My Secret Play Party Experience
My cellphone lit up.
"You have been handpicked to join us," the message read. My eyes widened and my pulse quickened. I felt nervous, validated and curious all at once. I replied with a simple, "I'm in."
Play parties are sex-positive gatherings typically held in secret and by invitation only, with many requiring an application process. For a $30 to $300 ticket, you receive a tasting menu for food, games and a night in a shared villa. We were asked to shower beforehand and to dress in clothes we didn't mind getting dirty. Other than that, we were completely in the dark about how the night would unfold.
Fast-forward two weeks and my partner and I were walking up a driveway hand in hand. When entering the space, it was very casual. We entered a large room with cushions placed around the sides, a squeeze for 26 participants, perhaps intentionally.
We sat, introduced ourselves, and the organizers explained this was a play party, not an orgy, with no pressure for anyone to participate and we could leave at any time. There was also a "chill-out" room where people could go to be alone.
At our party, we discussed our boundaries with the entire group. Some people expressed specific dislikes and fetishes, while others had preferences on gender. Some people came to play voyeur, while others were there to learn.
It was a substance-free experience, but I think I could have done with something to take away the suppressed nervous giggles that kept bubbling under the surface. Sobriety is a requirement for most professionally led play parties nowadays to prevent over-stimulation and injury to yourself or others.
During the party, we practiced saying no and finished our discussion on consent. It was time to take off our stabilizer wheels and go for it.
The five senses
We were blindfolded and hand-fed sumptuous textures, aromas and tastes of which no one could guess the ingredients. The food sharpened the senses and made mouths water; it certainly whet the appetite. This was done in silence, with audible sounds of pleasure coming from many of the participants.
Next, it was my turn to contribute, as I read erotica to the group and felt the thrill of being completely exposed. As I entered the circle, I watched the blindfolded participants as body language gave away the ones who were enjoying it the most.
Finally, they split us into two groups, "diners" and "plates." The plates stripped off their clothes and lay down on the floor topless, and food was brought out to be used in whichever way the diners saw fit. As participants made edible patterns on the bodies and feasted on meticulously placed food on certain erogenous zones, the room began to heat up. Soon after, bowls of melted chocolate were brought out and the sweet liquid was dripped onto stomachs, breasts and lips.
As we licked the chocolate from the human plates, participants were able to move around and choose a "plate" or person they particularly liked. This typically led to one or two plates being feasted upon by most of the group, like ants on a piece of fruit, while others had one or two diners. No one was left alone.
By this time, the group had been suitably bound together enough that people were starting to explore consensual touch outside of the "plate and diner" experience. I watched as fingers and mouths explored multiple bodies on the hard, wooden floor. Several of the organizers, catalysts for the action, were entangled in the participants.
My partner and I looked for a private space to get closer, and our good friends joined. The room quickly became a voyeur space, and we then headed to the roof. We were able to process everything we had experienced and share some alone time, naked bodies under the full moon.
Was it worth it?
The party was absolutely worth it. I was able to explore being naked, which is not something I was taught in stiff-upper-lip Britain. I was able to experiment with and push the boundaries of my monogamous relationship and reflect on what it meant for me.
As for my relationship, the event brought us closer. Being able to further understand what made the other tick sexually was an experience I would repeat. Despite the initial insecurities, I found that we were able to communicate our desires and needs at the party. I even experienced some true compersion watching him kindly remove some chocolate from a particularly busty brunette.
"Play parties can be beneficial for certain people," said Liesl Gini, a transpersonal therapist in South Africa. "Within the context of a relationship, the space can become a framework in which partners can test their own boundaries and what their relationship looks like in an open environment. It allows people to explore what trust looks like for them individually."
What did I learn?
As a beginner, I made the mistake of believing I needed to be open to everything. However, in my limited experience, play parties seem to be more difficult if you feel like a fish out of water. Play to your strengths; if you know what you like and are comfortable with, start there.
There can be a lot of pressure on yourself when entering a space like this. It is not a test of how much you can physically or emotionally take. It is not a test of spirituality or a measure of bravery. It is about knowing yourself and what you want to contribute to the space and the individuals in it.
If you take a partner, have the important conversations first, set the rules and know your boundaries. Most importantly, go because you want to participate. It's a very powerful tool to learn, to sit in a room and practice saying "no" to people, and you can always leave if it's not for you.
Agreements between organizers and participants can create an undercurrent of trust for everyone.
"Where it becomes unhealthy is if your nervous system becomes dysregulated, and if you experience severe discomfort in that space," Gini said.
Curiosity can be a strong pull, but if you're participating only to keep in with the crowd, you could be joining in for all the wrong reasons. With play parties fast becoming a trend, no one should feel as if they're uncool for not attending.
"Play parties can be called 'conscious kink,'" Gini added. "So that is the question: How conscious is your kink?"