Inside a BDSM Sex Party With an Anonymous Regular

LadyWhen Marcheline* walked down the steps to the maze-like play party for women and transgender people only, it was dark. She got there after midnight. The lights were red. The music was loud. Some partners were enjoying each other’s company for an audience. Some were more discreet in private chambers. If the chain on the door is down, you can go in. If it’s up, it’s occupied. Most are semi-private with peep holes. An open cubby hole with beaded curtains lined a wall, and a cage sat in the middle of the public space. It’s a BDSM party, but vanilla lovers show up too. Marcheline goes for the exhibitionist factor. She went with a partner. Others mingled in the shadow of a sling attached to the ceiling.

Once inside, Marcheline balanced herself against a wall and shimmied out of her pants, stuffing them into her purse. She didn’t wear a bra underneath her top because she wanted her breasts to be accessible for the night’s activities. She wore black sheer thigh highs, and black lace underwear over black satin garters for easier access. The place looked like a dungeon, but it puts the people who enjoy it at ease. “It’s relaxing,” she explains. “Like sinking into a comfortable armchair. Something about being in a space specifically designated for safely lowering your inhibitions, where you’re allowed and encouraged to be vulnerable, is very comforting to me.”

The place operates on organized freedom, and soon after they get in, most people experience a breakdown of their fears. In the summertime of 2014, ours is still a puritanical society where this stuff is called “exploits,” but what goes on actually possesses an entirely different meaning. Under the surface of the street, there exists a kind of exchange, much more healthy, much more sexually open than some of what happens behind closed doors. It’s a secret underground expression of what, in some circles, people misjudge as dirty. The difference between the dungeon you imagine, and the dungeon for real is that people agree on things first, and they clean up after. She wants people to know that there’s nothing that has to be scary or intimidating about having fun at a BDSM play party. I talked to her about the kinkverse’s lessons in communication, switching partners, and why desires are healthy.

*Name has been changed.


So what have you learned?

I’ve definitely picked up tricks. It’s in my nature — I prefer to be submissive. But if I’m with a partner who prefers someone to be dominant, I feel like I’ve picked up good dommy tricks that maybe don’t come to me naturally.

What does it do for you?

I definitely go to get off but I don’t necessarily go with specific intentions. I like letting that go and being taken care of in the moment.

How did you feel that night?

I felt really good that night. We wound up showing up super late. There was no time to mingle.

How long were you hooking up in the semi-private cubby space?

Maybe 30 minutes we wound up staying in there, because we showed up late. We left way past closing time.

That’s a hard crowd to break up.
Yeah. But no one came to chase us out, which I really appreciated! We were in the middle of fucking at closing time, and left 15 minutes late. We were just in there by ourselves.

What did you expect going into it?
I definitely thought we would be more public than we were. You have to wait for the apparatus you want to open up. Because we were there late, and in a rush to get comfortable, we just had to take what was available. So I thought we would have more public playtime than we did, but that’s okay! The cage space was open, but she and I agreed that the cage space should be housing someone who’s thinking about what they’ve done, someone who has been naughty. I was like, I don’t want to be slutty in the cage, and taint its dark punishment energy with our good time. The cage is not for an obvious good time (but secretly a good time). Also we were both wearing uncomfortable shoes and there are no surfaces in the cage.

How do you get ready to go?
I think after just like a few minutes of watching, I’m immediately set at ease. It’s like that with a lot of people. There’s a lot of shyness when you first walk in but that shyness goes away very soon after.

How is it different from being in your private bedroom?
I think it’s a lot more playful. I think people who are attracted to that kind of setting find it to be a place they can let their inner perv out. I certainly feel much less inhibited.

I don’t want get too into gender expressions or labels yet, but who’s going there… as far as body shape, race, age?

All shapes, all races…I would say the clientele of this particular party is 20s-30s.

Talk me through the unwritten contract that you’re entering when you walk down the stairs.

