I Love These Women-Only Sex Orgies. But Where Are the Lesbians?
There is a new generation of women-only sex parties aimed at those who, on the whole, don’t identify as lesbians. They're fun—but they don’t seem keen to welcome actual lesbians.
At the “ladies-only” play party in the luxurious LA mansion, we are solving the problem of how to get the orgy started. A champagne bottle has been placed on a leather pouf in the middle of a decorous room filled with sounds reminiscent of an excitable girls’ changing room.
Whoever spins the bottle has to kiss whoever it points to: a succession of women mainly in their twenties and thirties sporting lacy thongs, bodysuits, and S&M-lite lingerie. I’ve had one amuse-bouche so far with a petite lawyer whose snogging technique puts me in mind of a sedate piranha.
The woman next to me gulps audibly. She’s a fiftysomething like me and she introduces herself as Laura Corn, the New York Times bestselling author of 101 Nights of Great Sex.
She tells me in a foxy Texan voice that she’s come here “for research” because she’s always had a fantasy about kissing another woman. When the bottle points at her, she stands up and soon long blonde hair is entangled in long black hair. When she finally sits back down, she looks poleaxed. “Oh my God,” she murmurs. “That was so hot.”
Tonight’s party is being thrown by a company called Skirt Club. Its 42-year-old CEO, Genevieve LeJeune, describes her events as, “A lot of naughty fun but on a very exclusive and sophisticated level.” It was tame compared to another play soirée I went to last summer in London.
This one was billed as “girls-only,” but both events form part of the growing trend for women-only sex parties aimed at women who, on the whole, don’t identify as lesbians.
At the London party, located in the baroque-styled basement of a Georgian mansion, I watched in amazement as groups of women clad in Victoria’s Secret-style lingerie, most of whom defined themselves as “straight,” “curious” or “dabbling,” proceeded to get it going with each other in a variety of rooms.
At one point, I found myself in an alcove standing next to a Jackie Onassis-lookalike watching a scrum of young naked bodies grind and writhe like a pile of sexy maggots in front of me. A fellow spectator whispered, “I like to watch, but after a while, you can’t just watch—you’re drawn in.”
When Jackie inquired as to the etiquette for joining, she replied, “You just ask.” So I leaned over and whispered in the ear of one glossy-haired creature, “I’d love to stroke your butt. Tell me if you’re not into it.”
Another good tip for how to get an orgy started.
‘She led me to a boudoir off the dance floor where she straddled me like a naked colossus’
Back in the pre-internet days of 1990s London, the average out lesbian like me would seek sex by going to a lesbian bar, although you always ran the risk of your pick-up passing out from alcohol poisoning on the way home on the night bus. Or you’d scour the Lonely Hearts ads in the LGBT press.
A lot of women seemed to be into hill-walking and drinking red wine by blazing fires in country pubs. But now, in the Brave New World of apparently straight women who are hungry for sex with other women, no hill-walking is required.
Over in the Georgian basement, where the party is called Clitoratti, many of the “straight” women were due to be collected by their husbands in four hours’ time, so sexual urgency was going through the roof.
There’s a whole Netflix series-in-the-making about the guys who drop their women off at Clitoratti. On this particular occasion, I locked my bike up to a nearby lamp post as I checked out one man in a velvet dinner jacket getting out of a black car and escorting an elegant woman wearing a gold mask across the road to the grand house. A tender kiss was exchanged before the black doors opened and swallowed up his love. He looked at his watch and went back to the car.
After another Clitoratti in the fall in a mansion in Knightsbridge, I noted a whole huddle of nervous-looking men outside after the event—and several grinning black-cab drivers.
Clitoratti is the brainchild of Kate Middleton’s old school chum, Emma Sayle. Sayle founded the high-end play party brand Killing Kittens back in 2005. (Its famous USP is that women have to make the first move at mixed-sex parties.) Sayle says that sexual experimentation between women is “much more socially acceptable than it was in 2005 when Killing Kittens launched,” and so last year she launched Clitoratti.
“In the past five years, more and more single girls have been coming to KK events and we've had lots asking for all-girl parties—so Clitoratti was an obvious progression on the events side of the business,” Sayle said.
My highlight of the night came when lesbian sex virgin Jackie O told me there wasn’t enough “intimacy” in the alcove scrum room and led me to a boudoir off the dance floor where she straddled me like a naked colossus as her friend in artfully ripped lingerie stood next to us texting.
