I’m Always the Wallflower at the Orgy

By
Photo: KG-Photography/Corbis

In the dimmed living room, purple, sparkly sheets covered every flat surface, and gauzy red hankies and scarves muted the lamps’ harsh glow. If a pirate had a mid-'70s lounge, it would look like this. Just a typical San Francisco sex party. A voluptuous, tattooed woman wearing nothing but a thong interrupted the light chatter with a question.

“Anyone want to help me hold down and fuck my pregnant friend?”

Her question was met with a chorus of arms raised, and I was left alone, squinting in the direction of a pile of girls surrounding a woman, eight months pregnant and getting enthusiastically fisted.

I was at Girl Pile, a long-standing Bay Area girl-on-girl orgy that happens every few months, and once again I was sitting by myself and wondering how I got there.

***

I’m awkward at sex parties. I’m awkward at party parties, too, but there’s a particular embarrassment that comes from being a sex writer who is bad at sex parties, like if you found out that Cookie Monster was watching his figure — confused, and a little sad.

I’m not bad at being invited to sex parties. This is partially due to living in the Bay Area, where you can’t throw a kombucha out of a co-op without it landing on a sex party. Hence, I’ve been to several over the years, both in the Gay Area and in Chicago. I’ve been to straight sex parties and lesbian parties and even one “mixed,” though, in truth, most of the parties were at least a little “mixed.” It’s not like anyone was administering blow-job tests to determine sexual orientation at the other events. Lately, my presence at orgies is mostly thanks to my girlfriend, who is the resident “orgy drawer” at Girl Pile.

My bang rate at these parties is hit or miss. I hooked up with multiple people at one party. I’ve hooked up with zero people at others (including one I went to with my girlfriend!), and once I was even stood up at a sex party, which actually made for a great conversation-opener, once I got over the fact that I had been stood up at a sex party.

Before I’d actually been to one, attending an orgy was never something I imagined I’d do. Like windsurfing or getting my inbox down to fewer than 5,000 emails, it fell very low on my list of life goals. Then the woman I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with dumped me, and I found myself saying yes to a lot of things I never would have otherwise.

At the first sex party I ever went to, a gentleman dressed like Aladdin approached me (“If you wear something creative you will make more friends,” noted the orgy’s website), and we started making awkward small talk about, of all things, Aladdin. Less than 30 seconds later, just as I was about to wow him with my thoughts on the fez, he put his hand on my thigh and started gently stroking it. Being both uncomfortable and wholly unprepared for Disney chatter as a prelude to first base, I fled.

Sex parties are awkward because the stakes feel so much higher. Even if they’re not. Even if I lied to myself and said, “I’m just going to meet new people!” I was still nevertheless disappointed if I didn’t get any action, which was more common than not. The trouble, as I saw it, was in my transitions. I didn’t know how I was supposed to start down the rabbit hole of small talk and end up in, well, a more desirable hole.

Bonobos, our primate relatives, greet each other with oral sex, and though we are supposed to be the more evolved species, after all this time, all we’ve managed to come up with is “So, what do you do?”

When I attempt small talk at sex parties, I’ve found that even the most innocuous chitchat can become sexually charged if one or both of you is basically naked. This never seems to work in my favor, however. A comment about interior decorating I made once was misconstrued as a commentary on a nearby woman’s “drapes,” her pubic hair. “Oh, no! I meant the actual drapes. Do you think they’re linen?” I said, like an embarrassing dad on a sitcom.

She didn’t answer me.

Eventually, I stopped opening my mouth.

In fact, my first sex-party success involved a conversation that was two sentences long. “Are you blocking my way on purpose?” I asked a couple that was blocking my way.

“Yes,” said the guy half, and playfully pushed me down onto the bed. That was that.

***

As the pregnant pile started to ramp up, I turned to the doorway and saw an old co-worker, Andrea. “Oh my god, Andrea! How are you?” I asked.

“I don’t go by Andrea anymore. You can call me by my burlesque name, Fifi La Plum.”

“Okay ... Fifi,” I said, and she left to get down to business with a svelte butch girl in baggy jeans. As I watched them roll around on the floor from my solitary perch on a love seat, I found myself admiring both her efficiency and bravado at naming herself after a purse dog.