It’s more like a person-to-person negotiation. In kink circles, it’s called a negotiation.

What’s your negotiation style?
I’m very flirty-playful, but there are people who are very direct. They’re like, “Hi, I want to play with you. This is what I want. This is what I like. This is what I don’t want.”

What do you want?
If I’m hooking up with someone who I’m meeting there for the first time, I tend to be submissive, I tend to prefer to bottom. I do sort of like the drama of giving a big blow job in the middle of the room, which, while it’s a submissive act, I tend to consider giving a blowjob “toppy” in nature.

Are there other stigmatized things that you can explore?

There’s so much stigma in kink, all of it, everything. I think a lot of this is specific to the queer community, but a lot of self-described feminists feel a lot of guilt about preferring to be submissive or liking degradation, and I think a lot of feminists have trouble reconciling that with their feminism. And this is a place where they can see that it’s common, and sometimes that’s all you need to know that it’s okay. I think that’s why I feel less intimidated in public sexual spaces: because you can see a flavor of everything going on, and you can feel less stigmatized by your own sexual desires.

It’s validating to you.
Yeah, it’s like, “Oh, I’m not weird for liking that!” If you’re with a partner who very shamefully secretly likes something and you’re trying to coax it out of them, it’s sometimes not enough for you to reassure them, “It’s okay, you’re not a bad person.” It’s easier for them to see that other people are doing it: “Oh there’s other people like me, it’s okay.” It’s sort of beautiful.

There’s a lot of stuff going on. What are you focusing on when you’re in the room?
There is a lot of stuff going on. I guess I tend to be more drawn to the kinds of things that I would watch in porn, for example, anyway. I’m looking for the gender presentations that I like to watch. I really like a pretty old-school butch/femme dynamic.

What dynamic would you say is most on display?

This party’s pretty queer. There’s lots of gender fluidity going on. I would say it’s a bell curve. The majority of people are in a very genderqueer space, and then there are a few very femmy women with their garters and thigh highs, and on the other end, there are the there very butch, dommy, masculine-top types. Like I said, I’m pretty much on the femmy end of the bell curve.

What are some of the rules?
Absolutely no bare-backing. Like, you will get kicked out. If you’re doing drugs, you will get kicked out. And then just basic negotiation tactics, which are like, ask for consent before touching. Talk about what it is that you’re looking for before you initiate sexual contact, so you don’t end up going down the rabbit hole with someone. That’s a pretty standard policy.

What are your terms like?
What my time out signals are. I prefer to navigate a sexual encounter, rather than say flat-out, “This act is off the table, I don’t want to do this.” I like to give everybody the benefit of the doubt. Like, I’m not super into anal play, but maybe this person is really good at it, and is going to make me like it.

So you’re open.
Yeah, I’m not going to open with, “None of that, please,” because what if someone happens to show me something new that I like? So I try not to frame in negatives, but I do make very clear what my time-out signals or my safe words are. So that my partner knows they’re trying something I really do dislike, or that I need to back out.

You exude a lot of confidence; you have a very sex positive outlook.
[Laughs] Yes, I like it a lot. I like sex a lot.

What else do you explore?
What I really like about it is building my vocabulary and building my script. Like, my dirty talk vocabulary, or my list of commands, or my list of techniques, and I think I learn a lot of that for going to these.

Do you ever switch partners?
I didn’t this time. But sometimes I do. I try to craft a set-up where my partner isn’t out in the cold waiting awkwardly for me. So either I propose my partner come watch, or I make sure my partner has someone to play with, or I leave my partner with another friend we’ve brought with us. And vice versa when my partner wants to play with others!

