Patterns of Transformation
Q&A 6: What about those f'ed up parties in Silicon Valley?

It’s been a few months since I answered questions about Patterns of Transformation for the email list. A number of great ones have piled up in my inbox, and I’ll be sharing answers over the months ahead.

Several people have asked about my take on the Vanity Fair piece “Oh My God, This Is So F—ed Up”: Inside Silicon Valley’s Dark Side by Suzanne Andrews. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to. It’s a bold move to expose dangerous power dynamics at sex parties thrown by tech industry leaders.

The article has been making the rounds, provoking responses to support and deny the scenes it describes. While the parties may be well-designed power plays, they are not well-designed sex parties because they create a disproportionate distortion of social risk among participants. If all participants do not need to risk rejection equally, and those least empowered to leverage their personal boundaries are those most likely to suffer consequences outside the party, you have a recipe for coercion and abuse.

The tech industry leaders who are depicted as feeling entitled to sex now that they have social and financial power they didn't as awkward teenagers stand to gain a great deal from a well-designed sex party. Such parties would ask these guys to navigate their own desires in a context where the rules of engagement help them learn how to listen to and respect the desires of those around them. Ideally, they would be surrounded by helpful examples of people navigating personal boundaries. And if their own behavior was ever out of line, they would be corrected in a way that was far more respectful and supportive than the social ridicule they might have experienced as teenagers. 

Some of the sexually permissive events I studied had a level of intrigue about their invitations, just as the ones described in the Vanity Fair article. An important difference though is that at some point before stepping into the magic circle, be it through a prep email to everyone who has RSVPed or a ground rules orientation at the door, terms of safe engagement are explained and attendees need to deliberately op into them. (For an example, see the NYC Safer Spaces website, with a Bill of Rights and a Code of Conduct.) Many well-managed sex parties will have proctors who you can go to for support if you feel unsafe for any reason. I have never been to a party where participation was required, and polite voyeurism is almost always a-okay provided the people you’re watching are playing out in the open and you are not invading their personal space. 

I can’t say I’ve ever been to a party like the ones described in the article. If I did end up at one, I would probably seek out the tamer corners or exit the premise entirely. If I was invited to the event through professional connections, I would start exploring ways to leave that industry, or, as one woman in the article did, relocate. 

Read previous Q&As.

Recommended Watching and Listening

Check out the movie Shortbus if you haven't already. It's my favorite feel-good portrayal of sex parties and their transformative potential. 

The No Proscenium podcast interviewed me last month. We discuss how my earlier work in trespass adventures influenced Patterns of Transformation. 

You can catch me speaking at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in late February. The theme is influence, and the line up is wonderful! Definitely look up the speakers if there are names you don't recognize. You'll be delighted by their work.  


If you have questions about Patterns of Transformation, write me an email or send a note through the forms on the site. If you’ve put any of the design tips into action, I’d love to hear how it went. And don't be shy about sharing this email or the Patterns of Transformation website with someone you think might find it useful.




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