What I’ve learned from going to sex parties Part 1: Shed expectations

What I’ve learned from going to sex parties… is a surprising amount. At the same time, they are everything I hoped they would be, and absolutely nothing like I thought they would be.

I haven’t been to that many sex parties, sexuality festivals, and BDSM play events- maybe less than twenty- but I’ve thought a lot about the ones I have been to. (Side note: I’m using the catch-all term ‘sex parties’ for events ranging from BDSM play events to sexuality festivals to private play parties. Basically, any public play setting, where I might expect to do intimate things in front of others, that I might previously have only done in the privacy of a bedroom.)

When I was preparing to go to sex parties for the first time, I found it really difficult to find any practical information about how to approach them as a couple, or as an individual. I Googled a lot. I didn’t find much of what I wanted to know, which was how to BE at a sex party. Just…how I could be comfortable, and enjoy it.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes, too.

So I wanted to share what I’ve learned through trial and error, in the hope that it helps others think about their own experiences. Especially if they are attending a party for the first time. Not all of what I’ve written will apply to everyone, and some of it will only apply to me. So… take what you want, and leave the rest.

This is a multi-part post. It turned out I have a lot to say on this topic!

Lesson 1: Shed expectations about what I ‘should be’ doing

I had a lot of expectations before I went to my first sex party. They were mostly wrong.

The main thing I got wrong was expecting far too much of myself. I built this party up SO MUCH in my head.

‘I’m going to fuck all night and fulfil all my sexual fantasies!’

It’s basically going to be like Eyes Wide Shut, I thought. I’m  going to be writhing in a pile of bodies, with things stuffed in my every hole, for the entire night! I’ll probably have sex with, like, ten people! Better put my special knickers on.

Mask from Eyes Wide Shut
Photo by Marcel Oosterwijk, Flickr


That did not happen. Upon arriving at a sex party for the first time, I froze up, freaked out, and sat in a corner being weird. Actually that’s happened more than once. (More on that further down.)

Subsequently, as documented in this post, I tried to force myself to enjoy play parties, by stripping away my inhibitions with alcohol and/or drugs. This is also not advisable, for consent reasons, and also because it does not generally make for a fun sexy evening. (Unless you consider ‘waiting for the room to stop spinning, while lying on the floor stuck half-in and half-out of a pair of ripped fishnet stockings’ a fun sexy evening.)

When you’re not enjoying having sex, you start freaking out about being the only one not enjoying having sex.

There it is: The sex-positive inadequacy complex.  The least fun thing ever.

Here’s why I can’t easily relax and jump into an orgy.

I have internalised a WHOLE LOT of conditioning about sex that still affects me today.

  • I learned as a child that sex is private and naughty and taboo, and that anything other than heterosexual sex is just revolting (shamefully- see more in this post). Even a flash of female nipple on the TV when I was a kid (usually in a racy Jane Austen adaptation) caused my mum to leap up and physically block the screen, so my sister and I would not be exposed to the horrors of boobies.
  • Oh and also, I learned that if your figure is anything other than ‘swimsuit model’, you should be basically wearing a tent at all times. (I was raised on those Cosmo ‘dress to hide your flaws’! articles, which can fuck off.)
Coupled with that, I am now in my mid-thirties.

I don’t look terrible for my age, but I look my age.

A friend of mine in her late thirties once said to me, when I (knowing she was experienced) invited her to come with me to my first sex party:

“I don’t want to go to sex parties any more. I’m terrified I’m too old, and nobody will want me.”

I was shocked she was brave enough to say it. But now that I’ve been to parties, I know exactly what she means (even though in reality, people of all ages fuck at sex parties, and she was 100% wrong about not being desirable).

I have experienced the sudden private mental jolt, that comes when I catch sight of my own breasts or butt in a mirror and the unbidden thought comes straight out of some weird part of my brain: Oh my God, I’m not perky any more. I’ve realised that when I’m walking around, men’s eyes sometimes slide right over me. When I was in my twenties, their gaze used to linger.

Basically…The messages from society that women past a certain age are ‘past it’… that force us into plastic surgery and Botox, into hair salons and exercise classes? I’ve internalised those. I feel them. They hurt me.

Even though I didn’t put these thoughts there (society did), and I don’t want them there, they still pop up when I least want them: at sex parties.

What’s odd: I would never think these things about anyone else. Only me.

For example, the friend that told me she was too old for sex parties was SO FUCKING HOT. The little crows feet around her eyes… just gave her an incredibly sexy, edgy air of ‘Yeah, I’ve seen some things’. Her age was utterly irrelevant to her sexiness.

But it’s easy to be sex positive about other people; that happens on a mostly intellectual level. Much harder for me to be sex-positive about myself, as those feelings are generated at a much deeper level. As I’ve written before, the person we are often the least kind to, is ourselves. 

It’s hard to overcome these learned physical responses and reactions to unpleasant thoughts that are triggered by visual stimuli.

