The following contains information about BDSM play party etiquette. It was originally written for users of the Usenet newsgroup alt.sex.bondage, and was intended to cover both events held in public spaces and events held in private homes. I have adapted where appropriate and changed things that where I felt I should, and although not every suggestion is relevant to every situation, the basic ideas shown below are universal.
The goal of the following paragraphs is to describe play party customs and etiquette that often are not stated in the rules. The original text was found at: sexuality.org/Play_Party_Etiquette
Etiquette and protocol differ slightly in different regions, and within the same area, in different circles. However, some pretty uniform rules are basic to all of them.
Do not touch people, even in what you think of as a friendly way (like touching someone's arm in conversation) without asking permission. In most BDSM circles, hugging someone in even a casual way without the prior verbal assurance that it is welcome is considered overstepping boundaries. Just because someone may be standing naked next to you does not make it ok to stroke that person's ass - in fact, it is not ok to stroke even the person's arm! And it surely isn't ok to spank or paddle their ass when they walk by. The working assumption is that touch of any kind is not ok without asking. On the other hand, asking to hug or shake hands or look at the piercing someone is flaunting is certainly acceptable and not considered an offense in any way, just so long as the asker does not act offended if the answer is not what he wanted to hear.
Leave space for the top to move, swing a flogger, etc. during a scene. If the room is too crowded, stand against the far wall or leave the room. If the top asks you to move, then move.
Be quiet while scenes are going on, or go to the social area to chat. Be polite, and don't talk or whisper. Yours could be the remark that ruins a wonderful scene for someone.
A novice attempting to start conversations with the top or the bottom during scenes is one of the most common and astonishing etiquette errors at play parties with new people in attendance. Do not address comments or questions to the top or the bottom while they are playing. Similarly, do not try to start a conversation with the partners while they are cuddling together after a scene. What looks to you like a lull in the action while the top steps away to get a new toy or while the partners are whispering intimately together after a scene is not the moment to walk over and ask questions or make comments. The partners are very focused on each other and on the intimacy of whatever they are doing together, and they want to maintain that focus even during short breaks. If you feel an uncontrollable urge to ask how the top ever learned to wield a knife so steadily, or to ask if the bottom isn't scared of having a nipple cut off, then go get a soda and ask someone in the social area.
Do not ever touch or get too close to the bottom during - or after - a scene. Bottoms are dependent on their tops: the bottom's physical and emotional well being are the top's responsibility during and after scenes. After a scene, give the players a quiet space on the sofa if they want to cuddle together. The closeness and aftercare following scenes and the bottom's emotional fragility usually last longer than it looks to outsiders. Give people time to come down. If you need to ask a quiet question, like "Would you like a blanket?" or "Would you like a glass of water?", address the top, not the bottom, and be as unobtrusive, succinct, and quiet as possible.
Do not join in scenes, even if it looks like they are free-for-alls. A scene that might look to you like lots of folks are joining in to pleasure or otherwise play with the bottom might in fact be pre-arranged between the top and other acceptable players to look casual. Or it might be that the top is subtly signaling audience members he knows to be acceptable. Join in only if the top clearly beckons you in. If in doubt, err on the side of caution. In other words, don't or check with the top.
Do not come on to people in a clueless manner. Hounding, harassing, or puppy-dogging after the object of your sexual interest will guarantee that you will not be invited to any more parties; you might even be thrown out of the one you are at.
Most people like to be complimented on their scenes. If you like a particular top or bottom, telling them what you liked about their scene is usually well-received. But wait until they are walking about and socializing again. Asking interesting how-to questions is also a good way to make friends. But again, wait until later.
Do not intervene in scenes. If you are bothered by something you see because it seems extreme, risky, or even impossible to be consensual to you, find a host or DM to check on the scene, explain it to you, or reassure you. If a corrective action like a safety improvement needs to be taken, the host or DM will take care of conveying that to the top in an appropriate manner. When you are more experienced you will be able to recognize if something is possibly nonconsensual or unduly dangerous. At your first few play parties, plan to absorb and watch and learn. If something is too extreme for you to enjoy watching, then simply leave the room - quietly.
Do not touch people's toys, floggers, etc. that are lying around without finding the owner and asking. Even if someone lets you hold a flogger, it is also courteous to ask again before swinging it through the air at an imaginary target or your forearm. Do not run a knife or wartenburg pinwheel along your skin to test its sharpness - the owner might have gone to pains to sterilize the blade in expectation of an upcoming scene, and sharp edges break skin without always leaving marks or drawing blood.
