You have to be fully naked in the playroom.
So said the email I received prior to attending my very first Manhattan sex party, five years ago, in a secret gambling hall in the Flatiron district. It started as a one-time thing, in the name of research, for a magazine story. What it became was a lifestyle.
I’ve been to five sex parties in my time in New York City. And while it started as an assignment, what it blossomed into was a whole new landscape in the way I view, understand, and appreciate sex. A heady combination of excitement, lust, beauty, secrets, happiness, love, shame, and about a million other emotions, we like to talk about sex because it often feels like we’re not supposed to. We like to have sex because it’s just so damn fun. But sex itself can be daunting, intimate, and is often reserved for someone you care about (or someone whose body you care about for a particular evening or a string of evenings).
Sex in public is an entirely different beast and, if you’ve never had it before, can be pretty damn terrifying. However, if you can stay with me for the next few minutes, I'll explain why it is anything but scary.
My first sex party experience was with Behind Closed Doors, a Manhattan-based, members-only party that is strictly held in the most upscale of locations (other party locations can include hotel penthouses or VIP loft spaces).
First of all, Behind Closed Doors is a far cry from the stereotypical, infamously rapped sex party scene. New York City sex parties are often thought of as dingy and illicit, thanks to Plato’s Retreat, an Upper West Side sex club that was popular in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. But the modern day scene, especially at Behind Closed Doors, is very, very different.
The crowd at Behind Closed Doors swings mostly affluent, as tickets run about $200 per couple, per party, and $100 per single women. But just because you have the cash doesn’t guarantee you entry. Each prospective partier is required to submit an application with photos. And while you don’t have to be on the cover of People magazine to make the cut, you do have to have a firm grasp on personal hygiene.
Only couples or single ladies can apply, and almost everyone admitted is under 45 years old. Another important detail is that men cannot suggest sex or approach a woman. Ladies make all the calls here. And “no” most certainly means no, lest you find yourself banned from all future parties. Beyond that, it’s really anything goes, provided you ask first.
Guests can have sex with their partners, swap partners, form factions, or sit back solo and enjoy the show. And there most definitely is a show. By 1 AM, the sex scene had exploded from beyond the playroom to literally any flat surface that was available. A cacophony of moans that rivaled anything you’ve heard on Pornhub echoed up to lofty ceiling.
“You don’t need to have sex, but to enter the playroom, you have to be naked.” This was the e-mail invitation I received prior to attending the party - a list of instructions, secret passwords, and do’s and don’ts for proverbial sex party de-flowering.
The party started like any other swank Manhattan soiree, save for the fact that I needed a password to get in. (It was “genie.”) A visually cultivated crowd of attractive men in ubiquitous button downs and wingtips, pretty ladies in their most painted-on little black dresses, chilled wine, and a cheese plate for good measure (because what is wine without cheese when you’re about to rub elbows, and your naughty bits, with chic Manhattan execs?). What set it apart from other quintessential cocktail parties was the reel of porn that was playing on the flatscreen television behind the pool table. As you do.
At the back of the venue was a sectioned-off space, tucked discreetly behind wooden partitions. This was the setting for the “playroom.” This is where the sex begins because everyone inside is fully nude.
My date and I were casually sipping drinks and eyeing up the other guests. He was my boyfriend of only a few months, about 11 years my senior and wasn't much of a risk taker. The idea of sex in public wasn't one he'd think up on his own, but he certainly wasn't against taking himself outside of his comfort zone, at least for a night. Curiosity got the best of me and I took him on a little stroll over to that side of the room - to get the lay of the land, so to speak. The coveted exposed brick alcove was dimly lit, with flickering candles, an assortment of plushly decorated beds, and a long sofa covered with a crisp white sheet.
Up until that point I was rarely the first to dive in to anything without a proper pro and con list, or at least a phone call to mom. But seeing as I was already at a sex party in a secret gambling hall in the Flatiron district, on the precipice of the obligatorily clothing-less playroom, I thought “fuck it” was the most appropriate reaction (literally).
I grabbed my date’s hand and off we went into the playroom to get the party started - which ultimately ended up being the correct decision because by the time we were, um, finished, we were surrounded in a sea of flailing legs and thrusting bodies, and mattress real estate was very difficult to come by.
As I downed the rest of my wine, down went my dress. I could feel the eyes of eager onlookers from the wooden partitions as I was felt up and stripped down. Before long, we weren’t alone as couples, singles, and groups began to hungrily grab up any open surface. I waited for it to get weird. I wanted for that mustachioed gentleman with gold rings on his fingers to approach me and creepily invite himself into our very happy little twosome. But that moment never came.
Instead, we lay vertical on the couch, going through our usual arsenal of moves at lighting speed so we could get to the actual moment of "sex in front of strangers." The rationale was the faster we got naked and got going, the easier it would be to ignore our audience. Turns out, having voyeuristic sex is not that difficult. If you're having sex (and great sex, for that matter), the extraneous details matter very little. Even if those details are horny onlookers sipping vodka on the rocks while they get off watching you. It's kind of sexy to know that you're inspiring others to feel sexy.
Before we knew it, the beds and couches around us were starting to fill up with other couples who now felt that the ice had been broken for them. After a while, my date looked over my shoulder and whispered to me, "look around us." We were lost in a sea of flailing flesh, undulating in hedonistic hyperbole.
After we finished (rather, he finished. Sometimes I just can't.), we scrambled to gather our clothing, which had been kicked around by our naughty neighbors. I slipped my LBD back up over my head and balled my underwear up in my palm, eager to get out of the playroom and debrief with my date about what just went down. I made it out of the playroom first and turned around waiting for him to join me. Out he came, hopping on one sockless foot, shirt collar open and tie around his neck. But much to my relief, a massive smile was plastered across his face.
"That was fun," he said. "Almost comfortable."
That's the real beauty of Behind Closed Doors, besides the beautiful bodies having sex with each other: how comfortable it actually is. It’s like any other club, which is literally defined as an association or organization dedicated to a particular interest or activity. This interest and activity just happens to be sex. It’s not for everyone. Put a Bud Light-swilling, Eagles jersey-wearing bro at a convention of craft beers and vintage typewriters, and he’s bound to be uncomfortable. It’s important to remember that just because you’re curious about sex, that doesn’t make you a pervert or a freak. Being inquisitive and adventurous is often what elevates sex from fine to mind-blowing.
Unlocking your comfort zones is exactly how you elevate sex to the next level. It’s healthy, and, quite frankly, it’s incredibly hot. We're all on the dating scene for different reasons. But one thing is the same for all of us: at some point there will be sex. But going out to a bar and hunting for sex somehow makes you desperate or thirsty. You have to want it, but not too much, even though we all secretly want it. At a sex party, it takes all the guess work out for you. We're all there for the same thing, and we're damn proud of it.
As for me, this experience opened a new door. It taught me confidence in my body, confidence in what gives me pleasure, and confidence in trying new things, which has applied to all other areas of my life. That's not to say I spend my weekends scouting the latest sex parties. It hasn't become the norm, but it certainly is normal. I don't go to sex parties hoping to meet the next guy, or to insert myself into as many threesomes as possible. That's not my style, though no judgments if it's yours.
I like to go with someone special, someone with whom I'm ready to take our sex to the next level and develop a bond because we've raised the bar on our comfort zones together. I like sex parties because if I can handle being my most vulnerable in public, and like it, then there's really very little that can stop me anywhere else.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health