"This is going on too long," said a 30-something guy with a job in the film industry. "If we all get to know each other, nobody's going to even want to have sex."
It was a warm, late June evening in the Hamptons, sky turning pink and orange at the horizon, and I was at that moment sitting in white La Perla underwear in an outdoor Jacuzzi with my friend Carol and three couples whom we had met hours earlier. The topic then eliciting much concern in the hot tub: that nobody was having sex at the sex party.
We'd been at the party, run by the London-based company Killing Kittens, which boasts its members-only events are for "the world's sexual elite," for going on five hours. More than just a host of sex parties, Killing Kittens calls itself "a movement and community whose sole aim is the unwavering pursuit of female sexual pleasure." Every article about Killing Kittens seems to repeat the canard that the company founder, Emma Sayle, is a "friend of Kate Middleton." (The two briefly attended the same high school four years apart, and later were equally briefly involved with the same charity.) On this particular Saturday night, Killing Kittens, which last year expanded to New York and Toronto, was making its grand Hamptons debut.
But so far, nobody seemed to be pursuing any female sexual pleasure, unwaveringly or otherwise. As afternoon turned into evening, a button might have come undone here or there on a man's shirt, a woman who had been wearing a bikini top under her semi-sheer dress might suddenly be no longer wearing that top — but nobody was having sex. Nobody was even making out. And everyone agreed this was a problem.
• • •
Let me back up. When Carol and I had arrived, half an hour after the party had begun, the front door of the house was open, and a tray of prosecco-and-spiced-rum cocktails was sitting in the sun on the porch. Gweneth, the host, materialized. We'd been warned not to say the words "sex party" or mention the "Killing Kittens" name anywhere on the South Fork—the term of art was "Gweneth's birthday party," as in, "Don't worry, I'm pretty sure they'll have lube at Gweneth's birthday party." Now here, in a yellow-and-white sundress that showed ample cleavage, was the birthday girl herself.
Gweneth had a shape-shifting pan-Atlantic accent I couldn't trace—she talked like Madonna when she was still married to Guy Ritchie. "Welcome, welcome," she called out. Her handshake was firm. Gweneth seemed like a woman buoyed by a deeply felt enthusiasm. She popped prosecco with more gusto than the gamest bottle-service waitress I've ever seen. Her email signature was "Your Orgynizer." "I'm also a dominatrix," she told Carol and me, smiling.
Killing Kittens promises its members parties held in "New York penthouses, St. Tropez super-yachts and über-exclusive luxury locations the world over." Accordingly, the Hamptons venue didn't disappoint. The large, architecturally striking home had a realtor's sign out front and seemed to be unoccupied but staged for sale, giving the space a kind of unreal quality. "I feel like we're on a movie set," Carol said, "Like all these walls are flats." I nodded. Nancy Meyer could have filmed a romantic comedy there.
The house was furnished in white, which seemed appropriate given this was technically a "white party" with a dress code. Giving Carol and I a brief tour, Gweneth pointed out two designated "play" rooms for sexual encounters. The bathrooms and most of the house's flat surfaces were stocked with Lifestyles condoms, Summer's Eve baby wipes, and chewing gum. In the living room, white paper LELO gift bags were stacked on the mantelpiece; the Swedish sex toy company was a sponsor.
Drinks, after the first rounds of signature cocktails were served, required paper tickets that cost $10 each, so as the party continued, Gweneth worked the room, selling tickets and rifling her stack of bills to make change. After realizing guests had been mingling in semi-awkward silence for some time, she had a cater-waiter drag an outdoor speaker out to the lawn. Some seriously downbeat ambient electronica soon began to resound through the pool area. "This sounds like the music my masseuse plays," said Carol.
Carol and I wandered as more guests filtered in. Beyond the swimming pool, there was a gazebo and extensive lawns and gardens that looked expensively kept. Several people mentioned what a nice venue the house would be for a wedding. There was a tennis court, so as the afternoon began, we played a friendly game with a couple who'd come, like most of the attendees, from New York City.
I told everyone I interacted with that I was covering the event, and while most had questions, for the most part they weren't unfriendly. (I've changed Carol's name and scrambled the identifying details of anyone mentioned in this piece, with the sole exception of Gweneth, who put our interactions on the record.) Only one person reacted with hostility when I told him I was a writer. "I just don't understand why they even have reporters at these things," he sputtered. I didn't know what to say; in his position I'd probably feel the same way. It was the first sign that the strategic goals of Killing Kittens as an organization—to get press, sell tickets, turn a profit—might not be perfectly aligned with those of their members.
