Hi! I am poly-single/AB/‘virgin’ and working on expressing and meeting my social/romantic/sexual needs at the moment with my therapist as I am shy and afraid of making them real. I got an invitation from some members of the local poly group (among them my crush), they are organizing a 'pleasure party’, uncommercial, but with a strong focus on consent and safe sex. Do you have any tips for overcoming my insecurity or how to deal with the people there, so I can freely experience new things there?

First off, major kudos to you for working on this with your therapist and taking the big steps of connecting with a local polyamory group and making plans! You are doing the hard work of healing and growing, and that is something to be really proud of. Some tips from me:

Take the pressure off yourself. Some therapists working with clients to set new habits assign things like “every day, after work, drive to the gym. Just drive there and sit in your car for a bit.” That is easier to start with than “go to the gym and WORK OUT FOR A WHOLE HOUR,” especially if the person has anxiety around going to the gym or working out. So just plan to go and not have sex. Plan to go, meet people, get the lay of the land, see what these parties are all about. If all the stars align and you end up feeling comfortable and playing with someone you click with, great! But let that be a lucky bonus, not the purpose of your attendance.

Wear something you feel comfortable in. This is a tough one to get the right balance of, but it’s worth some pre-planning because in my experience, it does make a difference. If everyone is wearing strappy black leather and lingerie and you come in a bright yellow sundress or jeans and a t-shirt, you’ll stand out and feel self-conscious. At the same time, if you go buy something lacy and tiny that you’re not used to wearing, you’ll have a hard time enjoying yourself if you feel too exposed and are always worried about tugging or adjusting something uncomfortable. Ask the people who invited you what people usually wear, and take some time with your own wardrobe or shopping to find something that you are going to be comfortable in.

Be honest about your newbie-status. People at parties like this tend to be lovely, welcoming, friendly, and gentle. Don’t feel like you have to fool people into thinking you’re some expert who’s done this a million times. It’s okay to say that you’re new to this, that you’re a bit nervous, etc. It’s okay to ask questions. If anyone acts exclusive, rude, gatekeeper-y, or anything beyond sweet and helpful, they are not a safe person. It reflects on them, not you.

Be as independent as possible. It can be tempting to find a ‘buddy’ that you already know, maybe the person who invited you, and stick with them - and that’s definitely a good place to start, but don’t rely on them the entire time. If you only feel secure when right next to someone you already know, you won’t get to meet other people or enjoy other experiences. Plus, if they want to go off and play, or talk to someone else, etc. then you might feel abandoned or unsafe, and that’s no fun! So do your best to make friends, move through the room, hover near the food, step into those loose circles of people standing around and talking, make eye contact and smile and thus invite people to introduce themselves, etc.