Clean up play furniture or play areas when you are done using them. Pick up your toys so someone else can use the play area without stumbling on your belongings. Wipe down the play furniture so it is not sweaty for the next person, and if any bodily fluids were spilled accidentally, clean them up thoroughly - hosts often provide appropriate cleaning materials if you don't have them on hand.
Do not hog play furniture for hours on end with your scene. If you are unsure, ask the host for an estimate of a reasonable amount of time to use the play furniture or equipment.
At the party, relax, be yourself, be open and friendly; ask questions if you need to make conversation; listen to what others have to say. Bring your sense of humor.
Bring munchies if the hosts suggested it. Quality breads, homemade desserts, and fresh fruit are desirable food items in many play circles, are more welcome and more likely to be devoured and complimented than a bag of chips. In many play circles, alcohol and other drugs are forbidden at play parties; do not bring these without checking with the host.
Help clean up before you leave! Don't offer and then wait for instructions - just do it. Those ten used plastic cups you gather up and toss out, or the empty dip dish you wash and leave in the drainer to dry at 3 a.m., or the ice bucket you refill mid-party just because you noticed it was empty will save the host a lot of work and mean more invitations to parties in the future.
Do not mention anyone at the party to those not at the party without that person's express permission. Especially, do not post to any public forum in a way that identifies someone else without permission. Even mentioning someone in email without that person's permission can be considered a violation of etiquette. Outing someone because you thought it was way cool to describe some hot scene you got to see, or for any other reason, is Not Ok. It is usually ok to describe people's scenes in a manner that leaves the participants - and the hosts - unidentifiable, but even then it is customary to ask first. It is also customary to email copies of anything you post in a public forum to all people referenced or described therein, in advance, if there is anything you are in doubt about, or whether the party is mentionable or not. The rule of thumb is that parties are not mentionable publicly unless stated otherwise.
Clothes and gender usually don't tell you anything about a person's interests, predilections, or experience levels. Unless the party rules specify that fetish wear is required, people generally dress however they like to dress. Some people use clothes and flags to signal their interests, but in practice the majority of experienced players do not unless clothing styles are separate pleasures for them. Some deeply devoted and owned submissives do not wear collars and do not hover at the feet of their owners at parties. Clothing can be a separate fetish.
Don't gape at scenes, behavior, or sexual proclivities that are new for you to actually encounter in real life even if you've heard of such things and wished for years you could actually see it. There is a fine line between open-minded curiosity - the desire to learn and understand something that is new for you from those who indicate (in the social area) that they are willing to take the time to share and converse with you about their play styles and sexual interests - versus prurient judgmentalism, gawking, or tiresomely asking someone who is sick of being asked what he or she can possibly enjoy by doing whatever astonishing thing you saw the person do. Be sensitive about when and who you ask, and be sensitive while you watch. People at play parties are not there to entertain or educate you, even though many folks who choose to attend play parties do also enjoy the exhibitionist and educational aspects of what they are doing. Be sensitive to what each individual is offering to strangers, and don't rudely assume they are offering you a private show, lesson, educational experience, or opportunity to giggle like a school child at some porn you have amazingly gotten lucky enough to see outside of a magazine.
Be tolerant of things you didn't expect. In particular, even if you are fascinated, try not to gawk noticeably at stuff you personally have never encountered before. Watching and learning are fine - and are often exactly the point - but there is a social norm in each group about what is appropriate astonishment to show to those around you. If you have never seen two males play sexually and lovingly together before, or if you find watching the two women playing together across the room really hot for you as a voyeur, or if you have never talked to a cross-dresser close enough to actually hold a social conversation while you are standing around getting soda in the social area, get a grip on yourself before you start behaving like a ten-year-old telling a joke with a naughty word in it! If you never expected and are shocked by the amount of blood from a ritual cutting, or by what appears to you to be the hate-filled screaming and cursing of a bottom raging at her top at the height of a difficult scene, or if you never envisioned seeing a piercing of a needle right through someone's nipple, or if whatever else you didn't expect and are suddenly encountering seems extreme to you, then the astonishment is probably yours.
In advance of the party, read a few books on BDSM and try to pick up a few pointers about what you might see. There is plenty of wonderful information on various pages throughout this web site and links to other equally wonderful sites. You might even pick up some fine points of etiquette, like how to behave toward submissives that aren't yours. Hint: A submissive is only submissive to the people that she chooses to submit to. If she doesn't belong to you, do not expect her to treat you as such.
No one, who is not your own personal partner, owes any deference to you beyond common, everyday courtesy. No one is required to fetch you a drink or defer to your opinion in conversation.
