Thanks to the sex positivity movement, play parties, or sex parties, are no longer confined to Eyes Wide Shut elite or the swinger scene. They’re trendy, they’re less taboo, and if you haven’t been to one already, you’re probably at least curious.
At the same time, the psychedelic movement, too, has become more mainstream, with an uptick in local decriminalization measures across the country, headline news of federal research, and common brunch talk revolving around last night’s ayahuasca ceremony.
So it’s really only a matter of time before people begin to integrate psychedelics into play parties. But it’s not as simple as getting high and getting down with other party-goers: While it can be undeniably fun to have sex on mushrooms, molly, or acid, it’s also a bit more complicated when it comes to safety and consent. So are play parties a good setting for psychedelics?
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For some, like New York City-based publicist Melissa Vitale, the answer is yes, but with an important caveat: Don’t get too high.
“Every touch was more electrified,” she says of taking psilocybin mushrooms before a play party. “I was wetter than usual, as is common for me [on mushrooms].” But while she says the shrooms can help her step outside herself, connect with partners, and enhance the physical sensation of events, Vitale is also fastidiously careful when mixing sex and psychedelics. “I didn’t trip balls,” she clarifies. “As someone who can enjoy play parties mostly sober, it not only ruins the mood, but is a total turnoff to see someone tripping balls and not recognizing what they’re doing. It’s like trying to flirt with and fuck a zombie.”
Especially in a sexually charged environment, you want to be sure not to put yourself in a compromised position. “No one wants to feel like they’re taking advantage of someone,” Vitale adds. “So I always avoid anyone on a lot of drugs, and I never want to be that person who everyone is avoiding.”
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While play parties may seem like dens of hedonism—and they can be—most well-organized events are strict when it comes to substance use. Relationship coach Effy Blue, who teaches classes on play party etiquette, says that “more sober, more fun” is one of her mottos. That same phrase is hung on display behind the bar at several New York City play parties, such as Hacienda Villa, one of Brooklyn’s best known, intentional sex-positive communities.
The sexual energy on its own has such a mind-altering effect, Blue adds, that other drugs aren’t necessary. “In the middle of a play space, even if you’re not having sex, it is intoxicating,” she says. But there’s another reason, too, to maintain a degree of sobriety.
“The cornerstone of sex parties is consent,” says Blue. So it becomes tricky with psychedelics. “Yes, it’s enhanced, but at the same time they bring impairment,” she says. “Personally, I wouldn’t want to play with somebody who was high on mushrooms or acid who I don’t know. I don’t trust their judgment, that they can take care of themselves first and foremost, never mind take care of me.”
Brad Burge, director of strategic communications at MAPS, notes that legally speaking, you cannot consent while on psychedelics. However, people are people—sex and drugs have always gone together, so the question is how to keep folks safe. “The communities need to self-regulate and establish community procedures and education around safe sex practices, consent, and what happens when psychedelics get involved,” he says.
Rather than go to a play party of 100 people, rent a house with 10 to 12 friends who are all down for play and psychedelics
And that’s exactly what some of these play party organizers are doing. NSFW (New Society for Wellness) is a member-only New York City social club, which combines sex and cannabis. As with most well-done play parties, NSFW has strict member guidelines, and “nymphs” (often called “angels” at other events), who look out for any over-intoxication or bad behavior. NSFW also holds drug safety classes called DARE (Drugs Are Responsibly Entertaining), and while cannabis (which can feel psychedelic, at times) may be part of the club’s culture, that’s where founder Daniel Saynt draws the line.
With concerns around consent, he says he prefers that party-goers do psychedelics like ketamine or LSD elsewhere. “It doesn’t make it easier on us when something goes wrong,” he says. As with other intoxicants like alcohol, organizers, angels, and bartenders limit and monitor consumption to ensure no one becomes too drunk.
In addition to consent issues, psychedelics often have a comedown, as do play parties. Because psychedelics can magnify whatever you’re already feeling, it’s easy to feel a deep fondness for the person or people you engaged with after sharing emotionally intimate and physically exciting sex on psychedelics in a group setting. However, these feelings may not translate into the real world.
“If you’re falling deeply in love with someone on these substances, once you’re off of these substances, some of that fondness is going to remain, but it’s definitely not going to be the same when you come out of it,” says kink-friendly sex therapist Dr. Liz Powell. “I like to think of this as temporary love or casual love.” Sometimes an emotional wound feels even more traumatic than a physical one.
However, just as psychedelics and sex can cause wounds, the combination can be healing, even in a group sex setting so long as safety precautions are put in place. Rather than show up tripping and assume the risks, play party organizers suggest finding alternative settings to enjoy the combination of sex and psychedelics — such as organizing something with your friend group.
“I would advise having intentional but smaller parties that are specifically aligned with taking psychedelics,” Blue says. Rather than go to a play party of 100 people, rent a house with 10 to 12 friends who are all down for play and psychedelics. After strict communication, enjoy the combination with trusted friends and partners within a space that you’re responsible for, rather than try them out in a play party space with new people. “When you take mushrooms and ketamine with partners who you trust, then it’s pretty magical,” Saynt says of a psychedelic weekend getaway. “Inhibitions come down and it feels spiritual.” Plus, he adds, you’ll have a better shot at connecting with those in whatever pile of people you find yourself in.
Sophie Saint Thomas is DoubleBlind’s Community Engagement Editor. Her writing has been published in GQ, Playboy, VICE, Cosmopolitan, Forbes, Allure, Glamour, Marie Claire, High Times, Nylon, Refinery29, Complex, Harper’s Bazaar, PRIDE Magazine, SELF, and more.