Attending a Play Party
20 October 1997
By Kirrily ("Skud")
Copyright © 1997 Kirrily Robert; not to be reproduced in any
medium without permission.
Over the last few years, I have met a number of people who have
expressed an interest in attending play parties but have lacked the
information they need to be confident and comfortable showing up.
Here are a few thoughts I've had on the topic, drawn from my
moderate experience of BDSM parties and clubs, both pansexual and
otherwise. Don't take them as law - not all things will work for all
people, and much of what I say here may not apply to you, nor to the
party you plan to attend. However, I hope that there will be at least
one useful piece of information here for just about everyone.
Finding the parties
Your first challenge will probably be to find a play party in your
area. If you don't know of any parties in your area, there are
several ways to find out if they're happening and get yourself on the
The first way is to peruse the appropriate publications for
advertisements. Depending on your inclination, the "appropriate
publications" may be Brother Sister (gay and lesbian newspaper), ACM
(Australian Couples Monthly, a swingers magazine), or any of a number
of less well-known ones. You may also see advertisements posted on
AusBDSM or other Internet fora.
If there are no advertisements for play parties or clubs, you may
have to take a more roundabout route. You will almost certainly be
able to find advertisements for leather pride groups, leather bars,
professional dominants, fetish clothing shops, or other related
services. Contact these people and ask them politely whether they
know of any SM play parties in your area. Be aware that the answer
you get will be tinged by the type of people you ask, so if you ring
(for instance) a gay male leather bar you're unlikely to find a party
that will suit you if you're straight! When you talk to them, be
straightforward about what you're looking for. They've heard it all,
and would probably rather deal with someone who just asks "Hi, I was
wondering if you have any contact details for people who run SM
playparties" than someone how hems and haws for fifteen minutes before
coming to the point. You don't have to give your real name either, if
you don't want.
In my experience, play parties tend to fall into the following
- Nightclubs or special nightclub-like events at which play may
- Pansexual parties at which play may occur
- Pansexual parties at which play is the main focus
- Single-sex or special interest parties at which play is the main
While many parties are held at nightclub-like venues, I don't
include them in the first category unless there is loud dance music
and a majority of non-players. Examples of nightclubs would be
Hellfire, the Sleaze dance party held by the Sydney Mardi Gras people,
and the annual Melbourne and Sydney Leather Pride parties. Typically,
these are open to all comers as long as they're more or less
appropriately dressed. Entry ranges from about $10 (Hellfire) through
to $50ish (Sleaze). These events are where most people get their
first exposure to semi-public SM play. Usually there are people
milling around in varying levels of fetish gear (or, at Hellfire,
often jeans and flannies - Hellfire is a bit prone to yobbo sightseers
in Melbourne at least), and some "demonstration" or "audience
participation" scenes occurring. Most commonly, these involve people
tied to a rack and being flogged by the House Mistresses or Masters
for the entertainment of the punters. Some of these events also have
small spaces available for "private" use. This most usually takes the
form of a maze or an area of interconnected cubicles partitioned by
curtains or other temporary walls. These are almost never equipped
for real SM play.
The second category of party, where play may occur but is not
necessarily the primary focus, is what usually happens when BDSM
enthusiasts get together for a birthday party, housewarming party,
Christmas, or similar. Any play which occurs at them is usually
low-key, casual, and often rather silly. For example, someone may
discover that the barbeque tongs make an amusing toy and decide to use
them on a friend while the rest of the attendees watch and call out
encouragement or laugh. These parties are often a very worthwhile way
to meet people with whom you may later attend a more serious play
The last two categories of play parties, where play is the main
focus, are the ones that require the most nerve to attend and the most
preparation and knowledge if you want to make a success of it.
Threshold in Sydney and Dominion in Melbourne typify the pansexual
ones. There are also a number of less well known or less regular ones.
The special interest ones include men-only or women-only parties, and
also parties catering towards the swingers scene, particular fetish
interests, or particular relationship styles such as heterosexual
female-dominant couples. While having slightly different interests
and entry requirements, the things you need to know to attend them are
For legal or quasi-legal reasons, many party organisers will
require a meeting with potential attendees before the party. This
means that they get to know everyone, and can run it as a "private
party". The advantages of this are that you can get up to more at a
private party than you can at a public one. For instance, I believe
that you are not meant to allow sex on premises or any body fluids if
it is a public venue and you don't have an appropriate license. In
reality, most "public" parties turn a blind eye to sex on premises as
long as it happens in a dark corner, and occasionally allow piercings,
cuttings, or other play that may include body fluids if the people
involved are trusted long-term attendees.
Anyway, the point is that the hosts may want to meet you first.
Often this will simply take the form of coffee in a neutral place and
a brief chat. The host will usually fill you in on how the party is
run and what you can expect, and will answer any questions you might
have. In return, the host will probably ask you about your BDSM
interests, level of experience, sexual preference, etc. This is
usually so that they can tailor the demographic mix of the party to
suit their own preferences. For instance, some parties aim for a
gender balance, while others like to have a solid core of experienced
players while not being outnumbered by complete novices. Being as
open and truthful as possible will benefit both the party and yourself
- if you let the hosts know that you're looking for something in
particular, they may be able to help introduce you to others that
share your interests.
On the night of the party, you may find it useful to show up early
- perhaps in the first hour or two of the advertised time - so that
you have a chance to meet the hosts, get a guided tour of the space,
change into something less comfortable, and find a good vantage point
from which to view the action. Try to dress as specified on the
invitation or advertisement. If you don't have leather or fetish
gear, plain black is usually an acceptable substitute.
At the door, you may be required to pay an entry fee and/or sign a
waiver stating that you are over the age of consent and will indemnify
hosts for any personal injury. The legality and usefulness of these
forms is dubious, but you should at least read them through and sign
them if you wish to enter the party.
Most parties will provide a changing space if you do not want to
arrive in your fetish gear. Bring a bag to keep your street clothes
and other sundries in. Also, if your fetish gear does not have
pockets you may find it useful to carry a "bum-bag" or similar to
store your money, keys, condoms, or other small items.
What to take
Most play parties will not provide toys, or will provide only a
bare minimum. You should bring your own, or arrange with the hosts to
borrow theirs if you do not have any. What toys you bring will depend
on where your interests lie, what you have, and how much you're
prepared to lug around. I usually carry a toolbox full of goodies,
with a couple of larger implements besides.
In addition to toys, there are a number of other bits and pieces I
find useful to pack. Here's my non-toy list of things that I take to
parties. Your list may vary.
- Partial change of clothes (tshirt, underwear)
- Safer sex materials - condoms, gloves, dams, lube
- First aid stuff - band-aids, cotton buds, betadine, paracetamol
- Several "trick towels" - small hand-towels that I get from a
manchester remainder outlet which I use to clean up after anything
messy and which can be thrown out afterwards
- Nail clippers and file
- Miscellaneous stuff - matches, a knife, a pen, some cards with my
- A bottle of water - usually one of those ones with the "sports"
nozzle like Adams Ale
- If I have room, a warm jumper or jacket. This is useful to put on
someone after a scene if they're shivering, or even just for going out
into the cold night air afterwards!
As you attend more parties, you will start to learn what works for
you. I find it worthwhile to spend half an hour sorting through my
stuff a few days before a party and making sure that nothing's running
low, needs repair or replacement, or has been mysteriously lost at the
The party will almost certainly have a "chill-out" space where
people socialise and do things other than play. This is often the
kitchen. When socialising at the party, remember everything your
parents ever taught you about manners - say please and thank you,
introduce yourself to people, treat everyone with respect. This means
everyone, not just dominants. If you're feeling shy, ask the hosts to
introduce you to a few people. If you still have trouble meeting
people, offer to help wash the glasses or set up the equipment -
people always react well to those who offer to help out. This applies
in all situations - not just play parties.
A minority of people will carry their BDSM roles at all times. You
can usually spot them because they will introduce themselves as
"Master Suchandsuch" or "slave thingummy" or some equivalent. It is
up to you how to react to these people. You are not required to take
part in their play, nor does your own identification as a top or
bottom necessarily mean that you need to treat people a certain way.
If you feel comfortable calling these people by the titles they choose
or adhering to some standard of behaviour, by all means do so, but if
you don't want to and haven't negotiated and consented to be a part of
their play, you don't have to. This doesn't mean that you can be
outright rude to them, but you can respond to Master Suchandsuch's
introduction by a simple "Hello Suchandsuch, I'm pleased to meet
At your first party you are likely to spend a considerable amount
of time watching other people playing. Here are a few hints and
- Don't try to join in a scene unless you're invited
- Don't hold noisy conversations in the play area while scenes are
- Don't stand too close or the backswing might hit you!
- Do listen to the players and hosts wishes or instructions
- Do pay attention to what is going on in the scene. You can learn a
lot from watching experienced players
- Do feel free to talk to the players afterwards about what they
were doing. However, it's often a good idea to give them sometime to
calm down first. Half an hour is usually a sufficient recovery time.
One last note: in my experience the most acceptable facial
expression for watching a scene is polite interest with a touch of
pleasure. This means that a smile is OK, but drooling or rubbing
yourself is not. However, the only real rule is to watch the other
people who are watching and model your behaviour on theirs.
If you are planning to play at a party you will need to understand
some of the fundamental differences between public and private play
spaces. Firstly, a public environment is most suited towards physical
displays. Psychological/emotional play that works well in your own
bedroom simply will not translate cleanly to this environment. The
environment itself may adversely affect the scene, and the scene is
unlikely to provide entertainment to the other attendees. And let's
face it, that's why we go to parties. This is not to say that no
psychological play will work in a party space, but rather that you are
likely to have greater success with physical play.
The second thing to remember is that every party and just about
every party guest has their own set of etiquette regarding approaching
people for BDSM play. The only rules that are fairly consistent
- Be polite
- No means no
Nobody should mind if you approach a prospective play partner
politely and are not overbearing or insistent if they refuse your
proposition. However, the chances of a newcomer finding a play
partner are fairly slim unless s/he already knows some of the people
present. Don't be surprised if someone won't play with you - they
probably want to get to know you and establish some level of trust
first. This is why attending non-play parties, discussion groups, or
other casual events is a Good Idea.
There are some things you can do to signal your availability and
desire to play and even some of your specific interests. The
Hanky Code is a
long-standing method of indicating your interests. The most commonly
understood colours are black, grey, red, yellow, and purple. As a cut
down version, consider wearing your keys or a flogger or other
implement on your left hip if you are a top or your right hip if you
are a bottom.
Don't feel that you have to play with anyone who approaches you,
either. A polite "No, thankyou" will deter most people, or you could
say "I'm interested, but I don't feel comfortable about playing here
until I settle in."
Most parties will expect Safe, Sane and Consensual play and may
also require or recommend safer sex. These rules are for both your
own immediate protection and for the protection of the BDSM community
as a whole, so obey them! Most parties also have a "house safeword"
which is either "Safeword", "Mercy" or occasionally "Red". If someone
uses these words you should stop your play immediately and check that
they are alright both physically and emotionally.
Lastly, if you are lucky enough to get to play at your first party,
take it easy! You don't need to impress everyone with a totally over
the top scene, and trying to do so will just increase your chances of
causing someone harm. Start gently and do it well and you will gain a
reputation as a safe and worthwhile player.