"You go to weird perverted sex parties? Whoa, how wild and crazy! I mean, playing in the bedroom, that's one thing, but going out and doing it in front of lots of people, that's way out there."
Not really. I certainly go to play parties because I'm a bit of an exhibitionist, and because I like to mix it up with lots of new people. (And, in one of those things that never occurs to "so you're like a dominatrix or something?" types, because the kink community is a community and I enjoy connecting with friends as well as partners at events.) But I also go because it's safer.
With reasonable use of condoms and common sense, having sex and playing with strangers are not tremendously risky activities. Being alone with strangers--that's a risky activity. I'm not worried about letting some random goon tie me up. I'm worried about letting some random goon tie me up where other people can't hear me safeword.
The times that I've gotten alone with a stranger for sex, my worries were never "pregnancy, herpes, AIDS"--I've thought "does he have a weapon, will he respect limits, will he try and restrain me?" There's no condoms for that. Safecalls? Good for body recovery. Weapons? Hard to keep handy when I'm rolling around naked. Self-defense training? I'm 5'1", have impaired physical coordination, and I shwing for guys who are built like brick shithouses.
I'm not a paranoid person. I don't hate or fear dudes (boy do I not) and I often will decide I've considered the risks and I'll get alone with them anyway. My only point here is that it's the isolation, not the sex or play, that strikes me as risky. Going to a stranger's house to watch a movie is more dangerous than letting a stranger beat you bloody and fuck you up the ass at a party.
Since Benny, I've played alone with people a few times, but I haven't let myself be restrained when I'm alone. I'm sure I will again but it's going to take a lot more trust and carry a lot more weight than it did before.
So to me, a sex or BDSM party isn't a venture into the wild underground; it's the safest possible way I can pursue my desires. Sure there's a kinky thrill to getting tied up in front of people, but those people aren't just voyeurs--they're witnesses. Playing publicly isn't just my kink, it's my safety net.