The bottoms looked like they could melt into each other. They were facing each other and sighing, hands clasped for support as they each got nailed from behind. I’d been watching one who I guessed was in his late 20s rotate through the following pattern for about a half hour: He danced for two minutes or so, sucked dick for two minutes, got fucked for two minutes, then chatted for two minutes, over and over again. I didn’t see him come or put much effort into doing so; his jockstrap stayed intact and his hand didn’t so much as slip under it. I think I saw him get fucked at least ten times over the course of the night.

Directly behind me, on a leather (or maybe pleather) couch, two fortysomething guys in harnesses leisurely jerked each other off. On the dance floor, a couple of guys went from grinding their bodies into each other to making out to sucking each other off.

Advertisement

I was at a gay sex party in what looked like a railroad apartment with high ceilings, in Midtown Manhattan. “I feel like I’m in a living room,” a friend whispered to me, as one of the 90 or so guys there with us left the back room with his dick pointed straight up at his nose. As he made his way from behind me toward the bathroom adjacent to a makeshift bar, another guy came toward him, also sporting an enthusiastic hard-on. I had a brief fantasy that they’d meet somewhere in the middle and touch cocks—a friendly gentlemen’s toast, a unicorn kiss—but, to my disappointment, they didn’t so much as acknowledge each other as they crossed paths.

Advertisement

A lot of guys milled around like half-asleep dogs who couldn’t resist sniffing around the buffet of scents on offer. Intermittently, two guys would start fucking (almost always standing, rarely to climax), which tended to draw a crowd of quiet spectators for its generally brief duration. And then the group would disperse, and all of a sudden another area would become a garden of pneumatic calves, as in-shape dudes kneeled all over the floor to give head to other in-shape dudes reclining on the couches.

It was just another Friday night in gay New York City, where it’s a great time to be a slut.

These days in the city, when the weekend rolls around, men who enjoy men have a variety of options: They can go out dancing, they can go out drinking, or they can go out fucking. The monthly party described above, which was called Harder at the time I went, was like many current New York sex-party offerings: It promised a semi-public space to men who want to indulge drinking, dancing, or fucking, but certainly the fucking. The cover charge for this one was $30 at the door, which is around the median price of this type of party; they can get as expensive as $50+ or as cheap as $10. Sometimes included in the price—often referred to as a “suggested donation”—is the fee for a “clothing check.” There were bowls of condoms and lube placed politely throughout the Harder venue, and a snack table provided things to munch on besides penises, like fun-size candy bars.

Advertisement

As many of these parties are, the Harder party was billed by its host, Ricardo Tavares, a cute dude from Brazil in his early 40s with a twinkle in his eye and matter-of-fact horniness everywhere else, not as a “sex party” but “a dance party with a naughty side.” However, when I asked Tavares over lunch late last year what percentage of the 125 to 200 guys Harder had been attracting each month end up having sex, he guessed that it was “90... [to] a hundred percent of the guys that go there, they at least get their dick sucked or something.” (While data on the frequency of any sort of underground, almost-anything-goes sex gatherings is scarce, each of the 10 people involved in facilitating these kind of social gatherings that I spoke to for this piece have anecdotally noticed a recent uptick.)

As one might suspect would be the case with any sex party—gay, straight, or otherwise—the scene operates with some level of natural secrecy. Although most of the promoters or organizers I interviewed for this story were more than happy to tell me all about their New York-based parties, it was sometimes on the condition of anonymity, or that their party not be named. A few chose not to talk to me at all. One host, rather hilariously, compared Jezebel to a pro-Ku Klux Klan site (we are not that), and the other seemed to think that my offer of anonymity implied that he was doing something wrong. But the parties in this story are being profiled with the express permission of their hosts.

Sex parties take place in the same places regular parties do: Private apartments, art studios, public bars, concert venues, and in-between spaces that look kind of like apartments but don’t house actual residents, just a revolving door of guests.

“We started the party a year ago,” said a party host I’ll call John, whose party, until recently, was largely held in a small, divey gay bar in Manhattan. “We did it in part because we felt like there weren’t a lot of parties like the one we were envisioning, and now, in March of this year, I feel like there’s something damn near every night you can find.” Indeed, I’ve personally heard mention of at least one happening virtually every weekend so far in 2017, and sometimes each night of a given weekend. There are also some during the week, and some of those happen midday, allowing for guys to pop in on their lunch breaks. Among certain types of sexually adventurous queer men, it’s starting to seem like a near-constant occurrence.

