Monday, July 25, 2011

How to go to a play party (and not play).

I've talked before about how to go to a BDSM play party. A very common question I've gotten is: "What if I don't want to play?" Is it okay to go to a play party just to watch and socialize? How do you do that and still stay within BDSM etiquette and the good graces of your local community?

First of all, yes, you can do this. It's okay to go to play parties and not play. A small proportion of parties are "players only" and they will let you know with the invitation. Your average, generic party absolutely allows people to come without playing. Really, since most people will be playing for 15 minutes and hanging out for 3 hours, nobody's even keeping track of who played and who didn't.

Be friendly. A play party can be an intimidating environment for shy people, but if you can make (or bring) even one ally who's a little more familiar with the lay of the land, you'll have a much more positive experience and make a better impression. If you're not playing because you're new, your ally can help you understand the scene better; whether you're new or not, a person who hangs out and makes friends is a better addition to the community than someone who only watches. However, don't feel that people will hate you if you do hang out by yourself--as long as you're respectful, people will catch on that you're just shy.

It's okay to watch scenes, but respect boundaries. This means, specifically:
-Leave some space between yourself and the scene you're watching. There should be at least enough room for the top to swing their arms in a big circle, and preferably another arm-length for comfort.
-Often the bedrooms or back rooms at a party will be reserved for more private play. Stay out unless someone invites you.
-Don't ever talk to the players during a scene. A scene puts the players in a very intense mental and emotional state, and you can ruin the scene or even compromise the safety of the players by jarring their concentration. If you have a question or a safety concern, ask someone in the social space or a host or dungeon monitor.
-Don't ever ever ever touch people during a scene. I wish I didn't have to say this, but it's happened.
-Use a lot of judgement in commenting on scenes. If you have anything negative or "funny" to say, keep it to yourself; other comments should be made quietly and far from the players. You don't have to watch in silence, but before you speak, remember: these are ordinary people, not performers, and they are extremely emotionally and physically exposed. Don't say anything that you wouldn't want to overhear in a moment like that.
-I don't know how to say this, but... don't make ogle-face. Do you know what I mean? Don't do that. Look don't stare, lean back not forward, smile don't leer. Look like you're interested in the players, not like you want to eat them for dinner with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. (If you don't know if you're making ogle-face, you're probably not. Don't drive yourself nuts over this one.)

Don't be afraid to be blunt about your intention not to play. In BDSM, as everywhere else, "no" means "no." If someone tries to start an argument over "why not?", makes a scene or starts following you around, or asks repeatedly, talk to a host; they're crossing a line. However, do be aware: in part because of the consent-conscious culture, people in BDSM are more likely to ask you if you want to do something with them. If they simply ask and take the first "no" graciously, they're not violating any rules.

If you don't understand something, ask! Kinksters are sex nerds, and they will be tripping over each other with their eagerness to educate you. Just make sure you ask a bystander or a host, and not an active participant in a scene.

Don't be a tourist. If you're at a play party, you're one of us. This doesn't mean you have to play--but it does mean that you can't look down on the people who do heavy or unusual play, or act like you're an objective observer of our quaint culture. Don't--even mentally--point and laugh at the freaks, because by showing up, you are a freak.

No wanking! This is obvious, right? Unless it's a designated wank-friendly party (these exist), don't wank at a party. Seriously.


  1. Thanks for this! It's good to have a sketch of where boundaries are, when the only party etiquette you're familiar with is that you shouldn't be looking at naked people in the first place.

    Are those leopards demonstrating the not-ogle?

  2. New to the BDSM scene and play parties, I really appreciate your etiquette posts. Not only are they very useful and informative, but they are invariably humourous and I enjoy them...and your blog as a whole...very much! :o)

  3. Emma - Absolutely! Note how the one on the left is not looking directly at the play, and the one on the right is looking but maintaining a neutral expression and relaxed body language.

    These are very respectful leopards.

  4. Great post. I know I couldn't have been the only one wondering about this. (Yikes, I sound like a spam bot. I AM SELLING THESE PURSES. WOULD YOU LIKE A PURSE?)

  5. Even for safety things, unless it's really really terrible (like, they just got out a can of gasoline and a matchbook terrible), I would talk to a host rather than interrupt the scene.

