The aesthetic of the kink scene has always been a little moody.
Take Torture Garden, probably the world's best known fetish party: it's all black latex, leather, vinyl and other stuff you'd probably associate more with a cybergoth night than the bedroom. But in an online world where vibrancy is algorithmically favourable, the old dungeon get-up feels tired: a new kink audience who've grown up on Drag Race, eco-friendly glitter and cherry emojis want their space too.
North London's newest club night, Pinky Promise, is not a sex party or a fetish night – it's a "sensual theatrical party" of "ethical hedonism", so basically a sex party without the sex. Held in an old warehouse, and attended in large part by this candy floss kinkster subset, Pinky Promise is all sexual curiosity, queer performance art, kitten play, strap-on life drawing and sequinned robes.
At its launch, the crowd was diverse, gender-playful, sexy. They wore tails, corsets, fake moustaches, fruit basket head pieces and felt shoes covered in pom-poms. They were, in other words, those roll-around-on-the-floor theatre kids from your school – so if you hated those kind of kids, this is definitely not the party for you.
It's also not a party for people who want to start publicly fucking within the first ten minutes. There's no thrusting or insertion anywhere at Pink Promise; instead, a series of workshops including "sensual body painting", "naughty colouring in", "erotic storytelling" and a "bubble experience" took place in a side room, introducing sexual conversations without actually getting explicit.
Many then drifted off to the "Kittens Boudoir", another side room, for a conversation about current affairs or a make-out session. It was curiously romantic, like a long queer dating mixer or an extended foreplay session. It was also all extremely Gen Z and the kind of thing Piers Morgan would absolutely hate, which is as ringing an endorsement as I can think of.
"I've never been to an event that's sensual, sexual, exploring those kinds of themes before. But I've always found them interesting," said 28-year-old Ugne on the night. "I've never felt comfortable going to them. But here it's not in your face – you choose to participate in the workshops if you want to, and then the rest of the experience is much more just like a party with a little more nudity. It's nice to have a bit of a sensual exploration without full frontal shagging."
Like many bi people, Ugne thought she was straight, then a lesbian, before embracing the middle ground. "I guess a lot of it was breaking down societal pressure of what was expected of me," she said. "And this environment embraces that fluidity. It's definitely a safe space to meet someone, to connect with someone."
The sentiment is echoed by Gerald, 27, who also identifies as bisexual. Recently, they've also been questioning their gender identity.
"I feel like I can definitely meet people here who are willing to have those kinds of conversations and don't necessarily want to subscribe to the status quo as Hinge wants us to," they said, adding that they were embracing the non-explicitly sexual tone of the party.
"One thing that I really discovered this year is that there's a difference between sexuality and kinkiness, and I can feel comfortable and feel kinky, but not necessarily have to be sexual with people. It's like playing, like learning how to play again."
At around 1:30AM, a stripper pole was brought into the dance floor. At that point, guests sat cross-legged in front of the stage, like Year 2s at a school assembly, to watch a series of cabaret performances over the next hour.
For some guests, these shows were the main attraction; 23-year-old Ella first heard about the party through a post by queer performance collective The Cocoa Butter Club on Instagram. "I haven't been to an erotic party before," she said. "It definitely felt more approachable because it's not explicitly sexual. I've never really thought about going to that kind of event, but the way this one was described just sounded cute."
Emilia is 25, and sober. "This is the kind of environment that really is conducive to sober people," she said. "Usually you have to be in a space that's designated sober to enjoy it, but there's enough stuff that's visually beautiful – and different workshops and things – for it to be interesting. You don't just have to watch other people get shitfaced."
Emilia was recruited by organiser Jared Philippo as a member of the Pinky Patrol, a group of consent and deescalation officers working to keep the night safe. "I'm the person making sure people leave room for Jesus, which they have," she explained.
Throughout the venue there were posters reiterating the night's rules: no discrimination, mandatory consent, asking people's pronouns, no sex. "We want people to build sexual energy but not actually engage in sex acts," said Emilia. "It's still really intimate and affectionate, but it's also just a lot of affection between friends, just really genuine platonic care."
The fact the Pinky Promise launch sold out shows there's demand out there for the kind of thing on offer here. But it's not a need to get laid – it's something deeper than that: a cure for the loneliness of big cities, a search for your tribe; what kink nightlife has always been, just with the addition of some pink stage lighting.
As one guest told me at the end of the night, "Black is sexy until every fucker in the room is wearing the same thing."
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.