Advertisement

Hetero-dominated sex parties, too, are on the rise. Los Angeles’s SNCTM and Skirt Club (an all women party that nonetheless attracts a predominantly straight-identified cliente) have been covered extensively in the press, while the New York Post could practically launch a sub-site with the content that sex parties have generated for the paper. Public gay sex in New York, too, never really went away, even during the plague years of the AIDS epidemic—it just got pushed into gym steam rooms and the odd bar back room. Sex parties targeted at men who have sex with men, though, tell a story about gay history and its present: In 2017, men who have sex with men are fucking in a new age of liberation. These parties are remarkable expressions of sexual security within a population of men that, for decades, had reason to feel insecure—if not terrified—of sex.

Cruising is older than the very concept of gay culture, and played a huge part in its conception. Michael Bronski writes in his 2011 book A Queer History of the United States that early gay-liberation groups such as the Mattachine Society focused on “two distinct responses to legal issues faced by homosexuals.” The first aimed to secure “sexual freedom for all women and men by repealing sodomy laws and ending police harassment associated with homosexual socializing or activity.” (The second was pursuing equality under the law that would end discrimination.)

Advertisement

The policing of public sex would galvanize the fight for gay rights, but it would also continue to harm men-loving men for decades. Gay New Yorkers still feel it today. Unlike other cities in the United States and abroad, there are few reliably hot cruising areas or permanent sex clubs in New York. This is primarily a legacy of the city’s fraught, post-Stonewall history with public spaces for gay sex; early on in the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the virus was referred to as “Saint’s disease” because so many patrons of the East Village disco the Saint died from it. In 1985, the city started shuttering bathhouses and other known public-sex spots in attempt to control the disease’s spread.

On top of the threat of infection, there was the psychic intrusion. Starting soon after the AIDS crisis began in the early ’80s, gay men heard about the deadly consequences of their kind of sex near-constantly, via PSAs, news footage of nearly dead bodies ravished by AIDS, and even through the work of gay activists like Larry Kramer, who took to prescribing abstinence to combat the plague.

But much has changed since then, even if Larry Kramer’s hand-wringing over gay promiscuity hasn’t really. In 2014, in New York, writer Tim Murphy examined how PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, an antiretroviral medical regimen that prevents negative people from contracting HIV up to 99 percent) was causing a cultural sea change amongst gay men. Murphy titled his piece “Sex Without Fear,” and at the sex parties I’ve visited over the past few months, the title has held up; I haven’t seen much to suggest that AIDS-related fear dictates many urban, gay men’s sex lives. In addition to PrEP, “treatment as prevention” or TasP, is now available. TasP is the administration of antiretrovirals to HIV positive people, suppressing viral loads to the extent that the HIV in patients’ blood is considered undetectable by standard testing, and is virtually impossible to transmit to sex partners. A recent study of 350 gay-male couples in which one partner was HIV negative and one was HIV positive, but on viral-suppression medication, found zero instance of exposure over the course of more than 17,000 condomless sex acts.

Advertisement

Advertisement

“For many people who have historically linked disease with their sex lives, they have now unlinked disease from their sex lives,” said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, the acting deputy commissioner of disease control at New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Health, by phone. “It’s not even a question of public health. I think it’s human nature that if you have a pleasurable activity that was associated with a bad outcome, and you’re making that bad outcome nearly impossible, then all of the sudden that activity looks better.”

Pills have been crucial in facilitating this mindset, but there’s more to liberation than medicine. In talking to people who attend and throw sex parties, I’ve noticed a proud refusal to live by the heteronormative respectability politics that were so useful in the fight for marriage equality. (Within minutes of sitting down with Tavares, he mentioned off-handedly, “Whenever I see a traditional gay marriage, I want to puke.”) Plus, these parties offer a refuge from the hassles of geo-loaction-app acquired casual sex that has become such a norm amongst gay and bisexual men. That these parties are thriving in New York right is no coincidence, either; the city’s Health Department is more focused on targeting disease than on policing the venue choices of those who are vulnerable to it than it has been since the mid-’80s.

Advertisement

(At sex parties themselves, by the way, STIs are rarely a topic of conversation.)

“I think that in New York it’s become more normal to say, ‘There’s a sex party tonight, we’re going out to it,’” said Chris Hawke, whose Golden Boys USA (GBU) party is now in its 16th year of existence. “In the beginning they were very uptight, like they were doing something taboo. Everybody came alone. Now, people walk in with five friends.”

