A woman whispers, “Can I lick the kiwi off your breast?”
Sarah-Elizabeth, a young model, nods enthusiastically and sighs in pleasure as her dinner guest mouths the green fruit and coats the side of her nipple with mint sauce.
A gathering of people, sitting in plush cushions and dressed in elegant evening wear, surround Sarah-Elizabeth, who is wearing nothing but a discreet pair of underwear. She is smiling and laughing with her guests and swoons in pleasure as they eat off her body adorned with fruit, oysters, asparagus, lamb, chocolate and other gourmet delights.
This was just the beginning of the night at LUST, the spectacular Bushwick party at Lot 45 where guests eat a five-course meal off naked women and men. For a few hours, “lady servants and male slaves” serve dinner and encourage people to close their eyes and enjoy all the aromas and tastes. After dinner, lights dim and an array of fire and kinky performances fill the room, and guests can engage in body-painting, flogging, lighting a human candelabra, and even enter a private dungeon room.
While the event seeps eroticism, it’s not exactly a sex party (i.e. no genitals out), but rather a “sexyflirty” party. It’s a “night of intense intimacy without fucking,” designed for people to enjoy and discover their more sensual sides. Of course, pleasure is apparent throughout the evening, yet there was also another theme that was central to the experience: affirmative consent.
Ellen, who calls herself a “consent liaison,” greets every guest with a friendly speech when they enter the brick building. She passionately discusses the rules of communication and touch. “If you’ve never been to LUST before, it’s a good party with good energy and good vibes. If you want to kiss or touch someone new today, then you need an enthusiastic yes.” She adds, “If it’s not an enthusiastic yes, then it is a hell no!”
Ellen keeps her tone light-hearted and many guests are grateful for her quick lesson on boundaries. “A lot of men and women come up to me on their way out and thank me for setting the tone of the evening,” she says. While she admits that many people are familiar with consent before LUST, she’s always on the lookout for people who have never discussed it. In these cases, she provides a bit more detail in her speech.
The lesson on consent sets the stage for people to relax and explore their desires. As it neared midnight, many of the performers and guests lay intertwined in a large lounging area. I joined in and received a much-needed massage from a shirtless man, and watched entranced as people lay around me kissing and touching. While the stranger worked out the knots in my neck, a spanking sound echoed throughout the party. Intrigued, I walked over to the private dungeon where two women asked if I wanted to get flogged. I gave an eager yes.
Although firm in their spanking, the women were gentle in their language and checked in multiple times to see if I wanted it softer or harder, or to stop entirely. It was comforting to know they listened to me and respected my boundaries. I was able to relax and explore a side of my sexuality I might have otherwise avoided out of fear. This was the producer Abby Hertz’s mission for LUST. “I wanted to create an environment based on consent,” she says. “A space where people can relax to enjoy themselves and be more adventurous.”
Hertz was inspired to center the event around affirmative consent after feeling that her boundaries were never an important part in her relationships during her early twenties. “It was the ’90s and I wasn’t taught about consent other than no means no. It didn’t go beyond that. And in dealing with sex growing up, there were times where my boundaries weren’t respected.”
She was particularly motivated to design an event where women feel safe. “A lot of times, women go out and have to feel on guard because they feel threatened.” And LUST certainly fosters a sense of security. As one male guest said, “The beauty of this party is that women feel empowered to express their desires. They feel comfortable saying no and communicating what they want.”
In addition to Ellen’s lesson at the door, there are “consent guardians” that walk around throughout the party to make sure people are observing the rules. The guardians, who are both men and women, wear the same red light-up bracelet. They are there to monitor, educate, and support when needed—and remove anyone if they become a problem. For the first time in LUST’s one-year history, they had to kick someone out who picked up a woman over his head and laughed when she asked to be put down. When approached by a guardian, the man became defensive and dismissive.
But many others expressed gratitude and excitement that LUST set firm boundaries for the evening. After Brenton licked chocolate off Sarah-Elizabeth’s neck, he said to me, “It’s a relief to know rules when you walk in.” The model nodded in assent. As a giggling couple started to eat zucchini off her naval, she said, “It’s an amazing thing. I’m treated as a human being while being eaten off of as a platter!”
Under the haze of fire and comfort of trust, many loosened up and experienced the pleasure of consent. Michael, a server for the evening, said, “Consent can be sexy. It’s enjoyable to know your partner is enjoying it. Some people think consent takes away from the moment but instead it draws you into awareness by listening to other people’s needs and responding to their body language.”
As Jaclyn Friedman, the author of Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, wrote in the Washington Post, “Far from criminalizing sexuality, affirmative consent humanizes it.”
And LUST is doing exactly that.