Details of D/s etiquette are tricky and there are some uncommon etiquette delicacies. Err on the side of caution in all things leather/SM/fetish related.
You can and should talk to the host during the party or, if more appropriate, afterwards to ask unanswered questions, say thank you, and follow up in any ways you like. If you felt uncomfortable about anything at all at the party, talking to the host afterwards is an excellent idea. Hosts usually want to help their guests learn and sort themselves out according to comfort levels. Hosts, usually, also want feedback so they can create environments that accommodate a variety of comfort levels and so they can decide what kinds of play and which attendees make for enjoyable parties. And if the host ran out of the kind of soda everyone was standing in the social area dying for, the host wants to know. If a host never hears about the individual you felt harassed by in the social area or while you were playing, or that you felt some kind of play you watched was unnecessarily dangerous and you had no DMs you could approach and didn't know the customs about how to handle the situation, the host cannot possibly make the necessary reforms. The host wants to know, and it is your responsibility as a responsible attendee to take the initiative to inform the host.
And it is your responsibility to thank the host. Follow up email is always welcome. And don't think for a moment that hosts do not notice those who take a moment to send a thank you, even if they already said thanks when they left the party.
Particular etiquette for watching a scene can vary from place to place. There may be completely different rules in a large city Pay for Play Dungeon & the privacy of one's home with a group of close friends. Old School, New School, East Coast, West Coast.... rules vary. This particular piece of writing focuses on smaller group gatherings and contains some of the guidelines you'll find most anywhere. The main thing to remember is that this time is for the people scening, not you. You wouldn't go jump up on the stage in the middle of a theater play, nor should you interrupt during a scene. You are the audience. They are the players. Let them play.
It should be drilled in everyone's head thoroughly that you never touch the people engaging in a scene. Don't touch the Top. Don't touch the bottom. Unless you are specifically invited to do so by the Top, you should assume that those people are completely off limits to any type of touching, even a pat on the back or brushing against them if you need to walk past.
As well as not touching the people engaging in a scene, you should also make a point of not touching any of the equipment or toys that they are using or have laid out to use. You may occasionally see another Dominant hand the Top a toy. Chances are that these people know each other well. Don't take it upon yourself as a Dominant to stand there handing the Top cool items out of your toy-bag. Have a seat and show off your goodies later.
These are probably things that have been adjusted by the people scening before the scene starts. If it's too dark to see (as in a fear provoking scene), you don't have much of an option except listening. If it's too bright (as it can often be in an interrogation scene), simply shade your eyes. The fans and thermostat are probably set for the comfort of those scening. Usually the Top is working up a great sweat while the bottom is about to shiver. Let them choose how they are going to adjust the room's temperature depending on their needs. Absolutely don't touch the music. Don't change the choice of music nor the music volume level. All of these elements are part of how those scening get into their headspace. Sometimes the Top may motion for someone to change the volume, fans, lights, etc... Then, and only then is it ok to do so. Just be sure that you are the one being addressed and you understand what adjustments you need to make.
If you are talking or commenting to the person next to you, keep it in a whisper, the same, if not more so than you would in a theater. The key is to be sure that those scening can't hear you. By all means do not laugh! The last thing a naked bottom hung from the ceiling needs to hear is people laughing. If you feel you must laugh, try to stifle it in a pillow. If you absolutely can't control yourself, leave the room. Don't bustle around trying to clean up the room or get people drinks. Do that before or after the scene, not during.
If a Top is doing a humiliation scene, S/He may ask the audience to drill the submissive with embarrassing questions, bark, oink, shout insults, or whatever. Some scenes may require some very absurd sounding audience participation requests. S/He may want people to clap, whistle, throw things at the bottom, count aloud as lashes are delivered, etc.. S/He may ask each person in turn to name something they want to see done to the bottom, choose a number, letter, name a profession, crime or any other number of odd sounding requests.
The Top will generally be the one asking the audience to participate. If a Top asks the audience to do such things, try to make an effort to join in and be a good sport. The partners have probably either negotiated this ahead of time or they are a long-term couple. By not joining in, you deny the players that element of the scene. If you absolutely feel you can't participate, just say "I pass." so they can move on in a timely manner to the next audience member.
When/if the bottom hits subspace, don't be surprised to see everyone getting up and bustling around. The Dominants are most likely assisting the Top in getting the bottom's limp body down off the cross, out of suspension, etc... They will quickly re-take their seats once the submissive is down.
This can almost be an amusing sight.
