A comprehensive guide to your first play party
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I originally wrote this post few years ago for the Organ House blog. OH! was a Bay Area play party organization whose mission was to normalize non-monogamy and sexual exploration.
I was an OH!member for a few years until their closure circa 2019 and have attended other play events as well. I’ve been practicing polyamory (with a few short dips into monogamy) for a decade now. Below is a lightly edited version of that post.
This post is geared toward someone who’s considering attending their first play party. Keep in mind a lot of this is my opinion and based on my own experience, and your mileage may vary. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way that might help you.
First of all, calm down. This isn’t anything crazy, I promise. It’s basically a house party, but the guests are sex-positive and if you want to fuck one of them you don’t have to leave the party.
There’s no pressure. I promise. It’s 100% okay if you don’t have sex at the play party. It’s 100% okay if you don’t kiss anyone. It’s actually even 100% okay if you don’t talk to anyone. Sometimes I go to a sex party and just talk to my friends. Sometimes I fuck one of my friends and then leave. Sometimes I go and need to find a quiet corner because I’m socially anxious as fuck. It’s all fine.
And in my experience, there are lots of benefits to going to a sex party other than having sex. For me, the best thing I’ve gotten from sex parties is an amazing group of sex-positive friends. Sex parties have made me more confident about my body. It’s interesting seeing what real people look like naked (it’s not like on TV!). My body isn’t perfect, but now I know that when I feel good inside I can walk around naked confidently.
Sex parties have shown me, in a way mainstream porn can’t, how varied and interesting sex is in real life. I love knowing what other people’s real sex faces look like! Sex parties have made me feel closer to partners. (And they’ve made me feel farther from partners, more on that later).
If you’re down, I think there’s a lot to be gained from going to sex parties. Here’s how to make the most of your first one and avoid some common mistakes.
How to prepare mentally
As much as possible, get to know the rules/norms of the party you’re going to before you go. Play parties come in a few varieties.
Here are some things you could research:
Is it more poly or swinger?
Is it more gay, straight, or anything goes?
What’s the age range?
What’s the gender split?
Is it trans-friendly?
Is it a diverse and inclusive space for people of color (POC)?
Is it drug- and alcohol-friendly or a sober space?
Do you have to BYOB?
Is it more cuddle party or fuck-fest?
Is it BDSM-heavy or light or no BDSM?
Is it application-only or open to the public?
What are the rules for bringing new people?
What are the rules around consent?
Finding out as much as possible about what to expect ahead of time helps you prepare mentally, helps you feel comfortable in the scene easier, and helps you prevent any social faux pas.
People of color may have additional considerations when preparing for a play party. First, you may want to investigate how racially diverse the party tends to be. A few years into its existence OH! added a Diversity & Inclusivity team, and the team asked Bay Area poly POC about their perspectives on common misconceptions about POC in poly communities. One common response was that every POC's lived experience is unique. You can’t assume someone’s experience with oppression/marginalization, capacity for social justice, or level of “wokeness,” for example, based on their skin color.
Our friends from the Kinky People of Color (KPOC) community put it simply: “There are some POC who are at a point in their life where they only want to be in POC spaces. On the other end of that spectrum, there are POC who don't care about the diversity of the space or may even feel more comfortable if it were primarily white.”
However you feel about the racial makeup and diversity of your play spaces, it’s a good thing to consider before choosing a party.
Once you’ve thought about these questions, it’s time to choose a party. For beginners, I’d recommend invite-only, high-consent, poly play parties.
One thing I liked about OH! was that at no point was everyone engaged in some kind of sex act. So if you’re new or nervous or just want to talk, there was always someone to talk to. And the consent culture and invite-only nature makes it safer, in my experience, than any nightclub I’ve ever been to.
Whatever your flavor of party, you’re going to have the best time if you go into it with a mindset of low expectations, high possibilities (a phrase borrowed from our friends at Bonobo Network). As much as possible, leave your goals at the door. Except goals like having a good time, meeting new people, and having fun.
If you’re nervous, remember that at many of these parties there are people there devoted to being there for you emotionally. If you need someone to talk to, hang out with, or just not be by yourself that’s what they’re there for. At OH! they were called CARE Fairies. If you ever need someone to talk to, you can always ask someone at the party to point you to an organizer.
As much as possible, be prepared to be the person who makes the first move. “I have one immutable truth to share with you: kinky people are all nerds, and most nerds are awkward,” Chingy writes at Autostraddle. Truth.