Advertisement

Daniel Nardicio, another well-known promoter who’s been throwing raunchy parties since the late ‘90s, said that he once felt like something of a pariah for throwing parties where sex was permissible. Not anymore.

Advertisement

“Someone recently said to me, ‘Sex is really in!’” said Nardicio. “As in: sex parties are really in. I was like, ‘Girl, sex has always been in, you dumb fucking ass, it was just that you were afraid to do it before because you were going to get into trouble.”


The photo studio-turned-sex dungeon of “Simon” in in the basement of a nondescript Brooklyn apartment building hosts “eight or nine” parties a month, typically on weekends. Some are his, others are thrown by outside promoters—for example, Hawke’s Golden Boys USA is there every two weeks and multimedia artist Gio Black Peter (disclosure: Gio is a friend of mine) throws his sporadic American Whorer Party there, which has attracted a predictably arty crowd, and often features bizarre performances. The most recent one, in May, featured a DJ set and the mock baptism—in red paint, by legendary gay filmmaker Bruce La Bruce—of some naked twinks. No Bra performed her dissonant ditty “sex slaves in the white house.”

Advertisement

Simon has been throwing sex parties for 25 years now—the early ones, held before 1996, the year antiretrovirals were approved, were mostly jerk-off parties. He told me the biggest difference between now and when he started is that in 1992, people always used condoms. Now, they don’t. The demand for this type of gathering, however, was high during those dark times when hope for AIDS seemed dim and the media got bored of the epidemic. Simon says his first party, a private affair in his apartment, attracted 30 guests. By the second he had four times that number. In those days, he’d advertise by handing out invitations in bars or by posting in the back of gay weekly nightlife rags like HX.

Advertisement

Simon began to build a following, throwing parties at various locations throughout the city before settling into his current spot about 20 years ago. He’s one of two people I spoke with whose primary income is a result of his hosting of these parties—they’re side gigs for pretty much everyone else (though, one guy told me he pays his rent from his monthly party). Simon’s is your prototypical dank dungeon with slings, a makeshift jail cell, leather-covered beds, wooden booths for more cordoned-off play (though big viewing holes make calling these “private” a stretch), and a sizable dance floor. It looks a lot like the descriptions I’ve read of the notorious gay West Village BDSM club the Mineshaft, which was open for about 10 years before being shuttered by the health department. Almost everything at Simon’s has been painted black, including the exposed brick walls, giving the space an aesthetic that’s somewhere between your grandfather’s basement wood shop and a horror-movie set.

Over omelettes this past spring, Simon explained that he got into the sex business because his photography wasn’t paying the bills and he’s “always been a sexual person.” When I mentioned that despite what research for this article required, I’m generally not comfortable at sex parties, Simon, a kindly man in his early 50s whose deliberate speech and outwardly patient affect reminds me of a kindergarten teacher, interrogated me on my sexual taste in an attempt to figure out how he could get sex parties to work for me.

Advertisement

“I love having a space where I can facilitate other people realizing their fantasies,” said Simon, whose parties’ themes and target demographics range widely, including one that mixes LGBT+ people of all stripes (queer guys, queer girls, trans folk). “Here’s a guy who wants to get fucked by a girl wearing a strap-on. OK, I’ll see if I can find a girl. And I’ll do that, and I’ve made something magical happen. It’s just part of being a host, finding out what people are into.”

Hawke and a man I’ll call “Luke” host their parties in Simon’s space. Both Hawke and Luke grew their parties from their own interests. Hawke got into piss in the early aughts and started gathering young guys in private apartments and the like before moving his party to Simon’s space about 10 years ago. The piss component, however, is now less of a defining feature (Hawke says piss play is so mainstream now, his party is no longer the exclusive outlet for it that it once was), though when I visited Golden Boys earlier this year, I did notice the faint scent of ammonia in the air. Luke, an artist in his 30s, started throwing his in Simon’s space in late 2016 as an extension of the parties he was already hosting in his apartment, which grew until swelling to a robust 25 guys—too many for his apartment to accommodate comfortably.

“I made a Facebook event, I invited the max I could—500—and I reached out to the people who had been coming to my private parties at my place and encouraged them to invite their slutty friends and their slutty friends and their slutty friends. By the time the party rolled around, 1,100 people were invited on Facebook,” said Luke, whose parties are perhaps a functional expression of where his heart is. They are marketed as especially inclusive when it comes to age, body size, race, and even sexuality/gender identity and also has a philanthropic bent (a portion of proceeds are donated to a new charity every month). Luke’s monthly parties now regularly attract more than 200 guys a night.