When a submissive is lowered down from suspension, it is not at all unlikely to see 5 other submissives running around the room getting glasses of water, blankets, pillows, sodas, moving objects out of the way, and asking the Top if they need the lighting or temperature changed. Most of these submissives are not out of line at all by doing this. They probably either know the bottom well and know what s/he needs for aftercare, or they have been trained as service subs/slaves and they feel bound by duty to tend to either the Top or the bottom or are Dungeon Monitors. You may see 3 submissives carrying one glass of water because they understand that all of them have a duty to do this. After they have performed the duties they were trained to do, they too will re-take their seats or leave the room.
Other submissives will not move from their seat at all after the scene. They have probably had the opposite training of not interrupting. It is not a bit rude for a submissive to remain in his/her seat silently continuing to watch the full aftercare of the bottom. They are fulfilling their obligation.
The universal safe words for a bottom to use are "green" (i'd like more, faster, harder, etc...) "yellow" (You need to slow down, ease back, give me a second to recuperate.) and "red" (All stop immediately!). As an onlooker, you should refrain from using these words in conversation during a scene, even in a whisper. If you hear a bottom use green or yellow, you should remain silent. Even if a bottom calls yellow and the Top does not slow down, do not interfere. That bottom still has the option of calling red and the Top may be pushing limits.
If you hear a bottom call "red" you should immediately turn all attention to the people scening. The red safety call is a call to EVERYONE in the room, not just the Top. We all hope and pray that if a bottom calls red, the Top will immediately stop, but if S/He doesn't for some reason, then we must face the sticky situation of intervening. This can be a very difficult thing to do, and some guidelines have been set on how to do this. Watch the Top to see if they are stopping. They may look like they are continuing the scene when in actuality they are removing clamps, caressing the skin, etc... If the Top is not stopping, do not immediately assume they are being abusive. They may be in a Top space and did not hear the red call. Get the attention of a DM, if one isn't already on scene. At this point, it may become appropriate for onlookers to say "s/he called red. You need to stop." or to address the bottom by saying "call again if you need to." Again, at this point we all hope and pray the Top stops. If not, the scene you are watching has turned from play to abuse. Immediately notify the host or DM.
You should only intervene if the slave loses consciousness (which is different from going limp from subspace) or if serious or permanent damage is inflicted. This probably won't happen because the Master/Mistress cares for the slave. Most sadists will watch this type of scene and close friends of the couple will probably watch. Many others will dismiss themselves from the room. That's ok. If you can't take watching this type of scene, quietly leave the room.
After the scene has finished, the players may very well be situated in the middle of the room because that's where the bottom ended up. After they have engaged in some light aftercare, they will probably move to a sofa or other location. Until they move, consider the scene still in progress, but at this point it is usually ok to get up to get a drink, go outside for fresh air or a cigarette, etc... Don't touch any of the toys they were using. They still need to be cleaned. Don't take it upon yourself to clean the toys. Many times this is the bottom's responsibility or they are toys that the Top doesn't want others to handle.
The main thing to remember about being an audience member during a scene, is to be quiet and polite.
As an onlooker, you are there to watch, nothing more.
Most people that have been around for any length of time say, "Well, it's common sense". But people that have all of their "real experience" as a Top in chat rooms or on the Internet don't seem to get this.
The following is not a suggestion or an opinion. It is plain and simple, hard facts, and are not negotiable.
Being a "Real Time" Dominant is not the same as being a Cyber Dom!
The "experience" you have is that you can talk to any sub on the internet and say, "On your knees, bitch, and suck my cock" and the person on the other end of the connection will tell you how much she enjoys what she's doing and tell you all about what she's doing and what a great Dominant you are and how she never felt as good in her life.
That's not how it works in the real world.
Be polite, respectful and humble around anyone you do not know intimately, or you very well may be asked to leave, and possibly be told not to come back.
A submissive is only submissive to who she wants to submit to, or who her Master tells her to submit to. she is not a door mat, a piece of meat or a play toy for you to hound, stalk, talk rudely to or intimidate.
If you have an interest in a particular person, a good idea would be to ask around, politely and discreetly, if she is a sub (the way a person dresses does not necessarily mean anything); ask someone who knows her for an introduction to her (if she is single); and talk to her as if you were talking to your co-workers (have some respect).
If she is interested, she will say so. If she is not, she will say that, too. And you NEED to respect that, as well.
Don't ever think that you can just grab someone's breasts, ass or hair; pat or paddle someone as they walk past; make suggestive or lewd comments; or join in ANY play that you haven't been given explicit prior permission from.
For more information on these topics visit Negotiations, Protocol or House Rules .
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