Nobody has ever asked me if I’d like to be flogged before. I’m unsure of the protocol involved. Between learning which one is the salad fork and what exactly qualifies as “business casual,” I missed the lesson on how to RSVP for an erotic spanking.
The invitation has been extended by the gentleman in front of me. A smile plays across his lips, which are painted the same deep, midnight blue as the short, silk robe he’s wearing over a pair of purple metallic briefs, his slender, fishnet-clad legs tucked neatly underneath him. I don’t know if I’d like to be flogged. It seems painful. But my new friend mentioned that he uses a gnocchi maker, and I’ve been trying to up my pasta game, so I’d like to see it.
“I don’t know…” This is unscripted territory for me. “Can I say that? Can I say I don’t know?”
“Of course!” he says brightly. “Just come and find me when you decide.” He smiles warmly and saunters away on a pair of excruciatingly tall stilettos into the dimly lit, curtained depths.
“You’re up,” someone nudges me. I turn back to the circle of 20-or-so people, where the empty wine bottle in the middle of the floor is pointing straight at me. A young woman with waist-length black hair smiles, and I smile back. We stand and kiss.
I read about the pansexual make out party when I first came to New York, a naïve, young girl who had yet to ever see genitals on public transportation. I was combing through increasingly niche Time Out listicles, when I came upon one about the best sex parties in the city. Sex parties! It seemed so cosmopolitan, like something D-list European royals would do once yacht-collecting lost its quaint charm.
I could never go to a sex party, of course. The last time I tried to flirt with a guy I brought up JonBenét Ramsey three separate times and spilled wine down my shirt, and all that was at stake then was a potential date. Trying to remain composed during a fancy high-rise orgy would be impossible. Then I saw the make out party. That seemed more my speed.
“A make out party?” one friend asked. “What does that even mean? Is it at like, a local middle school? Why don’t you just go to a bar?”
“Every party is a make out party if you’re not a loser,” someone else remarked.
I couldn’t put my finger on why I wanted to go. Maybe it was voyeurism. Maybe, as a repressed, middle-class, Catholic girl, I wanted to experience what it would be like to be completely honest about your intentions, instead of just eyeing someone across the bar and hoping both of you eventually get drunk enough to trip into each other’s mouths. Maybe I just wanted to smooch some strangers.
Attending the make out party takes some planning. It only happens once a month, and you have to submit your name to receive and email with the event’s secret location. My friend Michelle agreed to go with me, and we met at her apartment beforehand. The emails said that costumes were encouraged, and people in boring outfits would be turned away. Since the only costume I own is a sloth onesie that doesn’t exactly scream “Kiss me on the mouth!!” Michelle loaned me a long purple wig. The emails also reiterated the evening’s rules: no pictures, enthusiastic consent is mandatory for any touching or kissing, and straight men are welcome, but they may be asked to make out with another man to gain entry.
We went early for the orientation-slash-burlesque show, where the evening’s host — in a flesh-colored gown with pink bedazzled nipples and a triangle of black beads over her muff — went over the rules between glittery, exuberant dances.
“Don’t be a f--king creeper. Got it? Everyone say it with me: Don’t. Be. A. F--king. Creeper. And remember: If you want to touch someone, just ask.”
Michelle and I drained our wine and squared our shoulders. It was time to mingle. The first people we talked to were a Canadian couple who had been coming to these events for years. “Everyone here is so welcoming,” she gushed, “and the great thing is, if someone comes up and asks to make out with you and you don't want to, you just say no and it’s not a big deal. Nobody gets upset.”
I considered this as I watched them float away to chat with a man in a Pac-Man suit, and a woman with duct tape over her nipples. I remembered a guy from college. He was big and strong and had arms the size of tree trunks and when I refused to kiss him he got in my face, pressing me against a wall, calling me a tease and a slut. You can’t just say no, I thought. It’s not that easy.
Our Canadian friends invited us to play a game of Spin the Bottle, and even though the last time I played I was 14 and got my braces stuck in my partner's, I said yes.
The next two hours were a blur of faces and mouths. A chubby, middle-aged bear. A girl who tasted delightfully like she’d eaten truffle fries beforehand. A jovial German man in a police costume. A young Japanese woman a full foot-and-a-half shorter than me. A bearded Crossfitter in a fur vest. An older woman in gold pasties. Everyone was giddy and ebullient, laughing and dancing and sparkling and smooching, the whole joyful symphony propped up by a steady baseline of “Can I kiss you? Can I touch you?” People said yes and people said no, and it didn’t matter either way.
I declined the flogging. My new friend smiled and said no problem, and we hugged and kissed and exchanged numbers. Michelle and I left, giggly and elated, and I made a note to research gnocchi makers the next day.
I had always thought about consent in terms of the “yes”; the “yes” you can or cannot give based on your age, sobriety, or context. What I hadn’t fully grasped was that that you can’t say truly say "yes" if you don’t feel like you can say "no."
Rejection sucks, I get it. But if we, as individuals and as a society, want to have healthy, happy sex lives, we have to make it clear that saying “no” is an option — a real option, not some passive-aggressive bullshit where you can say it but then people will get angry or awkward. Because that attitude is a cornerstone of rape culture. Consent isn’t just about an individual saying "yes" or "no," it’s about a society that makes individuals feel safe enough to say "no." At the make out party, conversations about comfort and consent were natural, joyful, easy, and even kind of fun. Saying "no" wasn’t a big deal, and being able to say it made it easier to give an enthusiastic "yes."
Also, people said “thank you,” after kissing each other.
That doesn’t really have anything to do with consent. I just thought it was nice.