Advertisement

Advertisement

“I’ve never had much luck with romantic relationships,” he said. “I’m at this place in my life where I’m not sure if I’ll ever have a long-term, solid boyfriend or whatever. I get so much love from my fuck buddies and friends that I feel like I can have just as meaningful an experience hooking up with someone in my room that I just met as I can with somebody that I’m dating.”

While the internet facilitates the demand, success, and ultimate proliferation of sex parties (the vast majority of the invites are sent through Facebook or private email lists), cruising IRL is seen by some sex-party attendees as a direct alternative to the annoyances of geolocation hook-up apps like Grindr, which can suck up hours of your time without ever providing a fuck. The result is a sort of app fatigue you’ll hear guys complaining about as they come to realize that what was once promised as an antidote to the annoyances of traditional cruising comes with its own set of annoyances.

“I find apps to be fundamentally dehumanizing,” said “Mark,” who’s 32 and had an experience he called “liberating” when attending the party Luke throws, where he sucked some dick, fucked a guy, and got fucked by another. “On an app it’s much easier to tune someone out because they’re not a person, they’re a square. They’re several pixels.”

Advertisement

“I suck at online,” says “Matthew,” not his real name, a black man in his late 30s whom I met at another of Hawke’s parties, called Play, which is held in Manhattan. “I’m terrible at it. I don’t want to sit there and go on all the bogus meetings. That’s the thing about a fuck party, like, look: We can get right to it. We can see it, decide, and then make our choice right there.”

Sex parties are nothing if not practical, top to bottom. He atop the night’s social hierarchy isn’t necessarily the most popular or well-connected person outside of the room; he’s the one who’s having the most fun, and the one who’s having the most fun is inevitably going after it. Sure, hot guys are in demand, but at least as crucial as hotness is charisma. A hard dick at a sex party will likely be in someone’s something in not very much time at all, regardless of who it’s attached to.

Advertisement

“The sex party environment for me works really well because it cuts down the fear that you’re not going to get laid,” said Luke who in addition to throwing his own party frequents others’ sex parties. “Why not just cut out the whole thing where we have to get drunk and be crammed into a loud bar and not have a seat? Why not go to a place where everyone’s looking to have sex? Then I’ll be settled and feel really good for the next week or so.” And a week without time wasted chasing sex in vain on hook-up apps, is a week well spent in gay NYC.


Since 2008, Hunteur Vreeland has held his weekly all-male HandsomeNYC party at the Manhattan BDSM club Paddles. “If you don’t feel like you fit in any other place, come hang with us—we’ll love ya,” is how he describes his party’s ethos. One Wednesday this summer, he showed me around the venue (again, a dungeon-like, all-black-everything underground space) while maybe a dozen or so guys stood around with their dicks out, alone or in groups, sometimes stopping momentarily to look up, mid-blow job, when Vreeland ran off the list of amenities in a pleasant chirp (“And this is the sling!”; “And this is our performance area!”). We chatted in depth in the venue’s women’s room—without anyone to use it, it’s the only place that’s quiet, he explained.

Advertisement

Vreeland has been throwing sex parties for 20 years—he once worked alongside Lou Maletta (whom both Hawke and Tavares knew, as well) whose sex parties in “insane places” the city so frequently shut down that Vreeland was “never positive if [I’d] be coming to work or to shuttered doors.”

“You’d have three months at a location and then you’d start feeling nervous, except for El Mirage,” Vreeland elaborated by phone, referring to a sex club on the Lower East Side that was shut down in 2007. In contrast, Simon in his 25 years in the sex party business has been busted only once. In 1995, cops infiltrated a party he was hosting at space that was a dance studio by day, slapping him with a day’s worth of community service and and a fine of less than $100. He was charged with selling liquor without a license and stopped doing so then. He hasn’t been bothered by authorities in the 22 years since, and has been in the same Brooklyn venue for the past 20 years. In his 16 years hosting GBU, Hawke has never been shut down either.

Advertisement

Back in the day, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene used to send undercover department agents into suspected public-sex venues to take stock of the sex acts and log them, one by one, in affidavits that would be used to shut down venues, which were considered public nuisances for repeated violations. This process could take several months.

Advertisement

“During one raid, I think at the party there were like five cops and two firemen enjoying our services,” Vreeland recalled, chuckling. “And then the raid happened and they were like, ‘…Hey, Bill.’”

