We all have something we want really, really badly. Maybe it’s an education. Maybe it’s a dream job. Maybe it’s a person, a Twinkie or the unattainable approval of your stepfather.
Whatever it is, picture that thing in your mind. Feel how badly you want it. Imagine what you’d do to get it. I bet you’d go to great lengths; maybe you’d even give up something in exchange, or risk your life for it.
Now imagine that thing is a gangbang.
But wait. Not just any gangbang — a gangbang being held this week, in a nearly vacant hotel with three to five other quarantine dissenters in the midst of a great and virulent contagion whose viral culprit wafts into your lungs on tiny, aerosolized droplets generated by the innocent and inconveniently constant act of breathing. No one in the room knows who’s infected and who’s not, and as each of you make sweet group love to the evening’s luscious centerpiece from a CDC-noncompliant distance, you all thrust with the same unsettling question jostling around in the back of your mind: Am I the corona-bomb, or is he? Or is she? Or are they?
That gangbang — as well as a variety of other kink and group-sex-themed events — is what a very small but very dangerous group of people on FetLife, a kinky social networking site not dissimilar to Facebook, are risking it all to have. Even as coronavirus and its hellish quarantine sidekicks sweep the country and decimate everything from service jobs to sex lives, the few and the proud have put their foot down and silently announced — by way of public RSVP — that the party must go on.
For the uninitiated, FetLife is like an early-2000s GeoCities fever dream for people who are into bondage (and a whole lot of other stuff). Just like on Facebook, people can post status updates, message their friends, share photos, write bizarre and lengthy treatises on life’s many minutiae, and, most importantly, advertise parties and events. It’s the latter that’s been most affected by the virus.
For the most part, the omnipresent threat of COVID-19 has made most FetLife users militant about canceling their events or moving them online. One “cuckold couple” in New York postponed their scheduled gangbang and directed interested parties to their OnlyFans and NSFW Reddit accounts instead. An all-female play party in Denver refunded their guests’ tickets and don’t expect to be up and running until at least July. Nearly every orgy, fisting extravaganza and 70-person public piss party has been axed from the FetLife event calendar with would-be guests singing the praises of hosts and organizers who put safety before sex.
Dominus Eros, a kink and sex educator who hosts a variety of in-person parties and events in his two studios in NYC and advertises them on FetLife, was one of these hosts. As soon as New York’s stay-at-home order went into effect, he canceled his upcoming menu of in-person BDSM workshops, cuddle parties and dick massage instructionals and moved every event he could to Zoom. “All of the BDSM and sex educators I’ve spoken with have stopped doing in-person things,” he says. “We’re encouraging people to stay home. At the same time, we’re also encouraging them to stay connected and keep up that dialog by coming to our online events and Zoom meetings. It’s a new mode of teaching and connection, but so far it’s working for us.”
But while the vast majority of FetLife’s events have been canceled or digitized in support of social distancing, a handful of events are moving forward as planned, and their hosts — next to none of whom responded to my request for a quote — seem obstinately unfazed. Across major cities like L.A., Baltimore and San Francisco, a small faction of gangbangs, casting calls, tickle parties and swingers’ events appear to be moving ahead as scheduled, all in blatant disregard of people’s health, safety and, in many places, the law. In some cases, users are even posting brand-new events, many of which are scheduled to take place this week.
In L.A., one user appears to have scheduled a series of recurring gangbangs, with the latest one taking place on March 25th and the next scheduled for liftoff on April 8th. When asked whether the latter event was still on despite the city’s Safer at Home order, the host — whose number is published in the event description — confirmed that it was. Guests are welcome to wear face masks to the party, she says, but they would be neither required nor provided. The only other precaution she’s been taking is telling people to stay home if they’re sick, but given that roughly 25 percent of people infected with coronavirus are thought to be contagious despite having no symptoms, that’s not exactly an assuring safeguard.
The host did not respond when I asked if she could explain why she was still holding events at this particular point in time, but reading over the status updates of some of her followers, the answer is clear: People want to fuck, quarantine be damned. “Where can one go for some group fun during these times,” a person in the organizer’s network writes in a status update. “Getting tired of fucking the same folks.”
