Pin It
Sex parties post-lockdown
Illustration Callum Abbott

How sex parties are getting kinky again post-lockdown

After a year where sex was essentially banned, sex club organisers and punters are ready to seize every opportunity a post-pandemic world can offer

TextBrit DawsonIllustrationCallum Abbott

After a year of being legally banned from touching other people, what will a post-pandemic sex party look like?

“Before COVID, we had what we call ‘mega bed’, which is just one big massive bed,” says Daniel Saynt, the founder of New York-based members club, NSFW. “(When people could return to real-life events), we tore ‘mega bed’ apart, separated all the beds, and got people to book a bed. It was just like groups of four all over the house, playing separately but then (longingly) reaching out to other beds that were six feet away.”

Less dystopia and more Channel 4 sketch show, this NYC scene offers a first glimpse into how sex parties may be forced to adapt if certain coronavirus lockdown restrictions remain. Although NSFW went back to its regularly scheduled programming in April, Saynt tells Dazed: “There was definitely a transition window. When we first opened back up, we were doing temperature checks, encouraging people to wear masks, (and enforcing social distancing).” The club has also been incentivising its members to get the vaccine by offering free passes for anyone who’s had both their jabs, in a campaign aptly titled ‘Hot Vaxx Summer’.

Across the pond, things aren’t moving so quickly. The UK government’s ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown – which was set to be fully lifted on Monday (June 21) – has been delayed by four weeks, meaning clubs are still closed, and, therefore, sex parties are off the cards.

“I’m furious,” says Alex Warren, the founder of Crossbreed, a London-based party that provides a “safe space for people to fuck should they want to”. “They put 40,000 people in Wembley, but they can’t allow 600 people to have a party. It’s a big hit; it puts everything back a month. I was really relying on that income coming in because I haven’t had an income for 15 months.”

At the start of lockdown, Crossbreed was one of many clubs hosting virtual sex parties, temporarily filling the void left by physical events. Veterans of kink and curious newbies alike dialled in to various video calls across the world to have sex on camera, masturbate, or simply chat with other likeminded individuals. Although Warren says these events were “received very well”, he believes they can’t “replicate what we can do in real life”, so became reluctant to continue hosting them.

For Emma Sayle, the founder of London’s women-led members club Killing Kittens, virtual events have been a transformative phenomenon over lockdown. “There’s been a massive influx of girls and women,” she tells Dazed. “A lot of people signing up are saying that pre-lockdown, they would never have dared to do it, but because they’re bored, they’re having to actually speak to (their partners) for the first time in years, and they’re saying, ‘I thought about this, have you thought about that?’, and then saying, ‘Well, let’s give it a go. We can close our laptops at any point if we feel uncomfortable’.”

Sayle was hoping to welcome these new members to Killing Kittens’ sold-out relaunch events this week, but, like Warren, has been thwarted by the government’s delays. “It affects the entire ecosystem of Killing Kittens,” she explains. “It’s not just another month of lost event revenue on top of the existing 15 months, but the entire chain of entertainers, security staff, events staff, and not forgetting our Killing Kittens members, a lot of whom have been on their own throughout this and need social and physical interaction.”

While Killing Kittens is still unable to restart physical events, NSFW is already seeing the positive results from its virtual parties. “I’ve had multiple members fly into New York just to come to the physical events because they got the chance to experience it online first,” reveals Saynt. “A lot of people are saying that they always wanted to go to a sex club but they never did it because they were afraid to go, but the online events helped them feel more comfortable with that, and allowed them to meet people (beforehand) that they can then meet at the physical locations.”

Despite being open once again, Saynt hasn’t left the virtual parties in lockdown. “Anything that we’re doing for the physical audience is happening at the same time for the virtual audience,” he tells Dazed. “We’ve been recording live domme performances or erotic shows and then sharing it with people who are online. And the online group has their own chat, which has a moderator host who’s encouraging them to be playful or answer questions. They get this little peek into New York, which is the most exciting thing for people who are still stuck in lockdown. There’s this camera inside of a sex club, a very private space, but you have access to it.”

Pornceptual, a Berlin-based art collective and sex-positive party, took the opportunity of lockdown to explore its creativity. As well as hosting virtual events – including collaborations with London’s Klub Verboten – the group launched a digital gallery called Isolation PORN, documenting intimacy and sex during lockdown, and published the forth issue of its Pornceptual Magazine, “FUCK 2020”. Speaking to Dazed, co-founder Raquel Fedato reflects: “It was certainly a challenge to engage our audience solely online, but it was good for us to go back to our creative roots.”

