These networks were formed to provide a space for like-minded people to meet in a secure environment to engage in sex and a whole range of erotic practices like BDSM, kink or fetishism. These parties have led to the development of “sex positive” communities where group sex is not seen as deviant but as a form of self expression.
But, like everyone else, these communities have had to adapt during the pandemic. After all, social distancing does not really work at sex parties and strict lockdown rules mean casual hook-ups are now against the law in many countries.
So what are people who normally form part of such communities doing amid the restrictions? Many dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, Match.com, Inner Circle and Feeld are now seeking “safer” ways to connect people with face-to-face video chats. For example, Feeld has introduced new virtual locations to enable its community “to explore their desires without endangering themselves and others”. Sex party networks have done something similar, setting up virtual spaces for people to connect.
Online sex parties
I have been interviewing members of the sex party community (I have changed their names to protect their identities here) as part of an ongoing research project around sex, relationships and psychosexual therapy. I’m hoping to find out what draws people to sex parties, what they get out of them and what their attitudes towards sex are.
I also spoke to Emma Sayle, the founder of the London-based global sex party network, Killing Kittens, which has been resourceful in reaching out to its community from the privacy of their homes. Sayle told me: “As soon as lockdown hit, we knew we needed to keep that community together, as isolation is not good for anyone’s mental wellbeing.”
Lisa, 32, a Killing Kittens member, told me: “Having no partner has been really difficult, so the online parties have really kept me going during the pandemic. It has helped me to engage sexually, yet safely.”
Killing Kittens hosts and arranges the ticketed sex parties which can be “attended” by between 40 and 80 people via video conferencing. Guests are asked to wear masks to conceal their identities. A host introduces ice-breaking exercises and warm-up performances by erotic artists. At some point the hosts leave the party to allow guests to get to know each other.
I also spoke to a single 45-year-old woman called Katy who joined a different online party. She said she did it “for a bit of fun and mood lifting, to dress up, to feel sexy about myself and to interact with other people”.
Coronavirus has been bad for sex-based businesses. But now holding sex parties and workshops online is making them more accessible than ever before...https://t.co/27utELRXEM— Killing Kittens (@killing_kittens) November 17, 2020
People in relationships have also been attending. For some, these parties have revived a dialogue about sex. Some couples “are actually communicating for the first time in years about what drives their sexual fantasies,” Sayle said.
So it seems that for some people, the pandemic has been a chance to get reacquainted with their erotic likes, triggers, prompts, dislikes, fantasies and kinks. This might involve the turn-on of being watched or watching others have full sex on screen. Or, like Maggie, a 40-year-old single woman who frequents the sex party scene, told me: “It’s just nice to share an evening with open-minded people, where I have the ability to sexually express myself”.
What’s ‘normal’ anyway?
How we choose to express or identify ourselves and who we are romantically or sexually attracted to is part of our sexual wiring. Yet, sometimes, how we feel inside does not seem to match society’s expectations.
The social construct of sex is influenced by culture, beliefs, values, religion, societal norms and, what we might term in academia, sexual scripts. These are the messages that people receive as they grow up which shape their perceptions of things like sex, gender and sexuality. Our scripts decide what is “normal” and what is “weird”.
The concept of “normal” is encompassed in the famous Masters and Johnson Human Sexual Response Cycle model (dramatised in the TV show Masters of Sex), which assumes that sex has universal features encompassing four physiological phases (excitement, plateau, orgasmic and resolution). The research proved groundbreaking in our understanding of how sex works.
But it was also criticised for its linear and one dimensional interpretation of what constituted sex. In other words, the belief that all “normal” sexual activity leads to penis in vagina penetration, followed by mutual orgasm. This did not reflect the true nature of peoples’ diverse sex lives then and it doesn’t now.
But “sex positive” education has taught us that sex comes in many forms, that orgasms can be reached in other ways and that they are not always the be-all and end-all. Intimacy can be about pleasure, not just intercourse with penetration.
Respect and safety
Just as sexual intercourse is not the be-all and end-all at sex parties, virtual sex parties have accentuated other mechanisms of sexual intimacy. Despite their association with risky behaviours, strict protocols, consent and vetting processes are set out to ensure respect is observed.
Informed consent is key to people feeling safe – in both in-real-life and online sex parties. Clear boundaries are put in place to make sure nobody ever feels forced into doing anything. Killing Kittens also operates a female first policy, where women make the first move. Measures are in place online, such as moderators, so anyone who behaves in a way that is unacceptable is asked to leave. But, Sayle told me this happens rarely. Extra measures have also been put in place on the chat apps and social networks to ensure people cannot screenshot or record anything.
Sex parties may not suit all tastes. But people attend them for different reasons: whether it is to explore their sexuality or just to meet like-minded people. While online parties cannot replace real life human touch, they might well be (for the time being at least) the perfect antidote for first timers to test the waters, to help rekindle relationships, to combat loneliness or to simply connect with open minded people.
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