April 08, 2004

Eyes Wide Dark

a night of blind group sexuality in San Francisco

Casual sex is difficult, because attachments invariably form between the parties. And if one or both of the parties can't or won't sustain the attachment, then there is pain where there was once desire.

In an effort to avoid this kind of pain, I've been wondering if it's possible to have people who enjoy sexual conduct, sensual touch, in a "sacred" context - that is, enjoying the pleasure of another human being, without, perhaps ongoing attachments.

It's vague, but it has lead to some unusual search results. I came across Darkness Falls - "a couples party in a room that is completely dark full of sexy people ready to play." Located at a theater space in the Mission District of San Francisco, it was both conveniently located, and coming up the next weekend. The idea intrigued me - what if you removed body image and attractiveness from fooling around? What if you were free to reach out and touch without seeing race, sexual preference or even gender? What would it be like to share a room full of writhing floor sex touch in total darkness?

By the rules of the event, I had to have a female partner. I'm on a local mailing list of "perverts" - mostly trading sex links. I emailed a notice about the event and asked if any of the women on the list wanted to go along with me. One guy on the list found a Craig's List post asking for one male to join their group of "furries" - planning to attend the party in animal costumes. He volunteered: "i would totally go if i could wear a giant beaver suit."

But men cannot attend Darkness Falls with men. I was frankly astonished when a woman from the list volunteered; Laurel, and even more frankly astonished when she turned out to be literate and attractive. I don't know why I should have been astonished! But at least lucky.

We arranged a date for Saturday April 3, dinner beforehand. I bought one couple ticket for $46. I picked her up at her place. Like a date! Destined for the darkness. Hello, nice to meet you. We had friends in common, so it wasn't a blank slate. We sat down for dinner at RMN, local to her neighborhood. A pleasant chat! Aged Scotch whiskeys. And finally - some sharing: why bother? Why experiment? She was curious about this kind of exchange between people, and she'd found it difficult to accept previous sex-party invitations because friends had been involved. Friends beg odd aftereffects. She's single and, she said, that was a perfect time to experiment with this sort of thing.

Over pesto pizza and oven-baked spinach, I shared some of my rants and curiosity about different modes of sexuality. And I spoke some of being curious about fooling around with men - I'd had a brief experience in college, but maybe I might find myself being comfortable sensual with men if I could be anchored in a broader couples context and anonymity of darkness. I felt ready to push my boundaries, beyond what I might normally touch.

From the restaurant to the car, driving towards this event, Laurel suggested a kiss to break the ice. Pulling back and opening my eyes to take in her face, I wondered for a moment - wait, why are we going into the inky unseen when we could enjoy this instead?

The storefront, near Mission and 20th, resembled not much more than an indie art gallery - spanganga!"Spanganga" painted over the door. A small table sat in front of an immediate white canvas curtain, masking the room behind. Sitting up front, our host - black t-shirt, black cap, and circles under the eyes. A smile and quick patter - "never been here? Okay. Behind this curtain, there's a room where you remove your clothes. There's a bathroom, water and some snacks. Then off to the right," he gestured back over his shoulder, "there's a completely dark room."

Inside, we would find some buckets, one marked with a single horizontal glow-strip, one marked with a glow-strip formed T. "The single strip buckets have condoms, dental dams, lube, vinyl and latex gloves," he counted off on his fingers, "The T buckets are for trash."

This is Sean Kelly, who has been dedicated to "life changing experiences at discount prices." Now, after three years of running Spanganga, an art gallery-cum-theater space-cum-safe haven for anonymous naked groping, he's retiring the space at the end of the month. "It's too expensive," he sighed, "unless you're going to promote it and work on it full time. And I have a day job." Which presumedly does not involve facilitating exploration of alternative modes of sexual expression.

"Ground-rules:" he went back to numerating off his fingers, "no talking. You can say no, or okay, or hello, but no talking. Safe sex, always safe sex. And you should crawl when you first get in, because it's totally dark in there."

Laurel and I looked at each other with an eyes-wide giggle and we passed under the first curtain at around 9:40pm. A mix of people were milling about the staging chamber - a heavy-set black couple in their late 30s, a heavy-set white couple in their forties, a bespectacled scrawny white guy and a slender Asian woman, and a blonde woman and her partner who appeared to me to be Mormons. People smiled, and their eyes didn't linger too long. It was like ripping a corner off the wrapping paper - cheating to size people up in the light.