My girlfriend is often busy drawing the debauchery at orgies, so I’m mostly left to fend for myself. This rarely works out well. As a person with social anxiety, I do what most people do in such circumstances: Find the nearest animal and talk to it. This isn’t hard at Girl Pile because, though the location changes frequently, there is always a cat somewhere. At the last party I attended, the cat I found was gray, fluffy, and skittish, like me. I became determined to “win it over,” and a short while later imagined myself telling others that I spent the entire orgy petting this one pussy, and how it would be the saddest white lie ever told.

My plan to become super-popular with the cat was put on hold when I was almost accidentally flogged by a woman wielding two thick, braided, purple ropes. I felt the breeze from the flogger’s wake on my neck, and moved out of the way, back to the empty love seat to take up the other occupation that helps me kill time at parties: Peruse the owner’s bookshelf. 

The first book I picked up was titled Is Sex Necessary? Or Why You Feel the Way You Do, which caused me to feel both shamed and validated at the same time. I turned it over and saw that it was written by E.B. White, the guy who wrote Charlotte’s Web. Some pig! I decided it was probably too think-y for a sex party, and instead picked up another book, More Ready Than You Realize: Evangelism As Dance in the Postmodern Matrix. Who lives here? I wondered, turning back to scan the sea of breasts and flagellation.

A naked woman was going from room to room offering sugar cookies and strawberries. I wasn't hungry, but I took one of each.

***

I don't blame the parties for my sexual gaucherie, of course. I blame myself entirely. It’s not just orgies, either. At a Second Base party recently, which is kind of a sex-party-lite, in that participants are only allowed to go to second base, I didn’t even make it to first. To be fair, I was writing about it for a feature news story, so I had my journal with me and was taking notes like a creepy person who watches people fondle each other and then writes it down in her journal. Exactly like that. Only a few people talked to me. One girl asked if I was writing poetry, and one guy, who was high on nitrous, told me I had nice eyes. I think. What he actually said was: “Man, your eyes are like the windows to the microwave of the soul.”

***

Truth be told, sex parties intimidate me a little, despite having attended so many. Doing things that scare us make us feel more alive. That’s what adrenaline is — our body’s call to action. Our body’s way of preparing us to outrun lions or saber-toothed tigers, or, in my case, run away from attractive naked women.

I go for other reasons, too. I go to stay abreast of the sex community, which I write about frequently. I go to support my girlfriend. I go because I still think every time, Maybe this time, I’ll be different. I go because I don’t want to feel left out. I go because, like most women, I want to feel desired and connected to other people. But these days, it seems I mostly go for the cookies.

***

Back in the most recent pile, time was limping along. My girlfriend was drawing my old co-worker and I couldn’t read any more about dance evangelism. I went to the next room, where women were getting “fire massaged,” which is exactly what it sounds like — a massage with fire. The resident masseuse took a fondue fork wrapped in cheesecloth and dipped it in alcohol. She lit it on fire and applied it to the skin of the person on the table, making trails and spirals of flame and watching the recipient’s skin pirouette and jump and hum.

The woman on the table giggled and squirmed as the flames met her skin, and afterward, someone asked her about the experience. “I feel …,” she said, trailing off into nothing, realizing perhaps that that is the only way to end a sentence about being lit on fire intentionally.

The woman who was handing out the cookies earlier came back to collect trash and any strawberry stems. Lesbians. So good about composting.

***

I’ve tried just about everything to overcome my inertia at sex parties — dressing lavishly in skintight black dresses and heels, dressing lesbianly in flannel and cowboy boots, dressing slovenly because I planned on being naked the whole night anyway. I’ve tried being coy, being nonchalant, and being obvious. The latter led to a light spanking and the breeziest rejection I’ve ever experienced. She didn’t even say anything. She just shook her head slightly and walked away.

Still. I try. I do.

The thing about orgies is that they do not abide by any of the rules we’ve come to regard in standard courtship rituals. There is no prescribed order of things. There is no wait-three-days-to-call her, Facebook flirtation, coffee dates that you endlessly analyze with friends to determine if they were in fact “dates.” There is only flesh. There is only the tentative and not-so-tentative reaching. The certainty of sweat and clammy hands and hearts racing.

And then there is me, sitting in a corner, writing it all down. Hoping and not hoping that someone will come along and say, “So, what do you do?”