats – but besides that, they were 20- and 30-something professionals just like me. We had things in common. We were hitting it off.

Then, at the stroke of midnight, the music turned off. The host clinked a glass with a fork, and everyone fell quiet. The host welcomed us all to the party, which he assured us was gonna be spectacular – as though we hadn’t just been at a party for the past two hours. And as far as everyone but me was concerned, I realized, we hadn’t.

“But before we begin,” he went on, “I want to reiterate what we talk about at every play party, which many of you have heard a thousand times before, but it bears repeating: the importance of affirmative consent.”

Affirmative consent, he explained, was getting decisive verbal agreement from your play partner or play partners before you as much as touched their arm. 

“It doesn’t matter if it’s someone you’ve played with before.  What we do at these parties is only fun and fulfilling because we’re all honest and respectful of each other.”

Honesty and respect, I whispered, even as a fresh wave of anxiety overwhelmed me.

“So tonight, as with all nights,” the host continued, “I invite you to be honest with your fellow players, and to treat each no you say or hear with the same empathy and love you would give to a yes. Be clear and specific in your requests and your answers.”

We were then told to break into pairs and take turns making requests of each other (Can I bite your shoulder?) and empathetically hearing each answer. “Consider this an opportunity to practice owning your answers as well,” the host encouraged us. “Own your yes. Own your no.” If a request was denied, the requester was to reply, Thank you for respecting your boundaries. 

I found myself face to face with a good-looking guy in slacks and a button-down. We introduced ourselves. He asked if he could smell my hair. I said yes. He then asked if he could kiss my neck. Breaking my rule about no physical contact, I enthusiastically said yes to that too.

Here’s where I’m at: I haven’t had kind of sexual contact with another person (key words: with another person, heeyyy) in about six months. As I’ve written here before, I’m really trying to meet someone I can build a meaningful romantic relationship with, and I’ve been concerned that any kind of more casual encounter will distract me from going after what I really want.

Plus, sex as a single girl can be fraught. Safety is obviously a huge issue – the immediate concern of will my partner physically harm me?, and the longer-term concern of will my partner give me an STI, even if we use protection?

And for me, so is the challenge of finding someone I have sexual chemistry with who I also like at the appropriate level. If I don’t enjoy a guy’s company to some extent, it’s really hard for me to enjoy having sex with him, no matter how physically attracted I am. But if I start feeling a romantic connection that he has no interest in reciprocating, that’s even more problematic.

So I haven’t been touched, sexually, in a while – not even kissing. And I didn’t realize how viscerally I missed it until I felt this random guy’s lips on my neck. I heard myself moan. I asked if I could kiss his neck back, and he said yes.

Then, much to my simultaneous disappointment and relief, we had to change partners.

At this point, the host gave the mic to a woman who looked and talked uncannily (and unintentionally, I believe) like Magenta from Rocky Horror Picture Show. In her thick Eastern European accent, she encouraged us to use tonight to connect on a deeper level. “Anyone can go to a party and talk like, Where are you from, what do you do, blah blah blah,” she murmured. “Here, we talk from our hearts.”

With our new partner, we had to describe what intimacy meant to us. (My answer: trust, connection, respect.) Then, we had to imagine an animal representation of our sexual selves, and walk around the room as that animal. (Obviously, I chose a cat.) These exercises served their purpose: after the unexpected intensity of the first round, everyone was cracking up, and the mood immediately felt more comfortable.

Magenta told us to enjoy the party, the music was turned up, and then, at last, it was game time.

Three things seemed to happen simultaneously. First, many people scampered off in small groups to do MDMA or smoke weed, returning as quickly as they left. (I felt perfectly buzzed and didn’t take in any other substances.) The bar stayed open all night, but was largely untouched; everyone I spoke to throughout the evening seemed entirely lucid. Zoe had explained to me that it’s generally frowned upon to be drunk at a play party, and if you are – or if you’re deemed too high on any substance – no one will play with you. (I’ve never done Molly, but among the play community, it’s thought that it doesn’t impair your judgment or memory in the same way alcohol does.)

Second, everyone started dancing. Not the clumsy, sexualized grinding that happens at so many bars and clubs, but just… dancing.

And the third thing that happened was that tits came out. All at once. I blinked, and suddenly I was surrounded by tits. And then dick. The weird thing was that no one seemed to react differently than if we were all fully clothed. 

Some people were more naked than others (I stripped down to my thong and pasties), some people were more noticeably aroused than others, but it wasn’t a big deal either way. 

The men weren’t really my type – more earrings and eyeliner than I’m into – but the women were some of the most gorgeous I have ever seen. I appreciated them the way that one appreciates a beautiful work of art, or a breathtaking sunset. (Because I know you’re wondering, I will tell you that every woman I saw naked was fully shaved; the guys were manscaped, but not to excess.)

As I danced around, people were smiling and making friendly eye contact. I thought of how I’d walked down the street by my apartment earlier that day, fully clothed. A guy had rolled down his car window and yelled at me to suck him off. I’d just ignored him, because in the real world, when a woman says no, no one thanks her for respecting her boundaries.

At some point, maybe half an hour later, the sex started. 

A man and a woman fucked on a swing. On the couch, a man ate a woman out, while she went down on another woman.