And, sex parties can be an overload of that exact visual stimuli. Naked bodies. Of all kinds. Including mine.

My conscious and unconscious brain starts firing stuff all over the place. Including all my buried fears and anxieties around sex, my body, and societal norms.

This all adds up to MAXIMUM ANXIETY =NO SEX.

Psychology and psychotherapy has a wealth of evidence to show that humans experience emotional responses not just in the brain, but through the body. It’s a way of connecting us with our environments, in case we need to take physical action. So when fears and anxieties arise, I feel it physically. Not exactly conducive to sexy-times. The reaction is more ‘fight or flight’.

It’s helpful here to draw on Emily Nagoski’s theory about the ‘accelerators’ and ‘brakes’ of female sexual desire, explained in her great book Come As You Are.

If I feel anxiety and discomfort of any kind, it doesn’t matter how turned on I am at an intellectual level or how much sexual stimulus there is, the brakes will still be on.  I won’t experience sexual enjoyment, even if I really, really wish I could in that moment.

Accelerators and brakes in practice

At my first sex party, my partner and I tried to go too fast, to make the party meet our unrealistic expectations. We slammed all the accelerators on. Although I was practically shaking with fear, I just swallowed those feelings and told myself to go for it. We allowed another couple to take us into a play room. They were very seductive and attractive.

Of course, I freaked out and froze up. Brakes on! I became as rigid as a board. Even though I thought the person I was with was objectively sexy, and I loved the sight of Jack getting off with his partner, I just could not unfreeze and relax. It was super awkward.

Here’s what it feels like when I’m pushing myself to enjoy public play.

It’s very uncomfortable in practice. Shaking and tense, across my stomach and shoulders. Sick feeling. The adrenaline rush makes me breathe shallowly. I’m unable to relax.

I can be in the plushest, loveliest playroom in the world, surrounded by sexy naked bodies making moaning noises, and I feel like I could punch them all in the face, and then throw up. And then maybe run away.

The brakes are basically just squealing against the metal.

In this particular situation: I had to leave the couple- and the whole party. Jack took me back to our hotel room, to chill out.

And… as soon as we left the situation and relaxed in private, my body came back to me. I was totally horny! I wished that we were back in that room with that couple! It was  very irritating.

But …now that I know why (thanks Emily), it makes total sense.

So, I have two choices when the ‘brakes’ (anxious feelings) take hold:
  1. Ignore the feelings, by numbing myself with intoxicants/ telling myself everything is fine and then forcing myself into play situations
  2. Connect with the feelings, feel them, and go on from there.

Option 1 is just not a winning strategy for me. I can’t force myself. For me, Option 1 either backfires immediately, with a mini-freakout that ruins everything. Or backfires later.

My experience with using intoxicants at sex parties, to numb the feelings, is briefly documented in this post. Spoiler: it does not work  well, either. In some cases I have ended up feeling shitty about myself and my behaviour.  I have, for example, ended up playing in a way that I didn’t 100% enjoy; or interacted with someone I’m not super attracted to. Just to be ‘doing something’.

Not healthy, and not fair to the other person I’m playing with.

And it leads me to option 2: accepting my feelings, and taking it slowly.

Rather than putting my foot on the accelerator, I need to focus on gently, slowly, taking off the brakes.

How, in practice?

After the awkward encounter with the couple, and a couple of unpleasant experiences with too-much alcohol, Jack and I changed our approach and threw our super-high expectations out the window.

We removed the pressure for ourselves to have any sex at all at the next party we had coming up (which happened to be a BDSM play party).

Instead, we set ourselves a much smaller goal:

‘We will make some friends, become comfortable in our surroundings, and get used to people being naked around us’.

The next sex party was much more enjoyable.

Our new goal tricked my brain into chilling the fuck out and taking aaaalllll the brakes off, one at a time. (We also developed a much more thorough approach to discussing anxieties and fears in advance, which helped too- but that’s a whole other post.)

We had some lovely conversations, and made some friends. We turned down a few offers to play, in favour of chatting to new people and learning more about their background and why they were in the room. It was fun!

And before we knew it, we felt comfortable enough to go and play with each other in a pile of naked bodies. We didn’t fuck other people- just each other- but we had a great time.

Afterwards, we went back to join our new friends, and those friends said: ‘You guys looked like you had a lot of fun over there. It was hot.”

I finally felt like I belonged.

That success has led us to other successes, and other things I’ve learned and changed about my approach, that I’ll write more about in the future.

Future posts in this series on enjoying sex parties are likely to include:
  • Understanding how to interpret and communicate my bodily responses
  • Strategies for reducing my social anxiety at play parties
  • What I wear to enhance my enjoyment
  • How Jack and I improved our communication around parties
  • And probably more! I’m still writing these, and I get more and more ideas the more I write. (And this is also helping me prepare for a play party I have on the weekend, which is a bonus.)

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Author: CuriousMermaid

I am a thirty-something woman. I write about sex, bi/pansexuality, kink and open relationships/polyamory from personal experience.