This article is part of Washingtonian’s June 2021 cover story about sex in and after the pandemic. We chatted with locals about their quarantine escapades and struggles, talked to sex shop owners about the bestselling toys, heard about safer ways to get naked online, examined intimacy through a stunning series of photos, and mused about the future of sex. Dig in here.
In March of 2020, Sarah Massey, a 47-year-old kinky queer woman, left her job running communications for the National LGBTQ Task Force to care for her parents in Paris. Some 4,000 miles away from friends and partners in DC, she was desperate to connect and to recreate a favorite pastime: naked dance parties.
While dates and happy hours transferred easily to video calls in the pandemic, having actual sex on platforms like Zoom, Facebook, or Google Meet was a nonstarter—nudity and sexual content are subject to strict limitations or banned altogether. Then there was the not-unfounded fear of surveillance by Big Tech. So Massey searched for alternatives. Discord, which allows some nudity and NSFW communication with caveats, was one option, though it notoriously has struggled with issues of revenge porn, underage content, and violent white supremacy.
Stymied by the options, Massey decided to make her own platform where folks could feel safe to strip. “Seeing the human body when [we have been] boxed in is important to emotional wellbeing, health, and flourishing,” she says. “It’s the best antidepressant.” Massey linked up with Riley Lamey, a trans web developer who built the nude-friendly tech with open-source software. In April 2020, they launched a video-call website, with a flagship Queer Dance Naked Party.
“We have no artificial intelligence, no surveillance, [and] double logins with multiple layers of security,” says Massey. “There are very stringent ground rules that everyone signs off on.” (They’ve also got bouncer-like abilities to remove any disruptors.) Dubbed freeQ—“freedom for queers”—they’ve hosted more than 3,000 attendees at 100-plus events including naked poetry, queer yoga, and happy hours. Major conferences like San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair and, most recently, Portland’s KinkFest turned to Massey’s team to run their racy programming virtually. Up next: A completely online and interactive weekend festival, freeQ PrideFest, where you can find parties, music, art, and even a dating game.
Massey is now back in Washington, but with the app connecting people across the globe, and the hindrances of Big Tech unlikely to change post-pandemic, she’s keeping the party going. “I think in a small way we’ve created just a taste of liberation.”