Elsewhere, another organizer — who posted similar ads in L.A., San Diego and the Bay Area — invites users to a “gangbang casting call,” enticing those who make the cut with the promise of daily cash earnings and the tantalizing possibility of staying in “four-star hotels.” A massive and infamous sex party is still on the books in New York City, and a “tickling party” has yet to be banished from FetLife in Southern California (though both events are listed as being canceled elsewhere). In Baltimore, a “female slave weekend” appears to be moving forward as planned, and a vague “quarantine sex play” event went down in the Bay Area last night.
The story is no different in places like Toronto, North Carolina and the U.K.: No matter where you look, a small faction of kinksters, swingers and group-sex aficionados are still going at it, even as the rest of us settle for porn, horny Reddit and sexting our friends all by our lonesome in quarantine. New events are added and removed daily.
Of course, this resistance to social distancing isn’t, in any way, unique to FetLife users or the kink community at-large. Hardly so. As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, everyone from brain-dead spring breakers to stubborn Boomers to dogged beachgoers hellbent on feeling the sand between their toes have violated state and county stay-at-home orders, and plenty of them have been fined and charged for doing so. But there’s a crucial difference between outdoor recreation and indoor sexploration that makes these FetLife events particularly concerning in the time of coronavirus: While it’s possible to maintain at least some distance from the person beside you at the beach or in line at the grocery store, the same cannot be said for the vast majority of kink or sex parties. If you show up to play or fuck, not only is it customary to be less than six feet away from somebody, but there’s a mild to moderate chance you’ll also be inside of them.
Any half-functioning imagination could dream up an event in which that wasn’t the case — maybe everyone’s fucking dildos attached to the ends of 10-foot poles or masturbating across a football field from each other — but that’s not what’s being advertised. Instead, what we’re seeing are events that call for the same level of physical closeness as any pre-virus event would: gangbangs, fisting parties and foot worship, all of which can, according to most stay-at-home orders, be enforced as a misdemeanor and are punishable by fines, imprisonment or both (though the legality of group gatherings varies wildly by city, county and state).
But while certain events advertised on their site are in clear violation of the law in some areas and could be putting their user’s health at risk (and the health of anyone who comes into contact with them), FetLife doesn’t appear to be particularly concerned. In fact, its response to social distancing seems to mirror its historically hands-off approach to past reports of abuse and other illegal activities (like bestiality): flippant, with a side of “not our problem!”
“In the news, across the internet and on FetLife, many people are telling others what they should and shouldn’t be doing,” reads a COVID-19 statement posted by John Baku, the network’s founder and CEO. “Instead of telling people what to do, which we find very seldom works, we wanted to share with you links that we’ve found useful so that you can make informed decisions for you and your loved ones.”
After a short list of hyperlinked resources, he concludes by gently suggesting that instead of meeting in-person, people might want to “experiment with virtual munches and get-togethers,” but he stops short of condemning meet-ups or acknowledging the risks himself. Then, in the same breath, he offers a winking “Having said all that, please be safe out there,” and signs off with a “#noregrets,” like he’s talking about a polar plunge or eating a papadia.
In another situation, FetLife’s laissez-faire approach to health and safety would feel both justifiable and welcome. Often, policing of sexual or erotic activity between consenting adults isn’t only invasive, repressive and unnecessary, it’s discriminatory and deeply damaging to a person’s self-worth, confidence and access to accurate information. On a “normal” day during a “normal time,” the absence of that kind of oversight on FetLife is liberating and celebratory. For many, the social network is a safe space to explore desires, learn more about them and connect with 8.5 million other users whose openness about their interests shows them that they’re far from alone. Regulating what people choose to do and with whom by filtering or flagging in-person events wouldn’t only violate what the kink community stands for, it would nullify its whole reason for being.
But in a pandemic caused by a virus that feeds off close personal contact and shared spaces, FetLife’s relaxed stance isn’t open and welcoming — it’s dangerous. Because in a situation like this, a gangbang isn’t just a gangbang; it can be a headache, a fever, a sore throat and a cough that just won’t go away. It can be chest pressure and difficulty breathing and the growing sense that something heavy is crushing your lungs. It can be a ventilator shortage, a nurse wearing the same mask two days in a row and an experimental drug that’s never been proven to work. Or, it can be the complete absence of symptoms and the false security and potentially dangerous freedom of movement that come with it.