Most people are nervous. Most people feel awkward. Be the person who introduces themselves. Offer a sincere compliment, etc. It may feel like everyone knows each other already, but you’re not the only new person there, I promise. Find someone (or a couple) standing by themselves and walk up to them. Maybe it won’t lead to anything but a nice conversation. That’s okay.
If you’re worried about not having anyone to talk to or anything to do, volunteer! It’s a great way to meet people, always have something to do, and you’ll probably get a free ticket out of it!
On the topic of nervousness, I’m often tempted to turn to substances when I’m feeling social anxiety. Now for social anxiety and other reasons, I do love a good substance. But I’d recommend caution with substances and play parties. Especially when you’re new. I once had to be basically carried out of a (non-OH!) play party when too much ketamine plus Whip-Its sent me into a dissociative state. Thank God I came with friends who I could trust to take the wheel.
To each their own, but here are some (in some cases hard-won) rules of thumb:
Don’t do substances before you arrive. You may find once you arrive that you don’t need it as much as you thought you did, and you can’t undrink/snort/etc. it.
Don’t take something you haven’t taken before at or before your first play party. One new thing at a time.
If you’re on substances, proactively disclose what you’re on to anyone you play with.
And under no circumstances should you get too inebriated to consent. If you do, any decent play party organizer is going to send you home. Organ House’s Consent Culture required that you be able to give and perceive consent.
While we’re on being in the right state of mind, remember to eat and hydrate before, during, and after.
STDs and STIs
If you have an STD or STI, you’re still very much welcome at many parties. Be ready to tell partners when you were last tested and the results. You’re expected to disclose your status to play partners before they take a risk they’re unaware of. Most play parties will have safer sex supplies on hand, but if you have a favorite kind/brand of condom or whatever, consider bringing some.
What to wear
If the party has a theme and encourages costumes, put together a costume. You’ll be more confident, and it’ll give anyone who might want to approach you something neutral to comment on. I was talking to a woman about being awkward at play parties once and we laughed over the fact that her go-to conversation opener of complimenting someone’s outfit is a lot harder when they’re naked.
If the party doesn’t have a theme, or you can’t get a costume together, club-wear or lingerie always works.
At Autostraddle, Chingy shares her awesome strategy: She wears a tank top that broadcasts some of her interests. What a great idea for a conversation starter! Here are more great options for women. Men definitely have a harder time in this arena, but you can’t go wrong in well-fitting underwear.
And if all else fails, it’s the one party where it’s socially acceptable to just be naked! So don’t stress about your outfit.
Take a shower. Don’t worry about body hair. In my experience, pube-wise most people are going to be bare or neatly trimmed. But don’t worry about it. Do whatever makes you comfortable. I’ve definitely rocked a play party with a decent-sized bush. Just don’t shave right before you go, because tiny cuts can open you up to infections.
Who to go with
Honestly, I think this is the most underrated part of the whole experience. Who you go with can really make or break your play party. I shudder to think of what might have happened if I’d been with friends who didn’t have my back when I got too fucked up, for instance. Make sure you’re taking care of whoever you go with and they’re taking care of you.
For the best experience possible, make damn sure you and your partner/date/friend/person are on the same page about expectations before you go. That means you need to talk beforehand about every possibility. What is allowed? What is expected? What happens when someone wants to play with one of you and not the other? What happens when you meet a cute person you want to play with? What happens if one of you wants to leave? Are you there to primarily play with each other or to play with others? Decide ahead of time.
This is definitely easier said than done. It may take more than one conversation. It may take some vulnerability to admit you want your partner to prioritize you at the party, for instance. But being honest with yourself and your partner at the outset can save you a lot of heartache later on.
How to get down
If you want to have sex with someone, I’ve found it infinitely easier to get in on some action that’s already happening than to move from conversation to sex. In my experience, it’s easiest with a partner.
Here’s my strategy. Find a spot on a mat next to a person or some people you might want to play with, and ask them if you can take that spot. If they’re down, sit down and start playing with your partner/s. Make some friendly eye contact to gauge interest/receptiveness. If you’re getting good vibes, it’s time for the old “Can I kiss you?”
Though really “Can I kiss you?” works in pretty much every context at a play party, in my experience. Many people are going to say yes, and those who don’t are going to be cool about it.
Do take anything other than “fuck yes!” as a no and respect that no. Don’t ask twice. It’s hard to say no. Don’t make it harder.
Don’t stare. Don’t interrupt a scene. Don’t be on your phone.
What about you? What are your questions that we didn’t address here? What are your tips for first timers?