I had never seen real-live people having sex before. Then, this past October, I attended a porn shoot/play party hosted at Oasis, a Toronto pool lounge and sex club. A jaunty, bearded 24-year-old (meta porn name: Alias) in a dress shirt and tie was giving it to his girlfriend, “Vivienne,” a serious-looking 22-year-old redhead splayed on a desk, as a small crowd of 20- and 30-somethings—from hipsters to jocks—watched. Unlike in most porn, Alias wasn’t jackhammering away. He was giving her real orgasms: he went down on Vivienne for ages, then switched to a Hitachi Magic Wand and his hands before finally getting it in.
They would often check in with one another: “You OK?” They knocked things off the desk, and laughed about it: “Too hard?” She made fun of his tie. At one point, he anointed her forehead with her own juices and intoned, à la The Lion King, “Simbaaaa!” Everyone cackled. The vibe in the room wasn’t pervy at all: it was easy, relaxed, sexy. When he finally came, I actually teared up. I had witnessed a small moment of humans being good to one another.
The shoot was for Spit, a website of “alternative porn for the aroused mind” created by I’d Tap That, a community of sex-, queer- and poly-positive people. The three-year-old organization is run by Jesse Rae West, 24, and Caitlin K. Roberts, 25, who are leading an anything-goes, everyone-welcome social sex revolution among millennials in Toronto.
Every crusader has an origin story. Roberts and West told me theirs at a cozy pub around the corner from their apartment, which the friends share with their dogs, Pumpkin and Max. Even in her teens, West struggled with monogamy. “I didn’t know I had another option,” says the bosomy, Bambi-eyed nu–Vargas Girl. “As I got older, I wanted something more than that.” In her early 20s, she and her boyfriend of six years opened their relationship. One night, when they were cruising for girls on OkCupid, they came across Roberts’ profile. The spunky Amy Poehler–esque pixie also raged against the norm. “I’d dated multiple guys, and my mother told me that every time I slept with somebody I didn’t love I would lose a part of my soul,” Roberts says. In university, she started documenting her sexual experiences on her blog, To Be a Slut, then launched an event series called Body Pride, where women could get naked and talk about self-image and sex.
When West found Roberts’ OkCupid profile, she was intrigued, so she messaged her to meet for a platonic coffee. “We bonded over the fact that we didn’t have anyone to connect with, and from there we decided to create events where we could meet people like us,” says West. They threw their first dance party, called CrushTO, in the spring of 2012 at a rickety old Annex bar. I was there, and it was packed, mostly with cute 20-somethings. Everyone got a number to pin on their shirts, so fellow partygoers could tweet come-ons that were projected on a wall. I was struck by the open vibe— how people hit on each other so freely. Madison Howell, 19, a queer creative-industries student at Ryerson University, started attending CrushTO parties this summer. “Decades ago, when they had similar parties to this, people went and did not talk about it later,” she tells me. “Now there’s Facebook, Twitter, the website. I’ve even seen I’d Tap That people handing out flyers at Ryerson.”
I’ve been to many CrushTO parties since that first one. Whenever I mention them, I can see in people’s eyes a vision of naked hedonists stuffing things in every orifice. But they’re less like raunchy orgies than sexy dance parties. Attendees of every size and shape wear as little or as much as they like. Some go wild and topless on the dance floor, while shyer folks can play spin-the-bottle in a quiet corner. You sense that what you look like matters less than your joie de vivre. Dan, a 34-year-old payroll administrator, has been an I’d Tap That regular from the beginning, attending almost every event over the past couple years (and even appearing in two Spit shoots—shocking, given how timid he seems). He likes the fact that there is open communication about what potential partners are looking for: “It’s an accepting atmosphere. I’ve had the confidence to do things that I never would’ve done before—and I don’t even mean the porn shoots, I mean just talking to new people.”
Lucia O’Sullivan, Canada Research Chair in Adolescent Sexual Health Behaviour and a University of New Brunswick psychology professor, says that millennials, despite their wanton gallivanting, have “one of the most conservative sexual health records—definitely in comparison to their parents and grandparents. The research shows there are lower-than-ever rates of pregnancy and abortion.” She does grant that, while use of birth control and condoms has improved, STIs are still on the rise, but that uptick is happening across generational and sexual-preference spectrums, not just among free-wheeling Gen-Yers. “Their attitudes are much more progressive. They’re more open and appreciative of diversity,” she continues. “A lot of people confuse this approach to sexuality with a more permissive sexual life, but young people are still making very healthy decisions.”
Sexual norms are shifting breathtakingly fast: “It seems there aren’t 25-year gaps anymore—it’s five-year gaps from one group to the next in terms of what they think is acceptable,” says O’Sullivan. What seemed deviant five years ago—poly relationships, for example—is now becoming much more common, or at least more visible in pop culture and in online dating profiles. There may be swaths of the population that wouldn’t be caught dead at a sex party now, but it seems likely those swaths will dwindle in the next five years, and the five after that. Our kids may inherit a shame-free sex-topia, with room for everyone’s desires. Something as small as a party, West and Roberts believe, can help get us there.
Over the last two-and-a-half years, the two have expanded their project. In addition to CrushTO, they started Puppy Love, a freshman-level event with a craft table and a standing truth-or-dare game. The play parties at Oasis, where people can hang out, dance and have sex, now routinely sell out. Body Pride spun off into Spit after Roberts and West heard women complain that online porn didn’t match the sex they were having. “We wanted to display a wider array of people having enjoyable, consensual, happy experiences with their sexuality,” Roberts says.
The porn on Spit has the thrill of the real: “If I found out someone was faking an orgasm, I would not post his or her set,” West says. They use Photoshop only to correct lighting. Zits, moles, glasses, armpit hair and soft penises remain in the frame. Stomachs ripple and crotch stubble pokes out. At the shoot I attended, I watched a Buddha-bellied bro in glasses fidgeting a few feet away from Roberts before he got the courage to tell her he’d thought about doing porn. “But I guess…I’ll have to work out a bit,” he stuttered. “No, no, no!” she cried. “We don’t care about that here. We want to be representative of everyone!”
Both Roberts and West perform in shoots, so I ask them if they worry that years from now they’ll regret putting themselves out there so unabashedly on the Internet. Last year, West had an office manager job offer rescinded because of her side projects, while Roberts’ family has yet to come to terms with her lifestyle, but neither of them would have it any other way. “I couldn’t find porn that I like, or porn that feels authentic or represents what I am, so we created it,” West says. “I didn’t have a community, so I made one.”