Tips for hosting a fun play party

Apr 6, 2017

Cathy: So Liz, can you give me some tips on running a great Sex-Positive play party?

Liz: Absolutely. This is Cathy Vartuli from The Intimacy Dojo.

Cathy: And this is Dr. Liz from Sex-Positive Psych.

Liz: So we get a lot of questions about how to make sure that your play party is going to be consent-focused. And there are a lot of different ways to approach. One of the things that I love at play parties is when there’s a set container. So like there’s an opening circle that everyone has to be there at the same time for the establishment of the expectations for that party.

Cathy: That way everybody knows and everybody else knows all the rules. And that helps our primitive brain calm down.

Liz: Right. So those opening circles can also help things like helping people break the ice and get a little bit more comfortable.

Cathy: So you know more than the person you came with.

Liz: Right. Helping people practice saying no, helping people practice the safer sex conversations.

Cathy: And encouraging that in the community.

Liz: Yeah, absolutely. When I go to play parties especially with Monique Darling or Ray Palco, I really love the ways that they emphasize that everyone gets to say no. No is a complete sentence.

Cathy: Voyeur has the most participation.

Liz: Voyeur has the most participation. Right. And that you’re never obligated to do anything you don’t want to do and you’re encouraged to change your mind.

Cathy: Yeah. Those are all great things. And if you’re thinking about throwing a play party, it can be very intimidating running your first one. I’ve been to ones that are amazing and I’ve been into ones like, “Please, walking out the door.” Yeah. And like you, I’d like to have that container set. A lot of people feel like they're at the container and we all know safer sex like people here are consent-based. But it’s not just about teaching people that already know something, it’s about making sure that everyone in the room is aware that that’s a space you’re holding.

So it’s not always about educating. You might have people there that are far more experienced at running play parties or sexual experiences than you but it’s about sending a container and say, “In this space, this is important to us.” So it’s worth for people – it’s worth it for people to hear over and over again.

Liz: Yeah. And establishing norms is huge in terms of building a culture of consent. If everyone knows that at your play parties, you don’t touch someone without a verbal yes, you don’t ever do anything that you’ve been told no to and that if you do, there are consequences. People are much more likely to honor consent in that space than if it’s a space where – yeah, I mean just use consent and make sure you have talks. If there’s not that clear culture, if there aren’t those clear expectations, it’s much easier for people to fly in with the radar or to do things that aren’t just great.

Cathy: How important do you think it is to have lifeguards or people that can go to?

Liz: Hugely important. I think that it’s essential at every party to have at least a couple of people that are lifeguards on duty. That doesn’t mean that they can’t play but there have to be people who folks can interact at any time if there’s something going on that they need help with. Because I think that creates safety, right? If there’s no one who is the person you are supposed to go to if something goes wrong, you’re not going to go to anyone.

Cathy: We both been to play parties where people have and have not done safer sex. There’s a safer sex talk they do. How important do you think that is?

Liz: It is hugely important. For me, like I’ve been going to sex parties of all different sizes, all different levels of like public versus clothes for many, many years. And ones where they explicitly have people talk about safer sex and how they talk about safer sex and how they negotiate that, people have been so much more open, so much less weird about it.

Cathy: There’s less shame.

Liz: There’s less shame. And like the places where I’ve had people be really grossy and coercive about like not using barriers have all been places where there aren’t those conversations set.

Cathy: Yeah, I agree. And I also love when they have safer sex supply set out.

Liz: Oh yeah.

Cathy: So it’s really clear that they’re there and that’s really valued. You don’t even have to bring your own or you’re out and there’s everything there.

Liz: Yeah. And if you’re going to provide supplies, make sure you provide non-latex options as well. A lot of people have latex sensitivities or latex allergies. So make sure that you have those latex and non-latex barriers available and lots of lube like water-based lubes, silicon-based lubes. Have towels.

If you’re throwing a play party and you have all of those supplies available, everyone is much more likely to utilize them in a way that feels good to them and to understand that that was the culture you’ve created.

Cathy: Yeah. I think people are fine with rules and they actually prefer them as long as they are clearly stated and reasonable.

Liz: Right. It’s like when I was in college, they were talking about writing and the more rules you have on a piece of writing, the more creativity you actually get to express in smaller things. Like haikus have ridiculously strict rules. You can have an amazing profound, beautiful haiku that communicates more than a 3-page free verse because it’s the rules that give you freedom.

Cathy: Right. Again, within reason. If you have 178 rules and everybody needs to follow that can be kind of just weird.

Liz: Right.

Cathy: But having some clear guidelines, people are usually willing to do what is clearly stated and agreed upon.

Liz: Absolutely, yeah.

Cathy: And what about if someone is having like it’s triggered and we have a lifeguard, but like what do you recommend if someone is starting to feel overwhelmed?

