When the idea of going to a sex party was first suggested to me, I think I laughed out loud. I imagined such an event would involve hoards of strangers fumbling around naked in a pile in a dark room — something I could barely imagine, let alone consider participating in. At the time, I had just started seeing a therapist who specialised in sex and relationships. I wanted to explore my own sexuality and get more comfortable with my body, but the idea of doing so with or around strangers seemed terrifying.
More recently, something shifted. I talked with friends who were enthusiastic about the excitement and deep connections that sexual exploration at play parties had brought to their lives. They told me about how safe, consent-focussed, and welcoming these events were — not to mention fun. I became intensely curious about the experience and started having much deeper and more open conversations about sex with friends and the people I was dating.
"It's our nature as humans to want to explore aspects of our sexuality," says Kate DeCoste, a sex and couples therapist at the Love, Sex, and Gender Centre in Boulder, CO. "Sexuality is just as natural as breathing."
Last year, I finally experienced a couple of these parties firsthand, and I'm glad I went. I came away with more confidence and a better vocabulary for discussing what I'm into and what I'm not and for understanding and holding my own boundaries. I've talked about the experiences with friends, partners, and my therapist, and I've heard a lot of the same questions from everyone — the same questions I had before going, too.
So I asked DeCoste and her colleague Lessey Wentworth, a sex and relationship therapist, to walk me through an expert's perspective on sex parties. What should you know about going to a sex party if it's a totally new experience for you? How can you set and hold your boundaries and initiate conversations about consent and expectations? How can you make sure you're enhancing your relationships — with yourself and/or your partner — rather than adding stress or causing harm?
And, maybe most importantly, how do you even begin to assess whether a sex party is right for you and if now is the right time?
A sex party can be a great place to explore pleasure, DeCoste says, and it can also be a great way to practice setting and communicating desire and boundaries. "I see sex parties, or conscious play parties, as a place to really explore pleasure, fantasy, edges, and boundaries," she says. "When looking at going to a sex party or a conscious play party, look at it as a practice in sexuality, and an exploration of sexuality, rather than something that is just going to be done."
Worried it's weird? Don't be. Just because you may not know anyone who has told you they've been to an event like this doesn't mean you don't know anyone who's gone.
"If everyone is in consent, nothing is weird," Wentworth says. "The weirdness comes from when people are not in consent or don't want to be there. It's totally normal to want to explore sexuality." In fact, Wentworth highly encourages it. "Please explore sexuality," she urges. "If this is what calls to you, take the shame off."
What It's Actually Like Inside a Sex Party
There are a wide variety of sex-positive and sex-focussed events that cater to different kinks, fetishes, and sexual orientations, so "what's it like?" is a bit of a hard question to answer. At one party I went to, the playrooms were separate from a large dance floor. In order to enter a playroom, you had to explain your approach to communication and consent, to make sure everyone stayed safe and comfortable.
While I definitely had moments of feeling a bit overwhelmed or visually overstimulated by everything happening around me, I always felt like I was in control and free to leave.
At a high-end Killing Kittens party I attended with a date, everyone was dressed up in suits, gowns, and masquerade masks. There were hundreds of attendees and three large playrooms where people could have sex or just observe what was going on, and people also engaged in sexual play on the dance floor.
At both events I attended, there were people playing with just one partner and others playing with multiple partners. Some people show up alone or with platonic friends, and others show up with a date. You can go if you're in a monogamous relationship or if you're in an open relationship — there's no expectation to engage with someone you've never met.
The people I met were engageing, interesting, and extremely considerate, always checking in with me and those around them to make sure everyone was on the same page.
In conversations with my date and others, everyone did a lot of checking in. We asked, "Is this OK? Would that be OK? Are you OK?" I really appreciated this — and the experience really underscored the idea that consent is sexy. Getting affirmative confirmation that someone is into what you're doing is really hot, and it can enhance an experience rather than slow it down.
Before I went, I kept hearing stories about how, at kink-focussed events, people tend to exhibit better communication skills around sexual consent than the average heteronormative hookup. I was relieved to experience that for myself. While I definitely had moments of feeling a bit overwhelmed or visually overstimulated by everything happening around me, I always felt like I was in control and free to leave. When things felt a bit much, I took a step back and my date and I went to stand by the bar and chat with other people we'd met earlier in the evening.