Today, hosting public sex remains prohibited by New York’s Sanitary Code §24-2.2, which was enacted in 1985 in a feeble attempt by Mayor Ed Koch and the city to curb the growing AIDS epidemic. Bathhouses and the Mineshaft were closed. The shuttering continued into the ’90s during Mayor Giuliani’s “quality of life campaign,” which closed a lot of the remaining spaces where public sex was happening between men (namely, porn shops and theaters) and there was a spate of closures in the 2000s, as well.

The Sanitary Code states: “No establishment shall make facilities available for the purpose of sexual activities where anal intercourse or fellatio take place. Such facilities shall constitute a threat to the public health.” In 1994, the code expanded to include “vaginal sex” in the list of prohibited sexual activities. “Establishment,” per Subpart 24-.2.1 is defined as “any place in which entry, membership, goods or services are purchased.”

Advertisement

Vreeland provided me with an astonishing document: a 122-page case file of the 2007 shutdown of a Chelsea location referred to as “the Studio” where Vreeland hosted a gathering called Maletta’s Grab Ass party (“a good place for guys to meet and hang out and get lost in a maze of attractive men,” said its online ad). The file is full of dry descriptions of sex at the Studio. For example:

A 60 to 70 year old male, appearing to be either African American or Hispanic, weighing approximately 175 to 185 pounds, 5’8” to 5’9” tall, with a smooth body and wearing black underwear, shoes and socks performed anal sex on a white male for whom I was unable to provide a full description as he was face down at all times. I observed this act from a distance of approximately 3 to 4 feet. No condom was used.

The document describes “over 100 incidents of high-risk sexual activity involving more than 175 individuals” in various laughable ways. Studio patrons have a “caramel complexion,” wear a “cock ring tied up from his boots,” are “naked except for glasses,” and “wearing his underwear around one ankle,” among other things. Here’s the entire log of sex acts from three different inspectors:

This is how a sex-club shutdown typically went down in New York from 1985 on. An undercover city official (usually from the health department, but sometimes from the Department of Consumer Affairs) would visit a public-sex venue multiple times and log observed sex act after sex act, over and over again. The logs contain rich cultural history (before it was closed in 1985, the Mineshaft displayed signs, per a Consumer Affairs inspector, that read “DON’T LET AIDS STOP YOU FROM HAVING GREAT SEX”) and endless comedy. (From an affidavit that led to the 1989 closing of the Bijou Theater: “...I then moved to the basement lounge area and entered the rest room. I could hear a loud clapping noise emanating from one of the bathroom stalls. I moved closer and saw that two males were in the stall. Both had their trousers down and one male was standing behind the other making motions consistent with anal intercourse. The clapping sound was from the couple’s bodies slapping together.”) The vast majority of these casual encounters surely would have been long forgotten by now were they not preserved in an official public record in the driest possible terms. They make for reading that is damn near poignant.

Advertisement

Advertisement

But they are also galling. Whatever point the city once had in trying to curb AIDS by policing these spaces starts to evaporate as you read them in succession. By the time you get to 2007—the year the document Vreeland provided me dates back to—it’s astonishing to read the words of a health official and supposed expert like Dr. Isaac Weisfuse, the deputy commissioner of the city’s DOHMH from 1987 to 2012. In his affirmation he claimed, “This action is being brought as part of the City’s continuing effort to control the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus.” And then: “There are currently highly active anti-retroviral medications that suppress the virus but do not totally eliminate it. Approximately 34 people a week die of AIDS in New York City.” That wording suggests that antiretroviral drugs were failing; in fact, by 2007, there was a growing body of evidence that antiretrovirals were life-savers, not just for the people who took them, but for those undetectable people’s sexual partners.

“It appears that The Studio exists solely for the purpose of allowing patrons to engage in public, largely anonymous, high risk sexual activity. Defendants are operating a facility, the effect of which is to spread disease,” Weisfuse swears in his affirmation.

Vreeland says the constant raids, “forced these parties to become much more unsafe for the people attending them. They’d have to have them in these locations that were super not safe in terms of access and egress.”

“You can’t keep somebody from having sex,” Michael Aulito, who has owned and operated Paddles for 33 years in three different locations told me. Though it is officially a “BDSM club,” Paddles offers a variety of gay-themed parties throughout the week (“Straight or BDSM people will not come out [Sunday-Thursday] nights,” he explained), including after-hours parties on Friday and Saturday nights until 7 am.

