Undercover at 'elite swingers' party Independent. She's tall, curvaceous, and dressed in Forties-look vintage, all cinched waist, Dita Von Teese hair roll and matte red lipstick. The man with her is very Young Fogey — a waxed moustache, tweed suit, polished brogues — and is handsome in a blue-eyed, clear-skinned kind of way.
They are greeted warmly by a pretty young woman in a tight black cocktail frock and handed a glass of fizz. They scan the room, and the room — full of similarly attractive young couples — scans them back. Nobody in here — apart from me — looks over Everyone is checking everyone out.
Everyone is a member of Killing Kittens. Killing Kittens is a "network of the sexual elite" who meet at invitation-only parties to have sex with each other. It is all about female sexual empowerment — the usual cardinal sex-party rule applies: The other rules, sent via email the day before the party, are that men may not approach women, or talk to them unless invited, that no means no, and "only the kittens can break the rules". You can go if you are a single woman, or part of a couple — you need not be in a relationship with the man accompanying you, but any man turning up on his own will not be admitted.
This is the crux. At strip clubs and lap dancing venues, men turn up alone or in groups to purchase a cartoonish facsimile of female sexuality. It is entirely transactional. At couple-oriented sex parties, female sexuality is proactive and in charge — the vast gulf between old-school ideas of female sexuality housewife or whore is bridged by adult women who want to play in safe, sane and consensual environments, where they can enjoy themselves away from the confines of the marital bed.
This is not, however, about subterfuge, but about liberated adults — usually in committed relationships — taking an activity as primal and pleasurable as sex, and running with it.
The couples I know who regularly attend sex or fetish parties fall into two categories — those in long-term relationships who are very secure and liberated, and enjoy sexual adventure with other like-minded people, and those whose relationship is faltering a bit, and in need of a boost. While the former tend to use recreational play to cement their bond further, for the latter it can be a bit like having a baby to save the relationship: You need to be very secure, both in yourself and in your partnership, before you involve others, no matter how fleetingly.
This royal connection — no matter how gossamer thin — has been stretched to snapping; in one US interview, Sayle actually says Middleton was a member of Killing Kittens, before hastily adding that the future queen has never been to one of the parties. But it does give you an idea of the social strata in which these Kittens exist.
Or at least aspire. And when you think about sex parties and let's not be coy, attending one may well be on lots of people's bucket lists the image might be more suburban Seventies cheesey fondue and Lambrusco events involving car keys in ashtrays and men with pornstaches leching all over women in nylon maxi dresses than anything contemporary and upmarket. Which is why Killing Kittens is marketed as "elite" and "high end", welcoming only beautiful, rich, intelligent types to its corseted bosom.
The first party happened in Covent Garden, London, in Sayle describes her venture as "a company that runs high-end orgies". In other words, swinging. Founder Emma Sayle So what are they actually like? Getting into one is far easier than you would think, despite the "strict" age and looks criteria, as well as a preference for the wealthy, successful and high profile.
Then again, the one I am attending is in a smaller town outside London. Reports and reviews of parties in the capital make continuous comparisons with the Kubrick film 'Eyes Wide Shut', in which Tom Cruise dons a mask at an exclusive sex party — because apart from being young, beautiful, rich and intelligent, you also have to be masked — to add to the intrigue, and to some degree, protect your anonymity.
Or at least add to the intrigue of having group sex with strangers. Anyway, the first step is to register online. You submit basic details to the Killing Kittens website, and most crucially a photograph to prove you are not morbidly obese, hideously ugly or likely to turn up in a tracksuit — Sayle says she is not a body fascist, and that some size women are very sexy indeed, but "if you are a size 20 you are probably not going to get in".
Not that Sayle is personally approving every membership — Killing Kittens has a current membership of around 20,, and puts on parties in the US as well as England, and there are plans to expand further. At a month off my 47th birthday, not only am I outside the age group, but as a generous size 16, I suspect I am both too old and too wide to fit the kitten criteria. Nor am I a millionaire, a movie star or an MP, but when I send my photo for approval — along with a bank transfer of thirty quid, which is the cheapest tariff for single ladies outside of London to gain access — my membership to Killing Kittens is instantly approved.
Dress code is "vintage glam with masks" and an email warns "no mask, no entry". The address is a private house in an elegant part of town — guests have been warned not to all pile out of taxis at the front door, and to keep masks off until inside the house, given that the neighbours may be unaware that a posh orgy is taking place next door. I say 'I' rather than 'we' because I am attending alone — my partner has a commitment he can't wriggle out of. This party has been billed as "intimate".
Meaning, I discover, tiny. Entering the small mews, I am greeted by several very pretty twenty-something women in tight black, wearing kitten-ear hair bands and seamed stockings embroidered with words like 'Spank Me'.