• • •
Are you wondering who comes to a sex party? Just who comprises "the world's sexual elite"? It's people just like you—only whiter, richer, older, and straighter. Compared to other events that are exclusive on the basis of social and/or economic capital—music, fashion, or film industry parties, say—this crowd was overwhelmingly white. So is Killing Kittens' branding: the company's promotional materials and Web site depict exclusively depict white women. Out of around fifty guests, I could have counted the guests of color on one hand with fingers to spare. "I was expecting a white party, not an all-white party," I murmured to Carol. I also saw no same-sex couples. And Emma Sayle, the founder, has openly said in interviews that she rejects any prospective member "who is a size 14 or 16, and they're massive." The crowd skewed old and, perhaps unsurprisingly, given a ticket for a straight couple cost $400, wealthy. The au courant way to have traveled to the party was on one's own boat. Chanel bags dangled from Pilates-toned arms. "My house is nicer than this," sniffed one man as he walked through the elegant dining room. His bald pate was shinier than the marble floor he was standing on.
And yet, despite most guests' obvious wealth, everyone I met there seemed thoroughly "normal"—whatever that means. They had normal conversations, normal stresses, normal middle-aged spread, normal jobs they did or didn't much like, and normal goals. They were within the normal limits of attractiveness—despite Killing Kittens' promise that it throws parties for "the beautiful, rich, and famous," I didn't see any models or celebrities, but basically everybody was, you know, good-looking. Guests bickered normally with their partners and discussed normal wedding plans for the third weekend in September. Killing Kittens guests are your friends and neighbors, the good burghers of New York City. "I work in fashion and my boyfriend works in finance," one woman explained. "A pretty typical couple, I guess."
The crowd seemed roughly split between older, dedicated swinger couples, single men who had come with much-younger "dates" (unaccompanied men are not permitted), and 20- and 30-something couples, many of whom said they'd never been to a party like this before. The older swingers were more or less transparently scoping out the attendees to "play" with later. One couple from Toronto worked hard, in our brief exchange, to make every conversational banality, every scrap of small talk, a vehicle for innuendo. "You do that," said the husband, after I said I was there to write about the night. "I expect a full report on this party." He grinned at me; he may have actually winked.
All day, watching these well-groomed people in their white linen outfits mingle, I thought about why it is that people go to sex parties. Aside from the obvious—to "spice up" one's sex life or venture beyond one's typical "comfort zone"—to what needs did this party correspond? And why was I at this sex party? Why had I, who had never gone to anything like this before, jumped at my editor's invitation to write about a sex party in the Hamptons? The older we get, the fewer truly new sexual experiences are available to us, or even possible for us. The sense of discovery that is part of what initially makes sex so exciting fades. With age comes experience, and as experiences accrete, your odds of finding some previously unknown territory of your own sexuality necessarily diminish. The reward is a map of desire much richer and more finely wrought, full of sometimes hard-won knowledge, and a much more deeply anchored sense of one's own identity. But, inevitably, there are fewer and fewer blank spots on that map to explore. Maybe what we are seeking at a party like Killing Kittens is the renewed possibility of having a sexual experience that is truly new.
As I was thinking about all of this, a white-haired man, his shirt hanging unbuttoned over his tanned gut, made a sensational entrance in a limousine, out of which poured about ten young, sleek, well-groomed women (and a couple similarly well-kept men). The young people looked like they had come here to make this a party. Some of them were wearing white hotel bathrobes over swimsuits. Three of the women were named Jennifer. They giggled as their date poured prosecco.
I was similarly transfixed by a trio of young, attractive, but faintly bored-looking Russian-speaking women who, unique among the guests, didn't seem to be there with dates. Rather, they flirted with all kinds of men, when they weren't speaking to each other in their native tongue. I wanted to talk to them to get their story but every time I got near the Russians, they scattered. I overheard a tall man with salt-and-pepper hair ask one where she was from. "I am from Hamptons," she replied, in a heavy accent. Then she smiled and caressed his arm.
• • •
Food was a matter of urgency as the party wore on. The absence of it, how to procure it, whether and when any more would be forthcoming, et cetera, were topics taken extremely seriously by many guests. One reason I was able to mingle so comfortably and drop into so many conversations was because everyone was talking about food. The party had begun at 3:30 and was set to run through the dinner hour to 11 PM. Many guests, including Carol and me, had also skipped lunch in the rush of dressing for and traveling to the party. When I walked through the door, the last sustenance that had passed my lips was a deli egg sandwich purchased and consumed at 9 AM that morning in the basement of Penn Station. I was hungry.
Around 5 PM, one tray of about a dozen oysters was passed. Carol is allergic; I figured that meant I could eat two. The oysters were chewy and extremely large. "I would die for a cheeseburger," moaned a tall blonde, who eyed the oysters warily. Twelve minutes later, a second tray of oysters emerged from the kitchen. I ate a third. Then there were no more oysters.
At 6 PM, two cater-waiters moved a kitchen table out onto the patio. Several guests began to hover, darting glances at the kitchen while attempting to look casual. Then there emerged three trays of sushi from Citarella. The guests descended en masse. White-clad arms scrambled to pick up dinky little plastic plates; chopstick-wielding hands darted for tuna and salmon. Any atmosphere of exclusivity—hell, any whiff of sexy—dispersed in the frenzy for food.
