In Defence of Sex and Parties

by Sophie K Rosa

5 February 2021

Bronte Dow

It’s been almost a year since partying and sex became basically illegal. And now – according to a lot of people on Twitter – stating that you miss these things, and that lockdown life is boring, should basically be illegal, too.

Earlier this week, a journalist tweeted that she missed partying and sleeping with strangers. She also pointed out that “boring lifestyles”, which are already “far too validated” have become “the norm”. The seemingly innocuous statement provoked a pile-on and the tweet’s deletion.

The backlash came from many corners. Some of it was people defending their traditional – not boring! – ways of life. Some of it was reactionary, misogynistic slut-shaming. Another group argued that longing for parties in the middle of a pandemic, when people are dying, is frivolous or selfish; and that partying itself is exclusionary, even ableist.

Many felt the tweet’s derision of “boring lifestyles” was a direct attack. But such analyses obscure what’s at stake: the profound importance of partying as resistance.

Domesticity and monogamy are obviously valid choices. They are also normative ones; they are lifestyles legally sanctioned, and now legally mandated, by the state. In the pandemic, we have all been shoehorned into lives approximating a neoliberal ideal: we work; we are atomised in private households; our sex lives are limited to “established relationships”. We exist in our work, our homes, our health. But we are so much more. We deserve rich, lush lives, outside of our homes, beyond work – we all deserve not to be bored; we all deserve to party.

A good party is, among other things, an affront to capitalism. It can provide a collective escape from drudgery, a sanctuary from oppression, a chance to transcend. It revives our utopian imaginations. A good party has elements of prefiguration, glimpses into a better future; it gets you high on hope.

This isn’t about our right to have a gin and tonic at Be At One. It’s about holding onto spaces of joyful defiance – which is what good parties have always been. The history of raves, free parties, festivals and carnivals is a history of resistance: queer nightlife during the AIDS pandemic offered not only hedonistic escape but formed part of community care strategies; Notting Hill Carnival was borne of Black resistance to racist violence during the 1950s.

Good parties – which can be a form of civil disobedience – threaten the state. The 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act cracked down on 90s rave culture and alternative lifestyles, including those of squatters and Travellers. Governments are rightly fearful of mass gatherings’ potential for political organising; under lockdown, we must defend our right to protest – and beyond the pandemic, our right to party.

Of course, a lot of parties are shit. And partying can be exclusionary because it exists in a society laden with oppression. Nightlife can often be hostile to people from marginalised groups; like our culture at large, it is marked by ableism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, classism, ageism. We need better parties.

Whilst we remain isolated, we could fantasise about what kinds of parties we long for on the other side. Lockdown online events like Queer House Party have made partying more accessible and emphasised safer spaces principles. What about raves with crèches? Cradling quiet rooms with light shows and dreamy music, at otherwise rowdy nights? Parties with multimedia curation, where older people feel welcome, and over 70s events? Playrooms dedicated to different kinds of touch?

Sophie Lewis writes: “The denial of pleasure to populations is a grave historic harm, and the denial by some leftists of the centrality of pleasure to liberation struggles is a correspondingly serious error.” Our pandemic lifestyles have instilled ascetic tendencies, and encouraged us to police each other in new and worrying ways – we must resist these socially conservative impulses.

Most of us have found we are deeply unfulfilled, often depressed, by lives limited to our homes and our work. If you are among the few who don’t find lockdown life “boring”, then good for you. If you do; if you found pre-pandemic life boring, too – you deserve better. Joy should be a vital demand. As Emma Goldman said: “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” And at a time when life has become so barren, insisting upon this is crucial. And if you still don’t want to party – honestly, you don’t have to.

Sophie K Rosa is a freelance journalist. In addition to Novara Media, she writes for the Guardian, VICE, Open Democracy, CNN, Al Jazeera and Buzzfeed.

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