sex positive

That Festival has an Orgy Cabin!

houseI admit it. The first times I’ve heard about an “orgy cabin” at particular Pagan festivals or gatherings, my hackles went up. “Eeew,” I thought. “That can’t be ethical, can it?”

Yes. I’m actually talking about an orgy cabin. A cabin (or tent, or room) at a Pagan (or other) event where people are free to express various kinds of sexual touch and sexual contact. Yes, these things happen.

No, I’ve never been invited to one. (We can laugh about that part later.)

When hearing about group leaders being participants in the orgy cabin, I thought, “Whoa. No way that can be appropriate for a leader, right?”┬áBut then I put on my sex positive hat and think about it. If everyone in there is of age and consenting, is freely expressing sexuality inherently wrong?

I think a key problem comes in with consent. Specifically, with the peer and leader pressuring that can occur–even unintentionally. Just because a group leader doesn’t intend to pressure a newer/younger/more shy person, doesn’t mean they aren’t pressuring them. And, just because that’s happening, doesn’t mean that leader is a bad person or a predator.

To sum up–it’s complicated.

My first question for any event hosting such a thing is, how is it managed? How are minors kept out? And if leaders are involved, what safeguards are in place to ensure that no group member feels coerced to be sexual with a group leader?

I’m also curious how sexual contact is kept safe. Are condoms and dental dams provided? Does everyone there have to previously agree to safer sex or receive any sexual education? Is there any educational process around consent and agreements and ensuring that it’s enthusiastic consent, not “iffy” consent? Is alcohol present, and are there any safeties there to ensure that someone who might be too drunk to consent is taken somewhere to sleep it off?

Sex Positive Vs. Dominant Culture
My gut reaction to an orgy cabin is definitely rooted in the dominant culture, but when I think about it, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it if it’s handled ethically. Of course, handling it ethically is the challenge.

How do you invite people without pressuring them? How is a safe space maintained? What agreements are in place around safe sex and appropriate touch? And of course, who pays for the Crisco? (Kidding, kidding. Crisco is gross.)

I can’t really speak to the specifics of how you might ethically run an orgy cabin, or any other kind of venue where people can freely explore their sexuality in a safe space that isn’t constrained by the dominant culture norms, as this isn’t something I myself have experienced. But, like anything else, there are agreements, there are boundaries.

Someone has to hold those boundaries–free isn’t really free.

What Does Ethical Look Like?
For my part, and I’ve said this in other posts, I generally tend to lean toward the ethic that leaders should not engage in sexual contact with group members and students. Even if that leader isn’t intending it, there’s too much potential for there to be a subtext of a power dynamic where the student/group member feels they have to say yes to things in order to not get kicked out of the group.

I do think that it’s understandable that relationships grow over time between group members and leaders, but it’s important to be on a peer dynamic as friends and to be on equal footing before beginning a romantic or sexual relationship.

There’s just too much potential for one party to feel powerless in a situation and later regret it.

Some groups ban any type of sexual relationship between any group members. While I don’t think this is feasible long-term, because people are going to develop feelings and then you’re just setting them up to betray a promise to the group, I do think that it’s generally useful to employ caution. Sex, relationships, even friendships among group members can cause difficult group dynamics.

And, something that might seem like a really good idea often ends badly. Something that might seem really sexually freeing can end up being an ego-maniacal manipulation.

Normal Group Turns into Sex Cult
Here’s an example I’ve heard of (or witnessed) in different forms. Person A joins a group. She’s older than some of the other group members, more worldly, more experienced. She’s very friendly, takes people out to lunch, eventually starts taking some of the women out to a spa or to get their nails done or for makeovers. She is very generous.

She then begins to flirt with them. It turns out she and her husband are swingers. Eventually (and you can probably see this one coming) she starts bringing some of these women home with her for herself and her husband to play with. Some of the young women are married, so she invites the husbands over too.

The group begins to instantly shift. The young women begin flirting with other group members. There’s more sexual touching at events, enough that it makes the people not involved in the sexual relationship uncomfortable. This continues for months, and some of the group members begin to leave.

The people involved with Person A and her husband feel sexually free, empowered, liberated. That is, until they aren’t the focus of attention any longer. Once Person A begins seducing someone new, they get jealous. Factions form. Person A plays the group like a finely-tuned instrument, pitting people against each other. She has essentially manipulated the group into her becoming the center of attention.

Women who were previously excited and empowered are now angry at each other. Some begin to leave the group after the backstabbing and gossip get to them. Some feel used. A few hang on, loving that feeling of having Person A’s attention–when they can get it.

Once the process has begun, there’s no way to remove Person A without losing at least some group members. The group will eventually blow up, it just depends if there are enough group members left who want to keep going. If the leadership of the group tells Person A to leave earlier on, Person A’s devotees get irate and threaten to leave too. If the leadership lets this continue on, it’ll destroy their group anyways. Most of the people won’t even realize how Person A manipulated them.

And, don’t I wish that it didn’t play out like this. But, it can and it does.

What’s the Answer?
The answer is not being totally prudish and saying “no sex.” That’s what we call, “Setting ourselves up for failure.” But neither is the answer to pressure people into sex all the time.

What About That Orgy Cabin?
Well…I think it’s possible to handle it in a mature, ethical way. I think it would be a lot of work. It would require boundaries, agreements…possibly the most ethical way to handle it would be as part of a weekend-long workshop on sexual intimacy and boundaries. Freedom to express sensuality and sexuality is a beautiful thing, but packaged with that freedom is recognizing that everyone else in the room also is free to choose what touch they want, and don’t want.

If you’re participating in something like this, you might consider all the agreements and boundaries and ethics. You might look at how people might be feeling pressured to participate. Perhaps your Orgy Cabin may need a rehab with some refreshed agreements and education. Or perhaps you have a healthy dynamic going, in which case, good for you.

If not, think about adding in some layers of safety for all the participants there.

It’s true, thinking about things like safe sex, boundaries, agreements, and ethics might take some of the fun out of a more spontaneous Orgy Cabin. And yes–I probably did just manage to take most of the fun and sexiness out of the idea. However, things could be worse. I’d rather have the agreements and safeties than deal with the consequences of a group member who felt pressured into having sex.

What you really don’t ever, ever want is someone who felt empowered by being singled out to join the Orgy Cabin and was nervous but consented, and later feels that Group Leader A pressured them into sex. Or, everyone got really drunk and Group Leader raped them; they said no, but Group Leader A didn’t stop. And I’ve heard of situations like that.

As with anything, you have to look at the long-term sustainability of your group and your community. You have to think beyond the short term, “This would be sexually satisfying and fun and freeing,” into the longer term effects of how this will impact your group. A bunch of people who get trashed and screw around one night might be embarrassed later on and leave the group. However, if this is part of a longer-term commitment of group members to explore sensuality and boundaries with intention, and is coupled with intensive personal work, that could be a very different situation.

For further reading:
I have more thoughts on Sex, Ethics, and Community, as well as an earlier post detailing more on the process of how group members can be groomed and pressured into having sex with group leaders.

Filed under: Leadership, Pagan Community Tagged: impact, Leaders, leadership, orgy, Pagan community, Paganism, Personal growth, Sex activism, sex positive, sexuality, shadow work