    Personally, I'd take a slightly different angle: Even if they DID just get out a can of gasoline and a matchbook, don't interrupt the scene unless you're the host and/or a DM for the party. DON'T assume that you magically know more about BDSM Safety than the participants (or, for that matter, the host and/or DM, who may have already been informed of, and signed off on, the scene). Maybe the can doesn't have gasoline in it; maybe the matches are dead. Hell, maybe they're even going to use the gasoline, but in a safe way. Unless you're telepathic, you don't know.

    If you feel that strongly about it, RUN to find the host and/or DM, but don't barge in. I suspect that more injuries at parties have resulted from people distracting the top at a crucial moment, or even physically interrupting scenes, than have resulted from players at play parties carrying out unsafe scenes.

    The community has 'kink know-it-alls' much as society as a whole does, and there's a (fortunately small) subset of Safer-Than-Thou Holy Rollers -- folks who go to play parties and tell everyone within hearing just how safe they are, and who will then interrupt others' scenes at will to 'recommend a better technique' or worse, jump in (even physically) and demand that players stop the scene because they personally don't feel it's safe. It's another way for folks to draw attention to themselves (and, they probably assume, prestige) by setting themselves up as the Be-All/End-All of Kink.

  6. I think left leopard is making some kind of comment with its ears/facial expression, but being a very respectful leopard, it's subtle and only right leopard can really see.

  7. Jack - I'm going to amend the post. You've got a point, and personally, I've never seen anyone do anything gas-can-unsafe at a public party, but I have seen a lot of safer-than-thou posturing.

  8. This is probably a dumb question, but what's appropriate behavior after watching a scene? Do you applaud? Commend the participants on skillful play? Or leave them alone?

  9. Oh yay, thank you! This is awesome.

    @Dolbia --Holly can definitely give a better answer, but the gist I get is that you want to let the players have some time to themselves for aftercare. Some people don't need much, and some people need _a lot_, so I would wait until later in the evening, when they're clearly back to circulating throughout the party, to compliment them.

  10. I know this is picking nits, but (at least at the parties I go to), that last one should be "no wanking unless it's part of a scene". I know a woman who'd heard people talk about how awful it was when there's masturbation at parties, and she thought it meant her top couldn't order her to make herself come.

  11. Dolbia - After a scene, leave people alone for aftercare. You can commend them on their play if you see them in social mode later, but immediately after, just give them some space.

    Evan - Well, it's a post for people who aren't playing.

  12. the best formulation of the problem described above I have seen on a bathroom wall (ok, in a book about bathroom wall jokes, and maybe not even in english, so as a non-native speaker I will kill the joke and explain it too):

    "Free women!" [as in, freedom]
    "Where?" [as in, free dinner]

  13. Just found this blog and love it! I'm new to the lifestyle and have been very cautious about moving too fast, but I have a very capable, experienced Dom to lead me.

    "Don't be a tourist." Love it! I have to remind myself that if I'm there, I'm just as much of a freak as anyone else no matter whose fetishes or play is the most hardcore or odd to me.

    Thanks for this post!

  14. What an awesome list! Not that you could cover *everything* in one post, but it made me think... "go with the flow." I've watched and even been the main attraction of scenes where audience participation (for lack of a better term) was welcomed! I've seen scenes where the top asked the audience to point and laugh. I've had the air pressed out of me... wait for it... and when released gasped. I totally forgot there was anyone in the room until I inhaled and every one else gasped with me! They were all holding their breath! It was an awesome night! lol

    I guess this one jumps out to me because I'm quite an exhibitionist, so audience participation means people are paying attention. But if you're new... that might be a lot harder to identify. But if everyone is "playing along" and the scene continues, its alright to play along as much as the crowd does.

  15. Thank you so much for this post. I have a friend who knows my interest in kink, but also knows I'm interested more interlectully rather that hands on (I have interpersonal issues). She's invited me to parties just to hang out and introduce me to the scene, but I've always been hesitant because I didn't know the exact rules (turns out I would have guessed them) and knew she would want to play and couldn't hold my hand the entire time. Thank you for spelling the ettiquette out in a way a n00b can easily comprehend. My friend gets excited about my interest in the scene and the information overload became daunting rather that exciting.

    So thank you! Next time she invites me I may go and see how I feel :)

    I love your blog. I discovered it last night and have spent hours pouring over it. I think I just found my new favourite blog.

  16. As someone said above - this is my new favorite blog . I love your writing and can't wait to get more of it ! This post was amazing and informative to me in a gazillion ways . I hope you will always continue writing - I eagerly anticipate your next entry !