As I staggered out into the dawn, a woman with mussed-up hair and smudged lipstick told me she’d had a “brilliant” night. “My boyfriend and I love to explore the London sex scene. It’s like a bucket list. My first thing was to be fucked by a strange man while my boyfriend watched. That was really good. Then I wanted to be with a woman so I came here.”
It’s cool that everybody wants dive into activities that would formerly have been classed as “lesbian.” But back in the LA mansion at Skirt Party, I suddenly feel uneasy about the whole “bucket list” idea.
I am thinking about the bravely self-defining lesbians who put in the work back in the day—fighting for visibility, tolerance, the right to kiss one’s girlfriend in the street without horrifying consequences (to learn more, read Lillian Faderman’s brilliant history book, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in 20th-Century America).
That these women seem unwelcome at the feast now that “the fight” has turned into a series of “ladies-only” lifestyle events has to make you stop thinking about your clitoris for a few seconds.
Sayle and LeJeune (both Brits) distance themselves from lesbianism per se. Sayle defines herself as “straight/bisexual,” and former banker Lejeune likes to call herself a “two” after the Kinsey scale where 0 is exclusively heterosexual and 6 is exclusively homosexual. Both women have tapped into a formerly unnoticed demographic at play parties: the “bi-curious” woman. Most women who swing will use this tag, while their male partners cling onto the “straight” word.
There are many reasons why men, gay and straight, fear the “bi-curious” tag for themselves, but woman have always had to adapt and evolve. Both LeJeune and Sayle realized that women wanted to explore their Sapphic sides without men present.
In the late 1990s, I coined the phrase “bi-try” to describe women who jumped over the fence into lesbianism for the night and then jumped back into heterosexuality the next day. But now the bi-tries have seriously got their act together. The annual turnover for Killing Kittens is £1.6 million and membership is over 160,000.
As well as the self-proclaimed “dabblers,” I met a number of women at both Skirt Club and Clitoratti who told me they considered themselves bisexual. This sense of avowing a definite non-heterosexual identity was slightly more prevalent at Skirt Club, although a hostess called Miss Topanga pointed out that members found the word “bisexual” to be limiting.
“You’ll find that most women at our parties are ‘twos’ or ‘threes,’” she confided, referring again to the famous 1948 Kinsey Scale. LeJeune told me later, “I think lots of people don’t understand what the various LGBTQ letters mean. I know they don’t understand the difference between bisexual and pansexual.”
“If you’re wearing a pair of great heels, there’s nobody better to give you some adoration than a lovely butch”
This year, Clitoratti parties will come to Manchester and New York. Miami-based LeJeune says that since she founded Skirt Club in 2014, membership has shot up to 15,000 and every weekend there is a Skirt Club party somewhere around the world from London, New York, Miami and San Francisco to Berlin, Sydney and Melbourne.
She admits she’s not made a huge profit yet and that she’s able to carry on with the business because she’s married to a male banker who “pays the rent.” (This is another turn-up for the lesbian revolution books: a heterosexual man who’s effectively bankrolling women experimenting with escaping from heterosexuality.)
LeJeune says that self-identified lesbians (currently only 6 percent of the membership) are accepted, “but only if they’re fem-presenting.” She believes that butch women would intimidate her members. “They want a gentle, easy atmosphere. Nothing aggressive and pushy. This is many of these women’s first time.”
Clitoratti is similarly big on fem-drag. My invite contained the instruction: “Ladies we want to see you in your finest frocks,” which made my dyke friend, who feels out of sorts in a dress, bail. This is a shame because women like Jackie O would have loved my friend and vice versa. The stipulation struck me as a kind of apartheid. Homophobia even?
Siobhan Fahey is the producer of Rebel Dykes, an upcoming documentary about a lesbian fetish club in London during the Thatcher years. Chain Reaction became a beacon of freedom for a bunch of outsider dykes struggling as punks, sex workers, activists and artists.
Fahey believes that women who only want to get sexual with women who look like themselves are missing out. “Where’s the energy charge? You need some yin and yang.” Indeed, some of the languid make-out scenes in the petal-strewn beds at Skirt Club did look a little like the tea party sex that straight men imagine lesbians getting up to.
