As a Bisexual woman, I am used to hearing the “typical” straight male fantasy of seeing of two women together. Arguably, it has to be one of the biggest reasons why bisexual women have been so accepted in popular culture. The fact that a vast majority of men are preoccupied with this fantasy certainly makes it easier for women to identify as Bi. Often, however, revealing my bisexuality leads to all sorts of questions about my experience. Picture a conversation with an acquaintance at a party or club. The topic touches on this subject in one way or another, or perhaps I just feel the need to give someone a bigger picture of who I am. Then the questions start, the eyebrow raises, and there is silence while my conversation partner is imagining one of his girl-girl fantasies. I start to feel something of a party trick. Then, of course, there is the immediate assumption by the same men that I will want to sleep with any semi-attractive woman that crosses my path.
This is my usual experience when discussing my orientation in a mostly straight world—the Hollywood-like version of women having sex with each other. However, would that experience be different if I place myself in situations where the attitude towards sexuality is expected to be freer?
There are two very different sexual spaces that present two very different attitudes toward bisexuality. There is the swing club, a place where couples or singles can go to meet up with others interested in sharing sexual experiences. Another option for exploring sexual opportunity, is the sex party. A house party, where lots of sex, of varying types, can be experienced. Personally I have been to my share of sex parties, both as a single woman and with my partner at the time. Even within that, the experiences were quite different. Many of my friends have been to either or both. How do these atmospheres impart different experiences for bisexual people? What does one find in each space?
My experience of walking into a sex party was not as overwhelming as one might think. It seemed like a regular party; people mingling, nibbling at the food table, some cruising of those you think are cute. Then, there are usually some introduction exercises, to introduce yourself and what you are looking for. Depending on the party, the “unveiling” is done is different ways. But in the events I’ve attended, it is basically a matter of lets take your clothes off and find someone you find sexy.
On the other hand, Swing clubs have a bit of a different agenda. When walking into a club, it would seem quite like any other club. Dance floor, dj, a bar, usually two levels—at least. There is much of the same mingling and cruising one would expect at any other bar. From all accounts there are usually activities to unveil the women first. And then after a short time, the men will unveil as well. Sex acts and full nudity are not permitted on the ground floor. It is a matter of legalities—you can’t have sex acts or full nudity in the same space there is licensed bar. However the upper level of the club is where all that fun can take place.
My friend, “Linda,” has been both to sex parties and a swing club. She enjoys women, and likes having a space where she can kiss a woman, or possibly do more than that. She is also in love with her husband of many years, and the two of them go out together when looking for experiences. I met her at a sex party. She has been to many more sex parties than swing clubs, and that will remain her preference.
Her experience with going to a swing club with her loving husband was uncomfortable. She feels the vibe in the two spaces provides a very different opportunity for her to approach women. “The demographic is very different at the swing club”, she notes. She also found that the majority of the people there were much older than her 31 years, “It was like my mother was approaching me most of the time”. She also commented on the general social condition of the swing club was much different than that of sex parties. People there were “mostly older married couples, their lives already organized”, not people that she found she could easily talk with. And subsequently, she didn’t feel comfortable having the small talk essential to build a base of flirting. Linda does, however, experience a different level of discomfort at sex parties. At sex parties there seems to be a lot of “granola type” people who are very much into natural living, free thinking, and sometimes she does not always find that an attractive quality. However, at sex parties, she found the group, in general, to be more comfortable. It is this difference of comfort level, she felt, that allows her to approach women at sex parties, while she did not at all feel the same desire at the swing club.
But how is the vibe for a bisexual man at a swing club? Ishwar, an exotic event planner, has been to swing clubs in order to research spaces for his parties. He felt a strong homophobic element, to the extent that he didn’t feel safe even making eye contact with some men. “Sometimes I feel I cannot even smile and make eye contact with another guy (at swing clubs). I am a small-built queer man of colour and there are usually a lot of big straight guys who are drinking. For me this all adds to a rather intense combination”. Ishwar did find people that he felt comfortable talking to, and he found not “all these seemingly straight guys are straight.” A few of them are “straight, but not narrow”, meaning they will play with guys and not see themselves as being gay or bi. But at the club, the “no guy-guy” vibe is very persistent.
