1. They have roots in the sixteenth century.
Today’s sex parties are part of a larger tradition of French hedonism and eroticism dubbed “Libertinage.” Libertines were a religious sect in 16th century France, who believed that nothing could be truly sinful — since God inhabited every person, any and every action was godly. The sect didn’t survive, but the concept of libertinism — often expressed through sexual promiscuity — lived on. Above is famous British libertine John Wilmot; the Marquis de Sade is also often classed as a libertine.
2. Dominique Strauss-Kahn was into them.
“Libertinage” rose to prominence again this year when Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the onetime French presidential candidate accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid, was investigated for alleged participation in sex parties that included prostitutes. Strauss-Kahn said, “There are numerous parties that exist like this in Paris, and you would be surprised to encounter certain people.” He says he didn’t know the women involved were prostitutes — his lawyer added, “I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman.” But one woman recalls making money for pleasing DSK: “I had these little dances with DSK that were pleasant moments that paid well.”
3. Swinging was encouraged.
According to the New York Times, the sex parties started with a fancy dinner — guests included top French lawyers, journalists, and musicians. Then “kisses were exchanged between one woman and another and between a husband and the wife of a friend” — eventually guests “all ended up nude.”
4. They were really expensive.
Each party cost about $13,000 to throw. Fees paid for food, Champagne, and, when not enough women showed up to satisfy men like Strauss-Kahn (who reportedly wanted to have sex with three or four women per party), the services of prostitutes.
5. Organizers included “Text-Message Man” and the “king of the massage parlours.”
Businessman Fabrice Paszkowski is accused of setting up some of the sex parties — he was apparently known as “l’homme des SMS” or “Text-Message Man” for the mode of communication he allegedly used to organize the parties. Also allegedly involved: Dodo La Saumure, a Belgian hotel owner also accused of running brothels — one French paper nicknamed him “King of the massage parlours.”
6. In addition to sex, the goal was political influence.
Strauss-Kahn may not have been paying prostitutes himself. Instead, businesses were picking up the tab, in hopes he’d remember them if he became president of France (he was seen as a frontrunner before the assault allegations in 2011). One businessman wrote in a memo, “In business, it is good practice for a boss to have access to the presidency … we could propose such projects as public-private partnerships.”
7. The male guests were sort of embarrassed about the whole prostitution aspect.
Despite their fondness for swinging, men involved in “libertinage” were surprisingly bashful about prostitution. One of Strauss-Kahn’s fellow guests told a French newspaper that he sometimes engaged in make-believe with prostitutes at the parties: “I often invent their role, such as a secretary, because I was ashamed of having to be with someone who was being paid.” And Paszkowski testified, “It was not good form at these ‘libertine parties’ to say that the girls were being paid.”