On Friday morning, I posted a series of tweets, telling the story of our latest trip to an After Pandora play party:
At @19syllables‘ request, a story…if that’s the right word for it.
— Exhibit A (@EA_unadorned) June 16, 2017
With my work laptop stuck installing endless updates, I was free to cover the evening’s events in a fair amount of detail, and the thread ultimately ran to 43 tweets. I’m not going to rehash them all here, but I do just want to focus a bit more on tweets 2-3 and 30-32 in that thread. Why? Because when @19syllables asked me to ‘tell us a story’, I didn’t just reach for my most recent sex memory – there were other reasons for focusing on that night, and those five tweets kinda sum them up.
Here’s what I wrote:
This is a story about last weekend. About sex that was joyful and uplifting, in a way that we don’t always stop to appreciate at the time. About the kind of sex that nourishes and nurtures the soul – that leaves you replete, brimming, sated…
I feel a surge of utter happiness. I’m happy because I’m having amazing sex with the woman I love, in a room full of people *enjoying* themselves. Everywhere I look, I see joy and pleasure; openness and warmth. There is none of life’s cynicism or meanness here – it’s a perfect bubble. And it’s *fascinating*. Watching other people have sex is such a weird and wonderful thing.
Reading them again now, the word that stands out in both those paragraphs is ‘joy’, and I honestly can’t think of a better way to characterise the sex I had – and witnessed – last Saturday. You might say that all sex should be joyful, and I will happily applaud that aspiration, but reality is somewhat more prosaic. Most of us (all of us?) also have plenty of itch-scratching, everyday sex; sex that serves a practical purpose, or is designed merely to make life a little sunnier, rather than elevating us to some sort of higher plane.
And that’s fine. It really is. One of the best things about sex is its flexibility – its capacity to mean different things to different people at different times – and nowhere is that more wonderfully evident than in our collective failure even to agree on what ‘sex’ is. We all come at it with our own perspective, and the way we both experience and enjoy it will shift accordingly.
Right now though, I can’t stop thinking about the nourishing power of joyful sex; of sex suffused with happiness. That’s a direct result of last Saturday night, which is just one of a growing number of reasons why I’ll talk openly and enthusiastically about play parties to anyone willing to listen. This may sound corny – and gawd knows I’m way too British to wax lyrical about mindfulness or anything like that – but in that hot, stuffy sweatbox, I was genuinely thrilled by the way the couples around us all seemed so lost in each other, in the moment; in the full and shame-free expression of that side of themselves.
That last quality is actually very important – for sex generally, of course, but even more so if you’re looking to experience something actively joyful when you fuck. I’d go as far as to say that shame and joy are fundamentally incompatible; that we’re only truly capable of the latter in bed when we firmly set aside the former – assuming we’re not fortunate enough to be free of it to begin with.
And look, we all have hang-ups. We all have insecurities. I’m not talking about those individual areas where we lack confidence or don’t feel good about ourselves. I’m talking about a broader mindset; one which sees sex as something to embrace with no equivocation whatsoever. No embarrassment or guilt, no awkwardness or stigma, and absolutely no fucking shame.
Get to that point mentally and you can do anything! Better than that, in fact: you can do anything, and you don’t have to worry about other people watching you do it. Why would you? If you can treat sex as something good and beautiful and happy, you suddenly have no reason whatsoever to hide it. You can enjoy sex in a more active, present way*, whether you’re in the privacy of your own bedroom or stretched out on a double mattress next to two other couples.
I saw evidence of that all around me last Saturday. It was inspiring – another word I don’t use lightly – and in the time we’ve been going to the After Pandora parties, I’ve been consistently amazed by the pleasure I get from watching other people fuck. I don’t mean sexual pleasure, though there’s plenty of that too; it’s more that it’s shown me how easy it can be to express myself with that level of freedom and (yes) joy.
When I looked over at our friends – married for 25 years and at an event like that for the first time – or at any of the parade of couples and groups who shifted and moved around us, I saw sex that was stripped of anything negative or sanitised. There was a purity to it; a clear and conscious commitment to pleasure, and to that moment, down on the crowded mattresses, surrounded by people.
Sex parties aren’t for everyone**, and it’s probably worth pointing out that other people I know have responded to them in a less positive way. It can be hard to relax at even the most welcoming and non-threatening of group events, and nerves often bring with them a disconnect between what you think you want to do, and what you’re able to enjoy once you get there. I’ve touched on that before, in the context of my own experiences, so I understand just how overwhelming and frustrating it can be.
It’s jarring too, the initial foray into that environment. Opening up something so typically private to public scrutiny is a big step, and brings with it a host of challenges – we’re forced to think of sex and our own bodies in a completely different way, which is not always an easy adjustment to make, nor something that all of us ultimately can (or want) to push past.
So the message I’m trying to get across here is not “hey, go to a sex party.” That environment may work for you, but equally it may not, and that’s really neither here nor there. Actively, consciously joyful sex is not location-dependent – it’s your mindset that’s key.
Your desire to squeeze every last drop of happiness out of a given situation, and to help your partner or partners to do the same.
Your ability to love yourself as a sexual being: fiercely, unapologetically, and utterly free from shame or guilt.
Nail that one, and you’ll never look back. I promise.
*I think there’s potentially an interesting contrast here with altered states like sub-space, but I’m definitely not the best person to write that post!
**Though when I ran a poll the other day to gauge interest, I was surprised (and pleased) to discover that 69% of respondents either had attended one or wanted to do so. I guess that figure might be skewed somewhat by my sample audience.