It’s about 10 hours till my red eye to Reno and I’m at Shag, a Williamsburg sex shop, discussing the best condoms for desert-like conditions with the shopkeep.
“I’d really like some with extra lube. The playa is dry as fuck and I’m trying to reduce MOOP by not bringing lube packs with me,” I proclaim to the shop’s owner while scanning through a collection of app-enabled vibrators.
MOOP is one of many Burning Man words that denizens of this pop-up city in Nevada need to know to fit in on the sun-scorched avenues of the playa. An acronym for “matter out of place,” MOOP is the bane of the Burner existence, as keeping environmental impact low is a major badge of pride in the ever-expanding Black Rock City.
Last year, more than 80,000 people made their way to this New Age mecca, a pilgrimage devised by hippie diehards that’s lately become an end-of-summer retreat for startup millionaires, tech billionaires, and a growing list of celebrities and the Insta-famous. Paris Hilton, James Franco, Katy Perry and Karlie Kloss are just some of the stars taking selfies on the playa. Even Oscar winners are prone to the Burn’s allure: Susan Sarandon made one with the dust in 2015 to spread the ashes of friend and LSD evangelist Timothy Leary.
And now, Burner culture is trickling into the mainstream.
The culture of Burning Man is influencing a behavioral revolution that isn’t just impacting how we party, but also how we play.
While the endless parties, mind-altering drugs and positive, we-can-heal-the-world-attitude of true Burners are factors in my decision to make my way to the desert year after year, it’s the playa’s playfulness that gets me most excited about the Burn.
In this land, where nearly anything goes, promiscuity is applauded, experimentation is rewarded and letting your freak flag fly isn’t only encouraged but celebrated.
Slut-shaming is replaced with slut-claiming—taking ownership and being proud of seemingly sinful habits. There’s an openness that’s hard to find among New York City’s swipe-right-obsessed dating scene.
Suddenly, it hits me: In less than a day, I’ll be back home, surrounded by a few thousand of my fellow sluts. A warm glow moves through my body.
I settle on a pack of organic condoms from Sustain and rush home to make sure I packed my riding crop.
On my flight, I review What Wear When, the annual printed guidebook to Burning Man. Filled with a day-by-day schedule of what to expect on the Playa, the book features wild activities planned by the dozens of camps. A keyhole icon sits alongside the “adult” activities.
I quickly scan the book.
At 9:00 a.m., Orgy Bus Camp is holding an event called Sybian O’s Young Poly Sluts, which includes erotic massage and a ride on the world’s best vibrator. Young polys are promised massive pleasure, and the event listing stresses “No monogamists!” to ensure that only the most open of Black Rock City citizens attend.
A listing for “How to Give a Great Spanking” catches my eye, covering consent, negotiation, techniques, aftercare and more. The class promises live demos. At noon, it’s happy hour at the Shots for Shocks! camp for an electrifying experience complete with cattle prod.
With the excitement of a categorically “nice” child making a wish list for Santa, I circle and mark off my planned exploits, mixing some BDSM classes with conversations on sexuality and open love.
As I make my way through the nearly 200-page book, I think back to my first Burn, four years ago, when I was naive to all the sexual adventures the playa provided.
Making my way through the dusty roads solo, I stumbled upon Spanky’s Wine Bar.
Outside of the camp were signs promising a 21+ experience.
There I’d witness a bikini-clad woman come to orgasm, stimulated by a car buffer. Moments later a man ordering a drink at the bar would demand a spanking from a happy-to-oblige barkeep who proceeded to beat his bare ass until it glowed red with delight.
The scene was completely debaucherous. I was home.
“Trying to plan your Burn?” asked a soothing voice from behind me on the plane.
I turned in my seat to make eye contact with a woman in her 40s—perky, sandy-haired, with glasses circling a pair of hazel eyes. She had the look of a veteran Burner, a collection of gifted playa necklaces from burns past around her neck, memories from when Black Rock had no billionaires.
“Just don’t want to miss anything good,” I replied, knowing full well that trying to keep a schedule at Burning Man is pretty pointless. Between a lack of cell service, sand storms, deadly heat and random unexpected distractions, even the best laid plans fall through on the playa.
“It’s all good,” she replies, emphasizing the “all” with a strong dose of hippie optimism.
