Are Sex Parties The New Vibrator?

are sex parties the new vibrators
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I walk down the street, passing clumps of smokers spilling from nearby nightclubs, looking for the private address I'd been given earlier. It takes two passes to find the right place, and then a friendly face at the door asks my name. I feel a sudden desire to whisper a pass phrase, like "melba toast" or "caffeine jitters," but instead I step inside and climb the long wooden stairway so typical of San Francisco's Victorian flats.

I have arrived at Club Kiss, one of several sex party series hosted by Kinky Salon founders Polly Pandemonium and Scott Levkoff. Polly is greeting new arrivals while Scott checks names off a list and collects entry fees. A pretty woman in a corset and boy-cut panties leads newcomers on tours of Mission Control, which everyone refers to simply as "the space." Down the hall, a bartender serves drinks brought by the guests; a couple relaxes on the smoking patio and others hang up outerwear in the do-it-yourself coat check.

I wander into a large room with soft couches, pillows the size of bathtubs and a strippers' pole; this is the dance floor, Polly says. The music is loud enough to make it a party but not so loud you have to shout, a blend of techno, disco, and hip-hop. Beyond the dancers, two smaller rooms offer semi-discreet accommodations; our tour pauses at the threshold so we don't disturb the couple starting off with a quickie in the blue room.

One little slip of a thing, naked but for a collar, engaged enthusiastically in a blow job with a fully clothed man in the cloakroom, while new arrivals calmly hung up their coats and got themselves organized.

It was early yet and the space was relatively empty, but couples were already slipping into semi-private spaces for quickies—appetizers to get them ready for the full meal. In one small side room, separated from the dance floor by a wisp of a curtain, a pair of newlyweds got busy making semi-public passionate love.

Club Kiss is a couples party with a swinger vibe, Polly tells me, smaller and more intimate than other Kinky Salon events. But single women are welcome, and I'm to make myself at home; no one will mind if I stay in the background and soak up the scene on this, my first time out.

Sex Parties Are for Girls

No longer a suburban secret, sex parties just might be the next vibrator, a sexual thrill once kept hidden and now gleefully embraced by women from all walks of life. And like vibrators, sex parties come in more flavors than Ben and Jerry's. From classic swinger events to nightclubs that provide beds, to pansexual celebrations of the erotic divine, people are coming together all over the country to flirt, fondle and fuck—however their hearts (or other body parts) desire.

What's more, it's women who are taking the lead in the new party scene, creating female-friendly communities that emphasize both safety and adventure. The rules are strict, and apply across all kinds of parties: condoms are a must, every touch must be consensual, and men are meticulously screened and expected to remain on their best behavior.

Why I'm Here, Now

I've been interested in sex parties for a long time, but until tonight, I have not ventured out to one. Not because I'm shy or nervous or afraid to ask my partner what he thinks about the idea. My hesitation stems from a rather quirky place: I didn't want to tarnish my own fantasy of what a sexual celebration could be.

I've always wanted to participate in an erotic festival where our lusty appreciation of food, wine and sex combine into a spiritual gestalt. In my story, the event centers around fecundity and involves bonfires and drums and oiled-up men dancing and mock-fighting to impress the women. Couples and groups slip into the fields to make love in all kinds of combinations, and details like marriage vows and promise rings do not matter for the duration.

Because this fantasy is so detailed, and so tailored to my own personal desires, I figured that no modern sex party could live up to my dream, and I would leave disillusioned.

And yet, if you read my Sex Drive column at Wired.com, you know I have spent more than a decade exploring sexuality online. And you know that on the internet, you can taste polyamory and group sex and public sex and sex with people all along the spectrum of gender, orientation and adventurousness.

And I wondered: What might it be like to have all of that available in person?

Doing My Homework

Before The Big Night, I spent some time researching sex party culture and the various venues and organizers. I might be the only one with a fantasy-novel idea of the perfect party; why do other people go?

"A lot of women go to parties for the opportunity to play with other women," says Vivian, a systems administrator in Oakland. "That's one of the reasons I go. It's not hard to find a guy to have sex with," she adds, laughing.

Voyeur Events, which hosts invitation-only club parties in New York, reports a significant upswing in female-to-female contact after Madonna kissed Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera on the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. Apparently, "situational bisexuality" is popular—but not required—at most sex parties.

Others go to try out fantasies in a safe, encouraging environment. "I think everyone has a fetish of some sort, even if you don’t know what it is yet," says Shannon, a veteran of several Fetish Factory parties in Florida. "Even if you just go to watch and have a night out, these events are fun and interesting, something to talk about."

For couples, going to an adult party adds mystery and variety to their sex lives. "You both have that release of going out, getting a little spice, changing things up," says Lance in Toronto. "You avoid that pattern of it's 10:00 p.m. on Saturday and she's going upstairs to get naked."

