This article originally appeared on VICE CA.
There’s something inherently mysterious about orgies. Perhaps it’s the unnerving occultism of the masked ball in Eyes Wide Shut. Or maybe it’s because—in spite of what Canada’s top lobster-loving professor claims—monogamy is culturally enforced in our societies and orgies transgress that norm, seeming all the more deviant. Actually, it might just be that I’ve never been invited to one…
…and this is all too obvious when I speak to Piper, a 27-year-old tech consultant in Australia who hosts regular orgies of between 10 to 40 people. “My first insight is that the word ‘orgy’ is not commonly used terminology to describe a sex party,” she says. “Asking to be invited to an ‘orgy’ would have the same ring to it as asking for ‘one marijuana’.” A 35-year-old mental health professional from Minnesota who goes by the online pseudonym MsBreakfast and has been attending orgies for almost nine years, agrees. “I have always preferred ‘sex party’ because it seems descriptive and somewhat neutral. ‘Orgy’ seems chaotic and lewd, to me,” she explains. “Which is not automatically bad—those things can be fun. But they are not usually things I associate with the parties I go to.”
What exactly is a sex party then? Why might you want to attend one, and who might you meet there? How do you go about finding one and preparing yourself for it? And once you’re there, how do you stay physically and emotionally safe throughout? Here’s our guide to having a safe and smooth sex party.
Why go to an orgy?
“Watching or participating in a sex orgy is a common fantasy, so it’s no surprise that people want to explore the possibility in real life,” says Toronto-based Dr. Jessica O’Reilly, host of the @SexWithDrJess podcast. She lists a multitude of reasons why people might attend—she tells me that some people play with only one person, others with multiple consenting partners, and that some individuals might play a passive role, simply deriving pleasure from the sexual energy in the room. “Your play could range from kissing and snuggling to manual, oral and penetrative sex,” she says, before describing the possible use of sex toys and elements of BDSM. “The possibilities are endless.”
Piper went to her first sex party while single and felt empowered by the experience, both in terms of everyday and sexual confidence. “Parties provide a sexual release that reduces the sexual burden monogamy normally weighs on just one person,” she explains. “I have seen boyfriends of self-proclaimed nymphos relieved by her exhaustion, and wives enjoy aggressive domination from lovers that they wouldn’t want to receive from the father of her children. You learn that it is okay to let different people serve different needs.”
However, Piper also highlights some reasons not to go to a sex party. “Don’t jump in to try spice up a failing relationship,” she relays. “Couples need to be rock solid before departing from monogamy, as navigating open sexuality requires open communication and trust.” She warns that if couples have unresolved insecurities or jealousy, an orgy can magnify this. For potential single attendees, she has some solid advice: “You also shouldn’t expect ‘easy’ sex. One very common misperception is that sex parties are a free-for-all where you get to shag whoever you like. This is not the case and anyone who touches anyone without consent will quickly find themselves excluded from the community.”
Who will you meet at a sex party?
Sex parties are often held among established groups of friends and sex partners, so it may well be the case that you see familiar faces from your peer group. MsBreakfast went to her first party with a new partner from the non-monogamous community, where she felt very comfortable among a group of 25-35 year-old friends.
Piper tells me that all shapes, sizes and demographics attend sex parties. “Exactly who attends will depend on who is organising it, where, and in what format,” she explains. As a host, she specifically organizes parties for people in their 20s and 30s, inviting a few more women than men. “I put a lot of love into finding sex positive people who actively take care of their body and mind,” she explains, which makes for a friendly, consensual atmosphere, rather than a creepy one.
Kristen, a 29-year-old housewife and ‘organizer’ in Washington DC, also enjoys curating a more thoughtful kind of orgy. “When I'm recruiting new members online, I ask about vanilla hobbies, safer sex practices, level of experience in the lifestyle, and their willingness to respect the diversity of our group in terms of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, and body type,” she says. This enables her to perfectly blend kinks, personality, and attraction to each others’ ‘types’.
Where do sex parties happen?
