What People Who Go To Sex Parties Know That Others Don't

Illustrated By Anna Sudit.
Whenever I engage with the play-party community, I'm struck by the applicability of its codes of conduct to all forms of sexual expression — starting with the fact that it has stated codes of conduct. Subscribers to monogamy (no disdain implied, monogamy is a perfectly lovely structure if you've chosen it for yourself) can skate by on adherence to hookup expectations that have been so heavily prescribed, they're implicit. In the heterosexual script, boy meets girl, boy and girl flirt, they end up alone, boy initiates sexual activity, and sexual activity progresses from stage to stage so predictably that discussion can seem unnecessary.

Which is a problem — because if communication isn't happening and the hookup script isn't unfolding into exactly what both parties want and enjoy, someone will end up feeling dissatisfied, disrespected, or even violated. The sex-party community's answer: Talk about it, which is what 29 people, including me and my partner, assembled to do in Brooklyn on Wednesday night at a sex-party etiquette workshop led by relationships coach Effy Blue.

"Let's not forget that [a sex party] is a party, as well as a place where we have sex," she reminded the crowd, which included both sex-party virgins and veterans. "There are things that you can do at sex parties that are not sexual" — namely drink, dance, eat, talk: anything you'd do at any normal party.

But, for those activities that are sexual, Blue laid out the ground rules — every one of which could be applied to non-sex-party scenarios. Five highlights:
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1. If you're nervous, or it's your first time doing something, say so. "If you're nervous, tell people!" Blue advised. "If you're a newbie, tell people." Sharing that you're new can be a great conversation-starter, lightening the mood and inviting others to tell you that they're new, too, or to welcome you and introduce you to other guests. You don't have to pretend that you're an expert or that you're calm, cool, and confident if you're not. Whether at a sex party or elsewhere, sex can be silly. Sex can be fun. Sex can also be awkward or nerve-wracking. Saying so connects you with your partner(s) and gives you something to laugh about together.

2. Find language to communicate about your STI status. And practice it in the mirror, if that's helpful. In Blue's words, "There is no such thing as safe sex," because all sex carries some level of risk, but you decide how much risk you'll tolerate. "Figure out your safer sex protocols and your STI status, and be comfortable talking about it," Blue says. Have a line or two ready to rattle off when the time comes — "Hey, I want to let you know I recently tested positive for gonorrhea, but I'm treating it and have a condom right here," whatever it is. If you don't want to talk about your STI status, you can say so — "You know, I'm not comfortable talking about that" — but recognize that you might not get any action if you refuse to have that conversation when asked.

3. Identify your boundaries, intentions, and desires, and then own them. Blue asked participants to consider their "boundaries" (activities you don't want to engage in during a given experience), "intentions" (attitudes you'd like to adopt for the experience), and "desires" (what you'd like to happen during an experience) — a checklist Blue refers to as B.I.D.

For the experience of a sex party, I chose "honest and communicative" as the attitudes I'd like to adopt, while my partner picked "open and outgoing." We both noted that, at a sex party, we wouldn't want to separate from one another. (Glad we agree on that.) Blue pointed out that this exercise is useful not only for sex parties but for vacations, blind dates with Tinder matches, meeting your S.O.'s family for the first time — any social experience for which you want to have a game plan.
4. Ghost if you need to. If you're not into the vibe at a sex party, "Just leave!" Blue exclaimed. "We don't lock the doors, we don't hold you down unless you ask really nicely." This is sex we're talking about — it should always be elective, and you should never feel like you have to go through with an activity you're not enjoying or stay in an environment that isn't doing it for you. It doesn't matter if you paid $100 for your ticket (cough, sunk cost fallacy, cough) or if you really like the person you're hooking up with, even though the hookup is feeling off: Get yourself out of the situation. There will always be another party/opportunity to do sexy things, promise.

5. Establish consent for every new act. Yes, even if you're enjoying a new act that has already been introduced. "Verbal consent is required for every action," Blue stated, "until you establish what we call blanket consent," or permission to do whatever until instructed otherwise. Nothing we haven't all heard, right? But Blue added that if your partner initiates an activity without your go-ahead and you're enjoying it, there's still value in pausing to reestablish consent. If your partner abruptly starts giving you oral, for example, even if you're thinking score, you can say, "I'm into this, please keep going, and I'll let you know if I want something different" or "That feels great, but let me know before you switch it up." The message: Thanks for the oral, but we both have a say in what happens here. If an encounter escalates in a way you happen to like, but you haven't given consent, there's a greater chance it will escalate in a way you don't like.
Blue's workshop reinforced my partner's conclusion after our first sex party: "I think what's important during that is regular checking-in, paying attention to each other and our partner," he told me, "and making sure everything was consensual and fun." Sex at sex parties, and sex anywhere, should be fun. Intentionality — knowing what you want, communicating it, and adjusting course as needed — helps ensure that it is. And intentionality is something that seasoned sex-party attendees are very, very good at, and something all sex-havers can emulate.
The Bed Post is a series that explores what holds us back from sex and love with whom we want, when we want, where we want, and how we want — because we all deserve sex and love lives that are not only free of evils, but full of what is good. Follow me on Twitter at @hlmacmillen or email me at hayley.macmillen@refinery29 — I’d love to hear from you. Find all of The Bed Post right here.
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