Another thing that bothered Linda at the swing club, and the point that she walked out, were the activities that were very clearly designed to get the women to play with each other. The unveiling of women was sooner than the rest of the group. While the dressed men stood around and watched, the women were supposed to start their unveiling, and then playing with each other. After talking to several people who have been to swing clubs as members or guests, I understand this separate unveiling, and the women-only play times while the men watched is a common occurrence. This fishbowl feeling of being on display caused the young couple to leave the club.
At a sex party, is that vibe different? Ishwar feels more comfortable at sex parties to approach men. “At the mixed sex/gender play parties, like the ones I organize, I feel safe because they are created from a queer space opposed to the swinger parties/clubs that comes from a straight place. At queer mixed gender parties it is accepted that men play with each other and that when women play with each other, it is not exclusively for the pleasure of men.” When asked what he thought was the biggest difference between the two spaces, aside from the obvious homophobic issue, he suggested that “in a negative way, it’s a sexist space. It is predominantly middle class white people.” However, he did offer some positive thoughts: “its sexy, I really enjoy all the fems. The space, at times, tends to be beautiful.”
Play for bisexual women with other women at a sex party definitely has a different vibe. In my experience, being intimate with a very beautiful woman is not inhibiting. In one such experience, I knew there was a man watching, and I knew her partner (a woman) was also watching, and that is the most “watched” I felt at a sex party. In general, there is an accepted level of voyeurism at the sex parties. I’ve finished an interlude with someone to look up and find half the room watching. When I am playing with a woman, where either her partner or the person I am with that night is watching, that feels more intense than having passersby watch. In that situation, both partners watch very closely, and are sometimes waiting to be invited in, if possible. Even knowing they are rather invested in the scene, I didn’t feel like I was performing for them, I didn’t feel pressured to do anything specific to please them. I do very much enjoy my own moment with that wonderful woman. I felt very free to express myself. I don’t know if I would feel that free at a swing club. I don’t usually respond well to a man directing anything I do, so for me that would not translate well in a sexual space either.
Playing for display not only annoys women, but men are also affected. Fito, who has been to swing parties with his now ex-wife, saw that the women were not always into the woman/woman play. “In swing parties I'd say I've found 60% of women really enjoying being with a woman and 40% don't”. Where at the sex party, “maybe there were 90% women wanting to have sex with another woman and 10% just part of the show”. I met Fito at a sex party where, indeed, he saw some very genuine women playtime. He was watching me with another woman. When I asked him if he felt there was a difference to that play and the play he has seen at swing parties, he said, “the main difference was that nobody told you to play. You were flirting with each other and that was a turn on.” At the swing club, he felt that the men were doing something akin to wife swapping, where the women were their possessions to trade and put on display. Ishwar touches on the same sexist feeling at the swing club. He feels a bit strange approaching women at the swing club “because I was not sure if I also had to approach their male partners and ‘ask permission’. Sometimes the women would actually say ‘you need to speak with my boyfriend or husband’” he related. Fito also believes that, from talking to some married women, “that they don't feel totally free when the man is present, and they might act a little different with and without him”.
Would a bisexual woman feel free to express her desire for other women in each environment? Maybe, but obviously men cannot. Bi men are limited in exploring their full sexuality in a swing environment, but there does seem to be a great opportunity at a sex party. Admittedly any party thrown by homophobic straight people would be challenging for bisexual men. But luckily, there are some great positive space sex parties out there to discover.
For women, I think it greatly depends what type of woman you are, how comfortable you feel in sexual situations, and how willing you are to have direction from a male counterpart. There does seem to be a definite patriarchal influence in the swing world. For some women, that is not an issue. For others, it is intolerable and would get in the way of enjoying themselves. Perhaps sharing and performing for their male partner or the other woman’s partner is not a bad thing. Perhaps they see the structure of a swing club as reassuring. For most of the women I know, and discuss sexual politics with, this would not be the most welcoming atmosphere for them to experience a relaxed and sensual moment with another woman. Some bisexual women, like myself, don’t want to feel their play with other women is for the show of anyone. If there are people watching, and they don’t mind the audience, then great. But, personally, I don’t want to feel that there are men watching who will have influence over my experience. I don’t want to feel that I am performing for any man when I am enjoying a woman’s body and soul. I want to drink in her presence without any outside interference. And while being at a sex party is not the quietest and intimate experience I can have with a woman, it is a great way to meet other women who identify similarly to the way I do. And remember, we can always go back to my private bedroom after the party is over…