Laurel and I commenced undressing. I'd forgotten to lock my car, I ran outside to take care of that. When I returned, she was standing near the curtains leading into the darkness, wearing a sheer short pink nightie. I quickly stripped down to skin, and snaking my arm around her waist, she took my shoulder and we pushed past the layers of curtains.

Immediately we had to hit single file. The entrance wasn't narrow, but presenting a unified front against sheer darkness was daunting. She stepped forward, and quickly dropped to a crawl. I followed, keeping a hand loosely on her ankle. There was no stimulation. No lights! Nothing I could see. And no sounds I could make out, as Laurel and I carried in our own little bubble of sound and experience from before the curtains. The floor was some kind of plastic sheet, an aisle between what felt like low beds on either side. Laurel headed off to the right. There were beds covered in sheets, simple. She perched on an edge. I felt out beyond, keeping low, crawling with my arms extended. No one on this bed! We sat back and took in our surroundings.

Which is to say that we took in each other. The heightened tension of the entire proposal and context had made us both excited I think, and I had found her smile so nice during dinner and she did smell good and what more could I want than to bury my face in that neck and so we were immediately locked in some embracing and kissing.

It was obviously grounding - blind in a strange room, potentially surrounded by strangers, it felt natural to have that shared affection. And then, pulling back from our immediate embrace, we took in the ambiance - underneath ambient music there were some low moans, and maybe some panting enthusiasm from the far corner? It was hard to hear exactly, but it was definitely passion - people were doing what we were doing! Shacking up with their partner for initial orientation.

And so we weren't long for touching each other again. She removed her nightie. And then we weren't long before we were joined. A hand touched my leg, and touched hers. Someone was crawling up on to us, as we were sprawled together. How strange! The hand was tentative, and disappeared. We paused. Should we stop? We kissed more. The hand returned. Hello? Hello - Hello. I reached out a hand, and touched a furry forearm. Hello, I'm Justin - unsure of proper anonymous sexual conduct, I introduced myself. Hi, I'm David, a soft mature man's voice returned. And this is Laurel. She and I opened slightly, to face him - inasmuch as you can face someone in total darkness. His hands were up by our arms now, and we could reach out to touch his shoulders and back. More hair there! How strange. Not at all like Laurel, I thought, keeping a hand steady caressing her back and shoulders. She was caressing me too, I noticed, anchored to each other as we welcomed this visitor.

We three touched each other's faces, and hair. His hair had large curls, his small beard was short curls. I immediately identified him as one of the people I'd seen in the lobby, as just as soon pushed that thought out of my mind. I couldn't see anything, and I didn't want to try. I opened up the circle, moving away from Laurel slightly, and bringing myself equidistant from her and David. The gentle caressing continued across bodies.

Our positions shifted. I was still focused on Laurel, and she had reclined. After some time focused on her lips neck and chest, I would send my arms or legs out and find another body occupied with her other parts. How strange! Sharing this woman I had been with myself earlier! And who was that anyhow? Man woman or beast? I didn't know, I couldn't know, I shouldn't know. I returned to what was in front of me, this lovely half of Laurel. I pushed my legs out behind me to see what I might find, if I might touch some other couple on another bed. No contact. I became curious. The sounds were louder. Obviously the room was filling, maybe with more bodies, definitely with more heat. There were people going at it! Booty slapping wet gushy sex. Hard pounding woman verbally panting sex. Big effort man grunt sex. From different corners! Those were the loud sounds - nearby, the soft moans of a friend? or stranger.

And now, the stray hands came near-constantly - people reaching out, or crawling past, curious or feeling their way, touching my leg briefly, touching my back, my buttocks. Running a hand through my hair. I found it all arousing, and distracting. I whisper-checked with Laurel that she was still okay, having fun and comfortable, and I asked her leave to go explore. And so I crawled slowly past her shoulder, leaving her to what? I couldn't see and hadn't felt.

