Humans have enjoyed sex parties for, well, ever. From Greek mythology to the pages of Vogue, group sex in its countless iterations has long piqued our interest, offering a level of excitement and eroticism you’d be hard pressed to find in any other setting. And yes, sex parties are on the rise. Due to medical breakthroughs around HIV and increased sexual fluidity amongst the queer millennial generation, more people than ever are diving into the group sex scene.
But while sex parties can certainly be affirming, pleasurable, and fun experiences, they can also go awry if you’re not properly prepared. We spoke with New York-based nurse practitioner Jason Tancredi, who specializes in LGBT healthcare, to find out exactly what you need to know before you RSVP.
Picking the Right Sex Party
First of all, not all sex parties are a reenactment of Eyes Wide Shut — and that’s a good thing. The term “sex party” can be defined as any situation where four or more people are gathered to have sex — it might be an expensive, elite sex party in an opulent Hamptons home or an underwear party at a friend’s studio apartment.
“As you consider what kind of sex party you’d like to participate in, think about what makes you feel the most comfortable,” Tancredi says. “It might be that a smaller group or more intimate setting makes you feel less anxious. Alternatively, you might prefer a large crowd where no one knows you.” (Maybe you want to attend a party that has a particular theme around a certain kink, or one that is meant for a specific subgroup, like bears or twinks.)
It’s important to understand all of your options, and to ensure you’re entering a setting where you’ll feel safe and comfortable.
How Should I Mentally and Physically Prepare?
Once you’ve decided which party you’d like to attend, try to gather as many details as possible. Will attendees be using drugs, or is the party strictly sober? Will condoms be used, and if so, will they be provided? Salimbeni also suggests looking into the makeup of the group. Is everyone HIV positive (See this HIV Fact Sheet from World Health Organization), or will attendees’ HIV status vary? Is the party only for people on PrEP?
“It’s important to know what you’re getting into, and to make a plan for what you’re comfortable doing once you get there,” says Tancredi. “If you have a plan going into it, you’ll be less likely to get caught up in the moment doing something you aren’t ok with or that you’ll regret.”
Some things to think about:
- Condoms: If using condoms is part of your strategy, Tancredi recommends bringing your own in case they aren’t provided. If you choose not to use condoms, make sure you’re aware of the associated risks.
- Substance Use: When it comes to consuming substances, Tancredi encourages party-goers to be aware of their limitations, and to know how different types of substances affect their behavior and decision-making.“Going into the situation drunk or high to quell anxiety, particularly if it’s your first time, might not go smoothly or the way you want it to,” says Salimbeni. “Most people are nervous, but everyone is in the same boat, so to speak, so be hyper-aware of how substances could impact your experience.”
- HIV Status: It’s extremely important that you be honest about your HIV status, as well as any other STIs you may have. If your party partners don’t disclose their status right away, don’t hesitate to ask them.
- Physical Boundaries: Be upfront about what you’re comfortable with sexually and what you already know is off the table. “Decide what your hard stops are before attending,” says Tancredi. “Be firm with hard stops, and be honest with yourself about what you are and aren’t willing to do.” Learn to say no even if it means rejecting someone’s advance — that is part of the deal at a sex party.
What About Consent?
Just because you’re in a space specifically designed for sex does not mean that everyone wants to have sex with everyone. It’s still essential for all involved parties to consent to every act.
“Consent shouldn’t be assumed, and it should always be verified,” Tancredi says. “Having someone consent to one thing doesn’t mean they automatically consent to the next thing you’re interested in doing.”
Should I Get Tested After Attending a Sex Party?
You should be routinely tested if you are sexually active, regardless of whether or not you are attending sex parties. STIs like HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis can take time to show up in blood work, and HIV cannot be detected until 14 days after it’s been contracted. Syphilis can be detected after two to six weeks, while gonorrhea and chlamydia can be detected immediately.
So yes, you should be getting tested after a sex party, but bear in mind that the timeline required for accurate results varies for different types of STIs.
“As a general rule, I recommend routine testing every three months if you’re sexually active,” says Tancredi. “It’s also a great idea to start using PrEP if you are regularly having unprotected sex.”