Everything You Need To Know About The Glastonbury Of Sex
The Debrief: UK Sex events: What's it like organising the Glastonbury of sex? And should you go?
Not all of us are into music, drugs, and getting hugs off exuberant mud-slathered people in the middle of a field. I mean, it can be pretty fun, but sometimes you just want to hang up your wellies, forego the invitation to a surprise acoustic set in the woods at midnight, and go to something completely different. By which I mean: an event that's primed to cater to your sexual tastes rather than your musical ones. Way more fun than getting stoned listening to Portishead, in my humble opinion.
In the late 90s and early noughties, we used to have Erotica – a massive consumer-focused sex event held annually in London. It disappeared shortly after I first attended (no connection, honest) and since then we've been in desperate need of more sex-themed partying. The one I went to was an eye-opening revelation, particularly for someone who was just getting to grips with my own kinks. My boyfriend and I wandered around stalls staffed by kink-friendly people, examining unusual new sex toys and chatting about the best ways to get our freak on. There were burlesque performances, workshops on bondage and spanking, as well as the opportunity to have a go on a genuine sex swing. Not like that – we both kept our clothes on – but wearing jeans, hoodies and ridiculously enthusiastic grins, we put it through its paces like two car-wankers taking an Audi for a test drive.
But how do you go about organising something like this? I chatted to a couple of sex festival organisers, responsible for getting Sexhibition and Sexpo off the ground, to find out what people can expect. Spoiler: there's way less mud.
Lee Schofield is one of the organisers behind Sexpo, which aims to be the UK's biggest erotic event - he estimates that over the course of the weekend they'll see over 20,000 people coming through the doors. To put things into perspective, that's about one tenth of a Glastonbury, with the added bonus that you get to be warm and dry inside.
'To be honest, Sexpo is quite experimental and that is probably the most fun part. The best part of the job is when you organise something like this you get to meet a lot of colourful characters, each with their own ideas and experiences surrounding sex, relationships and sexuality,' explains Lee. Sexpo is a combination of performances, workshops, actual shops, and the chance to meet erotic authors and performers. The aim of the weekend is to indulge your erotic curiosity, and one of the key challenges for the organisers is ensuring that the space is inclusive and welcoming – no matter what your age, gender, or sexuality:
'It’s very important to us that Sexpo UK feel welcoming to people of all sexualities, genders, and lifestyles. Creating an event that accommodates such a wide variety of people was always going to be challenging but finding the balance is part of the fun. It certainly helps to have a team as diverse as our audience and working with a mixed age, mixed gender group brings a wide range of experiences and expertise to the expo.'
Cheryl Smith, Creative Director/Event Organiser for Sexhibition, also stresses the importance of variety. The Manchester sex event includes a host of burlesque performers including people like Sukki Singapora (apparently the first burlesque performer to be invited to tea with the queen) the finallists from Ru Paul's drag race, and for people who want to get stuck in themselves, kink-themed party Torture Garden will be closing the event on Sunday.
'Sexhibition was conceived to be unique and that's certainly made life slightly more challenging and interesting for us as organisers compared to, lets say, a more mainstream event. We've had to work hard to overcome the challenges of securing a suitable venue that fits the Sexhibition's big screen criteria, while remaining both glamorous and intimate. It's always been our intention to steer clear of homogenised sleaze commonly associated (rightly or wrongly) with such events in favour of something infinitely more attractive to our guests.'
I see where they're coming from – although sex events are becoming more mainstream, with even swinging clubs like Killing Kittens getting press headlines, it can still be a surprise to people whose day jobs involve more Excel spreadsheets than erotica . As a sex blogger, I get my fair share of unusual emails and strange requests (example: my current to-do list includes 'keyword research 'rimming''). But when you're organising a sex event, does it all just roll into 'day job' territory? Delightfully, it doesn't.
'Working in the adult industry is a completely different atmosphere to most jobs,' says Lee. 'The people are generally a lot more fun and laid back and our work-based excursions are thoroughly unique experiences. There’s a great sense of community within the industry that makes it feel a lot like one big, open-minded, family.'
Cheryl agrees. “Industry wise, it's virtually unique in that it's absolutely mainstream in it's target audience - sex sells afterall - and yet most of it exists under the radar. As such, it's been a pleasure to explore and develop a network of likeminded, forward thinking business people, in a vibrant, if often unrecognised, industry.
So, if you're bored of the wellies and weather, should you ditch your tent for a trip to one of these events? I think so. I'm not the boss of you, but if you fancy heading along, here are my top tips for getting the most out of your visit.
1. Try a bit of everything
Just as at music festivals the gems are often tucked away in smaller tents, so at sex festivals it's not just the headline acts that will give you something to think about. The smaller workshops, which will give you crash courses in anything from bondage to butt-play, are often the most fun. And they mean that when you get home, you get to have a go at the sexiest 'homework' you've ever been assigned.
You might go along planning not to buy anything, but I can guarantee that when you get through the door you'll immediately decide that it can't hurt to try on a nice corset or two, or chat to a stall holder about that sex toy – of which you've never seen the like before.
3. Don't sweat the dress code
You don't have to turn up in your bra and pants – there'll be plenty of performers there who've perfected the art of lingerie-sexy. But they're incredibly welcoming no matter what you're wearing. Although if you love the garb, dressing up will mean you're less likely to blow a week's worth of wages on fancy pants when you get inside.
4. Ask questions
I have asked some of the most ridiculous questions when presented with New Sex Things: can you put this in your arse? Where do the batteries go? What exactly are these people in the diagram doing? No one at a sex event has ever laughed at me, or even batted an eyelid. It's their job to educate you, so think of them as the adult version of that person who came into school with a plastic dildo and a box of condoms.
I'm anxious as all hell, and the idea of talking to a stranger brings me out in the coldest of sweats. But given that sex is something we often shy away from talking about openly, there's something intensely liberating about getting into a conversation with other attendees, and swapping tips on the things that turn you on. And if you share your own top tips, you might get invited to do your own workshop some day...
Like this? You might also be interested in:
Follow Girl on the Net on Twitter @girlonthenet
Picture: Eugenia Loli
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating