10 Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years of Going to Play Parties

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A play party is just like any other party — if it’s a good party, it’s probably a loud party, and if it’s a great party, it ends in an orgasm. After over a decade of navigating BDSM and/ or public sex spaces, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the cringey sides of sex soirees. If you’re gearing up for your first play party, Autostraddle already covered the basics. I’m here to save you from unwanted surprises.

1. The first hour of a play party is as awkward as the first hour of any other party.

I arrived at a play party on the early side. I entered the dungeon to find a trio of leather dykes chatting and drinking Capri Suns next to an empty, human-shaped cage. A scrawny goth girl lounged in the sex swing, but no sex was happening and no one wanted to make the first move. The host tried to get us in the mood by dressing her partner in full pony tack, parading her around like a proud 4-H farm kid, but we were all too bashful to ride a human horse. I couldn’t get past the awkward hump and left before the fun began. Now I’ll always be fashionably late.

2. Play parties are where worlds collide.

In 2013 I attended a play party with a couple I’d met at a local dungeon. These folks were completely outside of my grungy queer social circle (think: blazers, Keurigs, property ownership). I was looking forward to working out my kinks in a downtown condo where I absolutely would not know anyone.

Ten seconds after I entered the party, the entire room stopped mid-spank and stared. “Aren’t you Ash from [that theater company]?” asked the man who was leashed to the coffee table. “I love that theater!” the host shouted. “I’m having my birthday party there tomorrow!” I stayed for the play party and cringed when all of its attendees sat in the front row of my show the following night. Imagining that the audience is in their underwear loses its charm when you’ve already seen them in their jock straps.

3. You might surprise yourself.

I attended my first play party at the ripe age of 18 in the basement of an abandoned mattress factory. I fully intended to “just watch” until I saw a gorgeous top tying party goers in intricate rope bondage. When she asked for more volunteers, I raised my hand like it was AP Bio. She asked me what I wanted out of the experience and if there were any parts of my body that I didn’t want touched or exposed. She asked me what pronouns I used and what my safe word was. This marks the first time anyone had initiated a conversation about consent with before engaging in physical intimacy and I was floored. I had never felt so safe and respected in a sexual space, and I wanted to try all of the things with her that night. She kindly walked me through everything from paddling to wax play to nipple clamps. When she told me that cuddling was the most common BDSM aftercare, I was hooked on all things kinky. “But next time,” I whispered from my little spoon position, “I want to top.”

4. You’re going to see your friends doing things you will never, ever forget.

Twilight. Role play.

5. Riding your bike after getting railed is never a good idea.

I take pride in biking everywhere always, but I sure couldn’t pedal home from a play party after a particularly long session involving a spreader bar and a Magic Wand. Now I suck it up and take the bus.

6. You should have had a chat with your partner before y’all stepped into that dungeon.

I’m in love with a triple Aries. Spontaneity is her lifeblood. When I heard about an upcoming “no cis boys allowed” kinky gathering, I asked her if she was ready for her first play party. She wasn’t into it then, but when the night of the party rolled around, my boo called me and squealed, “I’m picking you up in ten! We’re going to that party!” I dumped my literal tool box filled with sex toys into a bag with the urgency of a butch escaping a burning building, laced up my kinky boots and rushed outside.

A mutual friend was in the backseat. I didn’t want them to overhear a relationship check-in, so I waited until we arrived at the party to ask my boo what she wanted out of our night. Did she want to play with other folks or with each other? Did she just want to watch? Turns out it’s hard to have the “what are you ok with” conversation while someone is getting fisted three feet away. We figured it out and had an amazing time, but I’d advise anyone else to check-in with your sweetie before your fellow kinksters are elbow-deep in each others’ butts.

7. Some of these people aren’t washing their sex hands before they hit the chips and guac.

Forget the spanking bench — my favorite station at any play party is the snack table. Most kinksters I’ve encountered have been incredibly respectful of other folks’ space and safety, but after a long, dehydrating screwing session, it’s easy to screw up. I once watched a spaced-out switch reach into the Tostitos after providing a finger blast. Fortunately, she realized her mistake and bowl was promptly removed from the snack table. Now I keep an eye on the snacks and stick to packaged goods.