They are smiley and friendly and welcoming, and thrust a glass of prosecco in my hand, which I thrust back, as I don't drink, and have a Coke instead. There is lots of booze — the fizz reception is where everyone mingles and checks each other out, and allows the alcohol to lubricate the slight surreality of the situation. There is a plate of condoms on the table, rather like a bowl of sweeties, and I am offered oysters to go with my Coke, but I decline them too a vegan teetotaller goes to an orgy — sounds like a terrible joke, and yet here I am.
I go for a wander and realise I am rather older than the rest of the people here. Perhaps I should have attended a Silver Kittens event instead — orgies for oldies, or Saga Kittens as Emma Sayle's mum wanted to call them.
This is the latest offshoot of the original idea, catering for people aged 45 and upward. The 'Daily Mail', with predictable manufactured outrage, reported that a Silver Kittens party in London had included one male guest who was 60 and still at it.
As though sex was illegal for anyone over I strike up a few conversations, but nobody hits on me — perhaps I have 'journalist' written across my forehead. People are too busy eyeing each other up, then pairing off.
The action centres mostly in the play rooms. The first couples to get things going seem to already know each other; there is a sense of familiarity in how they interact.
But it's not like I can interrupt and ask them. Overall there is no sense of social awkwardness, other than within myself — I am definitely not part of this gang, and lack the sexual confidence to ingratiate myself. Had they been an older crowd, I suspect I would have felt differently, but being surrounded by gorgeous people younger than you in a sexual setting is a bit daunting to say the least. Especially without your partner on your arm.
Suzanne Harrington By the time I leave, the play rooms are busy. But as an event it seems to rather fall between stools — it does not have the genuine intimacy of private play between adventurous couples, yet is too small to sweep you along in a rush of unfettered hedonism. It is glamorous, tasteful, elegant, all of those things — but perhaps what it lacks is the humour and sense of connection you get at fetish parties. With swingers, once you have come, you are gone — with fetish, people keep going all night long because the pleasure is largely psychological.
Previous experience of a sex party, again gamely undertaken in the name of research, was at a much larger private house in London with enormous rooms for open sex, smaller private rooms, sweeping hallways, and a fully furnished fetish room full of eye-watering equipment. It was full of everyone from dominatrices and submissive men to good-looking middle-aged couples who enjoyed the partner swapping of recreational sex — about 50 couples altogether and a few single women who were friends of the organisers.
At this larger party, you were greeted in the enormous hallway by drinks and a performance from an extraordinarily bendy pole dancer, as people mingled from room to room, before gravitating to their natural habitats — upstairs for swinging, downstairs for the fetish room.
To get things going, a very beautiful couple began to play in the fetish room — like the first couple on a dancefloor, they broke the ice and soon others joined them. For those of us there as observers, it was an easy, friendly, fascinating space to inhabit, with high levels of respect and a rock-solid etiquette of consensuality and good manners.
Upstairs, the couples paired off like mayflies, and those who were not at it gathered to watch, sipping drinks and chatting, as normal as any other cocktail party apart from the sex going on right in front of them.
Then the swingers were all putting their coats on and heading home before midnight, having exhausted themselves, while the fetish crowd played late into the night. The people I know who do recreational sex on a regular basis tend to be in long-term relationships and want to keep their intimate life interesting and vibrant. What I have noticed is that those involved in the fetish scene are the happiest, most psychologically healthy, and most free thinking.
Swinging works too, providing you are very secure in both yourself and your relationship — in the words of Mustafa Fakir, father of the modern primitive movement, "It's your body — play with it". Between puritanism and porn lies a world of sexual adventure waiting to be explored, in a way that enriches and strengthens couple bonds — so long as everyone is on the same page.
Honesty, consensus, respect, that kind of thing. Although swinging and fetish are quite different, in that the primary focus of swinging is physical sex and the primary focus of fetish is not, both arenas essentially involve doing private stuff in a semi-public place — a party. At well-run parties, there is no inappropriate behaviour — that is, there is lots of sexual behaviour, but nothing non-consensual. Lechery, unless invited, is not tolerated. Not at any party worth its reputation — attendees at Killing Kittens parties are invited to let their hosts know instantly if anything doesn't feel right.
However, at this Killing Kittens event, despite the lovely hosts, the elegant surroundings, and the attractive people, I just didn't feel much sense of inclusiveness. This was probably because it was too small, I was in the wrong age group, and my partner wasn't with me. This is not to say it wasn't a gorgeously executed event — it just wasn't my cup of tea. Plus I didn't want to miss the England v Italy match. I imagine, however, that Killing Kittens will be a roaring success in Dublin, because young Ireland is a far more liberated place than before.
Perhaps even middle-aged Dublin will kick up its heels. Champagne, oysters and sex — what's not to like? So long as nobody overdoes the bubbly — sexual play requires a clear head in order to be optimally enjoyable. And to avoid anything regrettable, especially if you are still a newbie, no matter what age you are.