As a sex therapist I’m privy to a variety of different sexual lifestyles that our sex therapy and sex coaching clients practice. I had been working on this blog about sex parties based on an interview I did with Killing Kittens founder Emma Sayle right before the COVID-19 self-quarantine began. I followed up with Sayle via Skype in order to find out how the stay home order had affected KK’s community. I am including both the Pre-Covid-19 Live Interview and Part 2 Online Covid-19 Skype Interview on the topic of group sex historically and what’s occurred online now that the shelter in place requirement has extended to both sides of the pond.
History around Sex Parties
Interest in sex parties and/or orgies has been around since the times of the Greeks and Romans. However it’s a less-studied topic in modern sexuality research. Recently the anthropologist Kate Frank published a book on the topic titled: Plays Well in Groups: A Journey Through The World of Group Sex in which she explores the history and range of behaviors that people practice in modern day sex parties. Frank defines group sex as “erotic or sexual activity that implicates more than two people and consists of various possible configurations of participants and observers”.
Research on Group Sex, Sex Parties and Threesomes
While the majority of Americans prefer engaging sexually in private, there are a percentage of folks who enjoy engaging sexually in a group setting (either on their own or with a primary partner). Colloquially participants refer to these events as play parties. In a recent cross-sectional, Internet-based, U.S. nationally representative probability survey of 2,021 adults (975 men, 1,046 women), many more men reported having ever engaged in a threesome (17.8% vs. 10.3%) or group sex (11.5% vs. 6.3%) while there was less of a difference between men and women ever having gone to a sex party (6.3% vs. 5.2 %).
Perhaps this is because coupled partners may attend a sex party more frequently as a pair than as individual partners. Some couples report that these types of group sex dates can be a their top erotic interest or another way they “spice up” their sex life. Sex parties are commonly referred to as play parties and partners are called play partners. I would include threesomes under the umbrella category of group sex because sometimes couples may go to a party to find a third partner with whom to “play” rather than looking exclusively to play with another couple. According to Pornhub’s 2019 Year in Review page, the threesome genre was within the top 15 search terms coming in at #13.
There are many more options for Americans these days to intentionally experiment with strangers at public or private play parties in which attendees are vetted beforehand. Some sex parties can be organized by friends at a private home where there are perhaps six or fewer degrees of separation between guests and vetting isn’t required. Whether attendees identify as being: Polyamorous, in the “lifestyle”, “swingers”(a term used more by boomers), consensually non-monogamous or as being “into playing”, there are a variety of fantasies or specific sexual acts and scripts partygoers explore at sex parties. While some sex parties are exclusively organized for gay men or straight couples, others offer folks who are bi-curious, sexually fluid or bisexual to explore the wide spectrum of sexual interests.
In a 2009 non-randomized study researching swinging culture, Professor Edward M. Fernandes found that about 50% of the women engaged in woman-to-woman play only while about 8% of the men reported engaging in man-to-man contact only. According to an analysis done by researchers D’Lane Compton and Tristan Bridges on the results of the 2018 General Social Survey data, almost 6% of women responding to the survey identified as bisexual compared with 1.5% in 2008. And the most recent data on the question of sexual fluidity hints at the fact that about 14 percent of women and about 10 percent of men express some degree of same-sex attraction although many of them may identify as mostly straight. According to sexuality researcher Lisa Diamond “ the largest group of individuals walking around with same sex attractions are individuals who you would never know had same-sex attractions. They identify as heterosexual. They think they’re mainly heterosexual, but they’re, like, hetero-flexible.”
The Connection between Sexual Fluidity, Female Sex Esteem®
and Sex Parties
One businesswoman innately understood that women were more sexually fluid in their fantasy life and if given the right opportunity, would enact these desires if given the right context. Emma Sayle had her ear to the ground at the right time just as the television show Sex in The City began inspiring women to talk more openly about sexuality. From discussing these shows with her peers and listening to their more candid conversations, she gleaned the fact that women are more curious to explore sex with other women. While the audience for Sex in the City was predominantly white, resourced urban women, the underlying theme of single women’s being independent and unashamed to casually date and have sex was catnip to Emma Sayle, CEO of Killing Kittens. Emma recognized a wave of female sexual empowerment that the show helped to unleash. This desire for more sexual fluidity and empowerment are key ingredients to what I teach in Sex Esteem® workshops and panels so was eager to find out more about KK’s origins.
Killing Kittens is a UK-based sex party and online dating and discussion community that brought her parties stateside to NYC two years ago. The parties have flourished and she maintains the same model she did originally, creating parties for heterosexual and lesbian couples and single women to explore their sexuality in female-empowered, elegant surroundings.
I got a chance to sit down with Emma for an intimate interview after she had invited me to be an expert on her Valentine’s panel, The Dating Debate in a hip downtown hotel in NYC in pre-Corona February (which seems like a long time ago now). In the interview she explains the feminist origins of her very successful sex party model. Soon after the COVID-19 required all clubs, restaurants and gatherings to close down, I got back in touch with Emma virtually to create an addendum to this blog. This is an edited version of both interviews. Enjoy and as always, I invite your questions and reflections.
S: Can you tell me how you came up with Killing Kittens in the first place?
E: It was founded in 2005 and it was a long time coming, it wasn’t a sudden thing it was I went to an all-girls boarding school for ten years whilst my parents lived in the middle east, I kind of had this unbalanced view of women and what we could do. At school I was taught I could do whatever I wanted to be and do whatever I wanted to do, then you’d go home and see sort of the women were second class citizens and how they were treated out in the middle east. And I had friends and sort of grew up running around with them. And the fire got lit very early and kept being flamed. That fire in this sex life isn’t right and it’s unbalanced, it’s not fair kind of thing.
