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The Ethical Slut Read-along: Public Sex and Group Sex

Posted in Polyamory, Sex & Relationships, and The Ethical Slut Read Along

I am leading a read-through of The Ethical Slut, 2nd editionIf you’d like to catch up on past installments, check the list at the bottom of the series introductionComments on the topics in this discussion are welcome anytime, even from people who aren’t following along in the book.

This week, the read-along continues with a discussion based on CHAPTER 22, “Group Sex, Public Sex, and Orgies.”

The Ethical Slut, Second Edition by Dossie Easton and Janet W. HardyThe idea that polyamorists always have group sex a fantasy. Photo by Sandra Lara.

Whether polyamory is “all about the sex” or not, one thing is true — outsiders imagine us having way more group sex than we really are. Just because two people are dating me doesn’t mean they want to share me all at once in a bedroom together; mutual attraction is more rare, even if everyone has a compatible sexual orientation. Attraction cannot be forced. Even when I lived with a woman and her other lover, we spent as much time apart as together; many triads never have group encounters.  Most of the sex I have is just like everyone else — between myself and a single other lover.

At the same time, open relationships do present more possibilities, even if the reality is more rare than some might think. This chapter of The Ethical Slut, Second Edition is all about navigating those possibilities ethically and for greatest fun for everyone involved.

“We believe that it is a fundamentally radical political act to deprivatize sex. So much oppression in our culture is based on shame about sex … All these kinds of oppression are instituted in the name of the (presumably asexual) family. We are all oppressed. We have all been taught, one way or another, that our desires, our bodies, our sexualities are shameful. What better way to defeat oppression than to get together in communities and celebrate the wonders of sex?” -from The Ethical Slut

Rereading this quote — which was one of my favorites in the earlier edition — reminded me of M. Christian’s short story “Guernica,” which is found in his fabulous collection The Bachelor Machine (Full Disclosure: I wrote the introduction to this book). In that story a group of kinksters gather for a secret and highly illegal BDSM play party in a dystopian future. The participants fetishize the police state tactics of the Big Brother-esque government around them. It’s a future I hope never comes to pass, but it makes an important point: group sex play lets us turn our hangups and our secret desires into erotic public display. In the process we feel safer, hopefully get turned on, and maybe even find some healing.

Though lately I’ve used my free time in other ways, I have attended a lot of sexy parties and kink parties, and a few sex parties. There’s a crucial difference here — events like Burning Flipside are sexy parties, not sex parties. They are a place where one is safely on display, or free to admire others without strings attached. While sex may or may not happen, it is not the expectation — instead we go to feel good, to turn ourselves into a work of erotic art. Likewise, the kink parties in my area vary between “sex-positive environments,” where many sexual behaviors are allowed within certain limits, to ones where direct genital contact is strictly forbidden. I tend to prefer sex-positive BDSM environments, but that’s not because I usually have sex in them; rather, I enjoy the freedom to let the play take itself where I and my partner(s) want to go.

The idea that polyamorists always have group sex a fantasy, but open relationships do offer expanded possibilities. Photo by Sandra Lara.

Regardless of what kind of party, I have only on some occasions ended up playing or fooling around with someone I had never met before. By contrast, there have been many more times that a friendly exchange or flirtation at these parties, often paired with the other person watching me play with an established lover, has turned into erotic connection later. I’ve learned a lot about communication and social interaction at these events, and found new ideas to use later by watching those more experienced than myself.

One great lesson I remember sharing with a newcomer was seeing him recognize the difference between beautiful nudity and sexy costumes for the first time; put a naked person next to a person wearing a skimpy costume and, once the initial shock of seeing naked people in public wears off, the person in the skimpy costume is a much more eroticized figure. The naked body becomes simply an object of beauty and admiration, not display. I’ve also learned that sometimes I should go home and not watch anymore. I love voyeurism, but I have discovered that I have a limit to how much I can enjoy before I feel weird about not playing, and it’s better to play or go home (ideally not alone) before that happens.

Remember that there are many different kinds of play style one will see at a sex party or a kink party. Some people will play rougher than you, or sound different when they do it. I’ve heard some muttered complaints from spectators — always a rude thing at play parties — and in every case they have been stodgy “Domlier-than-thou” types who disapproved of the often playful nature of my sadism and domination. As the authors point out, it’s even more important than usual to use your words to communicate directly in a public sex environment. Boundaries and interests must be discussed freely; this is especially hard for some submissive newcomers, which is why they should consider bringing a trusted friend to guide or “protect” them.

Overall, The Ethical Slut does a great job teaching readers what to expect and not to expect when they attend their first sex parties. Rather than repeat the work of others, I thought I’d close by linking to a few great resources:

If you’d like to join this conversation, tell me something you’ve learned from attending sex parties or sexy parties. What ways would you like to open up more in public in the future?

In the next, and last installment of this read-along we’ll look at the Conclusion of The Ethical Slut, along with some concluding thoughts of my own.