Either way, it’s a short-sighted lapse in isolation that perpetuates the economic, social and psychological destruction of indefinite quarantine.
Let’s take the L.A. gangbang, for example. As of today, 10 people have RSVP’d (four confirmed; six undecided). Not all of them will go, but if half of them do, that’s five people in a room together who have no concept of where each other has been, how well they’ve been quarantining or whether they’ve experienced any symptoms. Given that the average person with coronavirus will spread it to 2.5 other people, it’s easy to see how the number of cases from there could grow exponentially, just because a few people couldn’t wait a couple of weeks to group-hump in a hotel room. For some perspective on how insane that is, 45 out of 60 people at a choir practice in Washington were infected with coronavirus by someone who showed up and didn’t know they were sick — and they weren’t even touching.
“That’s just irresponsible,” says Dominus Eros. “We really try to take people’s health and safety into consideration at our events, but the reality is, not everyone cares for their guest and audiences as much as they should.” At the same time, he says, FetLife is, like all social media sites, nothing more than a microcosm of the rest of society. “Just like anywhere, you’ll have some characters who keep saying this is a glorified flu,” he continues. “Those are the same people who will just go about doing the same shit they do anyways. There are still people in this country who think this is a conspiracy or a BS hoax because they’re not in areas that are supremely affected by the outbreak. They haven’t seen anyone die, and their hospitals aren’t flooded yet; so to them, it’s not real.”
Coupled with mixed messaging and misinformation from the White House and the CDC about the severity of the issue and how people should both prepare and protect themselves, it’s no surprise that certain people — and FetLife itself — aren’t as solid on social distancing and stay-at-home orders as they could be.
To be perfectly fair, too, FetLife doesn’t host these events, it merely offers users a platform to advertise them. And since most of these events are advertised across multiple platforms — Meetup, Eventbrite and the lot — the truth is that even if FetLife got draconian about flagging or removing them, its efforts wouldn’t necessarily prevent them from happening. Even without a FetLife event, gangs, as it were, would probably still bang.
Nevertheless, “be safe out there” and “#noregrets” send the message that even now — as the global death toll nears 100,000 — it’s okay to do what you want. The more lax the messaging is from the top, the looser the behaviors on the bottom, and as the Trump administration’s sluggish pandemic response has shown, it’s exactly that sort of nonchalance on which the virus feeds. (FetLife, like most of the party organizers, didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
But there is a silver lining: In lieu of a more active approach on the part of FetLife, its community has taken matters into its own hands. All across the site, users have started hashtag campaigns, initiated detailed and lengthy discussions about the necessity of staying home, urged people to speak out against in-person parties and remove themselves from groups who violate stay-at-home orders and even created social distancing-themed events that lovingly invite people to “stay the fuck home.” Many users have also been flagging in-person parties, classes and meet-ups themselves in the hopes they’ll be removed from FetLife’s event calendar.
“ALL of the promoters who have not listened to their communities should LOSE the trust of those communities FOREVER,” writes one user after outraged would-be-guests forced the postponement of a rather large party in North Carolina. “They have shown you who they are. Believe them.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of people for taking a stand against reckless event hosts right now,” writes another. “I’m grateful and proud of you all.”
Another user who wished to remain anonymous reports that the hashtag #COVIDIOTS has sprung up all around the site, with people using it to publicly shame those advertising in-person events or call out organizers in the comments sections (though as my colleague Miles Klee recently pointed out, publicly shaming people for meeting up in person during coronavirus comes with its own set of problems). Meanwhile, #CumNotCOVID has become a stay-at-home calling card, with users posting X-rated photos and videos of their “best social distancing tactics.” A handful of community support groups for kinksters grappling with the isolation of quarantine have even sprung up around the site.
Yet while these community-led efforts have so far been successful — hardly any events on FetLife’s calendar have escaped cancellation — the users who have taken it upon themselves to stand up for social distancing have somehow avoided coming across as overly regulatory. Instead, they’ve pulled off the Herculean feat of appearing concerned, unified and level-headed in a time of crisis, more interested in the community’s well-being than the whims of their own desires. To have a leader, CEO or president with the same mentality seems more of a luxury than a guarantee these days, but it’s heartening to know that in the absence of one, a community can lead itself.
If anything was worthy of a “#noregrets,” that would be it.