While both parties I attended served alcohol, you may find it wise to stay sober, especially if you're intending to play with other people you haven't met before. Staying sober can help you feel more in control of your decisions and more at ease. "If you're trying to create [a sense of] safety, absolutely — I think sobriety would be the best way to go," Wentworth says.
What to Wear to a Sex Party
Usually, there's a theme or dress code, and as long as you follow the rules, you can dress however you feel the most confident and sexy in your body.
Like me, I met a lot of people who had never attended a sex party before and were simply curious, having found it hard to wrap their head around what goes on at one. To the first party I went to, I wore a short, tight-fitting dress, and I never took it off — I had a lot of fun just chatting with people and seeing how confident everyone looked in their own skin. Some people wore barely there lingerie or fetish gear, and others, like me, could have gotten on public transportation in their outfits without getting a second look. The Killing Kittens party I attended was a New Year's ball, so I went a little fancier. I wore a long, flowy, but sheer chiffon dress with a pair of wedge sandals — something conservative enough to wear out to dinner in summer. Other people wore dresses and suits that ranged from "smart" to "black tie." As it got later in the evening, a lot of those dresses started coming off, revealing lacy bras, bustiers, harnesses, and bodysuits.
Whatever you choose to wear, it's completely fine if you decide to keep your entire outfit on and choose not to engage physically with anyone at all. You always have the option to stop or leave if something doesn't feel right. Most organised events will have clearly identified staff members you can talk to if you see or hear someone doing something that makes you or someone else uncomfortable or unsafe. You should always speak up in these instances.
How to Talk About Consent and Boundaries With Your Date or Partner
You might have an idea of what you want your evening to look like or how much or how little you want to play with other people. If you're going to a party with a date, it's wise to discuss that vision with them before you set off. Maybe you're comfortable with your date playing with other people, and maybe you're not — and feeling one way or the other doesn't mean you're bad, wrong, or too sensitive. It's just how you feel. But maybe you think you're fine with something, and then it turns out you're not. That's OK, and it's important to communicate that, DeCoste says.
"We can only really feel aspects of our boundaries when we are in the space," DeCoste says. "So we need to look at boundaries as an ongoing conversation, especially when going with someone else."
She and Wentworth recommend setting up some clear signals with your date ahead of time. This could be a safe word or set of phrases or a system of exploring how you feel — or a combination of all of the above. For example, my date and I talked about a traffic-light system, which we could use to express whether something was a definite yes (green), a hard no (red), or something we were hesitant about and wanted to discuss (yellow).
Wentworth also recommends establishing a nonverbal signal, like a hand sign, to indicate you need to leave or check in with each other. You can also discuss how you and your date express pleasure or hesitation — such as leaning into or away from something or getting louder or quieter. (In a video about consent and boundaries, sexologist Lindsey Doe role plays a conversation about this with sex educator Midori. This is a great place to start for some ideas about expressing what you like and what turns you off.)
How to Know If You're Ready For a Sex Party
How do you know if you're ready to go to a sex party? "Well, are we going out of a place of self-love?" DeCoste says. "It's as simple and complex as that: is this an act of self-love?"
Start by asking yourself two very basic questions: Does the idea of a sex party excite or intrigue you? Do you want to go?
Now, if you've got another person in the mix, consider this: how stable is your relationship, and how will this experience further strengthen that bond?
Maybe you're really into the idea but your partner isn't, or vice versa. Wentworth cautions couples against introducing play parties into relationships where security or stability is an ongoing challenge. "If you're not in a secure place in your relationship, it's probably not the best idea to go," she says.
Ethical nonmonogamy is probably not going to save a relationship, she adds, and a sex party probably won't, either. Instead, it's much better to approach the idea from a place of security and discuss how you think it will add to your relationship or benefit you individually or as partners.
Making sure you're secure in yourself is key, too.
"Boundaries are so important, and safety is so important," Wentworth says. "If you're somebody who tends to steamroll yourself and be out of consent with yourself, and if you're easily swayed by other people, then a sex party might be a little bit above where you're at."
I like this phrase, "being in consent with yourself." I often find myself trying to people-please and do what I think other people want from me. It can be hard to remember that it's ultimately an act of love for the people around you to tell them what you need and what you can't give when it feels hard to say no to something because you're afraid of disappointing someone. This is as true at a sex party as it is in everyday life: clear and ongoing communication is your best friend.
When in doubt? "Having a therapist is a good idea," too, Wentworth says.