Immediately I placed my hands on another body - older flesh, I could feel. And woman maybe - smooth. It was a thick arm, next to a chest - she was laying flat. I lowered my nose and mouth to her flesh. She smelled faintly like cigarettes and some kind of bold perfume now faded together into alluring. Leaning on one arm, I pushed at her largely flattened breast with my nose, taking in the smell, while my hands caressed her belly. She was moaning softly with her mouth closed. Pulling myself up near her neck I felt her copious dry hair in my fingers and buried my face in her neck. She picked up the pace of her moaning, and I could feel her hips jiggling. Someone was working down there! And it wasn't me. I began to run my hands and soft teeth in tandem, over her breasts. But the rhythm wasn't mine - I was disoriented and curious still. So I pulled away gently as her moans began to pass through an open mouth, and I crawled what I thought was further away from the invisible portal.

At this time in the evening, perhaps forty minutes into the experience? There was one couple really going at it. At least as I could tell - someone was having some terrific sex. I crawled tentatively towards it, not wanting to knee or elbow anyone in the darkness, and not wanting to stick my hands in the moving gears of intercourse. But I was inspired - I thought, what fun it would be to kiss a woman having the shit fucked out of her by someone else! To put my hands on a man's back or hips, as he was pumping away into another form! To join a swirling sex storm.

But it was too much energy in the darkness - their sound made them a large presence and I couldn't approach that blindly. Instead, I made my way around them. And I found a pair of hands met my hands, reaching out for me. And I was immediately astounded! I couldn't tell the age or gender of the hand holder. I paused there, caressing and pulling gently at the hands, enjoying the slightly rough feeling against my own skin. The pure human anonymity of the gesture, grasping and holding hands - it was inspiring without identity. Pure physical communication! And what was it saying? "Feel this" and "come here." The hands pulled me in, and I found myself embraced by a warm formless body - sitting up against a wall, copious flesh above poured over flesh beneath. The softness of the skin and two hanging breasts said woman, and she pulled me to sit between her legs. We embraced, my scrawny form enveloped. She was so soft and warm. I reached around to caress all sides of her. She moaned low into my ear. She reached between my legs and began to jerk me insistently. I reached down where her legs were split and found her already wet. We licked at each other's faces and lips. I felt her artificially ringletted hair. I thought to myself, is there a goal to this touch? A hand brushed over my leg. I embraced her tighter. She moaned again, a deep moan that pulled at me. All was pulling at me, pulling me in.

I pushed myself towards her, but I couldn't think about having sex with her. There was a bucket, I saw past her shoulder, with a single horizontal stripe. But how could I hold an erection with all this stimulation and thought? It would be worse to try to have sex here, I reasoned, instead of just enjoying the moment of total flesh immersion. So I continued the embrace. Some kind of sex behind me, and other free-roaming bodies brushing up against my back. Keeping one arm around her, I opened myself up, so we were sitting side by side. Her hand was still massaging my cock. Another hand crawled up my leg and joined hers. I felt out - a woman's back, she was on all fours, crawling towards me. I reached under her, felt her breasts, and her loose belly hanging off of her slender frame. Post-childbirth I wondered? She put her mouth around my cock, sucking on me. I reached out past her and found my hands on a hairy chest. I rubbed.

All humanity there in that moment I felt the embrace of the experience - strange hands and mouths on my flesh, mothers and sons, men and woman, a woman I took to be black and people I couldn't know. So many bodies connected pursuing nonlinear pleasure. I was thrown open and calm there.

The woman on all fours took away her mouth. The woman I'd been embracing began to pull away to the right. I found the hairy chest of a man I'd touched was attached to a tongue busy eating pussy. I reached down between his legs and found a rather shrunken cock near a pair of balls near buried between his open legs. I massaged both, slowly. Had he just had sex? Or was he absorbed in other tasks? I tried to read a story from his flesh. I found my hands on another man's cock clumsy. I pulled away from him and reached out in the other direction. Another hairy leg. I pushed my hand up and came across another cock, this one more erect with some kind of massive skin ring around the cock head. I gave it a few tugs, working to adjust my hand angle. I reached for his balls, remembering how nice it can be when someone massages me that way. He reached out for me, finding my leg and reaching up. His hand demonstrated some small surprise as he found a cock between my legs. He grasped me, in what seemed to be similar clumsiness, and we jerked together in time for a few beats. And then it ended, more like a brief cock hug than any kind of push towards ejaculation. He crawled away and I was left sitting there.