I’ve never been one for porn – it’s just never appealed to me as a concept – but I was surprised how much I loved watching them be completely uninhibited. Two women lay on the rug in the middle of the room, making wild, passionate love. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

For people who wanted to get hardcore, or who wanted a little more privacy, there was a dedicated sex room off of the main one. I poked my head in at one point pretty early on to see five or six heterosexual couples humping away, missionary style. When I expressed my surprise to another partygoer that these people were copulating in such a conventional position, he said, “Oh well, you know, they like to start heart-to-heart. As it gets later, things get a little more out there.”

We’ll call this guy Eric. Eric was at the party with his wife, who we’ll call Marie. They were here, they explained, not to play with anyone tonight (“I’d never play with someone who wasn’t tested first,” Marie said in her French accent), but because each of them was looking for someone to date outside of their relationship. They were warm and affectionate with each other, and when Marie commented that a man across the room was attractive, Eric encouraged her to go strike up a conversation.

“How on earth do you guys make it work?” I asked Eric after she left. (I would voice the same question to Marie later; her answer would be very similar to Eric’s.) Eric’s answer was very long, but basically boiled down to communication, honesty, and respect. They were committed to always putting each other first, to abiding by agreed-upon terms, and to being open to modifying the terms of their relationship together if either of them ever felt it wasn’t working. They’d been together for seven years, Eric added, and their relationship had gone through different permutations over time. It worked for them.

“What about you?” Eric asked. Using Magenta’s prompt to talk from my heart, I started by setting my boundaries: I told him that this was my first play party, and that I was just here to watch. (I repeated this line a lot throughout the night, and everyone was incredibly supportive. People were also impressed that I came to the party alone, which I found oddly flattering.) 

I then surprised myself by opening up not only about how sexually pent up I felt, but about how difficult and scary it is to be a sexual woman in the world. “I feel like I’m always wearing armor,” I said. “I’m always trying to tamp down anything about me that could be construed as sexual, because I don’t want to be seen as asking for it, but I get all this unwanted sexual attention anyway, that just manifests as degrading and scary. So I feel like I have nowhere to be sexual, and no one to be sexual with. Even masturbating has become kind of depressing.”

“Well,” said Eric, “what are you into, sexually?”

I felt myself flinch. “I’m not playing,” I repeated.

“I know, and that’s great. But just for you, to remind yourself: What do you genuinely enjoy in bed?”

So I told him, in exhaustive detail. And I told myself too, because frankly, I’d forgotten. Eric listened thoughtfully. As I talked on and on, I felt myself returning to my body. My body that I’d neglected, that I’d resented for its perceived (by me) imperfections and for the carnal yearnings it imposed upon my otherwise rational mind. My body that I’d learned to subdue and hide, lest I be perceived as inviting trouble, as though I might be able to stop any unwanted advances if I only tried hard enough – as though, if I didn’t, it was my fault.

When I said all I had to say, I was so deeply grateful that I had this strange urge to sob – an urge that I suppressed, because no matter how accepting my fellow players were, I definitely did not want to be the girl who cried at the orgy.

The rest of the night was relatively uneventful. The guy who kissed my neck earlier asked me if he could show me his dick. I said yes, mostly out of curiosity. It was very big. When he then disappeared with a few people – including his girlfriend – into the sex room, I waved and smiled but didn’t follow.

Another guy and I talked for a while about learning to define ourselves by our connections to other people, and not by professional achievements. He asked if I wanted to stare into each other’s eyes for five minutes (this is apparently called eye gazing). I said no thanks, I was enjoying our conversation, and he thanked me for respecting my boundaries.

The party was at its apex (or climax!) when I left at 4 A.M., but I was drowsy and famished. The only sustenance throughout the six hours I’d been there had been hors d’oeuvres during the cocktail hour. Maybe there was pizza delivery later, but somehow I doubt it.

It’s not my intention, in describing this play party, to categorically laud one way of being sexually over any other. I know people in healthy and sexually fulfilling monogamous relationships. I know people who were or are in unhealthy polyamorous relationships. I know people who have gone to play parties and been made to feel uncomfortable. Fundamentally, any kind of sexual relationship is execution-dependent.

But I do believe that society at large could learn a lot about consent, honesty and respect from the party I was at. And I believe that, at this particular moment in my life, it was exactly what I needed.

I’m still not sure whether I’ll become a regular on the play party circuit, if only to dance around naked. Part of me thinks that since I had such a great time, I should definitely go back; part of me thinks that I had a perfect experience and don’t need to repeat it. So we’ll see.

One last thing: as I’ve told various friends about my experience, several of them have said, Oh, I’m far too prude to ever do that. 

I’ve been making a concerted effort recently to not swear in my essays here, but I’ll say this now: fuck the term prude. Prude is an idea society has made up to belittle people who have the courage and authenticity to honor what their sexual selves.

So, in sum, if the play community sounds of interest to you, ask around (as discreetly as you want to). I strongly suspect you’ll know at least someone who knows someone who’s into something like this – though it may not be the person you’d initially think.

And if all of this holds no appeal at all, thank you for respecting your boundaries.

This article was originally published at The Gloss. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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