we're at the door of my first sex party, and I'm feeling scared. My lover suggests hanging out at a nearby restaurant for a while. "Now, remember, you don't have to do anything you don't want to do."
"I'm scared no one is going to think I'm attractive."
"If we're not having a good time we can always leave."
We've already discussed how we'll keep each other informed of where the other is at all times. Neither of us will do penetration with anyone but each other, and we'll use a condom or dam if any oral sex "goes down" outside our partnership.
But at this moment, it's not my body that's feeling vulnerable, it's my heart. Every old memory I have of being rejected or ignored, of feeling less beautiful than the woman next to me, is crowding in on me. At the same time, I'm aware that if I let my neediness run out of control I won't be fun to be with, and then all my worst fears are more likely to come true.
So I tell myself I'm going to be my own best friend no matter what. Now I feel ready to give this a try.
We walk into the narrow entrance hallway of an apartment building on a major street, and meet one of our hosts. We pay our money, read the terms and conditions - "No street clothes, this is an underwear party!" - and thread our way down a metal staircase to the basement, where I strip down to my lingerie and give my bags and clothes to a check-person.
Some couples and threesomes are already making out on a large bed near the back of the space. My partner shows me around. Black cubicles partition the space; peepholes have been cut into their walls, both for voyeurs and security. A large leather sling hangs from thick chains in one room. Near the DJ's booth sits another mattress and a post for those who might like support while standing up or who want to engage in bondage.
Signs everywhere exhort us to tell the party's organizers if anyone gets too aggressive.
One addled soul who's after cocaine as much as sex does come on to me way too strong before he gets the no message. But I'm more scared by the hungry ones in the room, guys who aren't getting much. (Women are in the minority here and can take to their own playroom where guys aren't allowed.) The hungry ones stare as much as they dare at those who turn them on, taking with their eyes what they can't get with their hands.
I appreciate their loneliness. I've been there. But I decide not to reach out - I've learned that people in that state are hungry because they're never satisfied by what's already in front of them. And the hungrier they get, the more people avoid them. It's a vicious circle.
My lover gets up from the couch to get some water, and I feel flattered that the one guy who's caught my eye quickly joins me. Turns out he's got a leg fetish, and my gams fit the bill. I'm surprised by his take on this - my legs are my least favourite body part. We chat about where we're from and how important a person's smell is when it comes to sexual attraction.
Later he says he wants to "borrow" my legs for a bit. I say fine, figuring he'd like to give them some caresses, and my legs could use some self-esteem-raising attention. I get another surprise when he starts rubbing his cock up and down my calves and shins through his underpants. "Boy, am I naive!" I realize. Although his pleasure isn't doing much for me, I decide to keep my ignorantly made promise and let him enjoy himself till he's had enough. He doesn't come; I assume he's saving that for a more mutually exciting encounter.
While he's rubbing my legs, I'm getting to know another phenomenon. Ever-shifting groups of guys, for all the world moving just like schools of fish, drift purposefully to any sex act that catches their eye. They pull away at their dicks the whole time, in that quick rhythm men seem to favour. Standing this way before temporary lovers, they seem to be providing the truest group worship I've ever seen, giving up their bodies to the service of pleasure.
At one point, I join one of these groups. We're watching two men pleasure first each other and then a woman. I've never thought of myself as a voyeur, yet find it is arousing to watch. I rub my clit. I discover that being surrounded by aroused people intent on bodily joy is deeply relaxing. Even though I'm standing up, my body melts into orgasm. The air is thick with sighs of relief and tension released.
Casual and temporary as it may be, we are making love, not war, and I feel good. Overall, I expected the party to have a much tougher, more guarded vibe. But something about it actually feels healing, like we're here together, finally doing what we long to do. Some of us may feel furtive, ashamed, unattractive - but we're here!
The feeling of deep relaxation lasts the whole next day. I tell my lover (who's thrilled about the handsome guy he got to hang with) that I'm open to trying this again in the not too distant future.
Sandra Innes is a pseudonym.