Welcome to the BDSM scene! It's a wonderful place, but here's some good stuff to know before getting too far. The BDSM scene has a set of culture, rules, and etiquette that help make this stuff safer and more pleasant. Kinksters have created awesome systems to communicate well, stay safe, and keep our private lives private. Here's some stuff to keep in mind.
For a full (ever evolving) glossary, check out the...glossary. But for this document, here are some of the important words.
- The Scene: The public set of events and parties and groups that make up kinkdom.
- A Scene: A kinky encounter.
- Play: The verb to do kink. Play does not imply sex. Play can involves sex, but more often does not.
- Aftercare: The discussion, snack, cry, cuddle, etc. after a scene has ended to help the players get back to typical headspace.
- Dungeon: A large-ish play space that can be a public club or private place.
Going To Events
- Ask Before you Touch People...At All
In the vanilla (non-kink) world, a hand on the shoulder or a pat on the back or a touch of the hand can be considered normal and acceptable. In the kink scene, pretty much all spaces default to the "absolutely no physical contact without verbal affirmative consent" rule unless otherwise specified. Even if you think you've gotten to know somebody a little and you want to be affectionate, ask before any kind of contact. It is acceptable to verbally establish standing consent for physical contact. "May I give you a hug? Is that always okay?" "Yes, you may do all of the regular-world stuff." People actually talk like that. I mean it.
- Ask Before You Touch People's Stuff
Partially because it might have been up someone's ass, and possibly because it's extremely expensive and/or sentimental or needs to be extremely clean. Even if that whip looks really fun to mess with or that rope's just sitting there in a chair you could be sitting in, ask first.
- Introduce Yourself With Your Scene Name and Preferred Gender Pronouns
Even if -- especially if -- you run into someone you know, introduce yourself, and ask how they would like to be addressed.
A lot of people who have unique names in the real world choose to go by a "scene name." This can be anything from a simple real-world name like "Allie" to more kink specific names like "Goddess Xantha." There's also nothing wrong with your regular name if you're comfortable with it.
People in the kink scene also should introduce with the pronouns that they would like others to use for them in conversation. I say "Hi, I'm Allie and I use she/her pronouns." This is in order to be inclusive of people with lots of different gender presentations and preferences for how people talk about them. Even--especially-- if you think it should be "obvious." There are a lot of people who present one way, and prefer something else and much of the kink scene is trying to remove the idea that pronouns can be assumed.
- Ask for Other People's Pronouns
If someone does not tell you their pronouns, it is always polite to ask. "I didn't catch your pronouns. I use she/her. What do you use?"
- Questions to Avoid Asking
Many people go to kink events to get away from their regular lives and do something interesting. Many people in the kink scene would rather not have their employers or students know what they're doing on Saturday nights. Thus, it is impolite to ask questions about where people work, where they go or went to school, or whether they have kids. A lot of people might not want to tell you they work for the government while they're strapped up-side-down wearing nothing but cat ears.
If someone asks you a question that you don't want to answer, it is polite and expected to remind them that questions like that aren't a good idea in kink spaces, or to simply tell them that you do not want to answer.
- Topics that are Great
On the other hand, there are a bunch of questions you do get to ask that you might not get to ask at a family BBQ. It is actually perfectly polite to ask how someone got into the scene and what their kinky interests are. You can ask what kinds of events they like to go to, and how long they've been in the scene.
- If Something Grosses You Out...
Keep it to yourself. The motto is "your kink is not my kink, and that's okay." Avoid shaming people for their kinks. Think... "no, thanks. I'm not into that," instead of "ew."
- NEVER Take Photos or Recordings
Unless you are at a specific photography event and you have specific consent for all people who could possibly be in the photo frame, do not take photos or videos or audio recordings of anyone. Most venues ban photography. This is not your own personal porn shoot.
- Complement People Politely
It's also actually perfectly acceptable in most places in the scene to give complements that might come off kind of weird in the vanilla world. For example, if I witness a hot scene between two people at a dungeon, I can go up to those people after their scene AND after I'm sure their aftercare has ended, and say "caught a bit of your scene. That was really hot" --and then walk away or engage in conversation depending on their response. Do not offer suggestions of other things they could have done or tell them how you would have done it.
It can also be okay to say "wow, you look really hot" to someone at a dungeon event as long as it's said in the same way as one would say "nice haircut" and not in the way someone would say "hey baby, get into my car and touch my gear shift."
- Solicit People Politely
Do not go to a dungeon expecting to get laid or have a pick-up scene. Go to a dungeon with the hope of making new friends and hanging out with cool people and seeing some cool outfits. That being said, if you've had a nice conversation with somebody (like, longer than 30 minutes) and you think you might have some kinks in common, it can be okay to say "hey, it seems like we have some kinks in common. Let me know if you'd like to scene some time." If they say "okay, I will let you know" and then they never mention it again, do not bring it up again. It was a no. If, on the other hand, they say "yeah! When?" you can start negotiating or scheduling or discussing or whatever. Just remember that consent is time specific and can be retracted at any time.
