In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sexiest questions—unjudged and unfiltered.
DEAR DR. JENN,
A friend of mine recently described an orgy she and her boyfriend attended that made threesomes sound like prudish foreplay. Is this a thing that people do regularly? How does it work? Why have I been in the dark? —Eyes Wide Shut
DEAR EYES WIDE SHUT,
Let me be the first to tell you that orgies have made a comeback. No longer the key-swapping events of the '40s or full-bush, free-love festivals of the late '60s, sex parties, in this new day, have taken on a new look. First, there's the name. I've generally heard group sex gatherings referred to as sex parties or sex clubs rather than orgies. And of course, courtesy of the Internet, they are easy to find through apps (like FetLife) and on sites that cater to group sex. The more, the merrier? You can find cruises designed specifically for multi-person sex activities or attend the Orgy Dome at Burning Man.
I started hearing more and more about sex party culture in my Beverly Hills practice about three years ago. And I knew it wasn't just the fringes of society when those stories started coming from mainstream actors and actresses. That's right, this is a trend that Hollywood's elite has embraced. And sometimes, it comes with a high price tag. Organizers like Snctm charge five figures for tickets, and there are more exclusive membership packages, so to speak. Other VIP sex parties are hosted at people's private residences; they are strictly invitation only, and the guest lists are impenetrable.
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But most people are not willing or able to drop thousands of dollars on group sex—and they don't need to in order to have it. Sex parties have become a hushed but pervasive part of our culture and are likely to stick around in one form or another as long as genitalia do.
People enjoy this kind of play for a variety of reasons. Many in the non-monogamy and kinky crowd value group sex events because they are able to connect, and not just sexually, with like-minded people. Many in the BDSM community love the ability to act out big scenes that require special equipment like cages, swings, or whipping benches—and you can’t always fit a bondage wheel in your New York studio apartment (at least not without your roommate asking questions). Some fantasies involve multiple people, and that kind of band is best recruited at an event that attracts other people who also enjoy role play. Others attend sex parties for exhibitionist or voyeuristic reasons. These events are also easy places to meet new and willing sexual partners.
For obvious reasons, many of these gatherings use word-of-mouth invitations, handed out discreetly and selectively. So how do you find out about safe sex parties if you don’t have any friends who participate in The Lifestyle? FetLife is a good start. It's the Tinder of orgies, the one that my clients talk to me about most. But be choosy if you choose to give it a whirl. Make sure that there is a screening process for participants and consistent rules that are enforced, and look into the consent culture of the organizer. Female-organized events tend to have a better reputation when it comes to consent.
Other boxes to check:
Are participants vetted before the party starts?
Are there rules about STI disclosure? Some parties require proof of a clean bill of health; others argue that it's safer not assume an event is STI-free and use proper protection.
Are the rules explained to attendees upon entrance?
Are the rules physically posted throughout the party?
Are alcohol and drugs monitored?
Are there people in plain sight supervising play areas?
It's crucial to define your own boundaries before you enter, whether you're attending as a single person or in a relationship. Many couples in open relationships enjoy sex parties, and some monogamous couple go the live out exhibitionist fantasies without touching other people. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, if you are going to one of these parties with a partner, it's so important to define and discuss the agreed-upon rules beforehand. Even once you do, there is still enormous potential to trigger jealousy at an event like this. My same suggestions about having a threesome when you're in a committed, monogamous relationship apply here (TLDR: probably don't). But you can save yourself a lot of grief by sitting down with your partner before the adventure to outline what's fair game and create a safe word that gets you two out of there, stat. Touching or just looking? Can you trade contact info? Is penetration allowed? Can you engage sexually with new partners without both of you being present? Some events have specific rules that require people to leave with the partner they come with. What's your take?
As for why you've been in the dark, I can't answer that one, but it sounds like your friend can show you the light. Just maybe don't tag along with her and her boyfriend. Your first experience with group sex is likely to be supremely awkward—why should brunch suffer?