How old are you?
Woman A: Thirty-two.
Woman B: Thirty-six.
Woman C: Twenty-nine.
What's your occupation?
Woman A: Costume designer.
Woman B: Relationship coach.
Woman C: Musician.
How do you identify?
Woman A: I guess you could classify me as polyamorous pansexual. I'm not really attracted to a certain type, although I have been more attracted to heteroflexible men, men who mostly sleep with women but aren't afraid to experiment.
Woman B: I am a cis woman who used to identify as "disappointingly straight" — I felt like I was missing out on interesting experiences. Serendipitously, this changed about six months ago when I connected with a beautiful, fun woman and ended up having sex with her. This was a game changer. Although I have always approached my sexuality with curiosity and an open mind, I had never experienced this type of connection. Since that experience, I have found myself attached to and connecting with other women. I wouldn't go as far as to say I am bisexual, but I am excited about exploring more.
Woman C: I'm queer, trans, femme, polyamorous. I identify as pansexual, but I'm much more leaning toward femininity in the kinds of genders I find myself partnered with.
How and when did you get involved in the sex party scene?
Woman A: I started dating someone who was in the [sex party] scene five years ago. This person knew the range of parties that was available and was like, "This is what I do, this is what me and my girlfriend do." I knew his girlfriend and I had danced with them at a few parties before; at first nothing really happened, but then a few months later we hit it off again. I started dating him alone first and then we did some things together [with his girlfriend] and then he was like, "Do you want to come to a party and see how we play publicly?" So I went with them to a party to see.
Woman B: I was on a quest to find people who could guide and support me as I delved into my sexual kinks, which have been a big part of my fantasy life most of my life. I reached out to someone on FetLife who seemed to be a community leader. I thought they would be more accountable and have too much to lose if they mistreated me. It turned out to be a good move. They were not only kind, generous, and knowledgeable, they also brought me to my first sex party about three and a half years ago.
Woman C: I first got into all of these alternative scenes about six years ago. Before that I'd been in a relationship that was supposed to be a dominant/submissive relationship that in truth was a pretty abusive dynamic... That took up a good five years of my life. Toward the end of that, I started to reach out to online kink-related communities. My partner at the time was abusive and controlling, so that was not something I did with her knowledge at first. Through doing so, I basically ended up starting to find communities of people who had parties, or "munches," where they got together to hang out and talk. These people very quickly started to help me to empower myself; thought I was beautiful the way I was. So I went to my first party while I was on a trip in California. When I came back, as things got steadily more abusive, I found it within myself to leave.
What was your first sex party like?
Woman A: It was very glamorous, a kind of like pristine, white, multi-level hotel party. I remember walking in and seeing this beautiful, gorgeous, pale-skinned redhead who had a red bob wearing this amazing, sparkling diamond necklace, just lounging on the couch like she owned the place. I was hooked right away. For me, walking in and seeing that, that just stimulated all my visuals — even if I didn't get to do anything, just seeing that was wonderful. People seemed to have really good relationships already established; there were only a few people that evening at that particular event. You could tell we were the more sheepish [people], very much on the sidelines, looking in a little bit.
I made friends with this other girl who was there and she was also very new, and I did have a flirtation happen with a gentleman — we made out in the corner, because I was still warming up to the idea of public play, and I did come with the guy I was dating at the time. He had a prearranged scene with someone that he invited me to come watch. It was more on the kink level. This particular party was more BDSM and less physical sex; the more BDSM things were on display in the main room, and then the more sexual things were off into the side rooms. You'd walk in and there'd be three couples sharing the bed all having sex.
We made out in the corner, because I was still warming up to the idea of public play.
Woman B: I was somewhat underprepared for my first party. The person who invited me explained prior that they had a date with whom they had agreed to spend the evening and therefore wouldn't be hanging out with me. If I wanted to come, I was to fend for myself. Initially, I was a little taken back. Then, I noticed how clear their communication was and how they were managing my expectations — I was intrigued.