Liz: So I think the parties that I’ve been to that have been really helpful, the lifeguards are also there for any kind of emotional reactions so if there’s someone who is having a really strong emotional reaction, no one else at the party is responsible for taking care of that. The lifeguards get to take care of that as well.

And that’s really helpful because when we’re playing with sex, we’re playing with a lot of people’s shadows and a lot of people’s shame and it’s really easy for stuff to get brought up and triggered. And so, having someone that that person can go and talk to is really helpful.

Cathy: Yeah. And if you’re in a situation where you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, just maybe a lot of feelings are coming up, I’ve said, “Excuse me …” even in the middle of the sex, “… I have to run to the restroom. I have to get something to drink.” Just excusing myself from the situation and getting – most play parties will have an area where there’s non-sex like food area where you can go and just get away from things.

But just giving some excuse and just taking care of yourself, self-care, and it’s sometimes hard when we’re sexually aroused or there’s a lot going on to say, “Hey, I need to take care of myself.” But say, “Oh, I need to run to the restroom,” most people aren’t going to say no or try to encourage you not to.

Liz: And normalizing that in the opening circle is really helpful too. Talking about like if you have a strong emotional reaction, that is totally normal. And come find one of the lifeguards, they will help you through it.

Cathy: Yeah. Anything else you want to add?

Liz: Play parties are great. And when you are throwing a play party, you are creating a space that people are going to interact with. And so if you are the person hosting, to some extent, it is up to you to make sure that you’re an environment where consent is expected, where people are going to behave in ways that are healthy and that are as nontoxic towards each other as possible. And before you throw a party, it’s really important for you to unpack your own stuff around those kinds of things so that it doesn’t bleed into the party.

Cathy: As much as you can. Nobody is going to – we all have good days and bad days.

Liz: Yeah, yeah. But I think that what you see with a lot of events is that they end up looking like the people who throw them. So there was a blues dance in a city that I lived in that was started by someone who had largely gotten into blues dancing to hook up with people. And so, the culture of that dance was a lot of dudes who have been dancing in forever and women who are on their first or second dance there before they got driven away by dudes trying to hit on them all the time.

And everyone in the community knew about it and you only went to that dance if you were bringing your own people as a woman and you were likely to get crept on there.

Cathy: Yeah.

Liz: Right? And that dance became that because the person who ran it had that. So what you’re bringing into that space is going to color that space. So it’s important that you know what it is you’re looking for.

Cathy: Yeah. And I also encourage you to watch your own self-talk when you’re at events like this whether you’re running one or just attending. I know that when I first was attending one, I would see people playing all over the place. And to my mind, it was the first time I had seen them. My brain wasn’t registering they’d known each other for years and played together for years. And I felt like, “Wow! I’m not playing like they are. There’s something wrong with me.”

And so, I’d like to encourage people to recognize that a lot of people here may know each other and sometimes you have to go back a number of times to build that relationship. So it’s really cool again playing long game we talked about and some other things like that.

Hanging out – I like to encourage people, if you’re new, offer to help.

Liz: Volunteer, especially volunteer for the people because then you meet everybody.

Cathy: Yeah. Or wash dishes or whatever and hang out in the kitchen if that’s where it’s safe like if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Talk to people and get to know them because a lot of people aren’t going to just go up and say, “Hey, do you want to fuck?”

Liz: Right.

Cathy: They want to know you.

Liz: Particularly if you’re a man who sleeps with women. If you’re a man who sleeps with women, in these environments, a lot of times you have to build up a reputation as someone who is safe and honors consent before folks will want to play with you.

Cathy: Yeah. So if you can be gentle, play parties are so much fun.

Liz: Yeah, take the time.

Cathy: Yeah.

Liz: Right. There’s always going to be another play party, right? If you don’t play at this party, you’re going to be OK. And if you’re forming relationships and building community, that’s going to be who you would be far more in the long run.

Cathy: Yeah. If you can just celebrate the fact you’re in a sex positive environment with people that are trusting you enough to be there, to be themselves around it, it’s an amazing experience to normalize sex that way, to watch people celebrating their bodies. It’s such a beautiful way.

Liz: Yeah. And get into your own sense of voyeurism like watch how hot folks are in all the different ways that they interact, right? I’ve seen some things at sex parties that I never would have like searched out from porn and I see them like, “Damn! That’s hot!”

Cathy: Yeah, taking notes like I want to do that in the future.

Liz: Yes.

Cathy: So we hope this helps. If you’re just getting out to play parties or you’re throwing your own, thanks for helping spread the culture where people can enjoy their bodies.

Liz: Absolutely. And if you have questions or there’s other stuff you’d like us to talk about, leave a comment down below.

Cathy: Yeah.

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