– ELLE May 2003

Are you getting hot, ladies? You should be. Glamorous, girl-powered hedonism has hit the UK, says Kate Finnigan. So take off all your clothes…
‘So are you wearing, like, rude stuff under that?’ says the guy at the cashpoint, eyeing my long black military-style coat and the fishnets I’m trying not to flash underneath. My boyfriend looks half-offended, half-chuffed, while i reply in Austenesque tines, ‘No, I am not!’, just about managing not to add a ‘young man’ to my admonishment.


What is with me? I’m on my way to Cake, the infamous New York ‘sex party’ that’s arrived in London. Cashpoint Guy knows this because, like him, my boyfriend and I are carrying cheapo little black masks (it’s a masquerade party). According to Cake philosophy, the thought of an evening living it up Eyes Wide Shut-style should be so exciting that I respond to Cashpoint Guy with a wink and a ‘Yeah, baby’, whipping off my coat with all the va-va-voom of a Moulin Rouge chorus girl to exhibit my ‘rude stuff’. But, frankly, I’ve had enough of being a hedonist.


The last 12 months has witnessed a surge of sexual energy in the UK – much of it girl powered. A pleasure-seeking party scene has sprung up, encouraging women in their 20s and 30s to get their rocks off in whichever way turns them on. As well as in the arrival of Cake, Brazilian lingerie label Madame V has started throwing seduction classes, and fetish club Torture Garden has launched a successful females-only night called Rudegirls. At the same time the swinging – yep, that’s what I said – scene is attracting a surprisingly young, hip and female following here.


‘Sexual liberation goes in phases,’ says Emily Dubberley. ‘At the moment I think we’re right at the beginning of a dirty curve.’ Emily, 28, is founder of cliterati.co.uk, a sex website for women. Launched 18 months ago, the site is a forum for 18-25 year olds to have frank and funny discussions about sex and their sexual fantasies. With almost 200,000 users logging on each month, it’s the biggest website of its kind in the UK.
‘In the past couple of years, women have become a lot happier talking about sexual stuff,’ says Emily. She cites one reason. ‘Sex in the City made a huge difference,’ she says. ‘Last season, particularly when the show raised a particular issue, we got lots of conributions about the same topic. After the “Jessica Rabbit” episode, we had lots of masturbation fantasy stories with sex toys appearing in them.’


Some people think it’s part of the new world order. Certainly, since September 11, the US has seen an incease in sexual experimentation parties in the Cake mould. ‘People started thinking about things that they hadn’t done and decided, “Hell, may as well try that!”‘ says Emily. ‘Plus, increased redundancies – here and in the States – have seen many women deciding to set up their own businesses. Sex is an obvious gap in the market – when we set up Cliterati, there was practically nothing out there for women. So the whole “If you build it they will come” attitiude is strangely appropriate.’


Fashion has recognised these rude times. Dolce & Gabbana set the tone last June with an orgiastic Bacchanalian romp for Kylie Minogue in Milan on the last night of her European tour; then spelt out their dirty thoughts with this season’s ‘S-E-X’ chokers. At the launch of the Dior Addict perfume in Paris’ lido revue bar last October, a white tuxedoed John Galliano dangled from a forest of Arden while Gisele was ejaculated out of the floor on a fountain of perfume. YSL sent a penis necklace and indigo-painted nipples down the catwalk. Nathalie Rykiel opened a sex shop, Rykiel Woman, in Paris. This season, ChloŽ shot a girl in a plantinum SM mask for its ad campaign whilePatrick Cox persuaded Sophie Dahl to do girl-on-girl for his magazine ads, and Gucci hit the G-spot by etching its logo into Louise Pedersen’s bikini line. And only 17 people complained to the Advertising Standards Authority.


With all this gagging for sex, Madame V has arrived at the right time. The Brazilian lingerie label has just launched in the UK and in early February invited me to host their first Madame V evening for my girlfriends. As well as being able to buy from the new lingerie collection, we were to be instructed in the art of seduction by Madame V herself.


‘I am Vanessa and I am vurrrrry delicious in bed,’ says Vanessa Senem, bend ing at the knees and running her hands down her body in my living room. She’s being funny, bless her, trying to make the freaked-out English girls relax as we sit around smiling nervously. Unfortunately, in her cut-to-the-navel lacy body exposing caramel skin and an outstanding pair of Brazilian boobs, she’s achieving the opposite. But if anyone is entitled to teach seduction skills, it’s Vanessa. The 29-year-old Brazilian is, without a doubt, the sexiest woman I’ve ever encountered at close quarters – and when she’s trying to teach you how to pass orange slices from your mouth to someone else’s, she gets pretty close. While the knickers she has designed are fun, cute, sexy or sownright dirty, it’s the combination of her on-heat accent and intimate knowledge of boudoir secrets – from Brazil and from other cultures entirely- that has us all hypnotised. It’s a mixture of chat and practical stuff, from aromatherapy mood-setters to a recipe for a feminine wash that is said to enhance our allure down below. By the end of the evening, with the help of buckets of Veuve Cliquot, she has us all partnered up, trying to seduce each other through the medium of dance. Our evening climxes with the grim sight of us pelvic thrusting over each other’s heads. The next day I get my friends to email me their thoughts on the night’s proceedings…


Jo: ‘It was great to get lots of girls sitting around to talk about sex. So funny! And Vanessa was just amazing. I think we all fell a bit in love with her and her Brazilian accent.’
Suzanne: ‘I thought it was really useful. I used some of the techniques later – the aromatherapy and coloured lights – and i think they really did make a diffeence.’