I didn't have sex with anyone at my first party. I didn't even kiss anyone, as far as I can remember, but I met people who changed my life. As well as celebrating all genders, orientation, and sexual expression, they were warm, welcoming, smart, respectful, and articulate. They introduced me to consent culture and assured me that I didn't have to do anything or be touched in any way I didn't want to. It was liberating and affirming. I felt at home. Those people are now my closest friends — some have been my partners for a time.
Woman C: I was a combination of nervous and excited. More than anything else it was empowering; it was exciting, it was a flurry of figuring out how to navigate these sorts of spaces. They were beautifully supportive and wonderful people, some of which I'm still in touch with to this day.
How did your involvement in the sex party scene evolve from there?
Woman A: I started to ask around in my artist community to see what other events there were, because I knew there were different flavors. Maybe the first party was a little too kink-based for me to start learning. I started doing a little bit more kinky things in my personal life versus my party life to start with, and then I found more parties that were more frisky, playful, dance-, sex-based, that had some kink elements incorporated into them. The events I like the most are really open-minded and accepting. I had a lot of wonderful sex at a dance- and sex-based party because I knew more people there and because it was a little bit more low key. I felt more open and flirty. I wanted to get out there, I wanted to play — people who I'd already had flirtations with from dance parties were there and I could flirt with them and the door was open to go past dancing immediately, so it gave this kind of entryway [into sex] if I wanted to make it happen.
I started dating someone who was very much into the scene and involved with this one particular party. He was part of this party's core family of people who threw it, so I became more involved in helping throw the parties. I love decorating, I love to create different decor — it's part of what the experience is for people. If you walk into a room you immediately are so turned on by everything that you just want to drop your panties, then yes, this is a Yes, I want to be here.
Woman B: I throw parties myself now and I love being the host. I love welcoming the newbies and chatting to everyone. I also lead a popular workshop about play party etiquette these days. I pass on all my experiences, share best practices, and teach people how to navigate their way around a party. It is my favorite workshop to teach. I enjoy the workshop as much as the parties themselves.
I love that my sexual expression is celebrated [at sex parties]. I love the radical inclusion we practice. I love that every party is an adventure filled with new connections, experiences, and discoveries. I love the people who attend with an open heart and an open mind. It felt way more authentic than an average party I would go to. When you have an orgasm in front of somebody, you just can't keep up appearances. You're there at your most vulnerable and it's open and these spaces are safe spaces, so you feel good about that.
When you have an orgasm in front of somebody, you just can't keep up appearances
Woman C: After finally pulling myself out after I'd spent most of my adult years in that [abusive] dynamic, I moved back to Long Island where I grew up. I started going out and exploring the scene in the city — starting with the kink scene because that was something I was familiar with, although I hadn't really explored the public side of it. That was eye-opening to me, giving me social connections to explore who I really was and what that meant. I started to discover everything from my gender to being polyamorous to being a feminist.
When I first started going to parties, the only context in which I had explored my femininity was kink. About four years ago, I came out as a woman publicly. A little later that year I ended up starting on hormones, so now I'm three and a half years into hormones, and about a year after that is when I moved into where I'm currently living, this polyamorous apartment community. I started to explore my sexuality — in spite of already being in the kink scene, my sexuality wasn't something I was comfortable with. I was surrounded by people and lifestyles that were for the first time encouraging me to be comfortable in who I was sexually. I'd never really been surrounded by queer culture enough to realise that that was a thing I identified with. It wasn't so much a transformation as a realisation — both in terms of realising what was there all along, and realisation in terms of making manifest the potential.
What was your best sex party experience?
