Navigating the public BDSM scene

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So, you’ve discovered that you are kinky… Now what?

First of all let me congratulate you on taking a step into a much larger world of adventure and experience, good for you! It takes courage to recognize and embrace the fact you may have some interests which mainstream society frowns upon.

You are about to enter a world of pleasure and pain, dark desires and wicked dreams. Never again will plain old vanilla sex satisfy you and get you where you need to be. Like butterfly wings, once you have touched your kink, you are forever changed into something, someone else. This has been my experience.

It is my sincere hope that this small work may help others avoid the pitfalls and frustration that go along with inexperience by getting some insider information prior to heading for disaster. Join us down the rabbit hole and let’s see how deep it goes.

The answer to the question, “What now?” is likely to be as widely varied as the people who might be willing to actually step up and answer it for you. The plain truth is that your journey into and through the world of kink is going to be uniquely yours and yours alone; just as it has been for all of us and just as it should be.

You can keep your activities entirely private and never out yourself to anyone other than your partners, making the occasional trip to the local sex toy store and picking things up here and there, or surfing the net for bondage porn and emulating the things you see.

Or you can, as many do, choose to jump into the public BDSM scene, (i.e.: dungeon clubs, classes, socials, etc…). It’s entirely up to you and in any case is neither a good nor a bad thing per se’, it is simply your path.

Whatever your choice, it’s helpful to “know the ropes” as it were, particularly in the early stages of your experimentation. In the public scene you will encounter every kind of kinkster imaginable, and many behaviors that may be alien to you and your upbringing, depending on how open minded your household was.

One of the first things I learned was that there was a whole new world of terminology and jargon I was unfamiliar with. Soon thereafter I also learned that not everything means the exact same thing to everyone. People in our world are different from one another in just the same way people in the vanilla world are. Interpretation is a factor.

So what do you need to know in order to adjust and feel comfortable without stepping on any toes or committing any offenses?

Let’s begin by covering some common phrases and expressions you might hear when out at a dungeon club. These are basic definitions, keep in mind that many of these terms are flexible and may mean slightly different or deeper things to some.

Dominant: A term with multiple meanings and uses, but generally used to describe a person who takes the power in the relationship or exchange.

Submissive: Another multi-use term, used to identify the one who gives up the power in the relationship or exchange.

Consent: In the context of the BDSM world, consent is given by both parties to participate in a certain activity, or activities. This consent may be wide ranging or limited to specific things, depending on the relationship and experience of the participants. (Example; “you may flog me in our scene but I dislike needles”)
It is important to know that everything we do in the BDSM scene is done with full awareness and consent by all parties involved. If you do not have consent, it is considered abuse and you may find yourself in a heap of trouble real fast; even the kind of trouble that requires a lawyer to get out of. So make sure you have consent!

Scene: This word has two meanings in our world. The first is a general descriptor of the BDSM scene at large, i.e.: “The Scene”. The second is more specific to activities we participate in with a partner or partners. Example; “we had a really great rope scene tonight”.

D/s or M/s: These are used to describe power exchange relationships between the Dominant or Master/Mistress and the submissive or slave. The first letters are always capitalized to show respect for the authority that is consensually given.

Power exchange: The term used to describe when the submissive or slave consensually surrenders their life and or will to the Dominant or Master in the relationship. The terms of this surrender can vary in length of time; anything from one scene to a lifetime, and can also vary greatly on the depth of surrender depending on the parties in the relationship.

Protocol(s): Protocol is a term used to describe the behavior which a submissive or slave may be allowed to exhibit by the Dominant or Master. Also the behavior the Dominant engages in as a part of the scene or relationship. Protocols vary and evolve from one person to another, and one Dominant may have different protocols in place for different submissives in their service. They can also vary depending on the environment; public vs. private play. Protocols may involve restrictions on physical contact, eye contact, speaking out loud, clothing or any number of other things.

Top: A Top is the person in a BDSM play scene who is the one doing the things, whatever they may be, to the bottom. This can be anything from rope tying, to spanking or flogging or even interrogation. It’s important to know, however that this term is not necessarily synonymous with a Dom or a Master. Top is a more utilitarian term. While a Dominant is generally a Top in the scenes they play out, not all Tops are Dominants.

Bottom: Take the above description and simply reverse it.

