Our big community dance parties draw people for thousands of different reasons, but it’s fair to say that sexiness is the lure for most of us. We dress up (or down) in an effort to look and feel sexy at these events, while the bodies of thousands of party attendees, all slippery with sweat, present themselves like a chocolate-box assortment of sexual choice.

But for many -“ particularly but not exclusively gay men -“ the big dance parties are not about experiencing a general feeling of sexiness. They’re about the act (or, more accurately, the acts) of sex.

Sex has been an integral part of community dance parties for about as long as anybody can remember. The more experienced party-goers talk wistfully about the sexed-up glory days of the stables in the old showgrounds, while comedian Mark Trevorrow summed up the Hordern Pavilion toilets phenomenon some years ago in the book Mardi Gras: True Stories.

(This) recurring, unofficial Mardi Gras event bears all the hallmarks of ritual, Trevorrow wrote. The lights always go out some time between 2 and 3 am. This is always greeted with the same muted but delighted reaction from an assembled, pretend-not-to-be-waiting-for-it, just-happen-to-be-here throng. One or two fainthearts always storm out in a hissy. An outraged party official always endeavours to turn them on again -“ sometimes more than once -“ and is always foiled, to yet more muted applause. Frisson is the only word for it.

Mardi Gras celebrated this use of the Hordern Pavilion toilets in the 1998 party, by having DJ Buck Naked (Lloyd Grosse) play his records there throughout the night.

Just how many patrons are drawn to a dance party by the promise of sex (as compared to those attracted by the music, the shows or whatever) is a matter for conjecture, however it is interesting to note that one of 2002’s most popular parties, Black (held during the Gay Games) was marketed fairly explicitly as a sex-y party.

This party is about sex, Sydney 2002 Party Director Gary Leeson said in the promotional material for Black. The focus will be on creating spaces where the imagination will run wild for thousands of men in the mood to play. That’s what you can expect at Black Party.

Grosse played in the Dome throughout the night at Black, and admits, yes, there was an absolute raging orgy.

There were at least 2000 in the venue, and at least one third were fucking in the corner, he estimates.

Pride’s New Year’s Eve party was tame by comparison, yet they and the party’s licensee (Playbill Venue Management) are currently waiting to hear if they will be fined or wrist-slapped for the existence of a scenic maze in the Hordern Pavilion.

Around 1am, the uniformed police at the party called in the licensing police, who dismantled and sealed off the maze. Pride co-presidents expressed their frustration at the police process -“ calling in the licensing cops for investigation, instead of just having a quiet word with one of the party organisers and asking that the maze be taken down.

Some party organisers are wondering whether the police were motivated by a sense of payback for the wild excesses of Black. It’s a debatable point, but regardless, party planners certainly consider themselves to be on notice.

The days of having special -˜scenic’ spaces in the Hordern are probably over, the Pride co-presidents warned last week.

It would seem that the blind eye which has been turned in the direction of dance party sex spaces in the past is starting to see. Opponents of the sex spaces say that the law is the law and has to be upheld; proponents of the sex spaces, like Lloyd Grosse, say the problem is as much political as it is legal.

Police have turned a blind eye to a great many heterosexual events that have the same sexual ferocity (as dance party sex spaces) Grosse says, pointing to illicit lap-dancing bars and topless waitress bars as two examples.

The clampdown on sex spaces, Grosse argues, is fundamentally an attack on our right to express ourselves.

Our gatherings are about finding a safe space to be who we are, he says. We have to find some dialogue to allow this issue to be resolved. We’ve skirted around this issue but never really taken the bull by the horns.

The issue of sex spaces at parties is not just about civil liberties, however. There are also public health concerns about the provision of such spaces at gay and lesbian community events.

The AIDS Council of NSW takes a realistic approach to the issue.

These spaces will occur if you don’t establish one for your patrons, argues ACON’s director of Community Health, Brent Allen. A case in point, he says, was the Black party, which had no designated sex space, making the job of providing safe sex equipment for Black party patrons more difficult.

The dump bins we provide with safe sex packs were not in the best places (at Black) because we didn’t know where the sex would happen, Allen says. And we know that people are more likely to use [condoms] if they’re there when they need them.

Barrister David Buchanan SC, who convenes ACON’s working group on the sex at parties issue, says that the problem is not one that is specific to the lesbian and gay community.

Cruising and sex take place at many a dance party in Sydney, he argues. And people will be physically intimate with each other and have sex at parties, whether spaces are provided for that purpose or not.

This would also not seem to be a problem just confined to Sydney. Nightclub and dance party organisers in other countries have also been feeling the heat from the sex police.

The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported on a Salt Lake City gay bar’s battle to stay open after the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) revoked their license. According to a Department report, a private party at Club Blue last October featured flagrant license violations including nude bartenders and patrons performing simulated or actual sex acts.

I don’t have any problem with them [DABC] regulating public decency at a private club during normal business hours, a lawyer for Club Blue told the Tribune. I have a problem with them trying to extend that to when the club is being used privately.

England’s Gay Times also reported this month that the long-running fetish night Fist has closed its doors because of police and council concerns about sexual activity. The report stated that police had asked the promoter, Suzie Krueger, to ensure that such activity was toned down, but she had refused.

Krueger told Gay Times: There’s no point in Fist without the sex and I don’t want to run a watered-down version.

While Sydney may not have a party or a dance venue quite like Fist, the issue of sex at our community celebrations is not going to dry up overnight. Not everybody is in favour of public sex, but it does seem somewhat inevitable that when the community comes together, individuals, er, come together as well.

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