And, I was delighted to learn, I am not alone in my visions of sex parties as a type of group prayer. Dr. Carol Queen, sex educator, author and founder of the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco, has hosted "Queen of Heaven" parties in art galleries and performance spaces since 1990. For her, sex parties have a spiritual element.

"We have a ritual associated with opening the party that helps people feel they're in a special space, where we acknowledge that spiritual connection as part of what we do when we're being erotic," she says. "I know not everyone feels this way, but I always do!"

Setting the Scene

Polly and Scott—who have a background in theater—go to great lengths to create sensual settings, with swoopy fabrics, candles and fairy lights, and lots of plush, yielding surfaces. They too pay homage to the spiritual, with erotic altars tucked into nooks throughout the space. It's naughty enough to bring out the exotic in you; it's comfortable enough that you really do want to check your inhibitions at the door.

Feeling overdressed in jeans and flip-flops, I took off my sweater and hung out in the foyer, meeting people as they came in and chatting with Polly and a few guests. As I began to relax and realize that above all else this was a party, I caught the eye of an attractive man standing alone. He smiled at me, and I wandered over and struck up a conversation about the baseball game I'd attended before the party, having accidentally double-booked myself.

We were hitting it off when his partner emerged from the restroom, took one look at me, raised an eyebrow, and towed him off the bar. All I could do was laugh. What was I thinking, talking baseball at a time like this?

But I learned a valuable lesson. Just being at a sex party does not guarantee you're going to have sex—even if you're an attractive female.

The Play's the Thing

Devotees refer to what goes on at sex parties as "play," and that one word can encompass everything from verbal banter to intense bondage.

Most couples tell me that parties deepen the intimacy and trust within their relationship. If parties work for a couple, they might become regulars. And if sex parties don't enhance the relationship, the couple doesn't go—or they stop being a couple.

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But overwhelmingly, I heard the same message from everyone I talked to: you must be able to expose yourself both literally and figuratively with your partner if you want to add sex parties to your relationship.

"If you can't talk to each other, you can't be polyamorous," says Barbara*, who lives in San Francisco with her partner of 12 years and their new baby. "So much in the beginning is about talking about your feelings, your actions, what's acceptable, how it makes you feel, examining the relationship and yourself. You have to be completely honest, open about everything, or serious problems arise."

I was glad to see that everyone at Club Kiss that night wanted to be there; I didn't see any arguments or angry faces on couples leaving early, which would have harshed my mellow and cast a blight on the party atmosphere.

"If someone is arguing about whether they want to be at a sex party, they don't want to be there," says Dr. Queen. "And no one wants to overhear the drama of the people they might be about to meet and have sex with an hour later. It's not part of the etiquette to make a space for that."

Is Everybody Really Doing It?

Despite their growing popularity, sex parties are not exactly mainstream. Most partygoers are cautious about revealing their hobby to others. Even in sex-positive San Francisco, my sources are concerned about their identities, asking to be mentioned only by first names or pseudonyms.

This is not out of shame, says Barbara. Rather, it is out of respect for other people's boundaries. Their parents, bosses and children do not need to be burdened with images of what they do on their play dates. (Dr. Queen assures me that in 16 years, Queen of Heaven has never had a guest's parents or children show up at the same party.)

I left the party without doing anything more exotic than flirting, yet feeling as if I'd just taken another step in my sexual journey. I can see why parties appeal to women—and why women run the show.

Polly says she wants to lead another sexual revolution and create a world where everyone comes together to make love. I certainly would not be surprised if women continue to cast off old fetters and redefine the scope of female—and human—sexuality.

Meanwhile, I intend to practice my pole dancing before the next Club Kiss.

Regina Lynn is the award-winning Sex Drive columnist at Wired.com and the author of Sexier Sex: Lessons from the Brave New Sexual Frontier (Seal Press).

Know Before You Go

  • Sex clubs are often not in the nicest neighborhoods due to their adult nature and city zoning laws; research transportation and parking options in advance.
  • Ask about the alcohol policy before you go. Many parties don't allow it at all, while others permit you to bring your own.
  • It only takes one drunk to ruin a party for everyone.
  • Hosts and communities take the rules very seriously. Heed them.
  • Most parties have a place to leave your clothes, but leave valuables at home.
  • It's always a good idea to bring your own safer sex supplies, although many parties provide condoms, gloves and lube.
  • It's okay to watch but don't point, snicker or otherwise become a lookey-loo. That's rude.
  • If someone is aggressive or obnoxious, notify the hosts. Again, it only takes one jerk to ruin the event for everyone else.

Resources: Is There A Sex Party Near You?

Polly and Scott: www.themoralminority.net
Voyeur Events: www.voyeurevents.com
Fetish Factory: www.fetishfactory.com/
Center for Sex and Culture: www.sexandculture.org
Eros Guide:

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