You’ve been invited to a play party at a friends house or a public play event at a local space. You know you’re interested in the kink or BDSM Scene; maybe you’ve dabbled at home or with your partners; maybe you’ve done internet research. But one things for sure: you’re still nervous. What if you screw up? What should you expect? How do you navigate this strange new world of porn-come-to-life?
Attending your first play event, no matter how involved or knowledgeable about kink you are can undoubtably be a stressful and anxiety-inducing experience. You’re entering a new, semi-underground world with it’s own rules, regulations, expectations, and social norms. Except, unlike any vanilla parties or events, you haven’t been attending gatherings like these your whole life so the code of conduct is unwritten and the social contract mostly unknown. The risk, too, is greater. There is greater capacity for danger or for a mistake to cost you your membership. You want to be safe and make others feel safe around you. You want to prove your trustworthy. And most of all, you want to have a good time, be comfortable, and know what you’re doing!
Play party etiquette and expectations shouldn’t be a secret. Let’s go through them together.
A good kinkster will utilize the concept of consent in every situation, especially at play events, for more than simply negotiation for sexual or play encounters. Consent, when you boil it all down, is simply respecting the thoughts and needs of those around you and ensuring you have permission before doing something that might affect other people around you. You can never ask too much for consent. Ask for it before you touch or hug someone. Ask for it before you ask more-than-smalltalk questions. Ask for it when negotiating play. Your fellow party-goers will thank you for asking rather than assuming.
Every space and event has its own policies, procedures, rules, and guidelines. There are common ones, sure, such as limited cell-phone and camera usage, no food in the play space, no intercourse, the prevalence of scene names rather than real-life names, and house safewords, but veteran attendees or hosts may forget to explain these to every incoming person. Knowledge is the ultimate powerplay, so when in doubt, simply ask a Dungeon Monitor (DM), host, planner, staffer, or veteran attendee what you should know about the rules before you dive in.
Not only can you learn a lot from observing a play event, but you may also find that observing itself is an expectation of an event. When I’m attending a new event, I like to plant myself in a corner where I have a good view of the room and just observe for 15 minutes or so. How do people approach one another? Are people mostly friends or strangers? What is the protocol for reserving scene spaces or equipment? Is there a wishlist board for play invitations? Some observation time can answer most of these questions. In addition, you’ll find that the social stigma of “staring” or “watching” is not as pervasive in the Scene as it is in the vanilla world. Observing scenes in progress, checking out potential play partners, and watching others play is a large part of the event and usually encouraged.
There’s no doubt about it: attending a play event for the first time can put you to the test. There’s usually a lot of people milling around, a lot of noises like screams or moans or slaps, and certainly a lot of sights that aren’t commonplace. You may find that not everything is your cup of tea. Maybe needles and blood make you faint or the sound of a violent wand makes you twitch or you’re simply not used to seeing so many people nude. Remember that you had the courage to come and you aren’t the first person (and you won’t be the last!) to feel nervous or even panicy. Many events have quiet aftercare rooms and these can be great for self-care activities. Bring headphones and a music player or crayons and a coloring book. It’s okay to escape for a while if it’s overwhelming.
Society tells us that too many invasive questions are generally bad and to ask about the sex lives of friends or strangers is not acceptable. This norm is usually different in the Scene. With prior consent and if both parties are comfortable, you can ask about other people’s interests, partners, and involvement in the kink community. You can even ask questions about various fetishes or kinks and many people are happy to geek out with you about the physics of rope suspension or the best impact implement.
If the scene is something you want to explore, you will most likely want to attend more than one event. Especially, if you have a not-so-great time at once, try a different event a little while later. Find the community that works for you and don’t be shy about laying out your boundaries for others to follow. Finally, know that your anxiety is normal! Everyone’s nervous their first time! You can do this!