What’s unique about this one?
There are a lot of differences, I think, in a play party with a strict gender policy. “No cisgender men allowed” was a lot of what was reassuring for me. It’s funny, I was explaining to my partner, who was used to having men around and just like, the dried-up mess that comes along with that, that it’s different at a woman and trans* only party. We clean up after ourselves. I think she made a joke about there being fluids everywhere, and like, that doesn’t happen here. Every time I’ve seen someone make a fluid mess, they clean up after themselves. There are stations with paper towels, disinfectant, lube, gloves, there are condoms. Whenever I’ve seen someone use an apparatus, I’ve also seen them, when they’re finished, take a paper towel and some disinfectant, and clean it off, and be polite. We saw it happened with one couple, and I pointed it out! I was like “See! I told you I told you we clean up after ourselves.”

It’s for civilized people!
[Laughs] We’re not animals just like, coming on the floor and then walking away! Sorry dudes, but you know you do it. I’m not knocking semen, I’m not even squeamish about it. I’ve swallowed a load in my day, but it’s just like…

It’s not a Pinkberry visit.
[Laughter] It’s not a Pinkberry visit! That’s such a good metaphor.

How does this help communication?
It’s an expansion of the negotiation aspect. I just wish that every sexual partnership went about their sex as ethically and as risk-aware as people at play parties do. I just think it’s so nice to say, “This is what I want. This is what I don’t want. If you start to do something that I don’t want, this is my signal.” I think that check-ins are so sexy. There’s nothing I love more, when you’re in the middle of an intense sexual encounter, and someone breaks in and is like, “You okay? Is everything all right?”

You have a nice demeanor when you do that.
Well, I feel very sweetly toward you, but I can be mean about my check-ins.

What does a mean check-in look like?
Like, pulling somebody up by their hair and being like, “Consider this your check-in.”
I can’t remember who said it, but some sex advice columnist said that when someone flags a behavior, and is like, “Please don’t do that,” or, “I don’t like that, I prefer it when you touch me this way,” to say thank you in response instead of getting offended. Because they’re telling you how to make them feel good. It’s like they’re giving you the gift of knowing how to please them, is how this columnist put it. The appropriate response isn’t offense, it’s a thank you.

What was it like inside where you two were?
Where we were playing? It was a bed with like, those rubber sex sheets on it.

It’s that special Bed Bath and Beyond section…
[Laughs] Yeah the “after midnight” section of Bed Bath and Beyond. It was in a little encased cubbyhole, and it had a little bead curtain, but a very sparse bead curtain, facing the public space.

You and your partner ran into people you knew right? What happened?
So we both saw people that we knew, separately, from the outside world. I tried to made extended friendly eye contact with my person and they completely ignored me. We had been on a date before and they just totally ignored me. But it was fine. My partner also saw someone she knew while we were watching in the public space, and felt like she shouldn’t be watching her, so she tried to avert her attention elsewhere. My partner had thought, maybe they weren’t comfortable with someone from the outside world seeing them. But then after the person she knew was finished, they totally came up to her and were like, “Hey what’s up?” The person came up to her and they chatted and caught up so it wasn’t awkward at all.

What do you love about going that you think is lost on people who might view it as dirty?
The thing that I like about it most is the communicative nature of it. If everybody was as communicative as the kink community, I just think that weird gray consent sex could be so much more easily avoided. I think even casual-but-regretted drunken hook-up encounters could be so much more usefully and helpfully talked about if people were used to talking about sex in no uncertain terms. Even if, the next day, there was something you feel weird about, to talk about it. We don’t always have to frame things like that in this narrative of coercion. Consent is nuanced and complicated, especially when we have a hard time talking about our sex.

Instead of putting this stamp on every single unpleasant encounter of “welp, that was nonconsensual sex,” maybe we can communicate about it in terms of unwanted acts or bad moments. Maybe we can say, “hey, I really didn’t like that thing that happened. It was weird for me” or “it made me feel really powerless and shitty about myself and about you.”

And labeling certain sex as violent, criminal, forced, or nonconsensual definitely has its place. I’m not saying rape doesn’t exist. I’m just saying I think communication could be hugely beneficial in certain sticky acquaintance scenarios. I just think talking is important.

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