By Luna Ray, Founder of Bloom Community
I swing by the venue on my way to pre-drinks at the local dive bar. I'm not signed up to volunteer, but my friends are leading setup and I know this is about the time they'll realize they are understaffed and need help. The World Peace Community Center* is a large multi-room venue, lights are still on and boxes of condoms, lube, gloves, and baby wipes are clustered in the middle of the main room waiting to be sorted into supply boxes to be distributed into the various rooms. This time there's a shortage of plastic mattress coverings, and I hop in to troubleshoot. Soon, someone is on their way to Target and I am distributing supply boxes into the various rooms. My shift runs right into the party and I never make it to pre-drinks, but as the first guests stream in, we're ready to go. I move to the communal bathroom to refresh my makeup and add on my 6 inch heels (it's impractical to do setup in them), complimenting new and old faces on their outfits as I go. My favorite part of every party in the first 20 minutes, when people roll through the shared all-gender mirror space in the bathrooms, stripping naked out of their street clothes to then put a sexy costume back on. Compliments are offered generously, hugs exchanged between friends old and new, and friendly greeting kisses exchanged between sexy friends who haven't seen each other since last month. The mood is light, airy, friendly, and just a tad bit sexy. In a few hours, the sexy will ramp and clusters of sexy humans will descend on the mattresses we laid out so carefully, rummaging through the supply boxes to find condoms of the right size and lots and lots of lube. But for now, I'll smile and make a few new friends and make my way in my six inch heels towards my volunteer bar shift.
If you had asked me five years ago to read the scene I just wrote, I would have been uncomfortable. And here I am now, sharing it with the world. Why? Because I care about helping people authentically connect and build community. This is my personal calling.
I spent five years working on social software at Facebook, Instagram, and Oculus, and what I found in abundance at sex parties, kink dungeons, and burning man - true, authentic, vulnerable connection - felt conspicuously absent in our leading social software products. When I set out on my own journey to build ethical social software that helps people build meaningful connections, I knew there were valuable lessons to be learned from communities at the boundary of culture.
Here's what I think social software can learn from sex parties:
In May of this year, Bloom Community launched as a way for people who share sex positive values to meet around community events. Bloom is built for people looking for connection who share our values. We call connections "Buds" (we love our garden puns) - and we don't presuppose what form that connection will take - romantic, platonic, or something else. We leave it to two humans open for connection to figure that out. We partner with events from Folsom Street Fair (the 200k+ person global kink gathering), to SoulPlay Festival (a connection retreat), to the Public Works (a Burning Man community night club) to help attendees connect around their events. From our inception, we've incorporated these three lessons from sex-positive and values-based communities.
Play parties and kink events usually have affirmative consent as a leading value with substantial education at most events. Burning Man has its ten principles that permeate its global cultural influence. All of these are social experiments at the boundary of culture - as is social software.
When you build social software, it's important to define how you expect people to interact in the context of that software. Values clarify the standard of behavior, specify who the software is built for, and create emotional safety in that clarity. Define them, make them super fucking clear, live them loud and proud, educate people about them, and hold people accountable.
Bloom's community values are consent, communication, and respect - I think of these as sex positive values.** Here's how we define them:
We always practice affirmative consent, which means asking before escalating intimacy and actively listening to each response. Act only on a clear and enthusiastic "yes!" (with an exclamation point). Anything short of that is not consent.
We clearly express our interests and boundaries, which creates a shared space to connect and play.
We treat people with respect. We honor each other's boundaries, diversity, and time.