Written by Jessie Sage, originally published in Pittsburgh City Paper.
Imagine walking into a public event and seeing a woman furiously riding a recumbent bicycle with a hint of pleasure on her face. Not the kind of pleasure that you get from breaking a sweat while exercising but one that is more akin to masturbating with a vibrator, and you realize she’s pleasuring herself while the seat vibrates with every stroke of the pedal.
And then imagine yourself, at this same event, watching two folks who barely know each other step into an art installation, put on helmets, and awkwardly kiss for the first time as their helmets are pushed together via hydraulics. A more technologically advanced version of “Seven minutes in heaven”? Only this time, everyone’s watching.
And now imagine not only being able to see these things, but being able to take your own turn as well, either alone, or with your partner(s), dipping your toes into a public sex space, perhaps for the first time.
Imagine no more. Such an event, where pleasure, sexuality, and connections are pushed to the forefront, is something that you can actually experience this weekend in Pittsburgh. On Sat., Feb. 15, local avant indie orchestra Spish is hosting a multimedia art event: Love Dungeon III: Heaven and Hell, with proceeds going to SistersPGH, and itinvites folks from all walks to life to come out and experience something fun, sexy, and interactive this Valentine’s Day.
And when the event says people from all walks of life are invited, it means it. While there will be burlesque performers, rope demonstrations, and interactive events and installations, those who attend are not expected to previously have been a part of any of these communities. And this is one of the benefits of an event like this. While going to a swingers club can be intimidating when you don’t know the rules and norms of swinger culture, and going to a BDSM munch may seem scary if you don’t quite know how you fit in or what you are interested in exploring, Love Dungeon is intended to be a stepping stone, one that you can come into without any experience.
“The event is intended to be an educational immersive learning experience,” says Ric West, Spish’s synth and keyboard player. “It is a safe space for everyone to express themselves individually and also to express their sexual identity as freely as they want.”
They have taken many steps to make this as comfortable as possible, telling people to dress in whatever makes them feel sexy, recognizing that this could mean any number of things. Sexy is not one size fits all.
They have also drawn up “The 10 Consentments,” alluding to the heaven and hell theme, which will be prominently displayed. These range from rules about touching, to how to interact with the performers, to issues of respect for everyone’s sexual and gender identity and expression.
For someone like me, who goes to porn conventions for work and has spent many years in sex communities and public sex spaces, it doesn’t seem particularly naughty to ride a bike with a vibrating chair in front of people. But perhaps this sounds unappealing to me because I remember doing something similar on a MotorBunny in a sex club years ago, and it made me want to die (a story for another time!).
But if I think back to a time before exploring sexuality became my job, and before I became so comfortable displaying my sexuality in public, I think that such an event would have been a really nice and safe way of exploring sexuality in a pubic, group dynamic.
Jessie Sage is a sex worker and writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s also the co-founder of Peepshow Magazine and the co-host of the Peepshow Podcast. Her words can be found in the Washington Post, VICE’s Motherboard, Hustler Magazine, Men’s Health, BuzzFeed, and more. She’s currently writing a book on sex work, motherhood, and illness called An Unexpected Place (forthcoming on West Virginia University Press).