Do not solicit people within the first 30 minutes of meeting them. Do not walk up to people and start spouting "do you like strap ons? I want to get fucked by a young woman with a strap on. You're a young woman."
- No "Miss," "Sir," "Slave," or "Slut"
Treat people as equals, even if they seem to be obviously presenting as a specific role. Just because somebody is a submissive does not mean that they're your submissive. Do not call someone "Miss" or "Sir" or any titles without specifically negotiating that with them first. Do not treat them as superior or inferior, serve them, or demand service from them in any way without explicitely discussing it first.
- Learn to Negotiate Consent
Consent is super complicated and awesome in BDSM and kink. Learn to do it right. Don't renegotiate in the middle of a scene. Here's a link to an outline.
- Do Not Interrupt Scenes
If someone is playing, do not walk through their space, touch their stuff, touch them, or engage them in conversation unless specifically invited. Do not give suggestions, nor bring the Dom water because she looks thirsty. The only exemption from this is if someone is screaming the actual house safeword and nobody is coming to the rescue. Otherwise, even if someone looks like they're doing something unsafe, it is not your place to step in. If you're truly concerned, talk to one of the Dungeon Monitors or supervisors of the space. A lot of times, though, people are doing stuff that looks super dangerous, but they're doing it on purpose and very carefully.
- Do Not Interrupt Aftercare
Scenes can be really intense, and aftercare is an important part of coming back to the real world and being okay with some of the crazy stuff that we do. It's personal and different every time and sometimes involves snacks, and other times involves crying, and unless you are invited, it does not involve you.
- Don't Whine About Not Finding Someone To Play With
If you didn't find someone to play with, that's fine. If you wanted to but you didn't, that's also fine. It is not fine to be butt-hurt because no one would play with/cuddle with/fuck you. You are not entitled to play. You aren't even entitled to a conversation, really, so be grateful when you get any attention at all. If someone talks to you for a long time and it seems like you're hitting it off and then they don't play with you, that's okay. You had a good conversation. Under no circumstances should you complain about it and say the person was 'leading you on.'
- No Wanking
Don't masturbate in a space unless you're in scene with somebody that involves masturbation. Watching and wanking is creepy and often explicitly against the rules. Save it for your computer.
- Clean Up Your Play Space
Most spaces provide towels/sprays to make sure you the next person has a sanitary place to play.
- Ask About Specific Space Rules
Some places allow some forms of sex, and others don't. It's usually related to insurance and local laws. Things to ask about are fluids (blood, cum), sharps (knives, needles, etc.), breath play, suspension, fire, and food.
- Alcohol and Drugs
When in doubt, if you're in the United States you can assume that play spaces do not allow alcohol or drugs or anyone who is intoxicated. (That being said, every single dungeon in Germany or the UK, for example, will sell alcohol). There are some exceptions, and lots of munches will serve alcohol, but drugs and alcohol get in the way of consent and physical and emotional safety, and thus aren't allowed.
Guide to Fetlife.com
- Fill out your profile
The more you fill out your profile, the more people will trust you and know that you're a real human being. List some fetishes! Talk about what you're looking for! You don't need photos of yourself, but it can be fun to have a photo on there of something you like or something that represents you. Feel free to avoid personal details like work or school or family.
- Avoid sex organs in your profile picture
Fetlife is a social network, not a hookup site or a dating site. You don't have to put your face, but it's also polite to have something that isn't a dick or hole.
- Friend people when you meet them
When you meet people in the real world, ask "May I friend you on Fet? What's your handle?" Having more friends also makes you look like a real person, and will help you in the future if you want to see if someone you've met is good to play with or a known serial creeper.
- Always Message Someone with your Friend Request
Half the time I get friend requests, I no longer remember who that person was. They don't have a face pic, and I don't remember where I met them. When you want to friend someone, send a message like, "hey, it was great meeting you at the Citadel on Friday. I was the one with the lace tights and we talked about Mission Burrito. Hope to see you soon! -TheNameYouWentByWhenWeMet"
- Don't Message People You Haven't Met Unless...
unless they're the host of an event you're going to or the leader of a group. Remember, FL is a social network, not a dating site. You're there to find events and keep in touch with people and read interesting stuff, not to hit on people.
And even then, read their profile first. Some event/group leaders prefer to be emailed or messaged through a different account.
- Use Fetlife to "Vet" People
So you've met some new friend and you want to play! But they might be a terrible person. Check out what mutual friends you have and ask about them. "Hey, I'm considering rooming with this person at the upcoming rope conference, and I see you've met. What do you think of them?" "Hey, do you know anyone who's played with this person? We were talking about doing a needle scene next week. Do they know their shit?"
- If someone does not have a fetlife...
or doesn't know what fetlife is, that's a red flag to people in the kink scene. Having a fetlife is a form of accountability and a sign that you're actually in the community instead of a predator trolling by for some tail. People who have fetlife accounts are more likely to have been to events that explain etiquette and safety or seen posts like this one explaining how to be respectful and safe. If you don't have one, you should get one as soon as possible. Fetlife only requires an email address and an age and location, but they don't show the email address and I'm pretty sure there aren't as many 94 year olds from Antartica in the scene.