Helen Croydon: There's nothing wrong with a polite orgy

I found it to be the most honest form of flirting I've ever come acrosss

"Orgy at 17th Century mansion" screamed the popular press. Even The Independent described it as "group sex of bacchanalian proportions". What they're actually referring to is a privately run, tastefully organised, masked ball at a manor house near Bristol, where a few consenting adults made good use of a purposely prepared "chill-out" room.

I was at the party and I can't really see what all the moral fuss is about. Don't get excited, I wasn't there as one of the indulgent guests, but as a strictly lingerie-stays-on writer for The Erotic Review.

The party is appropriately named Eyes Wide Sin, after the hit film Eyes Wide Shut starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. In tune with the movie, guests arrived in full-length capes and Venetian masks. At midnight they were removed in a hierogamy-inspired ritual led by a chanting priest in the centre of a ring of women. They ended the ceremony by circulating a passionate kiss one-by-one and then slid off their cloaks.

The organisers, Little Sins, brought the concept over from Holland where I'm told everyone's much less inhibited and swinging parties are unashamedly attended by a very respectable set.

Granted, the midnight ritual is a bit quirky but the media outrage was a little excessive. Had this kind of activity taken over a wedding reception, I could understand, but with the exception of my rather stunned mini-cab driver, everyone who drove through the towering wrought iron gates to Halswell House on Saturday knew exactly what the night was about. Most are couples in long-term relationships, willing to try new things. Some just want to relieve their fantasies, built up through years of relationship constraint.

The few I dared speak to told me their liberal lifestyles had injected passion into their relationship. Most set boundaries as to how far they are happy for their partner to go. One first-timer told she will gently dig her nails into her partner if she needs to let him know he's going too far.

In fact, I found it to be the most honest form of flirting I've ever come across – refreshingly free of hidden agendas. How many times have we all been on the receiving end of unwanted attention in a bar knowing they have an ulterior motive in mind?

What these fancy swingers are guilty of, though, is allowing themselves to believe sophistication appeases seediness. I nearly fell into the trap myself. In normal circumstances the thought of two, three or even five naked strangers bouncing around on a four-poster bed would be quite repulsive. Yet sipping Veuve Clicquot under grand chandeliers surrounded by middle-class accents and prancing bodies clad in Agent Provocateur, it seemed so much more acceptable – seductive even.

Feelings towards sex fluctuate between ultimate pleasure and sordid repulsion. Perhaps it's because there's such a delicate balance between the two extremes that we're so keen to dress it up with decadence to pass it off as respectable.

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