Between two mattresses, not touching any other skin, I felt adrift. Bodies brushed by me, I reached out for them. Might we share a moment? They were nearly always hairy. Some hairy and half-clothed. Clothing (undershirts, underpants) was a strange sign of restraint in the darkness - another texture besides skin or hair on an unvisible body. These men would invariably find my arm, find my shoulder, and reach down to my chest. My smooth skin fooled them maybe, but when they found no tits they all withdrew their hands and crawled away. It was strange to find something that true in the darkness.

It was funny to crawl by this time - the room was permeated by sex: smells and ambient human moisture. Especially concentrated human moisture - it was laughable to find myself crawling across a floor or mattress and squich - put my knee or hand down in some sperm or other fluid. Then wiping my limbs off on a nearby mattress sheet and imaging the cleanup in the light.

By this time I'd been aroused, and confused. I was experiencing sustained non-specific sensuality, but I wasn't wired this way. The darkness helped, it helped me not look into people's eyes and wonder what they wanted. It helped me by keeping me from choosing anyone. It was all serendipity.

But it also had a shape, it occurred to me at that time - I had come across women laying there, in the middle of their own mattresses, and men who were travelling the aisles. The noises of passion drew others close. There was ambient polymorphous perversity, but there was an underlying heterosexual coupling urge underlying it all. And I began to feel it myself.

darkness falls layout the layout of the room as I remember it without ever seeing it. Curtains in the upper right corner, two rows of mattresses with asiles between, and glow-strip buckets along the walls.
My partner Laurel has a cute braid that extended beneath her red hair - a bit of hair trim she's had since the age of 14. I left my place then, crawling across each of the mattresses reaching under most every neck, rubbing hair through my fingers to see if it might be that body I knew better than I knew the others.

My groping for a braid only worked across a few bodies before she seemed to sense me coming. "Oh hello!" she said, as she grasped my hands. I thought it was Laurel, but I wasn't sure. I felt for her hairs and pulled her into a hug. It was a warm confirmation, a return to something familiar in a situation of sensory suspension. We took up our kissing and touching where we had left off, interrupted again by David saying hello and a few other accidental and purposeful touches. But as our tempo picked up, the other hands were mostly incidental, and I found myself absorbed in the smells of my partner and the sounds of the room around me. A chorus of moans groans pants and slaps from a room full of people having sex in real time crackling through the air around me was an exciting thing - I found my performance inspired by all this activity. But I did crave the chance to study her face, to take her eyes in my eyes. So much of my pleasure in sex is visual, especially eye contact. Stripping that away heightened some senses, but I knew who I was engaging and I wanted to look upon her. Perhaps roulette sex with strangers is easier in the dark? I didn't know - I hadn't pushed that boundary.

Afterwards, I sat up from the mattress and stumbled to the door, naked, myself, exposed in the gentle light of the staging room. After another couple exited, I stepped in to the toilet. After washing my hands, I helped myself to some water and picked up some of the cut cantaloupe and a strawberry.

Cradling them in my hands, I ran an eye over the few participants sitting against the wall taking a break, gave them a smile, and headed back inside. I found Laurel easily where she had been and shared the fruit. We lay embracing. One man let out quite a forceful wail during exertion and the other half of the room laughed. Another light moment came as a few new people entered the room and began calling out for each other. "Eric? Eric?" "Monica, I'm over here." "Eric?" I added my own voice to the cries in the darkness - "Osama?" And someone added "Weapons of Mass Destruction?" And there was some laughter. But otherwise, the silence was unbroken by personal expression outside of sex. Until Sean, the organizer, stepped in and yelled, "Last Call!" For what? I wondered. He had threatened to put on his Victrola when we first stepped in, I called out for the old records now that the evening was coming to a close. There were still people having sex, but as Sean brought in the old record player and some of that cracking popping old dramatic vocal music of the 30s came on, the music became curious instead of forgettable and what was left of stirred up sensuality seems to have left. It wasn't long before Laurel and I looked up and realized the room was empty. We collected her nightie and exited.

Two people stood near the snacks, the black couple we saw at the start of the night. It was her first time, his third. A good introduction to swinging, he said. The darkness really adds something.

