As the coronavirus continues to keep us trapped in our homes, Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime are becoming havens for the kinky and curious
As it turns out, there’s nothing like a global pandemic to get you in the mood. With everyone stuck in lockdown, it seems people are hornier than ever: sex toys, condoms, and sex dolls have spiked in sales, Pornhub has seen a surge in visitors, and searches for homemade sex toys are on the rise.
For those with an insatiable sexual appetite, the curious, and everyone in between, a new method of getting off has emerged in quarantine. Recently renowned for tiresome work meetings and rowdy ‘pub’ quizzes, the humble video call is stepping up to fill the void left by IRL sex parties.
One app in particular (Zoom) has seen such a significant rise in “play parties” – AKA socially responsible group wanks – that it’s even threatened to use artificial intelligence to identify “sexually explicit material”. Other video platforms like Skype and FaceTime are also being utilised, while the founders of the world’s largest camming service, Adult FriendFinder, launched Virgy – an online platform specifically for planning virtual orgies – last month.
As sex parties across the world have been forced to shut up shop amid the coronavirus crisis, organisers have had to get creative with their events. “We host five parties a week and each one is designed for a specific group of our membership,” Daniel Saynt, the founder of New York-based members club, NSFW, tells Dazed, adding that all guestlists are curated, with each attendee pre-approved.
NSFW offers virtual parties specifically for couples, solo attendees, or “queer and curious members”, with each event hosted by a “sex positive personality”, and soundtracked by a live DJ. According to Saynt, there are only ever four screens live at a time, to allow people “who don’t feel comfortable on camera to just watch and interact through chat”.
Many IRL sex parties ban filming and photography, virtual events pose a new threat to attendees’ privacy, as everyone has the capability to screenshot or record without permission. “There are fears about recordings which we can’t control,” says Saynt, “so we actively tell our members that they never have to be on camera to enjoy the experience. We also advise anyone choosing to be on camera to wear masks or hide their identity.”
NSFW isn’t the only group championing virtual sex parties. Back in March, London-based sex club Killing Kittens hosted a digital orgy, complete with a burlesque show, fire performers, and 100 masked attendees. Over in LA, director Alexandre Sartre produced a 20-minute film called Quarantine Lesbian Circle Jerk, which was shot entirely over video chat. Record label and party organiser Crossbreed has also thrown its virtual hat in the ring – though founder Alex Warren asserts that his events aren’t sex parties, but rather raves that provide “a safe space for people to fuck should they want to”.
“(Some of my highlights are) a person having ‘relations’ with a male blow-up doll, and two gorgeous boys ‘sword fighting’” – Alex Warren, Crossbreed
“Everyone gets dressed up,” he tells Dazed, “sets their room up nice, and we go from there. We control the music and DJ live. We also control what people see, and highlight people dancing or ‘playing’.” Crossbreed nights also have a separate room for people to “unwind and talk”. Warren believes that the appeal of these kinds of virtual parties during a pandemic is largely to feed “the desire to get dressed up, dance, and have some fun with friends”. He lists some of his highlights as: “a person having ‘relations’ with a male blow-up doll, and two gorgeous boys ‘sword fighting’.”
For Saynt, sex parties are all about maintaining connections. “It’s global,” he tells Dazed. “We have members from Sri Lanka, the UK, Australia, Tel Aviv, and Mexico City joining us, so there’s a real sense of community within our events that isn’t easy to duplicate. In an age where connection with real people is feeling more and more scarce, (virtual sex parties) give people a place to feel welcome, warm, and loved.” He adds: “It’s also sexy as fuck and we’re all crazy horny right now.”
Evelyn, a 37-year-old NSFW attendee, agrees, telling Dazed that virtual sex parties “offer people connection in a time of separation”. She continues: “We are all either bored and struggling financially, stuck at home and out of work, or busier than ever trying to juggle family and life responsibilities while the world is in turmoil. No one feels sexy at the moment, but virtual play dates give us the chance to shave our legs, get out of our pyjamas, do our make-up, and feel like our sexy selves again.”
do you guys think people are having group sex over zoom— 𝐭𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐢𝐞 (@thomasjeferstan) April 22, 2020
While virtual parties provide, as Evelyn says, “an exciting release from the monotony and anxiety of being in quarantine”, there is one obvious thing lacking from them when it comes to sexual satisfaction. “The parties aren’t the same as physically being somewhere,” Saynt admits. “It’s just a temporary solution for a problem we won’t solve for a while. I’m hoping that people who experience our adventures get something out of it, and according to the messages I get after the events, they do feel it’s helping.”
Saynt suggests that it’s actually easier to help “people feel safe and judgement-free” – something central to NSFW’s manifesto – during a virtual sex party, because “finding an online community is usually your first step in accepting your sexuality, gender identity, kinks, or fetishes”. He adds that the global element of the online events enhances this feeling of acceptance by making it available to anyone around the world – even those whose sexuality or kinks may not be welcomed in their current IRL environment.
“During this time of social distancing, it’s proven difficult for people who like to explore sexually to feel connected with others and pursue that aspect of their life,” says Dev and Lucy, who attended one of NSFW’s couples nights. “The party presented an opportunity for us to meet like minded people, tap into that heightened sense of sexuality we so desire, and just feel normal.”
“No one feels sexy at the moment, but virtual play dates give us the chance to shave our legs, get out of our pyjamas, do our make-up, and feel like our sexy selves again” – Evelyn
Both Saynt and Warren declined to confirm which platform they use for their parties, “because they will likely ban us”. Saynt, however, did confirm that NSFW decided not to use Zoom “because they are not sex positive and choose to police people on their platform”.
A sex party host told Rolling Stone that Zoom’s threat has no standing, explaining that people have long been using the platform for these kinds of events. “I think this is another instance of a business that wants to pretend it doesn’t do these things, but of course it does,” he asserted.
I feel like Zoom putting restrictions on virtual sex parties is also kind of ableist. The virtual platforms are the only ways many disabled people can access sexuality during the pandemic and even before the pandemic and now these rules will restrict disabled expressions of sex— It's Andrew Gurza - Your Disabled Dicksmith (@ItsAndrewGurza) April 21, 2020
Whether video conferencing platforms like it or not, as long as the world is adhering to social distancing rules, virtual sex parties are here to stay, and for attendees, they’re a much-needed relief during this difficult time. “I’ve had couples say that they hadn’t been having sex and that the parties have helped them reconnect,” Saynt tells Dazed. “I’ve had people say that it was the first time they were naked in front of others, and that the experience helped them have less shame. One member said they were having suicidal thoughts, but that looking forward to upcoming parties has helped them better manage these.”
Saynt hopes that the virtual parties might even encourage those who are anxious about physical events to attend one once the lockdown is over. He’s also hopeful that the parties will have a positive effect for NSFW in the long run, particularly at a time when most people’s futures are uncertain. Saynt concludes: “I’m hoping we can continue and that this makes us enough money to survive as a company.”
Find out how else the coronavirus is impacting our sex lives here.