There are a couple of not safe for work photos in this post…
It’s Pride Week and the close to Gay Stamina Month and what better thing to talk about that makes us really gay than… sex. My friend Elisabeth even addressed it in her wedding column!
A few friends of mine are preparing for their first ever play party, so I’ve been doling out advice right and left. It’s called “play” but sometimes folks interchange the word “sex” or the acronym “BDSM.” Whatever you call it, it is a social occasion in which folks are free, perhaps even encouraged, to engage in public sexual or kink behaviors. It’s a good place for people who are exhibitionists and voyeurs, as well as people who want a dose of sexual energy in their lives. There are a bunch of different reasons folks might want to go to a sexy party, a few of which I’ve addressed below. I believe being good in bed is one third chemistry, one third listening to your partner and one third skill. Sex parties are great places to learn new skills and better sexual communication.
I only attend sex parties sporadically and rarely play with strangers–and I don’t play unless I really feel like I want to. When I want to feel agency over myself as a sexual being I like sex parties a lot for that. The energy is usually really good and liberating and it often feels like a way to reclaim my body after a break-up, even if I don’t play at all. And I’m always looking for ways to do that.
My first play party was about a decade ago. I was still living in Philadelphia when I made the trek to Throb on the Lower East Side. It was a queer women & trans play party, the likes of which I had heard about in dyke literature–Michelle Tea books, On Our Backs magazine–and the fringes of my sex positive friend groups. I was in a monogamous relationship (with some make-out freedom) and I’m not sure entirely why Seth was okay with me going without her but I think it was an adventure I felt in every part of my twenty-four year old heart that I needed to have.
I think it was a release party for Sugar High Glitter City and I was too shy to ask Shar and Jackie to sign my copy. I found that first party intimidating but liberating, and not as scary as I thought but still scary in a this is a really new thing I don’t know how to be sort of way. Over the years I’ve become really fond of parties that hire a good DJ (nothing kills my boner like bad music) and have at least one room that feels like a regular party and isn’t very serious. I like to chat with folks and sometimes people are very serious about kink. I’m not. I remember having folks tell me “I heard you were flogging so and so at Switch and making her recite Britney Spears lyrics.”
Like I said, I don’t go to play parties often but I enjoy them. There are some folks who make this a huge part of their life–taking weekend trips all across the country to go to parties. So this list is just some suggestions from my perspective and I encourage you to ask other folks for their ideas as well.
I consulted my friend Felice Shays about her tips as a long time player, author of Brutal Affection, and the person who flogged me for the first time during a demo carnival at Throb the second or third time I went. Photo by Kelsey Dickey.
1. Brush up on consent practices.
Just because someone is at a party doesn’t mean they want to engage in play or sex, or engage in it with you. They might just be there testing the waters or just not that into you or what you want to do. Remember, without no there is no yes. But also, they might just be shy and want to, so it is worth asking and being prepared to hear “No” or “Yes” and remember that asking is the victory, not the outcome.
Some parties have explicit consent policies and practices–you should read all of those before you get there so you have an idea of what to expect. I suggest reading the Learning Good Consent Zine to any person who wants to engage in sexual activity with another person ever (i.e. everyone), but it’s especially good to do this before you go to an explicit play space. Also my tips on How to be an Ally to Your Fat Lover are relevant here, too. Be body positive!
The Myth Party is one of my favorite play parties ever and I suggest cruising their “rules and security” section. They are very thoughtful and awesome. I appreciate that everyone there adheres to these consent policies because it makes me feel comfortable as a queer woman who has sex with folks of non-normative bodies and genders to know that the multi-gendered partiers are all on the same page as I am with consent.
2. Brush up on your talking to strangers.
I’ve written extensively here about how to get over shyness and ask people out on dates. The same principle applies at a play party–nobody ever died of awkward.
Felice suggested making it a goal to talk to at least one person you don’t know. I had the goal to talk to five people I didn’t know at the single’s mixer I went to a couple of months ago. It’s hard to talk to strangers (even for some extroverts) especially in a sexually charged/awkwardish environment. But probably everyone else is feeling a little nervous, too. Even experienced players get nervous, awkward and consider leaving. Best just to dive in and get through it so you can get to the good stuff!
Felice also said, “If you see something or someone interesting talk to them. Wait until they’re done w whatever or whomever they’re doing.” It’s normal to feel like a weirdo in unfamiliar social settings but remember a play party is just like a regular party. Use a little grace and finesse about when and how you talk to people. Be appreciative not creepy.
Take advantage of cruising wristbands and use that as your opening with people. “I notice you’re looking to engage in S/M play as a top…” Submit party here in Brooklyn has a whole cruising wristband system.
The one-liner that works best in my experience at play parties is, “Would you like to negotiate something?” An ex of mine said going up to people at parties is like shooting fish in a barrel because most folks at women/trans events are too shy to make the first move. Be bold, the rewards are plentiful!
3. Go with a specific desire in mind but no expectations.
This was from my roommate, Damien Luxe. I think it’s a great idea to have a desire so that way when you do talk to someone or they talk to you and the question comes up whether or not you want to negotiate something, you have things in mind. Examples might be, bondage, flogging, spanking, sex, making out, cuddling, watching porn together, watching scenes together, doing each other’s make-up, learning how to do something.
But going with no expectations is really important. If your getting laid is the only way you’ll feel successful at the party, you probably won’t be successful. Going with the flow and being open to genuine connections is probably better. I learned how to just let expectations go and be appreciative of the experiences I’ve had and wound up much happier (be this at conferences I thought would be total boink fests, and dates I’ve thought were sure things but then there was no chemistry).
