My first orgy: A beginner's guide to group sex

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By Rita Sapunor

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Live in San Francisco long enough, and you're going to get invited to a sex party. Stay longer and it's only a matter of time before you're considering throwing one yourself. When this time comes, you're going to have a lot of questions to ask yourself, questions like: Which friends would be the least awkward to have sex in front of? Should my sex party be more about spiritual connection or hardcore action? What is the range of this whip, and should I tape off a safety boundary for liability purposes? Unfortunately, there's no Judy Blume novel to get you through this challenging rite of passage. This is where San Francisco's Center for Sex and Culture comes in.

CSC's mission is to provide sex-positive education to diverse communities through informational lectures, experiential classes, and cultural events. Curious and not not horny, I trudged through the rain on a recent Friday night to attend CSC's panel on group sex, lead by psychologist and sex party enthusiast Reid Mihalko.

With five minutes until curtain call, Mihalko is setting up, adjusting mic volumes and straightening the tablecloth. "Does everyone know where the bathrooms are?" he asks, breaking the silence. I can't remember a time when a host of any sorts addressed bathroom location so immediately, but then Mihalko is no ordinary host. Blond, six feet five inches tall, and with a strong build, Mihalko is a play-party veteran with the penchant for linen to prove it.

Tonight he and his eight-member panel will reveal the ins-and-outs of what can make and break a play party, which is basically lifestyle community-speak for orgy: planned parties wherein the guests, in some manner, get it on — throw pillows optional. All the event's panelists have not only attended, but have planned and staged play parties, some just for women, some just for men, some for "advanced players" and others for the tantra-inclined. The panelists double as massage therapists, sexologists, writers, teachers, and event planners who fell into the scene and took to it like fish to water.

We, the audience, are just here to watch and listen for tonight, but I get the impression that not everyone's a novice here, as two long-lost friends recall a wild party from 20 years ago and many others touch and kiss as easily as they speak. One woman leaves her seat just before the show to return with a handful of hard candies. "Who wants something sweet?" she asks, in an Isabella Rossellini–esque accent. She passes them out to the most enthusiastic. "One left!" she announces. "Who wants one?"

"Why not?" postures one older gentleman in a fanny pack.

"Why not??" she asks in mock shock, retracting the cellophane-wrapped candy. "Do you want it or not?"

He asserts "Yes!", to pleased laughter. This is clearly a crowd who respects the integrity of desire. Just a few minutes later, CSC Founding Director Carol Queen takes the stage, a prettier Sue Johanson with pink Chucks and hipper taste in eyeglasses. She's a natural MC with a hint of the burlesque, and it doesn't surprise me to hear that all eight panelists had at one time been involved in Queen's "Jack and Jill-Off" parties in the early '90s. It takes a gifted hostess to enforce a check-your-clothes-at-the-door policy without making things uncomfortable.

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After a brief introduction about the center, Queen passes the mic to Mihalko, who ushers in the panelists — some in jeans, some in silk, one wearing a T-shirt with a scarab-like vaginal motif, another in striped bloomers and patent leather platforms. Lesson number one: group sex is a mixed bag. Over the course of three hours, panelists Jessica Hadari, Andy Davis (a.k.a. "Aquaman King of Atlantis"), Kevin Ahern, Cherrie Froman (a.k.a. "Huggie Ma"), Neil Etha, Cyrus No-Last-Name, Dr. Gary Schubach, and J.T. would reveal many more tricks of the trade. Here are some of their favorites to get you started:

MY BABY'S GOT A SECRET
Secrecy prevails in the world of underground sex parties. Overly public advertising can invite some unwelcome elements into the playground, while a nom de plume lets one act outside the pressures of public reputation. Furthermore, there's a great sense of fun in dubbing oneself Clitemnestra Von Rumplebum for an evening. Equally titillating are the speakeasy-like names for these play parties, e.g., SASSY, Kinky Salon, Mystic Temple of Bliss. It's like naming a band, but with a lot more mesh and double entendre.

WALK BEFORE YOU CRAWL
It's the rare sex bunny who can show up to her first orgy, strap on a dildo, and prove a point in a very public way. It's normal to be shy at first, but this doesn't mean you can't hang. Reid Mihalko recommends starting slow, by attending a cuddle party, for example, where surface-level contact and caresses are the extended climaxes of the event. Volunteering to help at more advanced parties allows you to be involved without participating sexually. Passing out condoms and lube is a great way to get your feet (but nothing else) wet. DJing, catering, or offering whatever services you can that don't involve orifices will also allow you to get down with the concept without getting down on all fours.

SEX, ANYONE?
Panelist J.T., erotic writer and academic extraordinaire, asserts that play parties are unique in that they are sex-optional spaces. In fact, all panelists agree that a no-sex zone — that is, an area of the party that is, as Adam "Aquaman" Davis explains, "sound and light separated" — is vital to the preservation of an enjoyable play party. Without it, the comfort level among guests plummets, and nothing is less sexy than anxiety. But even if you're in the thick of it, "polite watching" is an acceptable form of participation, as well as masturbation (from a respectful distance). Furthermore, there are many less-daunting ways partners can interact. Cherrie Froeman likes head-scratching and massage, and recommends pre-party workshops wherein guests practice politely saying "no," or offering an alternative to a given request, i.e., "No, you cannot touch my breasts, but you can rub my feet."

IT'S YOUR PARTY AND YOU'LL COME IF YOU WANT TO
"If you wanna get laid, don't host a party," affirms panelist Cyrus No Last-Name. Like any fete, play parties require their share of organization. You're not just creating a social atmosphere, but an erotic one, and the sky (and your floor plan) is the limit. Start by deciding on what kind of party you want. Tantric ritual or sub-dom play? Same sex or mixed gender? Full sex or just cuddling? Maybe you want the whole thing set in space, or maybe you'll make your whole place look like some sort of pornographic Applebee's. (Talk about eatin' good in the neighborhood). Anything goes, provided you can get your guests to come (and cum?). Then, create a set of ground rules. Ground rules will allow you to control the tone of the party and keep your guests on the same page. Popular ground rules include a clothes check at the door, or arriving with a friend or partner for whom you are accountable. Strict policies to ensure safe sex are obviously worthwhile, though most panelists trust their guests enough not to necessitate monitors.

SHUT UP AND DANCE, AND BY DANCE I MEAN "DO IT"
So your guests have arrived, but no one is having sex. No matter how elaborate or suggestive the decor, guests can require a little prompting, and a participatory activity can be useful to set the mood for play. Many hosts favor opening rituals that involve guests in a common sensual or spiritual experience. For J.T., Spin the Bottle is a classic, especially when erotic playthings are placed in the circle's center. Others favor sharing an aphrodisiac substance (sobriety is strongly encouraged, however) or enforcing a no-feeding-yourself rule. Cyrus recommends a full hour of silence save for sexual requests.

COME ONE, CUM ALL
Play-party hosts and attendees are a diverse lot, as the CSC's panelists themselves demonstrated. While all panelists claimed that what they looked for most at play parties was connection with individuals, what they got out of their experiences was kaleidoscopic: rewards ranged from dealing with rejection and learning assertiveness to rediscovering a playful side or developing creativity. While it's an adventure for everyone, what you bring to and take from the table can be as varied and surprising as sexual experience itself.