“Even when the health restrictions allow, we will have to learn again how to be social and enjoy the feeling of skin-to-skin contact without fear” – Chris Phillips, Pornceptual

Although still unable to host physical sex parties, Pornceptual ran a couple of outdoor events last summer, which Fedato and her partner Chris Phillips hope to do again this year. “Those events are quite different from our usual parties because, in order to follow local hygiene regulations, we’re not allowed to facilitate cruising areas,” Fedato reveals. “To stay true to our concept, though, we do still expect guests to dress according to our dress code, and at every event we have performances and art installations that relate to sexuality.”

When it comes to properly relaunching Pornceptual sex parties, Phillips says there are many challenges. “From managing risks and being able to be in a crowded sweaty basement again, to going back to the freedom we once had without so much government control. Even when the health restrictions allow, we will have to learn again how to be social and enjoy the feeling of skin-to-skin contact without fear. Sex parties might feel awkward at first, but I also believe that we’ll appreciate them even more.”

Kenneth Play, a sex educator and partner of New York-based sex-positive community Hacienda, can vouch for Phillip’s prediction. Like NSFW, Hacienda was able to restart its physical sex parties in April. “People were really hungry and thirsty for connection,” Play explains, “but when it comes to the idea of wearing masks, social distancing, and potentially getting yourself or other people sick, there’s a lot of inhibitions. And inhibitions put the breaks on sexuality. People have had their guards up during the whole pandemic, so they had to learn to let go of that in order to enjoy themselves. People took a little time to get used to it, but once they realised that it’s safe again, they warmed up.”

Oxford-based 21-year-old Alice says she’ll only go back to sex parties “once most people are vaccinated, myself included”, adding that “conventionally, they’re not a COVID-safe, socially distanced environment”. Pre-pandemic, Alice had been to two sex parties, which she says were “pretty big and very safe, well-organised spaces which actively promoted consent, body positivity, and queer positivity”. Having got the taste for “debauchery”, Alice says she’s now “more excited” to join sex parties “than I am to return to clubs because I’ve really missed how utterly liberating they are”, which she adds is needed when “we’ve been caged in for so long”.

For NSFW members Zachary Zane and Sophie Saint Thomas, the main appeal of returning to physical sex parties was to see friends again. “I was looking forward to the sex, of course, but it was really nice to see my crew again,” Zane tells Dazed. “A lot of my friends are sex party friends; I see them solely in these spaces.”

“All my best friends are NSFW members, so in addition to hooking up, it’s just a fabulous place – one that could only exist in New York – to see the people I love,” adds Saint Thomas. “My boyfriend and I actually met some people who are IRL partners now during the virtual sex parties NSFW hosted during lockdown, which is really cool.” But, she adds, it wasn’t just friends that drew her back: “Just being in the flesh, dancing, sweating, kissing, and finally wearing glamorous sexy outfits again give me life, which we all need after the pandemic.”

“Most people think that when it comes to a sex-positive community, it’s just about lust, bodies, and having sex, but what I realised is that the friendship and community is really meaningful” – Kenneth Play, Hacienda

“Most people think that when it comes to a sex-positive community, it’s just about lust, bodies, and having sex,” Play tells Dazed, “but what I realised is that the friendship and community is really meaningful. We’ve been missing so much, so it was really nice to see the connection that we’ve built over the years and to be able to have that back.”

Fedato highlights how “the importance of safe spaces and the significance of clubs as a meeting point” for queer communities in particular “became quite clear when spaces such as ours were shut down”. “All of this has taught us to value our venues, artists, and communities even more.”

So, how do organisers and attendees think the pandemic has influenced our attitudes to sex, and what impact this will have on sex parties in the future? “I think sexual norms will change,” says Saynt, “I think conversations around sex will change, and I think we’re going to see a lot more people seeing out places like (sex clubs).”

He continues: “There was a lot of loss and tragedy that came from (the pandemic), and I think whenever you experience a substantial amount of that type of tragedy, the way you want to see the world changes. I think a lot of people have experienced that change. They’re trying to seek out things that feel a bit more spiritual, or a bit more connected.”

Saint Thomas agrees: “The threat of death and further lockdowns has made me more interested in seizing every sexual opportunity that life presents me.”