Switch: Someone who performs and enjoys both Topping and bottoming, and may even transition in the course of one scene.

Sadist: Someone who takes pleasure and satisfaction in inflicting pain.

Masochist: One who gets pleasure and satisfaction from receiving pain.

Voyeur: One who takes pleasure from watching others engage in sex and BDSM play.

Safe Words: These are used by the bottom to inform the Top when they are reaching or have reached a pain threshold. Though safe words may vary, Yellow is commonly used to mean slow down or lighten up, and Red is used to say stop. Safe words should be established by new play couples during initial scene negotiation. If you establish definite safe words, it is your responsibility to use them as needed. If you agree that Red is your stop word and you say stop instead of Red, your top may not stop.

Negotiation: The process of agreeing on the terms of a scene, or relationship. For a scene, especially with new play partners, time should be taken to gather information about the likes and limits of all partners involved. It is advisable to know as much as you can about your play partner prior to beginning so as to avoid harmful or dangerous situations. This should include discussion about health issues as well. Things like STD’s, or psychological trauma need to be out in the open in advance of play time.

Sub-space: A state of mind wherein bottoms enter a trance-like state where their ability to think clearly can be compromised, and they may lose the ability to make safe decisions for themselves. This is an especially tricky situation for some and when deep sub-space is present the Top must maintain control and keep the best interest of the bottom as paramount.

Frenzy: A state of mind and body characterized by an obsessive desire to experience anything and everything as quickly as possible. This happens especially when the player is new on the scene.

Drop: (Specifically sub-drop) This refers to the depressive state which can follow periods of intense BDSM activity such as bondage, spanking, flogging, etc. Depression results from the brains withdrawal from neuro-transmitter chemicals and the after effects of shock. Drop can sometimes be triggered just by the psychological effects of sub-space. To some degree drop can also affect Tops, but is less common. Drop effects everyone differently, and some folks not at all.

This is by no means a complete list, but it should help with the more commonly heard expressions. Moving on…

By now you’ve probably noticed that some of these terms have something in common with the others. You may ask… “So does that mean that a Dominant is also a Sadist? Is a bottom a masochist? Is a switch both?” The answer to all of these is yes… but not always or not necessarily.

Remember that all of this stuff is really open to individual interpretation and can vary greatly from person to person. A lot of it has to do with personal awareness, comfort and identification.
I have played with submissive women who do not identify as masochists, and yet freely orgasm with gusto from having their genitals spanked hard, go figure!

Also everyone seems to have different limits within their own identification. What feels like a 10 on the spanking pain scale to one person, may only be a 2 to someone else. Me personally, I have no pain tolerance at all, absolutely zero. My 10 is pretty much a 1 to every bottom I know. But then I’m not a bottom so it never really becomes an issue. The great thing about the fetish community is that we are open to just about anyone and anything short of actual harm like child abuse and non-consensual impact. There is something for everyone.

The next thing you should know is that the BDSM lifestyle has more than one level of involvement. It represents different things to different people. The populous of our world runs the gamut; from those who live their lives in 24/7 power exchange relationships, to people, perhaps like yourself, who are brand new and only want to dip their toes in to see how the water feels. With the true lifestylers, you will likely encounter protocols and behaviors you are unfamiliar with; protocols involving physical contact, communication, physical position, eye contact and the like. While these may seem strange or even unfair to you, it is important to keep an open mind and remember that consent has been willingly given and accepted.

BDSM lifestylers take this very seriously because they recognize and embrace the deeper meaning under it all. This deeper meaning is not something everyone comes to see and understand, but it is there nonetheless. For those of us who are touched by this, the clubs become our second home, the people we meet with, our family. Often times we feel more like our true selves in this environment than we do anywhere else. And it’s no wonder. BDSM reaches a very primal and powerful instinct in us; we really get something valuable out of it.

Newbies often misunderstand the things they see out in the clubs because they are inexperienced in the power exchange dynamic, and unaware of the deeper connection we have with it. And veterans sometimes have little patience for those who are only temporarily hanging out because they thought some book they read about it was cool.

You can avoid conflict and confusion by observing a few simple guidelines when out at a club, particularly for the first time. Obviously rules can vary from one club to another, but there are some general philosophies which should serve you well regardless of where you are.