Julie: ‘I didn’t like the idea that we were learning how to satisfy men. I can’t imagine any guy going out of his way to do that for me!’


Jo (a bit later): ‘By the way, there’s no way i’m washing my punani with goats milk and honey!’


Two weeks on and I’m having a civilised chat in a wine bar in Surrey. ‘You can end up with 20 people on one bed,’ Alex is explaining. ‘They might not all be physically connected but many will be. Some people enjoy not knowing who’s doing what to them, although I tend to prefer to know.’


Alex, 26, is a blonde, attractive graduate with an impressive job, a flash car and two cats. She’s also a swinger. Like many alternative lifestyle choices, swinging has come into its own since the advent of the Internet, allowing group sex with strangers to be repackaged in an entirely different manner to the dowdy suburban image it once had. The way Alex talks about it makes it seem entirely reasonable. ‘The people I play with usually end up staying in touch and becoming friends,’ she explains. ‘I like to have friends who I might end up in bed with, as opposed to strangers who I never see again.’


Fever (‘for young and attractive couples’ says the banner on www.feverparties .com) is the party of choice for the hip swinger about town. Founded five years ago, it has a policy on both age (no one over 40) and appearance (no one minging), and this year will host about seven parties – four in London and three in Manchester. ‘They just feel like drinks parties,’ insists Alex, who’s been a Fever member for two years. ‘The first one I went to was in a very smart flat in Kensington. The sitting room was the socialising area and you went somewhere else if you wanted to…take things further. It’s always very relaxed.’
According to the founders of Fever, the parties are getting so popular that they’re having to turn away half the applicants for each party. The average age of women attending has gone down from mid-30s to 26 and, whereas a single girl would have been a rarity at the early parties, now five or six turn up at every party.


‘Younger people are definitely becoming interested,’ says Clare, a 25-year-old Fever regular from Notting Hill, London. ‘I actually bumped into someone from work at a Fever party last year. I thought that it was great, but Ithink his girlfriend was slightly embarassed. I think it’s just partying moving on, it’s like the new clubbing. It’s just enjoying yourself while you’re young and still attractive. It’s like, why not?’
Emily Dubberley agrees that group sex is big news for 2003. ‘As well as Fever, there are more gatherings where people just go to meet like-minded people and talk about swinging but not actually do anthing there,’ she explains. She cites Loungeparties (www.loungeparties.co.uk), a swinging forum, as an example. ‘It’s effectively a dating event but with a specific sexual activity in mind. If someone’s thinking about getting into swinging it’s a lot less intimidating to meet people who are into it rather than meeting people who are naked and at it!’


By comparison, Rudegirls – the next exciting go-girl event in my diary – sounds a bit tame. It’s a female-only club night that takes place around every three months. There’s no agenda or doctrine mentioned on the website (www.rudegirls.net), just an acceptance of the universal truth that girls love getting dressed up. Another party, another pair of fishnets…


It’s sold out. The punters are a procession of Sally Bowles-esque girls: gay, bi, straight (but just bent enough to be here), parading gartered thighs and basqued-up boobs through the velvet-draped entrance to the bar. Bunny girls wiggle bunny butts to the sound of furious big band jazz. A fresh-faced ‘boy’ in a trilby grins as a tipsy South American girl in chiffon flicks her long aubern hair over her shoulder and moves closer. Her friend, watching, shakes her head as the two start to kiss. The tequila girl makes minxy eyes at everyone.


In other words, it’s really quite fabulous. A troupe of cancan girls, Les Ooh La Las are present in full regalia. ‘It’s a mŽnage of Tipping the Velvet meets the 40s meets a nightclub’ says head dancer Foufilles Noir. ‘I’ve just overheard a sweet young man outside, trying hard to persuade the door staff to let him in. He said,”I really just enjoy mingling”, which I thought was a novel word for it!’


Maybe it’s my convent-school upbringing, but it seems perfectly normal to me to be partying without boys. My friend Jeanine is equally at home cooing over all the lovely ensembles, comparing notes on girl-only partying and dancing to Prince. Without expecting to, we leave feeling empowered.


But spontaneous empowerment isn’t what Cake is all about and perhaps that’s why I’m so irritated on the way to its party at the Embassy club in Mayfair. NYU grads Melinda Gallagher and Emily Scarlet Kramer created Cake new York three years ago as a club night where women could explose and express their sexuality – through girl-on-girl action, stripathons, and lapancing – in a safe environment. safe because mwn are only allowed in if accompanying a female Cake member. Each week cake sends out an email, Byte, to its 25,000 subscribers from its website, www.cakenyc.com, on subjects from female ejaculation to – well, the most recent in my mail box was a very dull lecture on a piece of art at the guggesnheim by Matthew Barney that raised the nurture-nature debate…yawn. After months of this, the doctrine is beginning to get on my tits. I resent being told to masturbate every day. If I must be lectured to about empowerment, can’t they tell me to go to the library or join VSO rather than put my hands down my pants?


Thing is, the party is great. The masks look amazing – and so do the ladies in underwear. There’s a retro-style rollergirl and a hilarious caberet show with dancers wearing some of Madame V’s most death-defying little numbers. There are chicks doing the room with trays of multicoloured vibrators for everyone to try out (as in turn on, not sneak off to the bathroom with). It does feel a little bit naughty, a little bit sexy. Take your girlfriends and your extra-special boyfriends. Heck, it’s not a revolution, it’s not even much of a revelation. it’s just a party. And if you want to come, come as you are.