Woman A: The highest of the high was a mermaid experience I had. It was at a friend's private home that was very large; it had a pool and a beautiful outdoor space. It was very private, and it was a cherry-picked group of like 60 friends, who had been very experienced in the play party scene. Everyone had the right energy and knew each other on a higher level. And so that was a very fun experience because my boyfriend at the time knew I had this mermaid fantasy, like, I just wanted to be connected to water while orgasming. I make a few mermaid tails, so I brought one with me that I was playing with in the pool earlier. I was being a total mermaid, just mermaid-ing out in the pool being playful. He gathered kind of a group experience where he used the nJoy steel wand, and he used the Hitachi on me while I had one leg in the water by the side of the pool. He was doing that on me and then I had two other friends that were playing with my breasts and playing with my hands. Another one was making out with me, so it was just like, all this multiple touch while I had a little bit of myself in the water. It was just this beautiful sunny day…totally epic.
I had this mermaid fantasy, like, I just wanted to be connected to water while orgasming.
Woman B: This is hard to pinpoint because I treat each one as a separate adventure rather than compare them. I love it when I make a new discovery or try something new at a party. My first sexual experience with a woman was at a party, which is an important moment for me.
Woman C: It's difficult for me to think of a single one. That being said, my favorite parties are ones in which I've had opportunities to connect both with core partners and new people, to have really satisfying, empowered connections; parties wherein I've both had beautiful connections with partners and felt independently empowered enough to be the author of my own experience. I know that those are generalisations!
What was your worst sex party experience?
Woman A: I went to a party that was pretty hot, temperature-wise. The space they had was kind of this like gymnasium place, so it's just like kind of this hot workout room without enough air, and all these beautiful hot bodies fucking, but I'm there in the corner and I'm just like trying to get aroused and I'm just like, nope. It was more of the environment thing, like the party itself was fun, so I just stayed on the dance floor where it was less hot.
Woman B: I have been to some parties that were poorly planned. Not enough play space, unsuitable music, not enough education for newbies, unsafe practices... It happens. Those parties are not the funnest. In those cases, as an experienced party go-er, producer, and an educator, I try to reach out to the hosts and offer to share my experience with them and give constructive feedback so they can improve next time.
Woman C: Things that can be negative at parties for me, there are some parties that you can go to entirely alone and not have any partners there or connections in the community and still feel incredibly, actively welcomed, parties wherein they might have get-togethers beforehand... When I would go to parties when my active partners weren't there, I would basically spend the whole time awkwardly wallflower-ing around. You know how sharks have to move at all times? I have this thing where I feel like if I just sit there, nothing's going to happen so I'll just like wander aimlessly, like a ghost through the halls. I had parties like that years ago; the parties I tend to go to these days tend to be very proactively engaging.
How has your approach to sex and relationships changed since you started going to sex parties?
Woman A: Before I entered this whole world, I was wearing the same black dress and heels, going to the same nightclubs, getting hit on by the same weirdos — it was just this broken-record story. I was like, "How do I change this? Where are the artists? These are not my people." Even when I did meet a nice guy, he wasn't really creatively stimulating enough for me. And then I started going to different art parties in Brooklyn, and I found different Burner parties in the city, and I was like, "This is my people." But literally I had to go out and comb the deserts to find the answer, like, "Where are my people? This can't be the way this story ends."
Right now I have two partners — I have my main boyfriend and I also have another gentleman that I date, and he has a main girlfriend as well. The four of us haven't played together, but I've gone on dates with my other partner and his girlfriend together. My boyfriend and I might go on a date with another couple as well — we'll have a four-way that way. We recently had one with a girl that he was dating, who also liked me and wanted to experiment and play with women. That's his secondary partner. I know some people don't like hierarchy, but I do like the hierarchy because it helps with scheduling. You know who to prioritise. I feel like if we were all free in the jungle, you know, maybe the other way would work, but in terms of real life, ability and functioning, it's better to have a plan or at least a guideline.
Some people don't like hierarchy, but I do, because it helps with scheduling.
Woman B: Through these parties, I discovered the polyamorous community in NYC, which has been life-altering. I was finally able to put a name to the way I feel about relationships and meet like-minded people. Since then I have been vocal about polyamory and really only date those who are interested in this kind of relationship and enjoy going to sex parties.
