Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
"Worst case scenario, we just have sex with each other," Jonas said, shrugging into his jacket. "That's hardly a bad thing."
I nodded and zipped up the boots a friend had christened "lying down shoes." We were on our way to our first swinger's party.
A month earlier, Jonas and I went to my first public sex party. It was hosted at a well-established venue in the Mission. And, when Jonas suggested it, I was intrigued. I'd once been to a kinky "play party" at a friend-of-a-friend's, where we joined a solemn group sipping cocktails and watching someone get spanked. I'd also attended an acquaintance's graduation party that developed into make outs and frottage, but since it was in Los Angeles, everyone was more preoccupied with getting their pictures taken in the resident photo booth than in getting sexy.
When Jonas brought up the sex party, named "Pink," we hadn't actually been dating for very long. Despite being long distance, we both fell fast and hard. He has a knack for emotional self-awareness, and we spent a lot of time unpacking our feelings and clarifying our intentions. All of this conversation meant both of us were very comfortable with the sturdiness of our relationship. And we were interested in maybe trying out some of the fun things we'd never been able to do with anyone else. When we first talked about wanting to see what it was like to have sex with an audience, both of us dismissed it as a fantasy. But, then he found out about Pink and asked if I wanted to go.
"Do I have to have sex with other people?" I asked, uncertainly.
Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
Nope. The venue prided itself on being safe, sane, and consensual, and most people went to the party with a partner. It was kind of like the adult version of the make out room at a high school party: dark, provocative bass music, and shadowy couples feeling each other up. Unlike the make out room, though, these couples would be over 18 and not under blankets. We pre-registered.
When we arrived, we wandered through the various rooms. Most of them were sparsely populated, although a few featured couples kissing. "Let's get a drink," Jonas said. We hung around chatting with other people in the bar area and people watching. Neither Jonas nor I was feeling moved to hurl ourselves onto a flat surface and start pashing, but we stole kisses in between sips from our red plastic cups.
Eventually, we moved to the largest room: wall-to-wall mattresses. It was well-populated with couples, some of whom were vigorously enjoying each other's company. I felt a little shy as I leaned against the wainscotting. These couples were not the kind you saw in mainstream porn: They were all sizes, all ages, and all hair levels. They were enthusiastic and exuberant. One woman unwrapped her legs from one partner, who wandered, naked, out the door in search of the bathroom, and motioned another man towards her, giggling. There was a lot of giggling, actually. People were definitely having sex, and they were definitely enjoying themselves. That alone was pretty fun, so we started kissing, which led to some groping, which led to a strategic retreat to one of the mattresses (after first carefully laying down a provided towel). By the end of the evening, all of our shyness had disappeared.
Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
We debriefed afterwards. "That was fun," I said.
"I feel like we just did what we would do at home, only in a room full of other people," Jonas said.
"I expected it to be a lot porn-ier," I noted. "But, that just felt like having sex around a bunch of PTA members."
A few weeks later, he sent me an email. "What do you think about a swingers party?"
My sole exposure to swingers was through the 1995 film The Lifestyle, a documentary about the primarily Republican married couples who ran away to the redwoods to have orgies. Members of The Lifestyle were also notoriously homophobic: Although they tended to encourage bisexuality among women, male-on-male sex or even touching was frowned upon and often forbidden. "I feel like I'd get into a political argument and we'd be thrown out," I told Jonas.
"It's the Bay Area," he said. "How much arguing could there be? 'Are those condoms fair trade?' We can apply and see if they let us in."
This party had a filtering process that came down to whether or not they thought you were cute enough. That made me cranky with the organisers, because the pictures of other participants on the RSVP list were of quite conventionally attractive, mostly young white, people. When we were accepted, I told Jonas, "If anybody says anything racist, I am leaving." He nodded.
Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
We were on our way to swinger-ville when I realised we'd completely forgotten to obey our confirmation email and carefully go over our limits. When I brought it up, Jonas said, "I don't really know what my limits are! How do I know how I'm going to feel about a situation until it comes up?"
"Yeah, I know," I said. "Maybe we should have a pre-arranged signal for yes, no, or maybe. Like an eyebrow wiggle."
"Yeah!" Jonas said excitedly. "Or an umpire hand gesture!"
The first thing that became obvious was that half of the people there were extremely nervous. The door lady said, "There's a lot of first-timers here," and it was easy to pick them out. On one side of the room, you had groups of women in sparkly dresses and men in button-downs, chatting easily over their plastic cups. On the other, you had isolated couples, staring wildly around like trapped animals. Jonas and I immediately dubbed one area "the awkward couch" because there were three couples sitting rigidly next to each other, not talking, and staring straight ahead. I was minutes away from suggesting icebreaker games.
At around 12:30, suddenly, everything ramped into high gear. The couples who knew each other grabbed hands and headed to various rooms, where we could both hear and glimpse their playtime. The awkward couples started looking around with increasing desperation. "This always happens around now," the bartender said. "Everybody realises there's only a couple of hours left."
We'd met a couple that we really liked; it was their first time too, and none of us had any idea how this worked. "We're just gonna go get a drink and then let's talk about it," they said, and then disappeared. We waited for an hour but they never came back; we found out later they'd been accidentally ejected from the party and gone home. We didn't really meet anyone else that we were interested in, and nobody was interested enough in us to say anything, so as the clock struck 1:00, we just went into a room and performed our "worst case scenario."
Of the two parties, Pink was my favourite: It was full of real people having a good time. Although I'm sure most of the swingers were very nice, everyone was too paralysed with fear to talk with, let alone proposition, a stranger. And it felt a bit like a popularity contest. I'll take a good time over an awkward couch any day.