In a Post-Weinstein World, Sex Parties Are the New Safe Spaces
"The current atmosphere ... strengthens the appeal of the sex party."
There is nothing more nerve-wracking than your first sex party. Speaking from personal experience, as a young woman of 25 back then, my first experience at a play party was fraught with anxiety. Visions of expectations, insecurities, and pressure danced in my head. A steady reel played in my mind’s eye of greasy, seedy gentlemen with gold jewelry and half-buttoned silk shirts groping and fondling women half their age. The reality, however, turned out to be something entirely different.
I was on assignment for a Brazilian GQ-style magazine, to scope out the underground scene of New York City play parties. What I thought would be a one-time, armchair observational study, turned out to be the door to changing and reshaping my attitudes about life, sex, and myself. As a woman living in this sexually revolutionary time, it might be viewed upon as odd to say one of the safest places I’ve ever felt, sexually speaking, is a sex party. But it’s true.
For me, my play party of choice is Chemistry, a monthly event held in a secret location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. An unpretentious environment, Chemistry is playful, whimsical, and undeniably sexy. The organizers of the party are creative-types, who attract a crowd of artists, Burners, young professionals, and the delightfully offbeat. Each party begins with some icebreaker, like a burlesque dancer, or a sexy fire show. It’s a cocktail party before anything else, with subtle sexy undertones, but nothing more overt than any other weekend evening in Brooklyn. Come 11 p.m. the environment changes, as couples start stealing away to the “playroom,” a sectioned off space with tastefully decorated mattresses and couches. Two-person tents are strategically positioned around the warehouse space, where the parties are always held, for couples who prefer to be a bit more covert.
But what makes it such an amazing and liberating space is that Chemistry truly celebrates women. In fact, it is women who call all the shots. Men are not allowed to do the asking at a Chemistry party.
It’s a new dawn for men and women. The #MeToo movement is giving women a new voice to call out the injustices that they have faced for centuries, showing that sexual harassment and assault is in fact not a rare occurrence, but something the majority of women in the United States have to deal with on a monthly, weekly, if not daily, basis. Thank you, Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Al Franken, Garrison Keillor, Matt Lauer, Jeremy Piven, Charlie Rose…and more than 100 others. (And these are just the named guys who are famous. Think about all the men out there who aren’t particularly ‘newsworthy.’) And men are taking a long, hard look in the mirror asking themselves, “Am I that guy?”
So when it comes to parties that are organized specifically for the purpose of sex, it begs the question, has the environment changed? As a woman who has been to a variety of sex parties over the last five years, for me, there is no safer place to be and express myself than in a room full of men and women having sex with each other. And for the men in this world, they can all learn a thing or two from members of the esteemed sex party scene.
“The truth is, the current atmosphere in the workplace, entertainment, the media and politics strengthens the appeal of the sex party as a safe haven for acting out on fantasies with like-minded individuals,” says Lawrence, 38, and a frequent attendee of New York’s Chemistry play party. “In the consensual party atmosphere, everybody has come for mostly the same reason. It’s clear, it’s mutual and the crowd is very good about respecting boundaries; something clearly the men in the news are not. I think we all have been forced to look in the mirror and ask if we have made anybody feel uncomfortable with unwanted advances in this Tinder world, but the “party” atmosphere allows both men and women to act out there most animalistic desires in a nonjudgmental, safe manner.”
“I think it was a bit therapeutic for me that Chemistry parties are so female-centered. It felt like a safe space for us to comfortably celebrate our own sexuality as women,” says Kelly, 30, a three-time veteran of Chemistry’s parties. Separately, Kelly has also been a victim of sexual assault.
“Right now society’s at a watershed moment where ‘very bad dogs’ are rightfully being punished for the very ‘big poops’ they’ve been taking indoors for a long time,” says Jason, 32, a frequenter of Chemistry’s parties. “And while I’m not saying ‘men are dogs’ in a broad sense, I’m a bit worried that right now we’re being overloaded with too much shame and punishment. Young men all over the world are getting the picture loud and clear that some behaviors will not be tolerated and they will be punished. Good. But is it clear enough to the next generation that these harsh punishments are for non-consensual encounters and not simply for having the desire in the first place?”
Chemistry, and most play parties, for that matter, make it abundantly clear that these parties are about celebrating sex, not hiding from it or making it taboo. They want their members to playfully abandon inhibitions and try new things in the name of pleasure. It’s this open mindset that makes these parties attractive to like-minded people. Like any sort of club, people with similar interests will flock together, and bond over a common theme. That theme is that consensual sex is a privilege. Not a right.
“I feel like I’m reading about sexual assault in the news every day lately, and as someone who has been sexually assaulted, that’s a really difficult thing to think about on a daily basis. Although I’m glad these people are being held accountable for their actions, I almost didn’t go to Chemistry’s party last weekend because I’ve been so on edge,” says Kelly. “I decided that I did want to go, because I have never felt uncomfortable or pressured at any of the previous parties, and I am so glad that I did. This time, I felt like I was even more aware than usual of how safe and respected I always feel at their parties. It was a great reminder that asking for consent before you do anything can still be sexy and fun, and it’s really not too much to ask.”