“Have a Holly Jolly Christmas Time!” my inbox screams on a mid-December day. The invite that follows invites me to a “whimsical, joyous, vibrant concoction” space for a “female-energy-centric” sex party at Chemistry NYC. To get on this list I had to fill out a questionnaire and send in a photo of myself (for identification purposes, per their website). I also had to state I would attend Chemistry parties as a single woman (male dates cost extra). The party itself costs $20 with a one-time membership fee of $100.
Most sex parties like Chemistry are small, invite-only, and operate on a word-of-mouth basis. Bigger parties, such as the beloved House of Love at House of Yes in Brooklyn, refer to themselves as sexy parties. This distinction is because, technically, sex parties are still illegal in New York City. Well, technically brothels are illegal and therefore sex parties are illegal because there is an exchange of money and an exchange of sex happening in the same place. Because of this, bigger parties like House of Love are often kink-focused, offering BDSM services such as spankings and bondage as well as a safe place to explore all the make-out possibilities.
Sex parties are not new, especially not in New York City. As long as humans have existed, humans have enjoyed, indulged, and often paid for sex-filled, judgment-free spaces. From brothels to kink-focused to femme-only queer sex house parties, these parties have certainly evolved over time. And with this evolution has come a focus on mandatory consent. The focus on consent is so important for some parties, it’s become a job.
Emma Kaywin is a party-based consent educator for the sexy party, House of Love. She is in charge of educating party-goers while they wait in line and before they enter the space. Before participants even buy tickets for the event they are presented with a web page of consent-focused instructions, such as “Yes means yes.” and “CONSENT IS MANDATORY.” There is also a call for no photos and costumes are required (presumably to weed out the lurkers). They even go so far as to link to articles describing consent in full.
Once you get to the event, Emma guides you through an in-person consent lesson while you stand in line (to both participants and staff). She structures her consent education using four principles, “Provision of clear communication of the event’s rules and guidelines, training of staff to be able to de-escalate situations of grey areas or no consent, enough trained eyes on the space to ensure people are safe, and education to each participant personally before they walk through the door.”
Not only big parties require consent before entering. A smaller femme-only sex party in Brooklyn invited only 25 people via Facebook group and word of mouth, charged for entry to cover drinks and an incredible menu (including Cacao bites, ricotta crostini, and aphrodisiac tea), and mentioned consent early in the event. The host of the evening stated that they only allowed femmes knew (or were friends of friends) into their party for two reasons; the host preferred femme for femme interaction and they knew that the people in their circles would be receptive to consent language as well as being knowledgeable of consent culture in general.
Unfortunately, not all sex and sexy parties are consent-based. When reaching out to sex party attendees many pointed to parties that did not call for consent or had founders with multiple consent-violations. Most attendees who had consent complaints pointed to male-only gay sex parties as the worst offenders quickly followed by cis-hetero parties. Also, many sex parties have been accused of being trans-exclusionary. These consent violations also appear in the rules of the parties. Despite the clear “yes means yes” rule of today’s consent culture, one party states that it is the responsibility of partygoers to say no and state their boundaries. The rule reads “If you are a no, say no. Clearly. Even if you are a ‘maybe,’ say ‘no’. People will take ‘maybe’ to mean ‘yes.’” This can be dangerous in many situations, especially if a partygoer is not explicitly asked for consent. This disregard for “yes means yes” consent is what leads to consent violations in many larger party settings. Due to these parties being taboo and sometimes against New York law, these consent violations are almost never followed up by legal consequences. However, consent offenders are often blacklisted by the tight-knit community and blasted on social media.
Sex parties can be thrilling, especially for voyeurs and kinksters. It can be a place to explore and discover and you may even get a consent lesson on your way through the door. Sex parties are not a new concept, but they are constantly evolving as society grows and changes and hopefully they will continue to evolve as consent culture continues to penetrate the mainstream.