8. You can still be that person who hangs out with the host’s pet.

I’m that person at every house party who rushes to whichever room contains the host’s cat and stays there until another party goer says, “Don’t you want to join us in the kitchen?” and I say, “But Ruffles needs more scritchy scratchies under her little chin!” I once spent half of a play party playing fetch with a puppy, and by “puppy” I mean a hulking, hairy gay man on his hands and knees. I was sitting alone, anxiously waiting for familiar faces to arrive, when the pup lumbered over and dropped his squeaky toy at my feet. I patted him on his leather puppy hood and told him he was a very good boy. He wiggled his behind to make the tail on his butt plug wag furiously. His goofy presence was almost as comforting as the presence of a real dog.

9. You’re going to have to wait in line for the St. Andrew’s cross like it’s Splash Mountain.

This is always the case. Live with it.

10. Your assumptions will be checked.

I arrived at a play party on the third floor of an old warehouse. I found an older woman at the bottom staircase struggling with overstuffed suitcase. I grabbed on end and helped her lug it up the steps. I was surprised to learn that we were going to the same event. “This suitcase is heavy! What’s in here?” I asked. “Needles and chains,” she said with a grin. I thought she was kidding. She wasn’t.

Ash Wilder is a writer, performer and sex educator living in the Midwest.

Ash has written 1 articles for us.

23 Comments

  1. 1. Buuuuut Number 9 is the best reason to arrive early.

    2. Never been as grateful to not have many queer work clients, tbh.

    3. 💜

    4. That…bites.

    5. Crashing after a party should be figurative only.

    6. Hell yes.

    7. Hands dipping into anything should always be with fully informed consent.

    8. That’s so fetching.

    9. I legit cackled when I read this.

    10. …like how much more awkward I found it the first time to interrupt a looong convo to buy a chocolate bar from the snack bar than, well, anything else that happened that evening.

    11. I was highly entertained by all of this!

  2. “You’re going to have to wait in line for the St. Andrew’s cross like it’s Splash Mountain.” True true true true true. We used to hall ours out to bars and run a spanking booth, and man the lines. Mostly it was straight dudes wanting a pretty girl to beat their ass, but still. Tips!

    Twilight Role play is on my no list thank you no

  3. This is interesting. What I learned from going to play parties, two in all, is what the ugliest, most disturbing and, honestly, horrifying forms of transmisogyny actually look like and where and by whom they are institutionalized in the form of humiliating regimes against trans women. Namely, by dominating factions within the queer ‘community’, including other trans persons. The event I went to was actually trans women and femme friendly, but when I realized what exactly the local ‘community’does and participates in ( Berlin, Germany) at, apparently, all the other play parties I resolved to never go to anything like a play party ever again and to keep people who do out of my life. Perhaps this is a harsh observation but I do not apologize for it. I am aware that elsewhere this is probably different – but, and this is the reason why I write this, it might be worthwile to keep an eye on these tendencies where they are. Thank you.

    • I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve had negative experiences in spaces that should be safe and welcoming for everyone. I feel lucky to have attended parties that were organized with the intention of creating a safer space for folks who are marginalized in queer spaces, but I understand that not all play party organizers or attendees have that level of awareness. I hear how that can be really toxic, especially in such a vulnerable situation. Thank you for sharing your experience!

      • You are very welcome, and I will say this: I hesitated adding such a grim note to a beautiful article dealing with something – play parties – that obviously work wonderfully for others, and elsewhere. My very short sojourn there made this very clear to me, although I never got so far as to get any hands-on experience or having a chance to explore this, and myself, and now this will probably never happen. I also saw, and briefly talked to, cis woman – trans woman couples from Far Away, and these brief encounters are treasured memories. Anyway – thank you for your kind reply!

    • ugh, that sucks. The parties I used to go to in Detroit were usually excellent about dealing with my gender, and if anyone fucked up I could call them on it and get a sincere apology. I’ve had more microaggressions in Utah, especially with the men’s parties I used to sell toys at. No overt hostility, just a general “you don’t belong” vibe. Honestly, I got more direct crap for selling vegan bondage gear at a leather sex party than I did for being trans, but the unwelcoming attitude some of those dudes gave off has kept me away from working those parties for the last year or so.

      Anyway, I’m sorry people were shit to you; don’t give them the space to do it again.

      • Thank you kindly – and you can count on it that I will not give these people half an inch of space. Because of Ash’s and your kind replies to my comment I actually feel better, and a little less grim, and you actually – whether that was your intention or not – gave me a glimmer of hope: I might actually run into a nice lady, or three, I can perhaps explore these things with. Thank you for reminding me that these people I wrote about may control scenes, but not the world.

        • Damn right they don’t control the world, and they definitely don’t control you! If this is a scene you’re interested in, keep looking – and maybe try to get to know people in a munch setting instead of a play party. Parties can be intense and awkward, but if you’ve made connections beforehand it can really help smooth out your experience, as well as screen the assholes in a less traumatic setting.

          • The difficulty I am facing is a bit different: the people I wrote about consist of a bunch of play party organizers and the people who attend this more or less regular play party. The organizers issued a specific set of rules which singled out pre- and non- op trans women, they and only they had to keep …parts of their bodies covered. The reasons given were the vilest and most disgusting comment on said trans womens’ bodies I have ever read in this context, initially I was certain it was a TERF- dominated event. But it was not, I am sorry to say that the organziers consisted of trans men, a genderqueer person and a cis woman. This regime lasted two years, these rules were revoked in spring this year, by then, however, I had become extremely distrustful of the whole community’ because, obviously, the hundreds of people it locally consists of had done nothing about it and actually suppported this party, and, hence, this regime. The créme de la queer in Berlin, Germany. Including, I am sorry to say, some trans women. How can I distinguish between people who supported, and would further support, such a regime and a description of my body as ‘triggering’ disgusting, nauseating and, to choose a milder term, a machine for transgressions against cis women? Because this is how it was described by said party organzizers. While I am easily recognizable as a trans women I have no way of knowing who is such a transmisogynist and who is not. The difference this conversation makes, however, is that I will try to think of something how to identify and find some of those who are not. And this is, for me, a significant difference – thank you again.

          • You’re welcome! I am very pleased with how supportive this space has been to our community.

            Wow, “a machine for transgressions against cis women” is straight up an exclusionary turn of phrase.

        • I’m also here to say that I’m horrified by what you encountered, Undersea Witch.

          I have been fortunate in just having been to queer parties that mandate inclusivity (of all kinds), and who certainly do not have this BS – so just to say there are some in this world. Not that that’s much help when it’s not where you’re at. I sure as hell wouldn’t be attending an event that wasn’t equally welcoming to all of us queers, whatever the shape or colour of our bodies, or how they function.

          Also very much wishing better community and support for you.

          • Thank you kindly! The support I experience here alleviates what I experienced – it was, and still is, the same, but this conversation does make a difference. When I wrote my initial comment early in the morning (European time) I was expressing the grim bitterness of being all alone in a hostile environment – and while I certainly still live in a hostile environment the bleakness of facing it alone is fading. This is wonderful, thank you all.

    • Chiming in to say that I’m so sorry you experienced that, I’d be appalled if I attended an event that wasn’t fully safe and welcoming for all gender identities, and I would definitely speak up if I became aware that transmisogyny or anything similar was happening. It can be intimidating enough even as a cis person to venture into these new spaces, and you certainly shouldn’t have to grapple with the added fear of facing prejudice for who you are. I hope you can find a better community one day.

      • Thank you so much – it is so good to know that at least elsewhere, if not here, there are those who would oppose and confront what I describe above, because the worst possible impression you can have is that nobody cares in the least and everybody would rather find excuses for the organizers. Because this is what I experienced. But now I begin to believe that even here there must be some who are different.

        • I’m sure there are! And from what you say above about the rules having finally been changed, maybe some people have started speaking up, though it would have been nice if they had done so much sooner. In any case, I can certainly understand why you would still want to avoid that particular community. What they did was completely unacceptable. Wishing you well <3

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