Advertisement

Advertisement

“If they don’t have it in a space like mine that’s safe, clean, and run well, they’re going to have it in an alley somewhere where anything can happen,” said Aulito.

Aulito says he’ll get about 100 guys in Paddles for the Friday after-hours party, and around 140+ for Saturday’s. Which is to say that sex parties attract such a niche crowd within an already relatively small population that policing the “high risk sexual activity continues to occur regularly at an alarming rate,” per the DOHMH’s 2007 claim, for the sake of combatting AIDS is like fighting obesity by shutting down children’s curbside lemonade stands.

The Department’s policy has evolved. Its current attitude toward sex parties seems way more in tune with the realities of how actually prevent disease transmission. “We’re not designed to be a surveillance machine for venues,” the DOHMH’s Dr. Demetre Daskalakis told me. Instead of witch-hunting, the Health Department’s emphasis is on making sure “New Yorkers are equipped with ways to keep themselves healthy however they want to pursue their own pleasure,” venue notwithstanding.

Advertisement

“Regardless where a New Yorker decides where to meet sex partners, whether it’s on Grindr or Scruff or Tinder or some other sort of private venue, our goal is to make sure they know about ways to keep themselves and their partners healthy, whether that’s taking us up on 37 million condoms or taking us up on our very low-threshold ways to start PrEP or PEP or treatment or getting yourself tested for an STI in a heartbeat,” said Daskalakis.

Daskalakis has a reputation for sex-positivity—a 2013 New York Times piece about a meningitis outbreak in New York opened with Daskalakis (then an attending physician at the New York University School of Medicine) doing vaccinations at Paddles. Paddles, officially an S&M club, now offers testing on its premises multiple times a week in partnership with Mount Sinai Hospital, which was facilitated in part via Daskalakis in 2008. Before he worked at DOHMH, Daskalakis did testing at Paddles and helped Hawke revise the safe-sex policy of GBU when PrEP became an option for his patrons, and the demand for condomless sex became too commonplace to ignore.

Advertisement

Still, the sanitary code remains in place, and Daskalakis said he and his department are still obligated to enforce it. “The reality of being a government agency is that if someone complains then we have to follow up,” he told me. “If a complaint is filed, we will follow up with a letter to the property owner, advising them of the complaint and the fact that state law prohibits venues that allow sex.”

Advertisement

Aware of the shaky legal ground they’re hosting their parties on, some hosts employ coy messaging. “We’re not promoting sex there,” said “Peter,” an owner of a spacious, industrial bar in South Queens that earlier this year started dipping its toe into hosting parties where sex is an option. “We just want people to have fun. We’re not saying ‘hardcore sex,’ we’re just like...feel free to have your own space to do what you want. And be safe. And have a good time. But if the cops come, we can get in trouble.”

Criminal defense lawyer Ron Kuby, who has represented several people on public nudity and/or lewdness charges, but never anyone accused of throwing sex parties—that may be because of the dearth of such defendants—says the cops have better things to do than patrol consensual sex among adults. “At this point, law enforcement in New York City has far more pressing concerns than gay sex parties consisting of consenting adults in privately owned locations,” he explained by phone. “If you were to draw a list of law enforcement concerns with jihadists blowing us up as No. 1, I think this would come down in the second 500.”

Aulito, who doesn’t serve alcohol at Paddles, says he “always” fears legal retribution for offering a reliable public-sex spot, but nonetheless perseveres. “I think there’s a need for a place like what I have,” he explained. “Guys are gonna have sex anyway. We patrol what goes on. We hand out a condom to every guy that walks in.”


As much potential as they have to satisfy their patrons, it would be a mistake to equate sex in semi-public spaces with sex in a private space such as a home. They’re distinct flavors in the sexual smorgasbord, and the ingredients in a sex party will not appeal to everyone—including, it’s my duty to admit, me.

Advertisement

Advertisement

But at one American Whorer Party in December, I decided I was going to get over myself and play for real. My boyfriend and I ventured into the darkened back room, where I blew him, and we were soon joined by other groping guys. It was so dim that I never made out their faces—not even the one who made love to my cock with his mouth for over 10 minutes, or the one who face-fucked me with a dick long enough to have me gagging in rhythm. While he did that, two other strangers rotated in and out of blowing me. I wouldn’t recognize them if I tripped over them at a better-lit party.