• Read and understand the rules of the club you are going to, if possible in advance of your arrival. Chances are when you enter the club, and pay your entrance fee you will have to sign a waiver of consent and liability for the club. This will explain what is disallowed and what is expected of you. First timers should read these carefully and adhere absolutely.
• Don’t become too intoxicated. Whether the club has a bar or is b.y.o.b. stay in control of yourself. In my experience most feel it is unwise to play under the influence, and drunken behavior may get you kicked out.
• For your first time out, you may just want to observe others playing to get a feeling for what goes on. You shouldn’t feel any pressure to perform just because you are there.
• Don’t act like you own the joint. Respect that this club may be home to more than a few people. Though it is technically a public setting it is still a private place. Behave accordingly.
• Cell phone use may be prohibited. Because of the nature of what we do in our clubs, many will ask you to keep them out of sight, turned off or even ask you to check them at the door. With the advent of smart phones and easy access to the internet, people can be quickly outed in a big way. We want to avoid this and so should you.
• Respect the Dungeon Monitor. Most clubs employ someone to keep an eye on the goings on at the club. They make sure play remains safe and consensual.
• Keep things quiet if you are watching others play. Interrupting someone else’s scene, whether intentionally or not, is considered rude. Don’t ask them questions or observe from anything less than a respectful distance. And if you and your friend simply must have that loud conversation right now, take it outside.
• It’s ok to stare, but try to avoid pointing obviously.
• Don’t judge what you don’t understand. Keep an open mind. But if you can’t do that, at least keep a closed mouth. We don’t care if you approve or not.
• Respect people’s personal space, be friendly, but be cool.

All of this stuff is based in common sense and courtesy, but it’s important to point it out because sometimes people don’t seem to think those things apply in the dungeon setting. I can assure you that they do.

I don’t mean to imply that you should not be yourself, and I’d never do so. But until you have gotten your feet wet and seen what really goes on, just be cool about it. You’ll be glad you did.

So now that you are armed with enough information to keep you from embarrassing yourself, how do you begin to enter the public scene? Perhaps you’re lucky enough to know someone already involved, or know of a club you can go to. Perhaps you’re already aware of the social networking sites used by kinksters around the world to connect and gather with each other.

But what if you’re like I was when I was new? What if this self-discovery finds you far removed from a large metropolitan area? Let me share some of my experience with you.

I first discovered my kink after two failed marriages in which the sex life had been a big part of the problem and ultimately the destruction (in part) of the relationships. I always gravitated towards the darker, edgier parts of life, art, porn etc… But even though I somehow knew something was missing, I never really knew what it was. After my second divorce I found myself alone, in my early forties and living in a very small city in the Pacific Northwest; disillusioned and dissatisfied.

I managed, however, to befriend two couples, much younger than I was, who introduced me to the fetish community there, such as it was. I can distinctly recall going to a club for the first time and seeing the artwork on the walls. Most of it was highly erotic rope and suspension art and I was fascinated by the seductive beauty of it all. Seeing the photos of these women bound, gagged and displayed in all manner of compromising positions turned me on like I never had been before.

That new year’s eve we took a road trip up to Vancouver B.C. to attend an event known as Sin City, a bi-weekly kink rave complete with full bars, open dungeon play areas, and half naked Canadians from 19 to 90. I was hooked immediately and spent the next couple of years trying to get my kink on with girls I’d meet here and there, but the scene in that town was practically nonexistent and I quickly became frustrated.

Eventually I found my way back home to Los Angeles, a veritable bee hive of kinky activity, and proceeded to jump in feet first. My first event was a munch, which is just a social dinner gathering in a public restaurant. We hold these as a way to meet new people in a no pressure situation.

I immediately met lots of people with varying degrees of experience in the life and was eager to get started acquiring my submissives right away.

But you know what? That first year, while often enjoyable and fulfilling, was also frustrating, embarrassing, and even heart breaking. I soon realized that I was floundering and on the verge of leaving the scene entirely. I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to cut it. See, despite the fact that I had known I was kinky and freaky in the bedroom for quite a while; I had no idea what it meant to actually live the lifestyle out loud. I had NO experience with true lifestylers who lived openly 24/7. I hadn’t the slightest idea what a protocol was, what the power exchange dynamic was about, none of the real deal. I was lost.

After a few failed attempts at D/s relationships, I found myself becoming shy and introverted and hesitant to even keep on trying for fear of more failure. Finally this led me to a surrender of truth; I needed help. I reached out to some of the men I had met in the scene, hoping for guidance, advice, and a Mentor.

