One of “those” parties

It’s a potentially awkward moment.  It starts out familiarly enough, at a party with music and booze and substances, and everyone is dancing and tripping and having a great time, and the self-indulgent undercurrent of debauchery feels fun and non-threatening.  And, you notice that there’s maybe more exposed flesh than you were expecting, and perhaps more touching and groping than usual.  Then, in a transition that could almost be described as “natural,” there are varying degrees of nudity, and some of the touching has gone past touching, and you realise: this is one of “those” parties.

The first time I went to one of “those” parties was at an end-of-semester house rave/fest/etc.  My date and I (who hadn’t been seeing each other long, and weren’t officially a couple or anything) were invited to an “erotic” party, and told we should dress appropriately.  We — naïvely, in hindsight — just figured that the party theme was “sexy Christmas” or somesuch and left it at that.  But, when we got there it became obvious very quickly that the sexual theme for this party was literally sexual.  I don’t think either of us had a problem with that, although it also wasn’t our scene, but it was awkward for a sort-of-couple to go through the communication and negotiation of figuring out what we were comfortable doing in that environment.  In the end we danced a lot then sort of did our own thing in a corner, and overall enjoyed the party.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that these kinds of parties aren’t uncommon in certain circles.  I think nudity stopped being an embarrassment for most people some time ago (it certainly doesn’t seem to take much to get people into a hot tub), so the extension to being comfortable with (semi-)public displays of sexuality doesn’t seem like such a big step.  Or, perhaps I’m being short-sighted, and people have been doing this forever.  Roman orgies are an established cliché, after all.

What I find interesting about all this is how sexuality always seems to come out as an aspect of people’s lifestyles and personality, and not as a dominant separate theme.  When I’ve seen university parties go in this direction, it’s always been perfectly in line with with kind of gathering you’d expect these people to have.  A co-op occasion last year had some people who were naked just because they probably would have been naked regardless; everyone seemed very comfortable with their hairy non-model bodies, and the mood was very chill.  I was impressed by how inclusive and welcoming the sexual aspects of the party were, and I was tempted to join just because of how non-judgemental everyone seemed to be about each others’ bodies.  I kinda got the impression that this sort of thing happened a fair bit over there.  I suspect all the weed, acid, and E helped set the mood.

On the other end of things, a frat party I went to a few years ago turned a little odd and uncomfortable when things got sexual — it was almost stereotypical, with more guys than girls and a lot of high-fiving.  Also, lots and lots and lots of beer, which isn’t very sexy in my mind, but who am I to judge?  We actually left that party when it started getting third-basey — frankly, it seemed a little high-school-ish, and everyone, including the few very accommodating young women, seemed awfully drunk.  I also don’t believe I’ve ever heard the word “tits” said so often by so many people in such a short amount of time.

The party that actually inspired me to think about all this in the first place was just last week, a Hallowe’en masque-snortfest-cocktail fête in the (very large and very nice) apartment of a friend who works very long hours at a respectable professional occupation.  There were lots of nice, classy clothes, many feathery masks, and probably too much cocaine for a crowd that works 100 hours a week and needs to make the most of a precious chance to let loose.  It’s funny how young, stressed professionals exert their sexuality in, well, a young stressed way.  There’s not a lot of middle ground or build-up; suddenly people are kissing, groping, being sexual.  It’s like these people are so locked up at work that when they get out of the cage they just have to run in circles.  I absolutely get that, and I have a lot of respect for people who can work that hard, for that long, in the first place, but it’s interesting how it turns them into the “all-or-nothing” type, even in their debauchery.  I think it explains, though, why so many of the young professionals I know seem to make a point of having a social scene that is separate from their office and co-workers — it would just be weird to have a public encounter in front of (or, worse, with) people you’ll see at work.  None of the people at your firm needs to know how fond you are of reverse cowgirl.

