These are guidelines for polite behavior in the BDSM scene. It's based on observations, personal experiences, conversations with peers, mailing list & newsgroup postings,
workshops, web pages, magazine articles, books, and personal mistakes. While some items of higher protocol are covered, these notes are mainly to address the most common social situations.
Play Nice: Some Notes on Scene
Etiquette and Leather Protocol
Version 1.00 first posted May 31, 1999
Version 2.00 first posted May 31, 2005
(formerly entitled "Basic Protocol and Etiquette"
and "Some Notes on Basic Protocol and Etiquette")
This article is dedicated to Beverly M. in Austin
Part 4 of 7:
Three Types of Parties
Play parties -- or dungeon parties -- are parties where people in the Leather and BDSM scene can go to play, socialize, and watch. There are two types: private and public.
- Private Parties
- Play parties that are held in someone's home. They are invitation only. There is usually no charge or donation (but the host might appreciate a gift.) They can be potluck. Normally there is no dungeon monitor, the rules are looser & more intimate, and edgier play than in a public party is permitted because the host knows all the guests.
- Public Parties
- Play parties that are often in a rented space and sponsored by a BDSM organization or business (such as a private dungeon or a professional domina) for members of the BDSM community or for the membership of specific BDSM organizations. There is a charge for admittance or a donation is strongly encouraged. The rules are more stringent than in private parties and dungeon monitors are on duty to see that the rules are observed and that the scenes are safe. Since it's not really open to the general public, perhaps the term is a misnomer.
In addition to play parties, a related event is the S&M -- or Erotic -- Ball.
- S&M Balls
- Huge BDSM themed events in large rented halls open to the general public as well as to people in the BDSM and Leather scenes. The emphasis is on seeing and being seen. People wear their best and most outlandish dresses, uniforms, and costumes. Performances, costume contests, and scenes take place on stages for the benefit of the audience. Cameras and other recording equipment might be allowed for those who want to "make it last longer." Unfortunately there is no ballroom dancing.
A great example of an s&m ball is the yearly S&M Ball that takes place in Houston, Texas. Despite my concern over it being open to the general public, nearly everyone there has been into the spirit of the event and dressed appropriately whenever I attended.
Sample Party Rules
While there is no universal set of dungeon party rules, most organizations seem to have developed rules that are remarkably similar. Here's a sample set of rules that I've freely adapted from an existing group in Central Texas which in turn adopted many of its rules from exiting groups like TES in New York. (The official party rules for the South Texas group have since been revised.) Except for one or two innovations, they are representative of the rules at most parties.
- Do not make assumptions. Negotiate all scenes. Do not assume that the presence of someone at this party means they are available for your pleasure. Do not involve yourself in a scene without an invitation.
- Never touch anyone, their equipment, or belongings without permission.
- Privacy and discretion are to be respected. All information about party activities, attendees, etc., is to be considered confidential. Do not bring cameras or other recording devices.
- Treat everyone with equal respect -- doms, subs, tops, bottoms, switches, volunteers, and staff alike.
- Play sober. Do not bring alcohol or recreational drugs to the party.
- Smoking will be at the discretion of the Board of Perverts. Smoking will be allowed in established smoking areas only.
- Please be prepared with something to cover your more daring clothing -- or lack thereof -- when you go outside the party space.
- No genital or anal penetration, oral sex, or exchange of bodily fluids.
- Solicitation for sexual services is not allowed.
- Please agree on safe words for scenes. "Red" will be a default safe word.
- Respect scenes. Limit conversation and screaming in the play area. Don't crowd the playing areas.
- Respect the playspace. Clean up after messy scenes. Use a drop cloth when waxing. No scat or water sports.
- Limit play to the playspace. Do not engage in play outside the Dungeon Monitor's line of vision.
- No guns.
- No breath play.
- Please do not use a station for unreasonable amount of time. Other people would like to use the play equipment.
