You know you’re getting old when your friends start going to sex parties. In our twenties, there were parties, and sometimes people would have sex at them. But they were never known as sex parties. Now that we are firmly in our thirties, the phrase “sex party” is creeping into everyday conversations alongside mortgage rates, nursery options and the cost of living.
At an English country wedding recently, I caught up with an old acquaintance. While we ate our lemon possets, I bored on about motherhood and she bored on about sex parties. I can’t repeat what she divulged, but the conversation felt strangely familiar. It concerned racy outfits and group sex. The surprising thing about this was that it wasn’t surprising at all. Home counties girls often talk about attending formal-sounding threesomes, foursomes or evenmoresomes by way of a hobby.
I should say I have never been to one of these parties, nor have I been invited to one, so I write from a position of relative ignorance. However, I do know that the guest lists are “exclusive,” and attendees are often vetted to make sure they are attractive enough. I’m up to speed on the “safeguarding measures” and the consent forms, which sound like a real shag to fill out. These parties are meant to be a “safe space” for extreme behavior.
The names of the parties are lodged in my mind: Killing Kittens, Torture Garden, Klub Verboten, Crossbreed, Skirt Club. I’ve seen friends head off dressed in tight, black, squeaky outfits, trying not to complain about how uncomfortable they are. Some of the dress codes are stricter than Royal Ascot. The websites remind guests of the rules. No “sexy party dresses that could be worn to any nightclub.” No cotton underwear. No military insignia. You can’t just “gesture to a fetish look,” for heaven’s sake. It’s latex, leather, metal and lace. I’ve heard of colleagues from the civil service bumping into each other dressed in full PVC.
A friendship group makes for a poor study sample. But according to the newspapers, these parties are popular across my generation. “Millennial sex parties” are happening everywhere in London, leading to a new “sexual revolution,” says the Evening Standard. Millennials haven’t stopped having sex; they’re just doing it in a latex skirt while strapped into a harness. The Mail on Sunday calls 2022 “the summer of sex parties,” while the thirty-two-year-old blogger Zoella, formerly known for selling “Foam Sweet Foam” bubble bath to tweens, recently ran a piece on her website written by two women called Abbie and Emma about “What It’s Really Like to Attend a Sex Party IRL.”
The biggest myth it perpetuated, IMHO, is that the sex party community is “close-lipped” and “hush-hush.” As the article points out, before going into a long-winded and breathless description of what it’s like to be watched having sex (tl;dr: “a complete buzz”), sex parties aren’t just for the sex mad; they are for lawyers, teachers, doctors, financial advisors and accountants. The impression I get, though, is that these parties are heavily populated by these professions — and there is no omertà.
“It’s so lame and vanilla,” says a gay pal (himself a seasoned sex party-er, and a professional type too) when I ask his thoughts on the matter, aware that these sorts of activities aren’t exactly news in the gay community. “Big deal, you shagged someone while someone else watched. Having a gangbang doesn’t make you interesting. And why does it always have to be so organized and cautious too? It’s never very carnal.”
“Organized and cautious” rather than “carnal” is how I’d describe the people I know who go to these parties, which may explain why the rules and regulations are such a turn-on. It may also explain why some of the parties offer tea and biscuits. By day, many of us are Waitrose women, conservative in all sorts of ways even if we choose not to admit it to ourselves. And no matter how we spend our weekends, whether it be potty-training a toddler or spanking a barrister in a gimp mask, we’re putting a hot wash on come Monday morning.
Obviously these commercially driven parties are marketed as a great liberation for women. Skirt Club adopts a Sheryl Sandberg-esque line: “We know that confidence in the bedroom leads to confidence in the boardroom.” Lean in, girls! What they should really say is that these events offer a titillating, slightly shocking answer to that most mundane and often uncomfortable question: “So what’s new in your life?” You could answer, as Klub Verboten suggests, that you are exploring “how we engage with each other driven by our sexualities at a range of timbres, fluidities and endurances, with ethoses and processes that amplify the tangible and intangible qualities of united ejaculations.” No wonder civil servants feel comfortable at these bashes; the bureaucratese flows freely.
This week, it was announced that the UK Treasury has taken a stake in Killing Kittens, which bills itself as a “sextech firm.” It’s all thanks to a scheme set up by “Eat out to help out” Chancellor Rishi Sunak during the pandemic to offer loans to “innovative” businesses. Even the British government is tying itself up in long-term bondage. “Gordon Brown might have had boom and bust; it turns out that I’ve got bums and busts,” said Sunak.
Sex parties are an intriguing subject up to a point, and certainly more so than many of the other humdrummeries that preoccupy my generation — although have you seen the cost of gasoline recently? And yes, after Covid, we could all do with a few thrills, which is one of the explanations offered for the rise of the millennial sex party.
But if every generation thinks it invented sex, millennials are making up for lost time. So much so that we’ve already managed to turn sex parties into a tedious cliché, in much the same way as we sullied the name of the blameless avocado. The Boomer swingers who came before us must find it all very amusing, as they look out fondly at their pampas grass.