The most obvious—and perhaps accessible—venue for a sex party is a sex club (sometimes called swinger or lifestyle clubs). This could be in the form of somewhere like Toronto’s Oasis Aqualounge, a self-styled ‘sexual adventure playground for adults’ with an outdoor heated pool, BDSM-themed room, and plenty of sofa and bed spaces for group fucking. Piper says that sex clubs in her area (Melbourne) tend to skew towards men in their 40s and 50s, although this isn’t necessarily the case elsewhere—Kristen first got into sex parties when she visited the group room at a local lifestyle club with her husband. “We didn't even play with anyone else, but the environment was so hot and liberating that we were hooked,” she explains.
The first time Kristen went to an event explicitly billed as an orgy was in a hotel room. Obviously, this isn’t simply a matter of hanging out at a hotel until you hear people banging—she was invited to the party through a Washington DC group on Reddit. Hotels are easy to get to, but aren’t exactly custom-designed for orgies. House sex parties, on the other hand, can be full of charm with the right host. “I love hosting house parties: DJ decks set up in the lounge, gourmet nibbles on the dinner table, switched on conversation flowing between open minds,” says Piper. “Where a natural progression from social attraction to sexual intimacy just happens to also be allowed.” A house sex party will be just like a regular house party, except there’ll be a lot more group sex. Again, these are invite-only.
Finding a sex party
If the above sounds somewhat exclusive, to a large extent it is. MsBreakfast tells me that she has only attended parties hosted by people she knows, or gone with people she knows to parties hosted by friends of theirs. Piper also says that sex party invitations almost never go out to strangers. There’s a good reason for this. As MsBreakfast puts it: “I would not attend a party hosted by people I do not know; the risk of their ethics and safety expectations being more flexible than mine would feel too great.”
Don’t let this put you off though! It simply means that you’ll have to put in a bit of work beforehand—in return, you’ll be able to explore your sexuality in a safe, relaxed and inclusive environment. Piper describes plenty of opportunities for curious folk to dip their toes in the sex positive community and make connections. “Go to polyamorous meetups, tantra workshops, shibari rope groups, [BDSM] munches. Visit swingers clubs—even if you go with zero intention of taking off your clothing, make a point of making friends.” She mentions that dating websites and apps are also a useful way to network, although it’s worth checking out non-traditional apps, like Feeld. Piper emphasizes that there’s no obligation to date or hook-up via these websites. Instead, you can use them to build friendships with like-minded people and become better integrated in the community. By talking to people in the scene, you can educate yourself better on essential topics in non-monogamy, including enthusiastic verbal consent, sexual health and respect.
Kristen adds that for newbies, lifestyle websites such as SwingLifestyle.com and FetLife can be a great starting point. These sites often have event listings, with details of any screening process and recommended ‘donation’ to cover hosting costs. She does, however, lament the fact that these events are often heteronormative. “If you're looking for a more progressive environment, you'll probably be better off looking for parties thrown by kinky or polyamorous groups.”
“The key piece of knowledge you should arm yourself with walking into a sex party, is that you are not obligated to do anything you don’t want to,” says Piper. If it’s your first time, she suggests you might want to take things slowly. “Maybe you plan to just play with [a partner] while watching others. Maybe next time one of you makes out with a third. Next, a soft swap. There is no rush.”
Dr. O’Reilly lists a number of questions that individuals and couples might want to ask in order to prepare themselves psychologically. This is a matter of individual requirements, and different people will set themselves different rules and boundaries. Among many more, she suggests considering: “What am I hoping to get out of the experience? What sex acts do I hope to engage in? Which sex acts are off limits? What will I do if I’m feeling uncomfortable?”
Kristen suggests that a thorough discussion of boundaries and limits is important for couples, including considering what sex acts you’re okay with each other doing and whether you require same-room play. “New couples should have a subtle signal they can use that signals they need to be rescued, and each person needs to make sure to make eye contact once in a while so those signals are noticed.” Piper further highlights the importance of communication and sticking to rules that were set beforehand. This can include verbally checking with your partner before engaging with a third person and checking again as sexual activities change; giving each other freedom to interrupt each other and have a private chat if either partner feels uncomfortable; and leaving together if one partner needs to leave.
“Everyone attending an orgy should have a script for politely rejecting someone interested in them,” Kristen explains. “You literally need to practice saying it out loud until it feels natural.”
