BDSM: I'm a beginner thinking of going to a play party. Help!

BDSM Play parties?

What is a BDSM play party?

A "play party" is a gathering of people who are interested in BDSM for the purpose of engaging in BDSM activities.

Sounds straightforward, right? It's a little more complicated than that, because there are a lot of different kinds of play parties, but in a nutshell that's what they all have in common.

For example, a night club or bar might have a 'fetish night' where people are encouraged to dress in fetishwear and play; or a club that caters specifically to BDSM folks might host regular play nights. Large cities are likely to have public dungeons where people can go and socialize, play, or both.

Some play parties are private, invitation-only events. Some play parties are hosted at clubs or bars that don't otherwise cater specifically to the BDSM community, and might be open to the general public. Some play parties are hosted at sex or BDSM specific clubs.

Sounds intimidating! What goes on at a play party?

Like all new and unfamiliar things, your first BDSM play party might feel a bit intimidating or awkward. Hell, I've been a veteran kinkster for decades, and I still remember how intimidated I felt the first couple of times I saw any sort of public play!

What you will see at a play party depends a great deal on what kind of party it is. In most states, public spaces like bars and nightclubs will be subject to adult laws regulating things like sex and nudity, so you won't likely see either one. At a fetish night hosted by a nightclub, for example, it's likely that nudity won't be allowed, so what you'll probably see is people dressed in fetish wear spanking or flogging each other, or people being tied up, things like that.

A private club or party, on the other hand, might have completely different restrictions; a place like that is more likely to permit nudity, for example.

You will probably see people being spanked or flogged. You may see people being tied up. You might, if the venue is physically large enough and the people in the local BDSM community are interested and skilled, see people using singletail whips such as bullwhips. You may see suspension bondage. You might see people crossdressing. If the play party is being hosted in a place like a bar or nightclub, that's likely to be the extent of what you see.

At different venues, such as dungeons or private play parties, the rules will likely be quite different. Depending on the play party, you may see just about anything, including nudity, sex, cupping, cropping, caning, fire play, needle play, play piercing, or just about anything else. Play parties may have specific rules about no sex, or safer sex practices, or anything that might draw blood; it all depends on the specific party.

You mean I might see people get naked?

Yes. At parties which permit nudity, which are usually play parties that take place at private clubs or in people's homes, you will quite likely see people who are naked.

You may also see a variety of sex acts, depending on the party, the people, and the particular rules at that party.

It's important to keep a few things in mind about that:

• Don't make assumptions about people's relationship or sexual status, or about their availability. Don't touch other people without clear permission. This is probably the single most basic premise of a public play environment; people are there to play, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're there to play with you. Don't touch without asking.

• Same goes for other people's gear. You might see all sorts of neat, unusual, cool, strange, or otherwise interesting implements. Common sense applies here; don't touch stuff without asking.

Pretty straightforward, really. You'll find that play parties tend to be respectful of a wide range of different kinds of activities; mutual respect and consideration go a long way.

While we're on the subject--you'll probably see a lot of different kinds of people as well. Forget clichéd Hollywood stereotypes; the people who go to play parties are real people from all different walks of life. You may see people you personally find extremely attractive, and people you don't. Be respectful.

This could be overwhelming! Will I have to get naked? Will people do kinky things to me?

One of the nice things about play parties is that they tend to be no-pressure environments. You will not be expected to do anything you don't want to do; nor will you be expected to get naked, or engage in any sort of activity with people you don't know or people you don't want to interact with.

In fact, you need not do anything at all, if you don't want to. For some people, a first visit to a play party is intimidating enough without any expectation of participating in the goings-on; if you prefer to get your bearings by just sitting back and watching, that's perfectly okay.

I have been to many different kinds of play parties in many different places, and it has always been the case that "no" means no. You won't be harassed, pressured, or made to feel uncomfortable; people who behave that way are generally not welcome at play parties.

By the same token, being pushy, demanding, or intrusive, or disregarding other people's personal space, is likely to get you tossed out. Play parties are safe and supportive environments; it's important to respect the other people there.

Do the people at play parties expect to play with others? Will I be invited to join in?

Some people who go to play parties are open to meeting and playing with new partners; some people aren't. Not everyone who's into BDSM, or who goes to play parties, is non-monogamous! You will see monogamous couples; you may see triads or quads or other non-monogamous groups; and even non-monogamous groups of people are not necessarily looking for new partners. You will see people who are open to playing in a play party setting with others and people who aren't.

Is it possible to approach someone you find interesting? Yes, as long as you do it respectfully. Is it possible you might be approached? Maybe; but if you're not interested, a simple "no thanks" will indicate your lack of interest without bruised egos.

What if I see something I don't like or that makes me uncomfortable?

Since different people have different tastes and different boundaries, it is possible that you might go to a play party and encounter folks whose tastes and activities are different from yours.

You're not likely to see anything too extreme at a place like a night club fetish night. Most play party venues that permit activities which might make people uncomfortable have some sort of place you can go if you don't like something that someone else is doing, such as a separate room where BDSM activities are not allowed.

How will I know what's allowed and what isn't?

Private play parties and public dungeons will usually have a list of rules posted, and may often include an orientation for new people.

There will almost certainly be people you can ask, as well, Play parties usually have dungeon monitors, whose job it is to answer questions and to make sure that everyone is behaving appropriately. Don't be afraid to ask!

In addition to the play party's formal rules, there are also some conventions you should keep in mind to be a polite and respectful attendee:

• It's okay to talk to people, whether you're interested in learning something new or you have questions about something you see or even just to say "Hey, I liked that thing you did with the egg beater and the rubber tubing." Play parties are great places to meet new people and learn new things. However, if someone is actively in the process of doing something, you should wait until the scene is over before approaching or talking to that person. Interrupting people who are in the middle of a scene is considered exceptionally rude.

• If you have concerns about something you see, or you believe that someone is behaving inappropriately, it's generally a better idea to talk to one of the dungeon monitors than to try to intervene yourself. That's part of what they're there for.

• It's OK to watch what's going on; that's part of the point of a play party. Don't make a lot of noise about it, though. It's very distracting to have loud conversation, laughter, and that sort of thing going on nearby when you're doing something.

• It should go without saying, but please don't let your cell phone ring! Many play parties ban cell phones altogether.

• Don't take pictures of anyone or anything without permission (again, most play parties and nearly all public dungeons ban any kind of photography). Don't violate other people's privacy.

Generally, the thing to remember is if you don't know, ask; don't interrupt or harass other people; treat other people with respect, and they'll treat you with respect. Have fun!