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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.