It goes without saying that you should all be having regular sexual health tests. The same rule applies for anyone attending a sex party. The use of barrier methods—condoms, gloves and dental dams—is also essential to cover the possibilities of hand jobs, blow jobs, toys, and whatever penetration you’re into. Likewise, it’s important to use a new barrier each time you change partner. “When I recruit for my parties, guests who don't bring up condoms as part of their safe sex practice do not receive invitations to the group,” Kristen explains.
“All sex involves some emotional reaction and whether you’re playing by yourself, with a partner or with multiple partners, you want to prioritize your emotional health,” Dr Jess tells me. This means that prior to an orgy, it’s important to consider what scenarios could occur and how you might respond to them emotionally.
Piper gives three key suggestions for any sex party attendees. First, advocate your own wants and desires—don’t feel shy telling someone that you don’t want them touching or watching you, as they’d likely prefer to know this. Second, feel empowered to withdraw consent or let a partner know that you want to change the style, sex or location at any time. Third, if you notice that someone else isn’t seeking verbal consent, pull them up on it and alert the organizers if it continues—if the organizers don’t kick them out, you should remove yourself from what has become an unsafe space.
The best hosts will set ground rules before the orgy begins, and will be attentive to their guests’ needs throughout the party. Both Piper and Kristen pay particular attention to the emotions of newcomers, and encourage all guests to communicate any worries to them, even if it means interrupting some boning.
Practical party tips
A good host should provide condoms, but it’s always worth bringing some of your own anyway—particularly if you have size requirements or a latex allergy. Other items that you might want to consider bringing include: gloves, dental dams, lubricant, towels, baby wipes, mints, hair bands and snacks. Bring your phone, but be prepared for the host to store it (securely), as most sex parties have a no photo / video policy. Piper covers everything with waterproof sheets to account for any squirters. Kristen stocks her bathroom with “a small sewing kit, mouthwash, floss, Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, bandages, lip balm, lotion, combs, and face wipes—because if your orgy is any good, mascara and foundation are going to be running by the end of the night.” MsBreakfast recommends that, as a rule of thumb, “it is reasonable and mannerly to come prepared with everything you may want.” She says that orgy-goers should also consider bringing some comfortable clothes to change into for the trip back home, as this helps to wind down.
You can usually bring alcohol to a party, although Piper reminds any budding orgy-goers that drinking can interrupt both consent and enjoyable sex. Moreover, a combination of alcohol, condoms and nerves can make it difficult for first-timers with dicks to stay hard, according to Kristen. “Don't make a big thing of it, just cheerfully switch to your fingers or tongue until inspiration strikes again,” she advises. In fact, you might want to address this before the party. “Men used to condomless, monogamous sex should practice using condoms with their partners for a while, to get reacquainted with the sensation.”
The post-orgy debrief
“When I first started attending parties, it took me days of processing to absorb all the feelings,” MsBreakfast recounts. “I was overwhelmed by the novelty, the sense of exploration and experimentation, the feeling that I had found a peer group to learn these things with.” She found it helpful to be able to talk these things over with both her partner and her close friends. Piper suggests a similar approach. “If you are a couple, your obvious outlet is your partner. However if you are single, try to find at least one friend you can confide to about your lifestyle.” She says that this could involve discussing questions such as: “What worked well? What experiences did you enjoy? Are there moments you would handle differently last time? What do you need to learn to better empower your next experience?”
“You may find there are some insecurities that need to be addressed, or you may find your heart exploding into sparkly rainbows at the sight of your partner enjoying themselves,” Kristen says. O’Reilly lists a number of other valid and common emotional responses: fear, jealousy, elation, excitement, motivation, anxiety, satisfaction, disappointment, fulfilment, confusion, discomfort, confidence, serenity and even regret. She advises giving yourself permission to feel what you feel, as there’s no wrong or right response to any sexual experience. “If you’re uncomfortable with a specific feeling, spend some time considering the source of the feeling—was it in response to something you did, something someone else did, societal norms around sex, the way your partner reacted, expectations not being met, or another factor?” Once you identify the source, it’s easier to accept and/or reconcile that feeling.
On the whole, Piper, MsBreakfast and Kristen have all had wonderful experiences at sex parties, and are appreciative of the confidence and friendships they have facilitated. “It may end up being a weird outlier in an otherwise vanilla relationship,” says Kristen, “or it might be the beginning of endless adventuring.”
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