I wonder if it’s the really, really stressed and overworked young professionals who patronize the outright sex clubs.  You’d think that if you’re going to pay for it, you might as well just get a regular prostitute, but I guess that doesn’t provide the same environment of shared debauching?  And, I suppose paying to get into a place where everyone is looking for sex isn’t really the same as buying sex.  I went to a well-known local club with a couple of friends once, just to sort of say we did; it wasn’t that exciting, frankly, but I suppose I can see the appeal.

There’s also an established underground-ish scene of proper private clubs, more discreet and classy than the relatively accessible public venues.  Some friends of mine visited one of these last summer, and their experiences are tastefully and professionally described in a series of columns in the UC Berkeley student paper (here, here, and here — the author was one of the best columnists at that newspaper, so I encourage reading her other stuff, on the same website).  Their experience seemed to be quite positive, if a little overwhelming.  Again, I can’t help but wonder why people would pay for the kind of thing that is clearly freely available in both student and professional circles, but again I suppose there’s something to be said for being removed from your usual scene when you indulge.

What’s interesting in all this is that it really doesn’t seem to be very uncommon.  I suppose one could argue that student and young professional circles are the kind of places where sexuality would be particularly rampant, but I doubt this kind of behaviour is limited to younger communities.  That visit to the private club seemed to show that it’s not just twenty-somethings that do this sort of thing.  Some folks are just very comfortable with their bodies, and sexuality.

Is this kind of sexual comfort a good thing?  I have trouble finding any social fault with it (with the one giant caveat that everyone has to be safe and smart while they do it, which I think was the case in all of my own limited personal experiences), and if everyone leaves happy and satisfied, then I suppose I don’t see a problem.  If there’s nothing wrong with it, though, why am I so reluctant to dive in when the opportunity presents itself?  True, I’m admittedly not especially psyched about hairy women, or high-fiving the guy on the other end of my partner, or doing lines of blow off a friend-of-a-friend’s love trail (may the 80’s live forever among young professionals), but the overall concept of unrestricted (or, at least, less restricted) sexuality is certainly appealing on several levels.  Still, it doesn’t really seem like my thing, and I can’t decide if that’s because it’s really not my thing, or if I’m just hung up and uncomfortable about it and don’t want to let loose.    Am I being myself, or am I just repressed?

I think part of my problem is that I’m not sure how to incorporate that level of sexual comfort into my social circles.  There are friends I’ve seen naked in non-sexual (or mildly-sexual) circumstances, but I’m comfortable enough with only a very few people to be that closely associated with their sexuality.  And, of course, putting my sexuality on display isn’t always easy either, and isn’t something I can do in front of just everyone.  I’m actually quite envious of people I know who can be that comfortable with themselves.  I’m not sure I’d ever want to be at the point where I can do the frat-boy “Whoo!  I’m naked!  Whoo!  I wanna see me some tits!” thing, but in theory there are people out there around whom I’m comfortable enough that I suppose I should be fine having sex in the room with them.  I dunno.  I feel old-fashioned.  On the one hand, I’m certainly a ton more comfortable being sexual near strangers; on the other hand, what’s the point of partying if you’re not with your friends?

All that comes back to what I said earlier, how the people who do the party thing tend to do it in ways that are extensions of their personalities and lifestyles.  I guess the idea is that you’re comfortable with sexuality if you can express it in a way that feels right for you.  Or, maybe it just helps to be really wasted?  Then again, I suppose the exact same things can be said about plain old vanilla private sex.

Sexuality is a hard thing to understand.  Once you get past “I want to touch people who have that body part,” the rest is kind of complicated.  Actually, for some people, I suppose even that first step is tricky.  We put so much social weight on sex that it seems almost wrong to treat it as a casual, public event.  On the other hand, why do we want all that weight in the first place, if it doesn’t really seem to make anyone happier?  Meh, so confusing.

But, to answer the inevitable question, yes, it’s good courtesy to bring a bottle of wine to a sex party.

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