Sex parties and consent

I’ve been attending sex parties and events since 1997. I have attended parties and events in New York, Chicago, Texas, California, Oregon and Washington state.  Holly and I met on OKC  and then in person for the first time at a sex party, and we’ve been to BDSM workshops, play parties and swing parties together.  I’ve hosted small gatherings in my home and volunteered to assist at large and small parties on both coasts.

Last month I attended a lecture from some PhD/University professors who have collected, over the past few years, data from people who have attended sex parties. Some of the data comes from folks who have attended only a few events and others who host parties and attend hundreds a year.  Here are streams of the talks that were presented on Facebook Live, if you are interested.

Dr. Zhana Vrangalova PhD

The second video is the one I’d like to talk most about. At about 49 minutes in, Dr. Brooke Wells starts to discuss “Sexual Consent, Safety & Victimization Among Play Party Attendees”, and some of the numbers she presented were surprising to me. Keep in mind that this talk was an initial review and early presentation of findings, rather than  a presentation of conclusions or suggested action items.

The early results showed much higher reporting of incidences of sexual assault or consent violation among the people who attend sex parties than among the general population. Not a little bit higher, but a LOT higher.  50% of people interviewed reported some type of sexual victimization since the age of 14, highest amongst trans and non-gender-binary people and lowest amongst cis-males.  This number is very high in relation to a report from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, that showed “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.”  Dr. Wells compared the national rates for sexual victimization of women reported at 19% (very close to the NSVRC number of 20%) and the results from their data collection at 41%.

Wow. That is terrifying and maybe requires some breaking down.  Of course, we are not exactly comparing apples to apples here, the stats didn’t ask exactly the same question, in the same way, so it is not completely fair to compare “women who have been raped” to “women who have reported consent violations and sexual assault”. Still, my overriding thought is that people who go to sex parties, especially people who go to BDSM parties, are more educated about consent issues, have more awareness of who they can report to, and are therefore more likely to report violations. Even so, those numbers are really high. My second thought is that with a lot of education and attention paid to consent issues, maybe the threshold for what constitutes a consent violation is much lower.  Maybe patting, or pinching someone’s butt would be considered a violation by a sex-party-goer but much less so by a “regular civilian” who might consider it just a regular (though unwelcome) part of daily life. One of my long-time friends has also suggested that possibly the abuse endured/survived/suffered through at a younger age has set up the abuse victim for future sexual exploration in search of something.  Maybe to find beauty in pain, or in sex?

I’m going to return to those numbers and what they may represent in a moment, but first I’d like to look at some regional differences that I’ve experienced. While consent as a concept is taught across the country, in sex-clubs, BDSM workshops and online–through a range of analogies from “why consent is like a cup of teato “the consent castle” -the people who enter party spaces may have very different exposure to that education.  I’ve seen that in communities with a dominant gateway organization, like the CSPC in Seattle, GWNN in Austin, and to some extent the Citadel and Society of Janus in San Francisco a substantial number of people entering a community need to go through an orientation process.

In an area like New York, where I currently reside and maintain a New York sex party event calendar there are just so many event spaces, party promoters and organizations that they compete for guests and there is a tendency to “lower the bar to entry” in order to make it easier for more folks to attend. What this means, in practice, is that people are not required to fulfill any basic orientation process in order to attend event or parties. Even the venerable Eulenspiegel Society  requires no more than a checkbox on an online form to acknowledge minimum age of 19 years old and a payment for membership.

Play Party image courtesy Sex Positive City


My concern in places where orientation is not mandatory and new members are not clearly told where and how to report a violation is that there is a confirmation-bias where we think that there is far less consent violation than there actually is. This is because people who have been victimized simply disappear and stop attending events and there is no simple, reliable mechanism to record their experience.

This feels like the old story about swimmers saying that you can survive a shark attack by smacking the shark on the nose. It feels true because everyone we speak to that has done it has survived the attack and lived to tell the tale. What we don’t know is if 10X that many have attempted similar action and been eaten.  Because we don’t hear from the folks who get eaten or the folks who have been victimized or violated and then left the scene, their experience goes undercounted.

My experience has been that most people in the sex-party scene are safe, ethical and respectable individuals, but I still read reports of violations and know that we have more work to do. Please use the comments section to share your thoughts about these stats, about your experiences with consent, and consent violations, and about ideas you have to make things better.  Thanks so much for sharing your time and your thoughts.

1 Comment

  1. I also wonder if sex positive clubs keep a “Incident Report ” log of any kind in the first place if these types of occurrences are happening at these clubs. Another thought is a curiosity surrounding the desire to promote a club as “super safe” and so when asking the question about harassment, are the victims being asked or the club? The club would undercut the number they are providing to keep their reputation as being a “safe space”. Just a thought. Loved your perspective and representation of these initial findings.


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