Or, the darkness really takes away something, which brings all sorts of other things to the fore. There was an undeniable magic to the unanticipated touch, to the hands emerging from the eyes-open-blackness. The sensation of having your eyeballs exposed but seeing nothing. The sense that you were surrounded by intangible sexuality, that your ears might direct you to a massive pile of moving limbs, but you must move crudely, so low to the ground, to keep from stumbling. Crawling around for hours in the dark would be strange, adding the nudity makes it almost laughable human - all the hairs and shaved, fats and thins, buttocks and calves you come in contact with. It's funny to think - there's no sign on the front that says "have sex in here" but I guess the people self-selecting for Darkness Falls don't need much encouragement to go after their pent-up demands for touch; the chance to touch without restraint. Still, I didn't notice any aggressive, overbearing hands. Didn't hear too many "no's" either.

I asked the gent who said he had been three times - does it get easier? Well, he said, the first time he went, he had to get his bearings. That was hard. The second time, it was real cold, that didn't work out. This time was a good number of people - just enough to always be touching someone but not too full. Yeah, he decided, it does get easier.

darkness seanLaurel and I headed out past the shirtless host chatting with a friend. He commended us for staying from start to finish. He's closing the space, he admitted, but if we're on the mailing list we should get some notice about future Darkness Fallings that could occur elsewhere. It was just after 1am - Laurel and I were happy to travel into the night together; I was glad to see her face, to see her smiling. And I could still smell her under my nose.

Posted by Justin at April 8, 2004 02:36 PM | TrackBack

amazing stuff, really amazing. thank you for continually sharing and allowing us to occasionally live vicariously through you.

i know only a few 'fearless' people in this world and you are one of them.

Posted by: anon at April 8, 2004 05:48 PM

how beautiful you must be to radiate so much feeling and life... you remind me of a butterfly that flutters by and lands on one's hand ever so gently making your presence known...thank you

Posted by: meredith at April 8, 2004 08:59 PM

dude, you're a horndog.

Posted by: olivia at April 9, 2004 03:34 AM

You're really into swamps, lately. Admire your adventurousness.

Posted by: absalomsf at April 9, 2004 09:56 AM

commendable if not perverse...

Posted by: corbett at April 9, 2004 10:53 PM

cool except for stepping in another guy's bodily fluids. watch your health man take care

Posted by: anon2 at April 9, 2004 11:39 PM

eye contact. soft speaking. sigh. so much better really. i remember a day/night that involved much of that. food seemed somehow wrapped up in it all. the wanting of food. the feeding of kisses. endless hours of kissing. whispering. like i was eating your breath. then you brough me homemade soup. if i was ill you made it better. a night of travelling to other places through thought and flesh.

Posted by: girlgirl at April 10, 2004 11:53 PM

Wonderful account. Bravo, adventurer.

Posted by: Halycon at April 13, 2004 06:08 PM

what an interesting concept and such vivid storytelling.

Posted by: nicole at April 14, 2004 02:18 PM

Justin, you never cease to surprise me. I'm excited for you and turned on that such a place, and such a time, existed for anyone.

Posted by: Jenn at April 14, 2004 07:49 PM

Wow. I have experienced and enjoyed group sex, but to do it in the dark, without knowing if it was a woman or a man, just wow.

Thankyou for sharing this.

Posted by: Sarah at April 14, 2004 09:11 PM

May I just say, "Eeewwwwww."

Please stay healthy.

Posted by: Urgle at April 16, 2004 07:44 AM

Hi, I came across your blog today and I just wanted to tell you I love how you share your experiences. I am a little adventurous on the sex side myself ... see my blog ... but is hard to find open people that like to talk about it.



Posted by: Bad Girl at April 30, 2004 09:46 AM

This is some of your best writing ever. (IMHO)

Posted by: anon dude at May 28, 2004 07:24 PM

wow... i feel so full of inexperience and wonder if i shouldn't be asking myself more about what I would prefer and/or enjoy sexually. your site is insanely stimulating and scary at the same time. i love your crazy honesty :)

Posted by: Sassy at October 14, 2004 12:39 AM

I've been spending some time today looking thru the links, and I must say this article just blew me away. What a breath of fresh air from the sexlessness of the interactive media program this is. Your writing style is candid and fresh, and communicates a comfort and honesty with yourself that few friends of mine possess or even think about. Your enthusiasm is inspiring. I look forward to some good talks over the next thirty years.

Posted by: Noha at November 13, 2004 03:01 AM
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