Before, I had this idea in my head that talking about my sexuality would make other people uncomfortable. I had all these fantasies, but I didn't want to tell anyone because I didn't want to make other people uncomfortable. When I went to a party, everybody was so self-expressed and open about sex, I was like, Finally! The people I can talk to!
It can be a little hard to date people outside the community sometimes. I find myself in deep conversations about gender norms, sexual stigma, slut-shaming, feminism, sexual identity on a first date and it can be a little heavy. Luckily, I enjoy the challenge. I also find with those who can get over that hump, I end up having a great connection. Those conversations are a good acid test.
Woman C: When I first got into the scene, I was heavily repressive [of] my sexuality because of a lot of things that had happened within my past relationship, and I didn't start to feel comfortable with putting my sexual desires forward until many years later. One of my main modes of relating back then was through more heavy kink, through more S&M sort of stuff. I had a very high pain tolerance back then — I used to be very well-known in the scene for my masochism. These days my pain tolerance usually isn't quite as up there, and I think the reason why in large part is because I experience sensation much more vividly now, whether that's just because I'm more in tune with my body or more comfortable in my skin or because of the way the hormones connect me to my body. It's probably a combination of these things. I'm much more into sensual, deeply connected, sexual forms of interaction, and I feel much more comfortable in those modes and putting myself out there.
[Now] I have a few core partners, a good core four partners. One beautiful thing about polyamory is, each relationship brings out an entirely different facet of you. Each of these dynamics has brought out a different shade in me. I have quite a number of casual partners I engage with at parties or elsewhere.
What can people who don't go to sex parties learn from people who do?
Woman A: It's important to try new things. The advantage of going to a party and seeing all the new things is you get real life instead of some ad. Go to a sex store and see what strikes your fancy versus what's been promoted to you. Do something that pushes your boundaries that you never thought you'd be into — like me being afraid to kiss a girl. If you kiss a girl in a regular nightclub, you're just like a spectacle, versus in a welcoming safe space where everyone's supportive of each other, you're just two people having a good time. In order for me to feel comfortable doing that I had to see it. My advice to people who don't go to sex parties would be to not let fear stop you from trying something. And you can do it in the privacy of your own home, it doesn't have to be public the way we do it.
Woman B: Communication. Communication. Communication.
People who regularly attend sex parties are practiced at having an open dialogue about sex. Asking for consent, explaining preferences, negotiating individual acts, giving feedback, and making adjustments during sex are commonplace. Finding your words around sex is the best thing you can do for your sex life.
Also, everyone and every body are different. Though we know this intellectually, at a party you get to see it first hand in a room full of people, naked and having sex. This helps to eliminate any hang ups and shame you may have around your body or sexuality. If sex parties aren't your thing, I encourage you to read and learn about sex from a variety of sources so you can take sex out of isolation and shame out of sex.
Woman C: The emphasis on consent culture and sexual health... A large portion of people who identify as monogamous don't necessarily think through these things.
What myths or misconceptions about sex parties would you like to dispel?
Woman A: We don't poke holes in condoms. That is a total myth. No one has that intention. And if that is your fear, then just bring your own.
Woman B: People think that if you attend a sex party, you have to have sex. Untrue! You can go and be social, meet people, have very interesting conversations. And if you find it's not your speed, you can just leave. I have never been to a party where you are locked in.
Most good parties take consent very seriously. Another common misconception is that you will be groped and have to deal with unwanted advances. My experience has been quite the opposite. People are used to asking for consent and practiced at accepting the response. I feel safer at a well-organised sex party than I do at a club in the city without a doubt.
Woman C: Some of the biggest misconceptions include that they're going to be these very intimidating environments. Most parties go to very big lengths to make everyone feel comfortable. Another is that if you go to a play party, you're obligated to play — that is not the case. You're just as welcome to socialise or sit back and watch and see what's happening from a distance that is comfortable to both you and the participants. If you're being respectful and hanging back, it's cool to just be there as a voyeur.
These interviews have been lightly edited for length and clarity. The people pictured in the accompanying photographs are models. Cosmopolitan.com is not suggesting they took part in the acts described here.