- Dungeon Monitors have the final word on everything including the right to stop an unsafe or abusive scene. Check with the DM before any edgeplay, fireplay (waxing, cupping, flash paper, etc.), piercing, or bloodsports.
These rules are provided to offer an idea of the rules for a local play party in your area but that does not imply that the rules for parties in your area are the same. You must read the rules at the parties which you attend -- and review them each time you attend a party.
More on Parties
"No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks."
- St. Ambrose
- If you have not been invited to a private party, don't crash it.
- Respect the type of party. If the party is for fem doms, it might not be appropriate to attend as a male dom. If the party is a spanking party, don't engage in edgy S&M play. While there has been an increased cross over between the spanking scene and the BDSM scene in the last few years, many spanking enthusiasts are not comfortable with heavy S&M edge play. On the other hand some spanking parties allow for moderate S&M play. Check with the hosts to find out what is appropriate.
- Just as the people socializing and watching at parties shouldn't intrude the people who are playing, the players should not put the non-players at risk of injury by intruding on the social space with play. If you are playing with a bottom in such a way that she's likely to trip or collapse, don't do so where she's liable to trip or collapse over an unwitting party guest. (This is not to say that it's any more acceptable for a bottom to be injured from tripping or collapsing WITHIN the play space than without. But that is more of a safety issue and it is outside the scope of this article.)
- If there is a dungeon monitor, do not interrupt a scene -- unless the bottom uses a safe word and the top does not respond to it, or if they are unaware of an immediate safety issue such as a falling chandelier, fire, or postal carrier running amok with automatic weapons. If there is a dungeon monitor, make the dungeon monitor aware of any safety or consensuality concerns.
- A dungeon monitor might be an ignorant, arrogant ass but he's still a dungeon monitor. Obey him even when he doesn't know what he is talking about. Depending on the situation and the politics involved, you may be able to address your grievances later with the party hosts or club officers -- or even the dugeon monitor himself. Or you might not. If you feel that you've been treated unfairly and you haven't gotten any satisfaction, your best options are to avoid playing during the offending DM's shifts or not attending that group's parties.
- To dungeon monitors: In most situations, dungeon monitors can do their duties without embarrassing, insulting, or abusing the guests. A little mutual respect can go a long way.
- Often after a successful scene, bottoms will be deep in subspace. That can make them very vulnerable mentally and emotionally. They will very likely need aftercare -- which involves someone giving them their full attention. The top and bottom will need to negotiate this prior to a scene. If the top is unwilling or unable to provide aftercare then they will need to make arrangements with someone else to look after the bottom.
- Do not approach a bottom immediately after a scene -- especially if the bottom is still in subspace. Approaching a bottom in subspace for the purpose of playing with the bottom is predatory behavior. Depending of the depth of subspace, the bottom might not be in a state of mind to consent. Keeping the wolves at bay is another reason for tops to provide aftercare to the bottom.
- After a scene, the players should put away their personal toys and clean the equipment with disinfectant. If they will be indisposed, then they will need to make arrangements with someone else to do it for them. At very busy parties, the next couple using the equipment might help out by cleaning the equipment for them after it is clear that the first couple is finished playing. But this is more than you can expect. If it happens, the first top should make a point to thank the second couple and apologize for the inconvenience at the earliest appropriate time.
- If you are naked, don't stand too close to someone you don't know well -- especially if they are sitting down. Some people find that intimidating and distasteful.
- If you are nude or most of your butt is exposed (g-string, thong), please bring and use a "butt towel" to place between yourself and any chair you may sit in and others might later use. If you forget a butt towel, please clean the chair with a mild disinfectant before you leave.
- Bus your own table. Volunteers are not paid to pick up after you.
- After the party or before you leave, thank the hosts and volunteers.
- Don't engage in exhibitionism or edgy behavior outside the party space where the general public can get an eye full.
Links About Play Parties
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Additional Articles by Ambrosio