On the top floor of a low-lit swingers’ club in London, naked women writhe on double beds in groups of two and three, limbs entangled. They wear vertiginous heels, their bodies are wrapped and strapped in neon lingerie, eyes shining — because sex parties are back, and it’s been a while.
I’m at Skirt Club — a members-only, female-only sex party — to explore what’s happened in the scene since Freedom Day, and it’s intense. Known often as “play parties”, these events are essentially socially acceptable orgies, and aren’t exactly what you’d expect people to be rushing back to after a killer virus banned even the most conventional forms of dating and saw certain bedroom positions banned even in Amsterdam brothels.
Yet people are rushing back. Killing Kittens, Torture Garden and Skirt Club are just three of the top tier to have immediately sold out since re-opening in July. Killing Kittens shifted 2,000 tickets in a single month to parties which included an immersive “garden of delights”. Only members can buy tickets and membership starts at £10 and goes up to £200 for extra perks.
“I wouldn’t think twice about going to an orgy because of Covid,” says my friend Sean, who knows about these things. “Because you’ve been double-jabbed?” I ask. “No, because I like sex,” he tells me. After quickly sprouting on HouseParty and Zoom, virtual orgies have been firmly kicked to the kerb. They were “so boring”, one woman in her late twenties at Skirt Club tells me when I ask how it feels to have left them behind and entered a sex palace IRL.
Orgies have a few new rules post-pandemic, with ticket-holders having to show a negative lateral flow test result taken in the 24 hours prior to the party. But the buzz at Skirt Club is tangible. “Let’s go find the dungeon!” I hear undressed women whispering to each other as soon as the first welcome drink has been poured, noting that — with no warm-up time needed — those who love public sex clearly missed it. Demand for a ticket to a Skirt party was so high that all events from the end of June until August were sold out immediately and I couldn’t gain entry until now. Sex parties for the “waxed and vaxxed” (encouraged) aren’t cheap either and I had to shell out about £70 for a ticket.
Most surprising is the number of women buying tickets who have never been to a sex party before. A tall, dark gazelle of a women tells me she’d always wondered what they were like while another woman says she goes without telling her husband — she is wondering whether she is gay and wants a divorce.
Anticipation was high before I’d even turned up. Having joined the WhatsApp group planning pre-drinks before the party, I got more than 400 messages a day and had to mute the group because so many women were sending nudes and pictures of the sex toys they’re planning to bring.
When at last the event arrives, I am nervous. “Can I come back and leave my clothes with you later,” the young woman in front of me in the queue asks while checking in her coat. We’re ushered into a strobe-lit room, where lights bounce off the neon lingerie on show like a disco ball. Later, Becky from the queue, who has thought about women for a long time but never done anything about it, describes it as “the best night of my life”. While Skirt Club is women-only, it welcomes all sexualities, with straight women told to “leave your man at home, relay stories later”. “Enthusiastic consent” is celebrated, as it should be everywhere, but less regular is a line insisting that the club isn’t responsible for the contraction of STIs, which I don’t think I’ve ever had to be told on walking into a club before.
A lot of the women have never been to a sex party before — but the past year has made them hungry for new experiences
Since 2014, when the club launched and had its first party of 20 women, the number of tickets sold have more than quadrupled and there are in excess of 10,500 members internationally — half in London, but also in New Orleans, Paris, Shanghai, Sydney, Stockholm and Zurich. Judging from the busy chambers at Skirt Club’s Neon Nights party, there are at least 100 to 150 women here tonight and given I’ve come alone, two friends are on stand-by in case I need to drop them a pin and ask them to come and unshackle me.
As with dating apps, all sex parties have a slightly different USP. One of the biggest, Torture Garden, is attended by a mix of all genders, sexualities and as many couples as singles, which my friend Orgy Jenny says she likes because it is less “aggressive hetero” than Killing Kittens, a straight-only party. According to Jen, sex party tactics should include “doing circuits to see if you find anyone attractive” then “honing-in on someone in the smoking area”.
But what to wear? Skirt Club, which holds constantly sold-out boozy brunches and “mini skirt” events for those wanting a build up to the main thing (and by “thing” I mean orgy), doesn’t force you to wear only underwear to their hotly anticipated once-a-month parties so I decide on an LBD too short for formal affairs, regretting throwing out a neon orange dress I used to own.
After being handed a drink and listening to a welcome speech, there’s a short pole-dancing display and then the music is pumping. Women in their twenties, thirties and forties dressed in all shades of highlighter pen begin checking each other out. Wandering the three floors feels a bit like what being in a brothel without men might be like, as women come tottering down helter-skelter staircases in heels, stockings and suspenders, laughing and drinking extortionately priced drinks. A lot of them are just bi-curious and clearly find it thrilling to be at a party where they can experiment in any way they want. By the bar, women dance and get each other drinks, gathering in tiny clusters to discuss what they’ve just done on an upstairs floor. Up there, there’s a lot of watching, and on the double beds in the backroom it’s a voyeur’s feast.
Downstairs in the smoking area I met a Spanish lesbian who has just had a book published and seems content to smoke and talk about that. There isn’t one kind of woman here, but more like someone for everyone. I meet teachers, personal trainers, scientists, students, hospitality staff, actors, writers and marketing managers.
I realise that the demand and excitement is a consequence of being banned from dating and parties and fun for a year. “A whole year,” women keep saying, hungry for life and new experiences to shake them out of the gloom and why not now, when the world nearly ended and you’ve always wondered about women or public “play”, or sex parties from a voyeuristic perspective, they were asking?
Let’s face it, the joy of survival pushes us to take all sorts of risks post-catastrophe and this is the new Roaring Twenties, according to the WhatsApp group after the event. The messages continue for days afterwards, with women sharing stories with unbridled joy. Sex parties are back in full force and these women couldn’t be happier.
*All names have been changed