I close the book. I’ve already marked off more than 20 sex camps I feel like I must visit.
“It’s all good,” I think to myself as the plane begins its final decent into Reno.
“There’s really only two ways to enjoy sex at Burning Man. Either in an RV with air conditioning or on deep playa during sunrise. Everything else isn’t as fun.”
I stare, feeling a tinge of disagreement, at the statuesque blonde who has just answered my question about the best sex she’s had at Burning Man.
“Have you ever been in the Orgy Dome?” I ask.
“No, but I’ve been invited to secret play parties at some of the camps,” she responds. “This place just makes me so horny. I think it’s because everyone’s so naked. There’s a freedom from not having your phone with you all the time. I just feel more present.”
Hours after arriving, I’m discussing sex with Helena, a gorgeous model-type with high cheekbones and a body tightened by weekly pilates, bootcamp and hot yoga. Her nipples hidden behind glittery heart-shaped pasties, she wears a pair of reflective shades with a legible “Robot Heart” printed on the frames. Her hair is pulled back by a kitten-eared headband. Her bottoms are nothing more than a thong perfectly showcasing her firm, round ass. She’s wearing the kind of boots I’d imagine the costume designer for Mad Max would cream over.
Nearly nude, I spot her later trotting around the camp, taking up room at the bar before making her way to the dance floor. Her hips gyrate against an equally undressed brunette. Their bodies sway to deep melodic beats pumping from the dust-shaking speakers, hands carefully running down each others sides, lightly touching bare spots of sun-soaked skin.
In an outfit considered indecent on any city street, she struts in place, never fearful of unwanted attention. On display and somehow in her own world, the Burn gives her a sense of anonymity. As the music fades into another rhythmic beat she ends the dance, pulling in her partner and laying a soft, deep kiss on her desert-parched lips. Their sensual, unexpected kiss draws minor attention from men in the camp.
I almost expect to hear cheers, a round of applause from the assembly of young, virile men sitting along the dance floor, but the scene comes and goes with limited fanfare, a true testament to the overstimulation many experience at Burning Man.
After the kiss, she walks in my direction.
For a moment, I can’t remember if I was just staring at her the entire time. Did she notice me, mouth agape, as she seduced another scantily clad woman on the dance floor? I realize the Calvin Klein boxer briefs I’m wearing to deal with the midday sun have left little to the imagination.
She takes a seat near me on a dusty couch, places a hand near the outline of my growing member and offers a sip of her drink. “At Burning Man, you can feel sexy without feeling like a slut,” she proclaims as her hand further investigates my upper thigh. “Who the fuck wouldn’t love that?”
“In the Orgy Dome we practice verbal, enthusiastic consent. This means asking and waiting for an excited ‘yes’ before engaging in any touch or sexual activity.”
A bright red digital display flashes the number “115” above the tented doorway of Burning Man’s infamous Orgy Dome. To my left, a middle-aged couple spring up with excitement from their seat and quickly make their way into the dome.
“There are three sections for you to explore once you get inside. The first is for non-penetrative play. You can lounge there, make out and enjoy some heavy petting. We just ask that you don’t ejaculate in that area.”
I begin scanning the outdoor waiting room to get a feel of who I’m about to see naked. There’s a husband and wife in their mid 50s; a large set of silicone breasts fill up her sequined bustier, and he’s portly with long grey hair, bearded. I expect his breath to smell of whisky.
Two women with post-apocalyptic outfits hold hands, possibly a committed couple or possibly two friends looking to explore on the playa.
“In the back of the dome there are two sections for play. To your left is a couples-only section. You’re not allowed to proposition people in this area and it’s designed for couples looking to play together. Go there if you need a break, or if you’re more into watching and being watched.”
A young couple across from us in matching dinosaur onesies raise their hand. The shapely woman giving us our orientation tells them there will be time for questions at the end. As she says this, she spots another couple trying to beeline for the entrance and tells them they must complete orientation before heading inside. “It’s for yours and everyone’s safety,” she says as the display flashes the number “124.”
“Inside, to your right, you’ll find our open-play area. This is where you’re encouraged to practice enthusiastic consent. Don’t be afraid to ask for permission. We’re all here for the same reason—we love sex! Inside you’re going to see many different body types, sexual orientations, races and couples of all ages. If you make disrespectful comments or make fellow Burners uncomfortable, you will be removed and banned.”
