Ok, I’m going to risk sounding my age here - past it, 'an oldie' as someone on Grindr kindly pointed out this week, possibly even a little jaded - but what the hell, here goes: when did sex parties become so dull?
Nostalgia, though, is nothing if not an unreliable lens through which to view a misspent youth and, in reality, my first sex party was anything but an orgy full of rampant Greek Gods. I spent most of my time scrambling around on a too-small bed trying to avoid the attentions of a flabby, prematurely balding host (why do they never look like their profile picture?). But let’s accentuate the positive here: sex parties, in my experience, are like a box of chocolates without the menu - you don’t know what you’ve got until you swallow. The fun part is sampling the goods until you find what you like, and in my twenties, when I was still considered 'cute' (whatever that means?), I kept going back for more. It was about the expectation, the surprises that would greet you as you knocked on that stranger’s door. Sometimes good, sometimes mediocre, sometimes outright dire - but at least you knew that everyone in attendance would be present, in mind and body, and there for the same reason as you: to have sex.
Fast forward 15 years, and the last sex party I went to - a room of six guys, in various states of undress, who have obviously been awake for at least 36 hours. In one corner, on a bed littered with sex toys and condoms, someone has passed out from taking too much GHB. "Is he alright?" I ask. "Oh, yeah, he keeps doing this. It’s fine," comes the reply as a tray of Mephedrone is passed around by the trembling host, who looks like he’s about to dissolve into tears and join his partner ("we only play together"), who is huddled in another corner, sobbing quietly to himself. This scene is all too familiar. Today’s sex party is an event dominated by the new drugs - GHB, Mephedrone, Ketamine, Crystal Meth; drugs which have placed the gay scene in major cities, on both sides of the Atlantic, on life support machines. These new 'sex parties' are more about taking these drugs than about having sex. A self-perpetuating cycle of performance anxiety and over-indulgence in which you go along to take drugs and have sex, but then the effects of the substances prohibit you from reaching orgasm - so what do you do? Take more chems to bolster your confidence, to fit in, of course. Ludicrous if it wasn’t so tragic.
Like any occasion involving human interaction, the chill out scene has an unwritten set of rules and etiquette. Unsurprisingly, first and foremost, these are centered around the drugs. If you’re attending a party, you don’t turn up empty handed. It takes a certain misplaced confidence to expect to waltz in and quaff the host’s supply, without making any contribution - unless, of course, you’re considered incredibly hot, then the usual rules do not apply. Then there’s the question of condoms (presuming safe sex is practiced - there are those who will not invite you to a party if they know you don’t bareback). Like the drugs, this comes down to basic economics. If you have a sex party lasting for three days, you’re going to get through a similar quantity of condoms as a medium-sized Nevada brothel, so bring your own - and while you’re at it, go easy on the host’s Viagra. You’re all going to need it, so share nicely, boys. There are, of course, a whole range of other arbitrary regulations. I remember one host who was particularly OCD about protecting his beige sofa - so much so that he threw two guys off it while they were in full thrust. This was shortly before confiscating attendees’ mobile phones as the night wore on and everyone lost interest in one another and were looking for additional attractions online. "Give me that! And that!" he squealed as he twitched his way around the room in a too-tight jockstrap, snatching the phones and hurling them into a drawer next to an astonishing collection of cock rings.
The host in question was demonstrating the most important thing to be aware of at any chill out - the change in mood. When the drugs have gone - and no one can live up to the unrealistic expectations of performing like a sexual superman (trust me, without a hard-on at a chill out, you’re a pariah) - it is inevitable that the mood will darken. Being able to spot this - and make a well-timed escape - is challenging, but essential. The horror stories keep coming. I know of friends who have been thrown on to the street, minus their clothes, in the early morning, after someone’s flipped out. I’ve spoken to men who have been threatened with knives or barricaded into bathrooms as paranoia gets its steely grip. The police come, there are arrests, convictions for possession of drugs, careers and lives ruined.
If you’re lucky, none of these things will happen to you. Instead, you’ll become just another bit player in a silent, airless room, lit only by the shine of Smartphones as all those around you look for the next big thing - because, at a chill out, nothing is ever enough. You’ll stay there, curled up, as more drugs are passed around, hidden behind drawn curtains, hearing the neighbors leave for work, the mothers taking their children to school - the reality that you’ve come to this stranger’s house to escape suddenly feeling warm and hopeful and full of simple joy. As the words of those around you - who have names you have either never asked or forgotten - sniffle out those familiar words: "I don’t want to do this anymore"; "I want a real connection. Real intimacy"; "No one has relationships anymore, not with these drugs. What’s the point in even trying?" Eventually, you’ll muster the strength to leave, knowing that you probably won’t see these people again. As you sleep-walk along the road, a refrain fills your head - words that might make you sound old, but in those moments also seem wiser than ever before: "When did we start to need all of this to just have sex, to relate, to feel?"
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