S: How did this belief affect you once you became more sexually active?
E: I’d be out and about at university in my early twenties and seeing that if girls had a one-night stand they were sluts and all the slut-shaming going on. But if boys had a one-night stand they were legends and high-fived and I’d hear guy friends of mine saying: ‘Oh I’ve met a really nice girl but she’s not girlfriend material.’ and I’d be like: ‘Why isn’t she girlfriend material?’ ‘Because she’s slept with loads of men’….That’s how society was.
S:What was the turning point from witnessing the double standard into creating a response to it?
E: Sex and the City came out and suddenly women were talking about vibrators and having sex lives and it became okay to talk about at the same time I was doing PR for a big erotica exhibition in London. And I again saw loads of wonderful amazing people and businesses but it was all run by men. It was all run by men claiming to be female friendly.
S: Tell me why you felt it wasn’t female friendly.
E: It was all the porn stuff , brightly lit with white lights. And the more I saw it and that world, it was very black and white for men. If they saw sex going on, they’d be turned on. Women were much grey…. We kind of operate across the spectrum and our brain is our biggest sex organ and we need to be turned on. It’s the touch and the feel and the smell and it’s the mood. I was watching this and there was a massive difference.Everything out there was very male and in your face. …it wasn’t turning me on.
S: It wasn’t serving you, you weren’t the customer they were targeting with this type of entertainment.
E: Nooo. There were two dildos in your face, and it was nothing subtle, and I thought that’s what’s missing. Female-friendly in the end is that subtlety.
S: So for people in America who may still know about the term Killing Kittens, can you tell them where the name came from?
E: That was the lightbulb moment, I was at a wedding in Ibiza with a loose hedonistic crowd. And who were all very strong, sexual women who sort of slept with each other. And no one had really been asleep for 3 days and someone phoned up the groom who hadn’t made the wedding and asked: Are you guys just sitting around killing kittens at the moment? So we had this discussion and thought about what killing kittens was.
It’s a very old cyber slang meme, that every time a female masturbates, God kills a kitten. Or anytime anyone masturbates, God kills a kitten.
That’s where the name came from.
I was like, right that’s it. I like it, it’s crazy but it’s kind of about pleasuring yourself, that’s what it stands for. And I liked the two Ks. K is a very strong letter. I want to set up an offline, online community that is all about women exploring their sexuality in a safe space. And it’s all about them, and they make the rules without any fear of judgement.
S: Talk about the rules. Tell us how you created a boundaried setup for people and
what the parties are like.
E: The rules are still the same and they’re the same at all the events. And the same across online.Men can’t approach women they have to wait for the women to make the first move. And not letting in single guys, it takes that testosterone factor out. And they’re the main rules.
S: I like the fact that you flipped the erotic power.. I talk about the term I use, Erotic Triggers which are a combination of the 5 senses and add psychology and emotional intimacy. I discuss power exchange with Sex Esteem workshop attendees and what you declared to women was that you now have the power to make decisions about where you want to go, and how you want to set it up.
You discussed that good friends distanced themselves from you when you began this business which helped to spur you on even further. Can you articulate what you think it was that they were distancing from?
E: I think people are scared, the majority of people like a comfort zone, or the norm.
Follow Up Post COVID-19 Shelter at Home Interview
S: Has there been more or less activity on the KK platform since the advent of COVID-19?
E: We have seen a 330% increase in user activity online and 425% more messages being sent.
S: How many new members have joined?
E: There’s been an 18% increase in new member sign ups.
S: How do you explain the increase in folks signing up for KK when there are no longer any in-person events going on?
E: KK from day 1 has always been about community and has always had a strong online community, we now have over 160k members and over 60% of revenue comes from the digital side of the business so the events with approx 1000 attendees a month globally out of 160K online members are actually just the tip of a much bigger iceberg. Our chatrooms have always been busy as well as the direct messaging so now people are in isolation they have turned to the online side of KK to be part of that community.
S: In our pre-Corona interview in NYC you mentioned that there was at least 50% or more business on the dating platform versus the in-person parties, are people using the dating platform not necessarily identifying as folks into sex parties?
E: Yes, most of our members do not ever attend a KK party, they join the online platform for the dating, social community side of KK, to belong to an open minded, sex positive ,non- judgemental environment that has women at its core.
S: Has KK begun to offer virtual sex parites?
E: Yes we are doing weekly zoom house parties, featuring KK performers, DJ playlists and up to 100 members, hosted by some of our community kittens. We are doing uk , Australia and NYC parties now along with girls-only virtual cliteratti events.
S: How have you encouraged continued engagement of your members?
E: We are doing weekly virtual house parties, weekly virtual workshops and weekly insta live chats where I speak to dating, relationship, sex experts from around the world, along with more educational blog posts too so theres a lot of virtual activity within kk going on!
S: Are any people going on first time virtual dates ?
E: Yes, there’s a lot of hanging out, Netflix film watching dates, virtual drinks dates and just a lot of chat going on. Old school dating of actually getting to know people and not having 4 drinks before jumping into bed with them on night 1!
S: What changes can you envision for sex parties in general and for KK in particular
once we all emerge from self-quarantine?
E: I think our parties will not change we will just keep a lot of the virtual offerings as it is a good way to engage our whole community which we haven’t really done before rather than seeing it all by city. The virtual world brings together the global community regardless of location.
References for blog: