This article is an excerpt from Morgan Thorne’s recently released book, Exploring BDSM – a Workbook for Couples (or More) Discovering Kink.
When you’re brand new to something, you’re bound to make mistakes. It’s one of those things you should be okay with before you start experimenting. You’re going to make mistakes and that’s okay! Learn from them, handle them appropriately and grow. That’s how we become well-rounded people.
That said, it seems silly for countless people to endlessly repeat the same mistakes, over and over again. One of the great things about humans is that we are capable of learning from other people’s mistakes as well as our own. Understanding why and how someone else has stumbled can help you avoid the same pitfalls.
1 – Too Many Things at Once
This is the first of a few similar mistakes that new people often make. In this case, we are talking about trying to fit too many things at once into a play scene. I know, there are all these fun sounding and interesting things that you’ve been introduced to, you want to do all of them right away!
If you try to jam too many different activities into a single play scene you’re going to end up overwhelmed. You will be fumbling, trying to remember all the things you wanted to do and waste valuable time worrying about whether you did them all. This will interrupt the flow of the scene, damage your confidence, and not be much fun for anyone involved.
Avoid this mistake by selecting between 2 and 5 activities that you want to do. 5 is probably too many for many scenes, but it really depends on the scene. If you’re doing an impact scene, selecting 5 different styles of implement seems reasonable. On the other hand, if you decide you want to do electrical play, sounding, an elaborate shibari tie, forced orgasms, and fire cupping…well, you will quickly find yourself in trouble.
The problem with the above scenario is that each of those activities takes a while. There is a lot of set up for an activity like sounding, for instance. Elaborate shibari ties can take half an hour or more to complete. The set up that you need to safely do fire cupping is different than the set up to do the bondage or sounding. You can see how you would end up with a scene that lasts hours but is mostly spent setting up for the next activity.
The other problem is that the scene can become disjointed. Ideally, you want to have activities that work together or flow from one to the next. Shibari and wax play are a traditional combination. Bondage with cuffs, rope, or leather restraints can work with just about any activity or it can be the star of the show. You will learn which activities work best together based on your own personal style (as you develop it) and what you observe others doing.
2 – Overconfidence
Many people walk into the world of BDSM thinking that it all looks easy. I mean, how hard can it be to hit people with a stick or wrap them up in ropes?
The answer is that there is a lot to learn. Yes, some activities are pretty straightforward. Spanking is pretty simple when you think about it, but even then, you would be amazed at how many people mess it up. Warm-ups are important to enjoyable impact play. Without one, enjoyable pain can turn into annoying pain very quickly.
Avoid this mistake by being humble. Many things aren’t as easy as they look. Before you engage in an activity, read up about it. Take a class if you’re able to. Kinksters love attending workshops. Even those of us who have been around a long time still attend various workshops. Even if it’s an activity that I know a lot about, I still learn new tips and tricks by seeing how others do it.
Don’t think that this advice applies just to dominants or tops! Bottoms, submissives and switches should have at least a general knowledge of activities so that they know and understand the risks involved and know how to tell a safe partner from an unsafe one.
3 – No Confidence
You’re new and nervous. It’s not unusual, we were all new once. I don’t think anyone is ever totally confident doing something for the first time, but a bit of nervousness is different than not having any confidence.
If you aren’t confident in what you’re about to do, you will make mistakes. You will be so worried about not being perfect that you will sabotage yourself. You may forget what comes next, you might totally freeze when giving or getting an order.
Avoid this mistake by doing your research. Attend some classes, munches, and play parties. Watch others and see what aspects you like. Learn everything you can about an activity before trying it on a human.
If you’re a top, practice. Pillows are fantastic for practicing your aim for impact play. Most of us learned how to use a flogger by hitting pillows. Same for canes, crops, and just about anything you can think of.
Bottoms can prepare too. If you know you’re going to be doing bondage, you can do things like yoga that will condition your muscles and keep you flexible. You need strength and flexibility to endure some of the beautiful shibari ties that are so popular today. Learn about various types of play so that you can keep yourself safe and so that you know what you need to speak up about in scene (sticking with the bondage example, weakness in a limb).
4 – Not Enough Communication
Talking about our kinks can be hard, especially when you’re new. As time goes on, it gets easier and easier, so do your best to get through those first awkward conversations. In the beginning, people will often skip over important points of pre-scene communications, either because they are nervous talking about it or they don’t realize it should be discussed.
It is bound to happen, you’re in the middle of a scene and something comes up that you haven’t talked about yet. Sometimes it’s okay to just ask mid-scene and other times it can ruin the mood or even cause the end of the scene. Lack of communication is common, so don’t feel bad if (when) it happens to you.
Avoid this mistake by having a conversation about your scene a few days ahead of time. This will give you time to think about things and ask any questions that pop into your mind at 3 am. Some people may even find it’s best to plan multiple conversations before the scene, adding a bit to the negotiation each time. Don’t forget to go over things the day of the scene – I like to have the final check in right before we start – to make sure nothing has changed and you’re still both in the mood for what you discussed.
5 – Sky High Expectations
If you’ve been fantasizing about BDSM for as long as you can remember and you finally get the chance to try it out, you may have some unrealistic expectations. If you go into your first scene expecting that everything will be perfect, you’re going to be disappointed. If you expect that your partner can read your mind, you’re going to be disappointed.
Avoid this mistake by managing your expectations and learning about the reality of BDSM. There are going to be times when things don’t go exactly as planned. Your partner will make mistakes. You will make mistakes. Learn to roll with it, have a laugh if warranted, and keep going.
For instance, I don’t think I’ve ever done a pegging scene where things weren’t totally awkward at one point or another. Getting toys and bodies aligned properly can be a challenge (especially when you’re short and your partner is more than a foot taller!), finding the right size toy for that day and moment can take some time, and having hands covered in lube will almost always end in clumsiness. You learn to laugh it off and keep going. If you take yourself too seriously, you won’t have any fun at all.
Don’t let your fantasy of BDSM cloud the reality of it. I really suggest that people get out to the community and watch others doing scenes – that way you can see first hand that even experienced people can have bloopers from time to time.
To learn more about the most common mistakes BDSM newbies make, be sure to check out my latest book, Exploring BDSM.
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Morgan Thorne has been practising BDSM all her adult life. She got an introduction to kink through the Queer community in the early 1990’s and knew she had found ‘her people’.
Morgan has also spent nearly a decade working as a Professional Dominant, which has allowed her to expand her skills as both a Top and a Dominant. Morgan has been offering workshops, lectures and BDSM training for a number of years as well. She has a successful Youtube channel where she educates about D/s relationships, BDSM basics and various kinky skills.
In January 2017, Morgan Thorne released her debut book, “A Guide to Classic Discipline”. This will be followed up in Nov/Dec 2017 with “Medical Aseptic Technique for BDSM Play”. Expect more great books from Morgan Thorne in 2018!
Morgan identifies as both a Sadist and a Dominant. She enjoys playing with a variety of people of all orientations/genders/
Prior to her work as a Professional Dominant, Morgan worked in health care. This has allowed her to gain a more thorough understanding of health and safety concerns in kink. She retired due to an injury that lead to chronic pain and disability. It also drove her interest in medical play, as a way to continue to use the skills she learned in health care and to find comfort in the loss of a much-loved career.
Morgan has been active in various forms of activism, including LGBTQIA rights and sex worker rights. She is a strong advocate for equality and the human rights of all people.
I would love for you to write an article on limits!
That’s great advice! Thank you so much for responding.
But what if you don’t know your hard and soft limits yet? What if you are still exploring?
Morgan Thorne says
I have a video that talks about limits on my Youtube channel (linked above), and perhaps that can be the subject of the next article I write here.
I would use an opt-in method of negotiation. Only do the things that you have negotiated and no surprises. If you find something that you don’t like, you can add it to your limits, if needed.
Generally, limits are going to be the things that make you go “NO WAY!”
So, if I suggest that we do flesh hook suspension (a favourite past time of mine), you probably already know if that’s a limit for you or not. Of course, it’s easier with extreme examples. Do you hate tickling, to the point that it makes you want to violently lash out? Then it’s probably wise to add it to your limit list. Do you just dislike tickling a lot but might consider putting up with it for the right person? Soft limit.
If you’re unsure about various BDSM activities, google “BDSM checklist” and you will find lots of lists that describe various activities. These often help people figure out what they may want to explore and what is off limits.
Remember, limits can change over time, between partners (what I do with my live-in, romantic life partner is different than what I will do with casual play partners, for instance), or for any reason you need. Just make sure to let your partner know.
From personal experience, I absolutely do. Of course the list can be modified and changed from partner to partner, but when I go to parties I always have a list printed out in my bag.
Do you recommend having a list of your hard and soft limits to give to your partners?