I filled my plate. As I was grabbing a little plastic bladder of soy sauce, a woman across the table from me leaned over to pluck a piece of nigiri. As she did, the neckline of her white caftan gaped, revealing her very full breasts—and, underneath each, a red, fresh-looking surgical scar.
Food-related rumors continued to course through the party. Some people asserted confidently that there would be more food—one woman even claimed to have talked to Gweneth herself, who assured her that dinner would be served—while others said, equally confidently, that the sushi was it. Around 7 PM I saw a cater-waiter carrying a couple meat skewers, and shortly after Gweneth put out two bunches of grapes in a tin foil baking dish, but, as it turned out, the sushi was dinner.
• • •
"I heard," said one man in the Jacuzzi, "that if nothing's happening, at a certain point, Gweneth will get things started." I tried to imagine, for a second, the overwhelming energy with which Gweneth might approach such a task. I pictured her cracking a whip and using it to herd every last hedge fund manager and lawyer and personal trainer away from the pool and into the house to "play."
The evening light was beautiful. There were deer grazing in the meadow outside the house. Everyone in the hot tub agreed it would be nice to have a bottle of prosecco, but the party had run out.
I got out of the Jacuzzi and resumed searching for signs that sex might be imminent. In the dining room, the group of well-groomed young women that included three Jennifers were—perhaps rightly fearing that, as with food and booze, there wouldn't be enough to go around—going through the LELO gift bags and pocketing their vibrators. I followed their lead and unboxed a tiny clit vibe in eggplant-emoji purple. From the "play" room downstairs, I heard the plink-tap, plink-tap of ping pong.
The mood was restive. "I'm starving," complained the tall blonde who had earlier yearned for a burger. She turned to me. "Those oysters—I'm sorry, I know you ate some—but they looked disgusting. They looked like bull semen," she continued, in the tone of someone who knows exactly what bull semen looks like and isn't happy to have been reminded.
Other guests criticized the drink tickets system for being micro-manage-y and just frankly kind of weird—"It doesn't feel very luxury," complained a French guy, "especially when you've paid $400 for tickets." His date added, "I just don't think cash should be seen changing hands at a party like this." One person brought up the lack of security; although the address had only been revealed to guests the day of the party, many guests were still concerned they hadn't encountered a security guard upon arrival or even someone checking names from a list. (It's possible private security came later, after dark, but I didn't see any.) The uninspiring music, the lack of food, the promised transportation from a nearby village that was canceled the day of the party, and the fact that not everyone was informed about this cancellation, were all cited as mood-killers. Several guests talked about how they would do a better job if they were in charge. "Gweneth seems like the person you want to get people to relax and enjoy the party," said one man. "Not the person you want to actually organize the party."
No sex happened at the sex party for a very long time. And then, very suddenly, a lot of sex happened. For a while in the downstairs "play" room, I could turn and watch a game of ping pong on my right, or see bodies writhing on couches on my left. On an air mattress, a swinger gave an energetic blow job to her husband. A young woman in an Agent Provocateur bra and ouvert received oral sex from a gray-haired man, arching her back and rocking her hips performatively. I was a little disappointed—but not surprised—that all of the sex going on seemed to involve men and women or women together, but never men together. I guess guy-on-guy exploration, even for the world's sexual elite, is still taboo.
The blonde lingered for a while on the edges of the action. Her boyfriend entered the darker part of the room and began to "play." The blonde didn't seem to appreciate this. As her boyfriend sank into the air mattress and began to kiss another woman, the blonde reached into her drink, fished out an ice cube, and threw it at him. Then she threw another ice cube, and another. Meanwhile, one of the event sponsors—a man who was notionally there to sell cigars outside by the pool—took advantage of the lack of security and wandered the house, repeatedly rattling the handle of a closed "play" room door, and trying to peek through the glass.
At last it was fully dark out. What by day had been Nancy Meyer, by night was fully Kubrick. I was looking for Carol, but I wasn't sure where to go, who wanted to be looked at, or what I myself wanted to see. I was eventually invited into a room where three women—the blonde, one of the Jennifers, and a Pure Barre instructor with giant breasts—were writhing together on a couch. Suddenly, the Jennifer turned to the exercise instructor and said, "So what's the difference between Pure Barre and the Barre Method, anyway?" Without seeming to interrupt her focus, the woman replied, "No offense or anything, but Pure Barre is just like a much more intense workout." The Jennifer nodded, seemingly satisfied, then resumed kissing the blonde's nipples. They looked perfectly happy.
Later, as Carol and I were leaving, an older swinger asked me if I enjoyed myself at the party. "I had a better time than I could have possibly imagined," I replied. I meant it.
"Did you...participate?" he said, leaning a little closer.
"That's private," I said. And I walked out the door with my friend.
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