After about 30 minutes, my number flashes on the display. I fake confidence as I make my way through the doors. Inside, a coat check: I remove my playa-dusted kilt and leather vest; the black, floppy ears I wear to personify my playa name “Pirate Bunny” come off along with my battle-worn desert boots. Nearly nude, I’m handed a small plastic bag filled with condoms and lube and make my way deeper into the dome.
Whiffs of sweat and sex sting the air as two large HVAC units fill the space with chilled breezes. I hold my partner’s hand and sit in the first room. We watch as a plus-sized young woman in leather gear begins to flog a subservient male. He’s thin with patches of hair on his shoulders and back. She lays into him with a few whips of her wrist. Moans of joy intermittent with the sharp slaps of leather.
We make our way deeper into the dome, skipping the solo play zone, but not ignoring the beautiful scene unfolding in the area for couples not looking to play with others. A muscular man, tanned with elaborate animal tattoos, buries his face into the folds of his partner’s spread vagina. He licks voraciously as her excited moans fill the room. Her face flush, she pushes him deeper into her delicate center. As her passionate outcry increases in intensity, another man watches in delight as his partner strokes and consumes his cock.
We sit in a section designated for couples who like to play and my partner is quickly propositioned.
“Want to join?” is the ultimate opener for a group of couples with one thing in mind.
I watch as a scene unfolds between two men and an ambitious, full-breasted female. She whispers to one of the men, her partner, and he quickly lays face-up on the padded ground, his massive erection in view. She mounts him and begins to work her thighs up and down his thick member.
The other man stands above them, fully erect. He places his hands on her hips and helps her ride her partner’s cock. She runs her hands across the hairy chest of the man beneath her, grabbing at the long hairs coating his fit frame. As the scene intensifies she grabs a condom and instructs the other man to put it on. Without hesitation, the condom slips on his engorged manhood. After exchanging a few words, the man applies an ample amount of lube to his cock and guides it into the woman’s already filled vagina. The two cocks begin to move in unison, slowing entering and spreading the woman’s supple hole.
Once again, I’m staring mouth agape.
I decide to focus on meeting someone. I make my way across the room and begin talking to an attractive couple in their mid-30s.
“Is this your first Burn?” I nervously ask.
The question feels out of place. I hear someone scream out, “FUCK, I’M GOING TO CUM!”
“It’s my sixth, her fourth,” the man replies. “My name is Tumbleweed and this is my wife StarBlazer.”
“Pirate Bunny,” I reply.
A brief silence.
“Is it okay if we kiss you?” he follows.
I thought you’d never ask.
The Burning Man burns and the playa begins to return to its restive state. The city of Black Rock fades into the sand as thousands begin their exodus, worn and tired from days of blinding dust storms, all-night (and most of the morning) partying and an unforgiving Nevada sun.
As I bike along the quickly emptying festival, I see a sign for a Pussy Carwash complete with a happy ending. The camps that offered weary Burners a place to drink and get a spanking are closed, and breakdown teams are packing away community tents, mattresses that tested the limits of their warranties, Saint Andrew’s crosses, benches and swings.
Sex isn’t on my mind through decompression, the period of time after the Burn that it takes for someone to acclimate to the “default world” (what Burners call life outside of Black Rock City). After a three-hour ride on the Burner Express, I’m back in Reno, checked into a hotel room, where I have my first real shower of the week.
As I wash playa dust out of my hair I hear the buzz of my newly charged cell phone.
I dry myself and view my feeds.
Sixteen of your friends have updated their profile pics with various scenes of them climbing playa art, Trump said something stupid and now even more people hate him, you have 18 friend requests, 50 direct messages and your mom wants to make sure you’re alive.
I dress and make my way to a dispensary around the corner of my hotel for some recreationally legal cannabis. (I love you, Nevada.) I buy some pre-rolled joints and head back to my room to enjoy some much deserved Netflix-and-chill (as in, literal chill from a blasting air conditioner).
Laying in bed, I’m binging on the third season of Bojack Horseman while experiencing sativa-enhanced flashbacks of sexy scenes over the past few days. The thoughts make me flush.
My phone rings. A message from an unknown number.
“Do you want to hit up Lake Tahoe with me and some girlfriends for decompression? Clothing optional.”
I stare blankly, trying to formulate a response.