“If you’re wearing a pair of great heels, there’s nobody better to give you some adoration than a lovely butch,” Fahey adds, planting some seeds for new inspiration.
Back at the LA Skirt club party, sexologist Tammy Nelson, host of The Trouble With Sex podcast and author of books including The New Monogamy, is giving a talk in the drawing room.
“You’re here tonight because you are committed to your pleasure!” Nelson tells the room. “It’s been a long fight for this night and we deserve it!” But it strikes me that some of the people who did most of the fighting weren’t even welcome.
I always remember an interview I did with a lesbian motel owner called Joanna Funaro a few years ago. Surmising why her business, Casitas Laquita in Palm Springs, was going through hard times, she said, “When I was growing up and you told someone you were a lesbian, you’d get a bottle in your face. Now they can’t wait to get you in their trendy hotel.” Which is also why it’s hard to find a full-time lesbian bar these days. Or a motel. Casitas Laquita is now closed.
Last Sunday, I went to the rammed opening night of a new women’s party (Dana’s) at Semi-Tropic, the Silver Lake cocktail lounge used as the location of the new lesbian bar set up by heartthrob Shane (played by Katherine Moennig) in Showtime’s The L Word: Generation Q reboot.
The irony is that outside of the imagination of Showtime, there are no full-time lesbian bars in LA. Finding myself in another scrum, this one a five-thick huddle of women trying to get a drink at the bar, conversations were flying about how Ellen DeGeneres might shape up as a patron saint for women who can’t afford to fly around the world to “ladies-only” orgies.
“Ellen’s got some loose change!” one woman in a trucker cap hollered as she passed margaritas back to her friends. “She needs to brand a lesbian bar. We need some more room here!”
I asked LeJeune what she thinks about the lesbian cause.
“What is the ‘cause’?” she asked. “I didn’t realize there was a problem. I mean, I’m not a lesbian. Is there a problem?”
Lejeune tells me she is “150 percent a feminist,” and she is open about the aspirational goals of Skirt Club. “Our motto is. ‘Confidence from the bedroom to the boardroom.’ I want women to walk into work on Monday after a fabulous sex party and take charge. Run the meeting, call the shots. Enough of all this bullying from men. They’re not smarter. In fact they’re lazy half the time. I think men have been in charge for too long.”
Rudo Mashongamhende, community director at Sonder & Beam, a new sex-positive platform for cis women, trans women and non binary people which publishes a directory listing female-owned sexuality businesses, explains why she has never attended a Skirt Club or Killing Kittens event. “I am a queer black woman and the images on their social media are of white, middle class women. Those women definitely deserve to have a space for themselves, but I just feel that I would not be comfortable there.”
In the thick of the actual sex party, politics recedes. As I stroll around the LA mansion, I’m distracted by the sight of an African-American woman in a steam punk mask emerging from between the legs of another guest splayed on a grand piano. She introduces herself as Harleen and tells me that she’s flown in all the way from Philadelphia.
The 31-year-old marketing consultant declares that she’s a lesbian, but shrugs when I mention my concern that butch lesbians are not welcome in the new sex-positive landscape. “I’m so over the infighting within the LGBTQ community,” she says. “We are always trying to make so many problems for each other. We’ve got to come together!”
She’s right, of course. Shame-free female sexuality needs to be a priority for our times and the more options that lead in that direction the better. If one more gay man says to me, “Oh, don’t lesbians have a Grindr then?” I will go officially mad. No, we don’t. As Mashongamhende underlines, “The sex scene for women-only is still too small.”
I’m just suggesting a few tweaks here. Consider how the Victoria’s Secret lingerie brand (read: male gaze lingerie) is struggling to stay relevant while Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty is going from strength to strength thanks to its championing of diversity.
And there is hope. Since I started writing this, Sayle emailed me to say that she’s been seeing “a rise of butch/femme lesbian couples at main KK events and so we are changing dress codes to fit this.” KK and Nicola Chubb, known as a thrower of high-end lesbian parties (with no sex) in the U.K. under the Mint brand, will be joining forces later this year to create, says Chubb intriguingly “something that hasn’t happened before.”
At the LA mansion, Harleen is distracted from our conversation by a voice from the next room calling for, “Another licker please!”
She grins, explaining that this is “about the tequila game.” She moves off, telling me, “We need to all just chill out. Now if you’ll excuse me, I intend to have a good time tonight.”