4. Interact with the host!
Felice suggests “Find the host and ask for a tour and or offer some help.” Getting the lay of the land is really helpful right away. Often volunteering at events is a really great way to meet people you may want to negotiate play with. It’s a good ice breaker, too, and can help you feel more brave, as these parties are all about stepping outside your comfort zone.
I was the Mistress of the Parlor for a play party my friend Trent threw a few Pride weekends ago called “Transaction.” I got to greet people and play matchmaker and ice break. I loved that job! It didn’t get me laid but I think I was secret monogamous at the time so I wasn’t really looking for action.
If you think the host is hot (and probably they are, and very good at what they do), Felice has some specific advice. “Don’t wait til an hour before closing time to ask the party host to flog you or fuck you – they’re possibly cleaning up condoms or wiping down equipment or fucked or flogged out already.”
I was searching desperately for a photo of LeRoi Prince in Captain Kirk drag to illustrate a point later on in this blog entry but I had to settle for this insanely hot photo of them in a vest and shirt. Photo by Kelsey Dickey.
5. Dress in a way that makes you feel confident and sexy.
I’m not so into the leather scene aesthetic of black tank top/tee shirt and black jeans and black boots. Or camouflage anything. Sure, I like 90s style on the right person, but I just think that’s a “safe” look and good style really makes you stand out. How about gray skinny jeans? Your boots should be fabulous. If they were two-toned cowboy boots that would really turn my head.
When I was still pretty new to kink stuff and going out a lot after the end of my engagement, my bestie Rachael came to town to teach me to flog. When deciding what to wear to the party we went to (I think it was Switch at Paddles, may it rest in peace) she highly endorsed me wearing a gold dress. “It’s important to stand out,” she said.
Lots of folks default to the standard slip dress or lingerie, which is fine if that is your aesthetic. But I don’t shy away from a costume and was pretty proud of what I wore to do that hostessing gig at Transaction, which is the same outfit I wore to Femmecee Rebel Cupcake a couple of months later.
From Rebel Cupcake, August 2010. The fact that I was 31 at the time is sort of startling because it doesn’t feel that long ago and I still have all of the elements of that outfit in my wardrobe. Photo by Nogga Schwartz.
Corsets are good, wear great underwear and “consider shaving your personal bits or whatever else you consider primping before you get there,” says Felice.
Most play parties have a place to change, and people often make use of this. No one expects you to arrive “ready.” This is one of those great examples of a place where you can bring multiple outfit changes. At a party I went to with a sweetheart in service to me (and I was performing) I had three pairs of shoes and took advantage of having someone to lean on while I changed heels several times.
6. Mindfully imbibe.
Lots of parties are BYOB. Some are sober (keep your eyes out for that). But be mindful of using alcohol and other drugs when you’re playing. It really messes with consent and boundaries and you don’t want to do something you wouldn’t soberly decide to do with your body or to someone else’s body. There are many other chances in life to get fucked up and a play party doesn’t need to be that place.
But, you know, if you need a beer or a makers on the rocks to ease into things, go ahead. Just be forewarned that there are people who won’t play with you if you have been drinking or using other drugs.
Also, drink lots of water. Felice: “Drink water. Use lube. Drink water.”
7. Pack your toys!
Lots of parties have the big equipment, like beds, crosses to lay someone on, cages, etc… But you have to supply the flogger, canes, dildos, vibes, whatever. What you might want used on you is a great thing to bring because not all tops come carrying all that they have in their repertoire of skills. And if you have something you want to use that’s a good thing to maybe flag with casually in a back pocket. Just a thought for cruising purposes.
8. Kiss somebody.
Felice says simply, “Kiss somebody!” Making out is fun and no big deal. I used to throw make-out parties all the time and they were really fun. I had all these games and got people in huge groups (50 or so) to play where it forced them to interact with people and either kiss, make out or friendly handshake and it was a way to negotiate play and also meet new folks.
In summary, sex parties are totally a fun way to play with energy and get really into your body and your desire. I highly endorse a couple of them before you decide they aren’t right for you. And if they are, you might find yourself on Fet Life getting all up in it every weekend like the sex hobbyists I know.
Folks in New York who want to give play parties a try I suggest:
July 11th–the hardly ever happens so catch it while you can Myth Party. It’s like the nightclub of the future, where folks are dancing and mingling but also fucking and playing and wearing Star Trek costumes.
It’s a great answer to the problematic nature of “who exactly is women and trans” because it’s not. It’s a fluid gender party where the needs and comfort of queers of all bodies, genders and ethnicities is privileged. You have to apply to get an invite and it’s definitely, definitely worth it. Especially if you just go to be at a party with sexual energy and aren’t sure whether you want to play. I went as a performer last time and was super impressed with it and felt no impetus to get down with my sweetheart, but felt welcome to. She and I had fun playing with a new dynamic, and briefly playing fetch with one of my roommate’s houseboys who was playing the part of Rover that evening. Pet play may not be my thing but it’s all play, and sometimes fetch is fun no matter who is doing the fetching. These parties are about experimenting and being free.
July 13th—Unchained. It’s new, I’ve never been, but a trusted friend of mine went and gave it their stamp of approval so I am passing it on.
Every last Saturday—Submit. It’s a Women and Trans party I’ve been to many times. They have a great in-house DJ (Angel Boi). The space is a basement, which sometimes smells like basement and is not my favorite olfactory experience but it’s a fun group of folks that seem to change every year or so I make the trek to the basement.