Almost all the best practices employed at a sex party can be applied to anyone's sex life.
I recently learned this fact at Hacienda Villa, an intentional sex-positive community in New York City serving up frequent discussions, demonstrations, mixers, and sex-ed classes. Which is how I ended up there, along with a skulk of other curious foxes. Relationship coach Effy Blue's deep dive into play-party etiquette could hardly be more apropos: In three days' time, scores of naked, writhing bodies -- including my own -- would be packing the space where a demographically diverse group of people and I now quietly sat.
Over a lively two-hour presentation that included group exercises and attendee interaction, Blue touched upon everything that a sex-party attendee needs to know in order to be an excellent, respectful guest and set themselves up to have a wonderful experience.
And it was the universality of those lessons that inspired me to share what I learned.
Follow the BID: boundaries, intentions, and desires
Before engaging in any kind of sex play, Blue recommended using a tool called "BID" which stands for boundaries, intentions, and desires.
A boundary is something that you do not want to do; like sex with a stranger, or anal play. An intention is a mindset that sets the tone for the experience based on one's values. For example: "I would like to experience this party with openness to trying new things." A desire in this context is something that you want to experience, but don't have expectations for. It's not a goal, it's a bonus. This could be a same-sex encounter, kinky scene, or a cuddle puddle.
"Sex parties can be extremely stimulating environments," she said. "Sometimes heightened emotions can affect your decision-making, so it is advisable to think ahead and make some resolutions before the party -- especially if you are attending with a partner."
Always carry a "go bag"
Although parties thrown at the Villa and elsewhere are amply stocked with condoms, lube, latex gloves, and other accouterments, Blue said bringing a "go bag" on an adventure in which sex play might be in the offing prepares you for any number of unforeseen eventualities.
You never know when you'll hit it off with someone who has a sensitivity to latex; or meet a penis that would feel much happier in a larger, snugger, or more textured condom. Blue also recommended always having lube on-hand, since it's the most highly recommended necessity for absolutely every sex act.
Safe sex means different things to different people
"Some of us don't like jay walking, and some excitedly jump out of planes. It's the same for sex," Blue said -- and anyone engaging in any variety of sex should think about the level of risk with which they are comfortable. She teaches prospective party people to be clear about their safer-sex protocols with play partners.
"Do you use gloves when inserting fingers?" she asked us rhetorically. "Do you use condoms or dental dams for oral sex? How recent must STI test results be? Practice your words so that you can communicate to others what you need to feel safer."
Don't be afraid to watch
Watching, Blue told us, is a way of participating. She advised us to learn to be comfortable getting our (respectful) leer on.
"We need watchers for the exhibitionists, so give yourself permission to watch," she said, noting that sex parties are often the first time someone sees live sex that they are not involved in. She reminded us to remain mindful of our energy and the energy of those around us while being voyeuristic.
"If someone clearly feels uncomfortable under your gaze, don't impose it on them," she said. "Play participants must also be mindful of their preferences and boundaries. If you need more space, just ask."
I couldn't help but relate this back to regular bedroom play, where watching a partner masturbate can be a great educator (and turn-on) for both parties. Blue's parameters on ensuring everyone is comfortable, and employing open communication, would certainly work in this setting, as well.
Solicit enthusiastic consent
The issues around grabbing people's genitals (or any other part of them) without consent has been in the news of late -- but "enthusiastic consent" has long been on the lips of Blue and the organizers of any play party worth its salt.
"Although we have our natural social intuition, the best way to find out whether you're on the same page with someone is to use your words," Blue said. She boiled consent down to three points:
Know what your "no's" are and communicate them explicitly.
Own your "yeses" and communicate them enthusiastically. "If it's not a hell yes, it's a hell no" is a dictum Villa folk live by.
If you change your mind, communicate immediately. "Start with something easy as you approach someone for the first time," Blue said. Something as simple as, "May I join you?" sets a foundation that you're going to keep asking for consent throughout the interaction. Things can then escalate as agreed upon. "When you get a 'no,' thank your conversation partner," she said. "They are taking care of themselves so you don't have to later!"
Moresomes and orgies must always be negotiated beforehand
One of the more exciting experiences you might come across at a play party (or in your own sex life) is group sex or a full-on orgy. But Blue taught us that while a situation like this may appear to be a free-for-all, often the people involved will already have long-standing agreements.
"My advice to you is do not jump in unless you are explicitly invited," Blue said. "Those boundaries have already been negotiated before, and you don't want to be the person that interrupts an orgy to ask for proper consent." A better idea, she said, is to enjoy watching the exciting scene.
Should you want to set up a three-way, orgy, or gangbang with your partner, be ready for a lot of planning to get it right. It's easy for these set-ups to get messy fast.
Mind your afterglow
Hacienda parties are made up of known quantities and their guests, which allows them to easily find each other via social media in the afterglow of a sex party. And that's a great thing, Blue said, because it enables people to thank each other and offer feedback in the days following a party.
"A tool that I like to use after a party is the 'good, bad, and the ugly,'” Blue said. "Good" refers to things that went well. "Bad" refers to things that enlightened you to a new boundary so that you know for next time. And "ugly" refers to things that have room for improvement; a consent practice, safer-sex talks, or flirting.
It's not a bad concept to employ with any of your partners in real life, either. Checking in with each other, particularly after trying something new in bed, is a great way to expand your connection with each other and to articulate where you're at.
Which, to be perfectly honest, is the hottest part of any sexual adventure.