I found that there is an electric, immense thrill to being in a room with a bunch of horny dudes when you know you could do just about whatever with any of them. The collective energy all focused on pleasure creates a palpable singularity, a carnal brotherhood that is a force beyond the sum of its parts. But, fastened into my own head as I almost always am in public spaces, I soon began to wonder what the point was of having all of these brief encounters with guys that I might not have any interest in if I could actually, you know, see them.

I would like to say that gay men have carved out a utopia for themselves in these spaces, but it’s not quite the case. I do believe that some guys navigate these spaces purely for fun and leisure, without negative effects on their mental and physical health. Based on my conversations, I have a sneaking suspicion that it is, in fact, common to do so. The parties in Simon’s space, GBU in particular, are known amongst their patrons for their friendliness. I’ve seen guys socialize at these parties with an enthusiasm that is uncommon in other, less sex-oriented, more play-it-cool gay spaces I’ve entered. It’s not uncommon to see someone chatting away while stroking their cocks at these events, as if their natural resting state includes a penis in hand.

Advertisement

At the same time, one can acutely understand how scenes like this attract the compulsives: drug addicts, sex addicts, sex-drug addicts.

“You can throw sex parties and people are really nice until something goes wrong,” says Nardicio, the aforementioned NYC nightlife legend whose event purview has since expanded beyond sex. “I like sex and I love the sex industry, but there’s a lot of really fucked-up people in it.”

Advertisement

How fucked-up they are depends on whom you ask. Most attendees have the good sense to keep any drug use beyond marijuana discreet, but signs of GHB, the so-called “date rape drug” that some gay men self-administer in small, timed doses in order to achieve a horny drunken state (without the next-day hangover), are unavoidable. In minutes, you’ll see a guy go from extremely friendly to...vaguely friendly and wholly incoherent, to the point of not being able to keep his eyes open while standing. (This is true of many gay nightlife spaces, though, be they explicitly sexual in nature or not.)

Advertisement

The way party most promoters regard drugs is akin to how some property owners see bed bugs: They acknowledge the problem’s presence in their industry but admit to nothing. Tavares told me the worst problem he’s dealt with in the two years he’s run Harder is that “one time” someone didn’t douche before getting fucked, as is customary among people who like anal sex, and the smell filled the entire venue. Simon said the worst he’s seen were some fistfights and a guy passing out after huffing poppers. Aulito estimates in his 30-plus years of hosting semi-public play, he’s had to call an ambulance around 10 times for guys who pass out and don’t wake up after drinking “something” out of Gatorade bottles.

Partygoers, meanwhile, have noticed what seem to be signs of hard drug use. A voyeur and a 20-plus year sex party vet (he started going in the ’90s, when he still lived in Atlanta) that I’ll call “Thomas” described to me the meth-fueled fucking he believes he has seen at some sex parties: “There’s no kind of passion. It’s more of a physical activity. When I’m fucking somebody, I’m feeling it. There isn’t really enjoyment [in guys on meth]. When it’s just like fucking doing it, from one to the next.”

Thomas and the aforementioned Matthew—who doesn’t like online dating—are both black, and they regularly attend parties that are predominantly white. While there has always been a visible minority presence at each and every of these sex parties I’ve gone to, I’d estimate that at least 70 percent of the patrons at each one have been white, as are the vast majority of the hosts quoted in this article. Both Thomas and Matthew have experienced varying degrees of the kind of sexual racism that thrives in gay spaces like this, as well as bars, clubs, and cruising apps. While Matthew said he’s never been more confronted by gay racism than at sex parties, Thomas said the racial divides he’s experienced are lesser at sex parties when compared to general bars and clubs.

Advertisement

“At bars, people don’t want to talk to you because they’re ashamed of what their peers or what their friends with think, because of race issues,” he explained. However, that doesn’t mean his experience at these parties has been entirely free of racism.

Advertisement

“I’ve watched a gang bang, and seen guys who did not want me watching,” said Thomas. “Other guys are watching. They did not want me watching. They wave me on, just like that. Even if I wasn’t even close.”

And that’s to say nothing of the intraracial dynamics that manifest at these parties. “If I see a black guy at a fuck party, he will not talk to me,” Matthew told me. “It’s very rare. It’s almost like you’re not there. There’s a term for ‘em: snow queens. They only are interested in white guys. I think there’s self-hatred that goes into that. When that’s all you’re attracted to...like, why?”

Advertisement

Not all bias is quite so blatant. Kyle Turner, who’s 23 and Chinese-American attended Luke’s party last year, his first, and found that the environment encouraged some level of performative social awareness and discouraged overt racism—there was no apparent “No Asians” rule. But after a subsequent conversation about film with a partner in which he outed himself as a “rice queen,” Turner understood the degree to which he was fetishized. Nonetheless, he’s returned a few times to sample the offerings. “It’s been a positive experience,” he reports.

