To a portion of humanity, sex is as vital in life as the water we drink.
Many prefer a simple form: foreplay here and there, intercourse of various kinds, and it's done. But to others, sex is much more elaborate and artistic. Sex is a theatrical play, with outfits, dialogues and props involved. These are the folks who have explored their fetishes and are transparent about how they like to get off.
Fetish parties emerged as a way for kinks to have a blast, and for the frightened to explore their desires by bringing them out of the dark corners of their bedrooms. Surprisingly, the Old Pueblo has a few such parties. Some are more clandestine than the others, and some more queer than others.
Two weekends ago, I experienced my first fetish party.
I walked into the Queer Play Party with little knowledge about it, and with as much curiosity as a young boy discovering masturbation for the first time.
The party's secretive nature led me to assume I would witness some out-of-this-world-filthy sexual acts. However, that vision was quickly shattered when I realized I had walked into a welcoming, safe environment where people could explore their sexuality without the stench of judgment.
The Queer Play Party started about two years ago. Until then, there hadn't been any local fetish parties geared toward the LGBTQ community.
"All the fetish parties I had heard about focused on straight people," says Rachel Castillo, one of the party's organizers and media director of Fluxx Productions, a local queer-community arts organization. "It's already hard to question your sexuality and what pleasures you. So coming into these straight settings to play in this way doesn't always work for us."
Castillo has been a strong force behind the play party since it began. She and others wanted a platform for queer folk to peek into their sexual curiosities. "It is also important to have events like this for mixed groups," she says. "But some people, straight or queer, may feel uncomfortable with this. So it is important to provide everyone with options."
The party is hard to find, which is one of the reasons it is so damn appealing. For the most part, everyone who attends is a friend or a friend of a friend. Unless you've been invited, the venue, the promoters and other details remain a secret. There is no advertising for upcoming Queer Play Parties, which has helped to maintain their intimate setting. Yes, new guests are welcome, but this isn't the type of party that encourages a stampede of strangers.
"Primarily, we want our friends to come, our circle of people," Castillo says. "We ask ourselves, 'Who would I be comfortable with when doing these things?' We have references of who is coming to the party, and this is what makes it such a comfortable environment to explore your sexuality. If you can't fuck your friends, then who are you going to fuck?"
On this Saturday evening, I arrive at the party with a mild case of anxiety. Aside from some hair-pulling and spanking inside the bedroom, I have never been a loyal follower of BDSM. I don't own leather clothing, handcuffs or a sex swing.
As I walk through the entrance, the first thing I notice is a table with three plastic fishbowls filled with male and female condoms as well as various fruit-flavored lubes. This safety zone was sponsored by the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation.
I stuck to the bar the first half-hour. Then the venue started filling up, although even at maximum occupancy there were never more than 50 people in the place.
As the partygoers made their way in, one of the hosts starts handing out beaded necklaces, known as "permission beads," to signal our level of playfulness. Green beads mean "Let's play." Yellow ones mean "Ask me if I am interested in playing." And red mean "Don't touch me, yet." I grab a red one.
I make my rounds through the stations, or "rides." There were about eight, each dedicated to a specific fetish: everything from voyeurism to flogging. "We create the stations based upon things we are into, and things others have said they would like to see and try," Castillo says. "It's like a circus where I'd like to participate in every booth." I was excited by the idea of the panty-sniffing and fruit fellatio stations Castillo had mentioned earlier, but I guess neither of them made it past the suggestions stage.
I tried a ride that involved getting my nipples stimulated with electricity. The station's host uses something called the Electro Erotic Neon Wand, an apparatus I had never heard of. The sensation is the same as touching an electro ball with my hand. She asks if I want to try it on my bare nipples. But I took the safer route and did it over my dress.
After that, I was a spectator for the rest of the evening.
I turned to a person in a bear costume. His domain was the cuddling station, which consisted of a white mattress placed next to the hot wax station. The furry creature gathered quite a following. So did his friend: a slender male wearing assless chaps and furry rainbow-colored boots. He was down on all fours, crawling around the "Puppyluv Play Zone." I stopped in front of him, bent over, and fed him a cookie from the dog snack jar. If I were into Puppyluv, he would have done whatever the hell I asked him to.
Then, a busty girl with ivory skin wearing a black and red corset asked me if I wanted to try the Magic Saddle, an erotic version of the mechanical bull. I passed. But, the girl behind me enjoyed the vibrating saddle enough for both of us. The girl rode it as the curvy mistress gently whipped her nipples.
The people who run the stations have major experience with BDSM and other fetishes. They're invested in these sexual subcultures and are pleased to show off their talents. "They are there to help and teach," Castillo says. "Most of those who come to the party are baby queers, or people who are curios but have never had any experience with fetishes or BDSM."
Despite it being 2013, a big chunk of society is still afraid of anything that steps outside of a man and a woman doing it missionary style. If conservatives deem it offensive for straight people to express their kinky side, then there is no adjective negative enough to describe their stand on mixing LGBTQ with BDSM.
Castillo hopes that fetish parties can serve as icebreakers and ignite more conversations among queers and straights about sex and everything that derives from it.
The Queer Play Party was a brief introduction to the fetish world. It is perfect for people who have gotten over that initial fear of trying or watching or talking about these things. After leaving the party, I realized that the orgy-dungeonlike setting I had created in my head was a silly assumption derived from lack of knowledge.
"We truly have created a safe, intimate place for sexual exploration and self-discovery," Castillo says. "I've seen people come in scared, and covered up, to their first party. Then, by the second one, they show up topless and ready to try every ride. Sex is fun, and we have energy to burn."