Morgan Thorne says
For me it depends. If they are a regular partner, it could be useful to have a list. I generally like to do a “BDSM checklist” with regular partners, so that I know what they’re into and what is off limits. If I’m doing casual, pick up play with someone, I use an opt-in negotiating style (which I talked about in a different comment), so limits don’t really enter into things (because we only do the things that are negotiated).
In the end, if it makes you feel more comfortable to make a list, do it. I like having things organized and I know my memory can be crappy sometimes (which is why I like to check in regarding important things like limits before play with people I only play with occasionally).
I will say that if you give a list of limits to a potential partner and they have a negative reaction to it, I would walk away from that arrangement. Negative reactions to limits is a red flag for me.
I honestly wouldn’t suggest it. I think before you play at a party, it’s important to feel completely comfortable and to me that only comes with going a few times before playing with anyone.
If you jump in too quickly, then you might get overwhelmed and not return for a while. It’s better to walk before you run.
If it’s your first play party, is it better just to watch and observe or is it okay to play if you meet someone that you trust and feel safe around?
Morgan Thorne says
I think for most people, they are going to be more comfortable just watching. It can be a lot to take in, and if you’re going solo, I would focus more on meeting people than anything else.
Of course, if you go and you do feel comfortable playing, you can. I just wouldn’t walk in with the plan of finding someone to play with. Those of us who go to play parties usually don’t just go to one – there is always next time once you’ve had a chance to get to know a few people 🙂
Keep in mind that the people who attend play parties aren’t always vetted and even if they are, they may not be safe players (or people who play in a style that works for you), it really depends on the party. The ones I used to attend (our big play space recently shut down) were open to anyone who could see the Fetlife listing and was willing to sign the waver on the way in. We got rid of the people who violated consent, but there wasn’t a lot of scrutiny about who walked through the door. Unless it’s a private club, these things can be hard to monitor. On the other hand, when I hold parties in my home, I make sure all the people are those I trust. So keep in mind what kind of play party you’re attending. I see a lot of newbies assume that because someone is there, they are trustworthy, and that isn’t always the case.
Mostly, go have fun, get comfortable! There will always be more parties, so no need to do everything at the first one.
I will check those out for sure! I appreciate you taking the time to write such a thorough answer to my question.
Thanks for the advice! I’ve never done pick up play before, but have always wanted to so this is quite helpful.
I agree with you that communication before a scene is very important. What advice do you have regarding pick up play?
Morgan Thorne says
For pick up play, I always suggest that negotiations should be “opt-in” rather than “opt-out” or blanket style.
What I mean by this is that you should discuss the things that you want to do, agree on those and assume anything else is off the table. So if I negotiate a spanking/impact scene to include hand spanking, paddles and a strap, all focused on the buttocks, I won’t just decide to introduce other elements once the scene has started.
This means that if I didn’t negotiate bondage but realize partway through that I really want to tie the bottom – too bad. I can include that option in my negotiations next time, but making unilateral decisions during play is a violation of the bottom’s consent. Re-negotiating part way through a scene can also be problematic, as people often enter an altered state of mind (what we like to call subspace) – it can be like asking for consent when a person is intoxicated, morally questionable at best.
I also make the assumption that anything we didn’t explicitly talk about or negotiate is off the table. If we didn’t discuss sexual activity, then it’s not an option. If we didn’t discuss humiliation, it’s a no-go. I also expect my partner to honour the same thing. If we didn’t discuss resistance play, I expect that they will not resist.
For the Tl;dr – know what you want to do in a scene beforehand and make sure you negotiate those elements because anything that hasn’t been negotiated shouldn’t be done (even if it’s a totally brilliant idea that would make the scene amazing).
Thanks so much for writing this article. I found it very helpful. What are some of your favorite online resources for research?
Morgan Thorne says
Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
For me, I like taking in information from a variety of sources, since kink is so individual – what one person says may or may not resonate. In that vein, I really enjoy The Domme Chronicles by Ferns for a female dominant perspective. I’ve also found the Submissive Guide to be quite helpful, even though I’m on the other side of the slash. It gives insight into a mindset that I don’t have and so much can be applied to any role. Of course, I like doing a bit of ‘crowdsourcing’ both through chatting with friends in my local community and reading the things people have to say on sites like Fetlife and the BDSM oriented subs on Reddit.
My biggest piece of advice when looking for online resources would be to avoid the “one twue way-ers”. The people who preach that their way is the only one. BDSM is different for each of us, especially on the relationship/mental/emotional side of things. Always consult a variety of sources and take anyone preaching hard and fast rules with a grain of salt 🙂