Because these parties are so utilitarian as to be blunt (and encourage their patrons to follow suit), the received honesty can be brutal. Some parties are quite strict in terms of whom they allow to enter. “I use an objective criteria: age and not fat, basically,” said Hawke, about the door policy for GBU, which allows entry to guys who are “18 to 30s-ish. (Dudes in their 40s in great shape can pass through just fine.) At Play, a party Hawke hosts in Midtown, the bouncer at the door asked my boyfriend and me to lift our shirts up when we entered. Initially, we both thought it was a weapons-check. But when a pat down didn’t ensue, it was clear that he was checking our bodies to make sure they were athletic enough to fit the theme of the party. He let us through.

Other parties are more inclusive. Luke’s party’s primary mission from the outset was to include queer people of all ages, sizes, and colors. A particularly radical development in New York sex parties finds queer people of varying gender identities and sexualities convening in the same space at the same time to fuck—this is true of several of the parties at Simon’s space, the rare place where gay women’s parties and gay men’s parties overlap.

Advertisement

Advertisement

“[A few] parties ago, we had two queer women eating each other out, and then next to them were an older guy and a younger guy,” recalled Luke recently. “They were doing their thing on the same stretch of play space and I was like, ‘That’s the barrier I want broken down.’” Luke admits, though, that the majority of his clientele remains cis white males and because of the basement nature of his party’s space, he can’t cater to all people with disabilities. “You can’t really call yourself a fully queer party if you aren’t open and accessible to everyone,” he says.

Luke has been throwing his since December, and in his words, “It hasn’t lost its luster—I feel much closer to this community than I ever have.”

Tavares, meanwhile, has been throwing Harder for almost two years now, and he’s showing signs of fatigue. “If I want to make more money, I need to get out of the sex party business,” he said to me by phone last month. He sounded sapped of his usual pep, and bemoaned his party’s reputation as solely a sex spot. Earlier this month, he moved Harder to a new downtown location, in a venue not associated with sex parties. The party’s toned-down, dance-focused angle seemed to do the trick—Tavares said 700 people attended (versus the 150 or so the raunchier incarnation of the party regularly attracted).

Advertisement

Limited as their clientele may be, sex parties nonetheless thrive. In June the New York Times ran what was purported, per its headline, a survey of the current state of queer nightlife: “Defiant on the Dance Floor: L.G.B.T.Q. Night Life in New York, 2017.” Sex went unmentioned, and that was an oversight. Sex parties in New York appeal to a niche crowd, sure, (the number of bodies Luke has ever packed into his party topped out at 270—blockbuster numbers for the relatively small venue and nature of his gathering), but it’s a crowd that is, in a major way, philosophically aligned with one of the fundamentals of the gay liberation movement that stretches back decades: the belief that we should be able to attain consensual pleasure as we see fit without reproach.

As I do on occasion, I took a turn DJing American Whorer Party in May for about 90 minutes, and I found the experience more comfortable than most sex parties I’ve attended. Perhaps that’s because sex parties, like many aspects of gay life, take time to warm up to. But it was pretty great to, while chatting for the first time with a dude, have the freedom to play with his dick as part of the conversation. There are so many ways to communicate, and if we’re doing it to end up naked anyway, why not get a taste then and there?

Advertisement

About an hour into my set I played Patrick Cowley’s 1981 hi-NRG classic “Menergy.” After the spacey intro gave way to the song’s four-on-the-floor throb, it was like the air in the room changed. I watched the mood shift as guys throughout the room responded bodily to Cowley’s arpeggiated bass line and mechanized white-boy funk. The song is unabashedly about gay sex (“The boys in the back room / Laughin’ it up / Shootin’ off menergy” goes the jingle-like hook, sung by a group of gleeful women). The song reached the height of its popularity in the years just before anyone knew what AIDS was, when gay social lives were full of what I imagine was the same sort of investment in casual sex that I could feel in the room that night. This beautiful track beamed from the past to the present and possessed the bodies of men who have sex with men just as it did 36 years ago. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that room, a tangible example of queer men’s ability to rebound, rebuild, and shamelessly pursue the pleasure that they deserve.

Advertisement

Correction: An earlier version of this piece suggested Simon was arrested for hosting a sex party; in fact, he was arrested for selling liquor without a license at the party.