This post ran originally on THUMP Germany
A few weeks ago, one of Berlin nightlife's biggest trends made the rounds in one of Germany's leading publications, ZEITmagazin, an insert of the DIE ZEIT weekly. Mohamed Amjahid, a journalist who writes for the magazine, spent a year researching the left-wing anti-German movement—a longstanding collective force against fascism in the country—from the inside. As a part of his research, Amjahid went to the "poly-motion" sex party in a club that's considered to be influenced by the anti-German scene: Berlin's: // about: blank. Amjahid wasn't exactly blown away by what he saw inside. "The darkroom has been empty for hours," he wrote. It was this aspect of his story that made many people asking what the deal was with these "(anti-German) sex parties"?
Amjahid's description of the event betrayed a common misconception about popular parties such as GEGEN, Pornceptual, Cocktail d'Amore, buttons, and Herrensauna, as well as about clubs with darkrooms, such as Berghain or Leipzig's Institut fuer Zukunft. In most cases, the parties held at these venues aren't, strictly speaking, full-blown "sex parties"; instead, they're sex-positive events, where sex is allowed but not the the main focus of the event.
In other words, at sex positive parties, people mainly go there to party, not necessarily to specifically engage in a given sex act. Partygoers are welcome to live out their sexuality, whatever it may be, in these settings, which are specifically designed to enable them to do so. But there's absolutely no pressure intended. Incidentally, the "positive" in the term "sex-positive" does not refer to "HIV-positive" as some unaware of the theory behind it might think.
Kathi from the poly motion party team summed it up to THUMP over email: "In this context, it might be helpful to move away from an understanding of the term 'sex' as only referring to sexual acts. Instead, it's more about sexual self-determination, and defining yourself in line with that. The term 'sex-positive' mainly comes from the feminist fight for equal rights in English-speaking countries. It primarily refers to seeking equal rights for minorities who continue to be oppressed. That includes recognizing a wide range of sexual orientations as well as dispelling prejudices and untruths."
"The main idea isn't that people come to our parties to have sex; it's that they feel comfortable enough to want to have sex." – sex-positive party poly motion
So, sex-positive parties are also mainly about providing a space for everyone who wouldn't be able to feel comfortable elsewhere—or wouldn't even be allowed in the door somewhere else in the first place. At sex-positive parties, you're welcome to show up naked or in a fetish outfit, as long as everyone remains respectful and there's no element of coercion according to such parties' often publicly displayed standards.
Unsurprisingly, the Facebook event description for poly motion is very open-ended: 'discover | chill | dance | fuck | or skip | nothing.' The event-throwers call it an "open-to-all-genders'' party where everyone should feel safe and heard. "For us, the main idea isn't that people come to our party to have sex; instead, it's that they come to our party and feel comfortable enough to want to have sex," writes Kathi. "[And it's also] not about submitting people to expectations or roles. It's the total opposite—the point is to open up a field for people to freely explore their imaginations."
Openness and sex-positivity don't mean coercion
And that's exactly where the problem sometimes lies: this new openness is easily misunderstood. The fact that people can act freely at these type of events doesn't mean that you also have to; you just can if you want to. During a recent visit, one club owner who wished to remain anonymously explained: "When we first opened, everyone talked about our darkroom. But the fact that we have one doesn't mean that you have to have sex in it when you come here. We included it for those who have a need for a darkroom."
The poly motion team works to clear up possible misunderstandings by putting up clear signs with explanations and standing by on-site to help with questions and resolve issues. After all, despite the (misleading) hype, "you should not have the feeling that the point of going to party is to fuck or get fucked," says Kathi, "because that in itself brings the danger of people feeling pressured to do things they might not really want to do."