Soon a man I knew through a friend suggested that I attend an MDHL meeting in Los Angeles. (MDHL is Male Dominant Heterosexual Leather) Like LGBT, (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transsexual) this is a means of identification, but also a place to call home with those of your particular ilk. There I met my mentor and began my true excursion into the world of the BDSM lifestyle.

Since that time I have been growing in leaps and bounds in technique, experience and attitude and have found true inner happiness exploring and living out my Dominant nature.

Your early time in the BDSM scene can vary depending on your individual situation. Whether you be male or female, Dominant or submissive, or even if you are unsure of exactly where you fall in, can have an impact on your experience.

New submissives are by far in the most demand and get the most attention. While this fact can make finding play partners to have new experiences with much easier; it can also lead to a state we call “frenzy”. Frenzy can happen to sub and Dom alike and is characterized by an overwhelming obsession to experience everything and anything as quickly as possible. This state often leads people to make snap decisions based on too little information about the people and activity they are getting involved with. It can lead to burnout, disappointment and even harm if not kept in check. Trust me, I speak from personal experience in this matter.

My advice to new people is to take things slowly. Above everything else you must keep your mental, emotional and physical health as your first priority.

Seek out classes and seminars in your area. If you know what your identification is, reach out to others of your ilk who have more experience than you. Don’t allow yourself to get into dangerous situations with people you don’t know. Start off by playing publicly so you have others around who will also keep your safety in mind.

New Tops can face their own challenges, namely finding people to play with. The question becomes, how to gain experience when you have no experience? I have found that many experienced subs or bottoms are unwilling to play with a Top who doesn’t know what they are doing. So how do you become proficient enough to have confidence in what you are doing, and convey that confidence to them?

The internet is full of helpful videos about how to use flogs, paddles, canes etc… and instructional vids on rope bondage of all kinds. These are a good start but in my opinion nothing suffices for the personal instruction of an experienced player. Ask around, find classes or people who offer instruction in your areas of interest. Be patient, take the time to learn proper techniques, ask questions, you’ll be glad you did. The more humble and honest you are with people about where you’re at in your path, the more they will respect and be willing to help you.

Again I recommend seeking out people in your area who already have the experience you want, get to know them and learn from them. Mentors and friends are going to be your best bet in your early years in the scene. They have already experienced much if not all of what you are about to and can help you identify things like frenzy, drop and the like.

Some final thoughts… On consent, while it is true that our activities are generally based on mutual consent and gratification of pleasure, it’s important to note something. We are people who love to push the envelope of what’s acceptable. Dominants are people who love to take what they want and submissives are people who love to please. What this sometimes means is that even though a negotiation may have established some parameters based on consent and limits, at times these may be pushed. Those limits may be tested and broken through. In the heat of passion boundaries may be blown away in favor of testing new ground. This kind of thing can and does happen, though for new people, again I caution some restraint and slowness of pace. You have to learn what the rules are before you can break them.

On use of safe words during play; the reliance on safe words may be compromised under the influence of sub space. The Top or Dominant is also responsible to feel the bottoms energy, check in with them from time to time to make sure they are doing alright. The nature of a submissive is to please, sometimes even at the cost of their own comfort and safety. As Tops/Doms, we must also take responsibility to provide for their safety.

And finally, above all else, remember to have fun. Lest my cautions give you the wrong impression, I want to emphasize this one fact; we do this stuff because we enjoy it! So get out there and get to it!!

We’d love to hear about your first experience going to a public play party! Share in the comments section below.

Frederick M. is 24/7 MDHL; Male Dominant Heterosexual Leather and proudly mentored by a member of the Monarchs. He currently resides in Los Angeles practicing polyamory with his two lovely submissives.

Comments

  1. Donna Sash says:

    I am new to this lifestyle I am a member of two local Leather/BDSM clubs
    by being respectful this sissy has been accepted by many people in the lifestyle
    I am taking some classes and have negotiated some public seins
    I am enjoying my self but do spend much time just looking and learning
    It is even harder orr a bi x dresser than any others
    I always go dressed but most have come to know and like Donna

  2. Really great article and info Frederick!! <3

  3. Felecia T says:

    good info. thanks for the share

  4. <3

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