Bottoms Up: My Time In The Dungeon

My first BDSM play party experience made me uncomfortable, but it also taught me a lot about myself. The dom I was going with drove us from my city to a small country town where, if you’re smart and/or queer, black, and sometimes gender ambiguous, you don’t go at night. The space was a large apartment on the second floor of a small deserted office space in the middle of nowhere. It was clearly a place where real people lived most of the week, but for this evening it had a very specific purpose, and it wasn’t residential. As we pulled up and I realized how secluded the location was, I realized that if the dom wanted to harm me, this was a place where she could easily do it. I knew no one else here, and I was far from home.

It was cold and dark, and my nerves were shot. What if no one asked me to play? What if someone did ask me to play? Were there going to be primarily queer or straight people? What if my dom wanted to try something that I was comfortable with in private but not in public? In the passenger seat, I worked on mindful breathing. I breathed in for four counts, and breathed out for four counts, making sure to hear my breath as it entered and exited my lungs. I hoped to at least be able to enjoy the evening.

Attending a play party at this particular space required going to a daytime educational class or being vetted by a current member — in my case, the dom. I was glad to bypass the class because I didn’t have a car and there was no way I was coming this far into the country twice in one weekend, but it also meant that I came into the space underprepared and uncomfortable.

I knew the dom was working this particular event, but I was still jarred when she left me entirely on my own almost as soon as we entered the apartment. She walked away to find the organizers and I felt literally stuck in place; partially because of nerves, but partially because my eyes needed to adjust. There were lamps inside of the bedrooms and a single string of blue christmas lights in the living room. Otherwise, it was dark. I managed to move myself out of the doorway and into a corner next to a plant where I was finally able to take in my surroundings.

Everyone was covered in black, latex, leather, and chains. Folks were being led around on leashes. I felt naive and blushy; I’d known people did these things in real life, but I didn’t know that they did them in real life. There were beds everywhere with scenes happening on them, people tied to St. Andrew’s crosses, subs of all shapes and sizes bent over spanking benches — I had no clue there was such a thing as a spanking bench! — and, seeming out of place, a full-sized functional kitchen.

It wasn’t just the sights; the rooms smelled like sex. Compared to the cold January night, the air was thick, moist, and charged with the energy of each person in attendance. I came into the dungeon and immediately became a part of it. Even though I ended up casually observing most of the night, I felt tied to everything that happened.

On my own for the night, I knew I wouldn’t really be up to trying anything. If I had played, it would have been with the dom that I knew, and she wasn’t available. After wandering around for a little while, I did what I usually do when I’m nervous in group settings — I found the smokers. Smoking cigarettes isn’t something I do often, but it’s one of the easiest ways for me to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations because it gives me something to do with my hands and something to do with my mouth. Plus, smokers are notoriously nice.

The smoking area was on a well-lit patio behind the kitchen. I started off smoking by myself in a corner, trying to find constellations using that app that’s supposed to help you out (it didn’t). I talked to a few folks about stars, but otherwise kept to myself. I went inside for a bit, but came back out and positioned myself in the background of the constantly rotating smoker’s circle; I was in the group, but not necessarily expected to participate.

I was on my ninth cigarette when the dom about to give me the most affirming experience I’d had as a sub came to stand next to me. She had her curly hair pulled into a ponytail and was wearing a pressed white oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up over visibly strong forearms and the top button undone, dark blue, well-fitting chinos, and these floral Doc Martens that I kept staring at when I couldn’t look up at her.

She asked if I was enjoying myself. I smiled and made a noncommittal noise that came out half laugh and half question. So smooth. But she was great. She oozed confidence, and her confidence made me so much more comfortable. She had this, and she let me know it. After we introduced ourselves, she asked if I’d played with anyone yet, and I shook my head. We had a very hot moment when she got me to use my words and tell her, “No.” She then asked if I’d want to try some impact play with her, and then told me what she liked to do.

My first instinct was to say yes — not because I wanted to, but because I felt like I owed it to her because she asked and she was a dom and I am a submissive. Saying no is not easy for me as a person, and is especially difficult for me as a sub. Inside my body, saying no makes me feel guilty, makes my heart race, makes me feel a little sweaty. But I was still so anxious, and chain smoking cigarettes wasn’t helping. I knew I didn’t want to play.

So I took a breath, shook my head and said, “Sorry, but not tonight.” She assured me, enthusiastically, that there was no need to apologize, that it was okay if I didn’t want to play. And then she switched the subject completely away from kink. We talked for another ten minutes about recent movies we’d both seen. All of the guilt that I’d felt when I said no was gone by the time she went back inside.

A few more times throughout the night, people came up to me and asked if I wanted to play, and every time I shook my head and said no thank you. I still felt guilty, still felt my heart race, still felt sweaty — but that night, I also felt really good. Every time I said no, no one tried to get me to say yes. Partially, I’m sure, due to the consent-aware environment of the party, I never felt pressured to give an answer I didn’t want to give. When I said no, the conversation immediately changed.

It’s funny how the smallest moments can be so significant. It feels good to say no when I want to say no. It feels even better to know that saying no doesn’t make me automatically undesirable. That dom with the perfect forearms treated me like a human being both before and after I said no. She taught me that I should be able to say no and still feel safe and still be respected, every single time. It was a huge lesson for me to learn. My no made me feel empowered that night, and it reminded me that no matter what play I do or don’t agree to, it shouldn’t change the way that potential partners see me.

I am honestly not sure I will go to a play party again. I was overstimulated the entire time and smoked an entire pack of cigarettes in a night, which I just don’t do. But I went in there thinking I would die of secondhand embarrassment or be forced to do something I didn’t want to do and neither of those things happened. I left feeling even more affirmed in my identity as a submissive because I’d gotten some really good practice in saying no.

As we were leaving, the top that I came with and I spent time debriefing.

“Do you think you’ll come again?” she asked as we drove across the mainly empty freeway back to my place.

I smiled sleepily, “No.”

Ari is a 20-something artist and educator. They are a mom to two cats, they love domesticity, ritual, and porch time. They have studied, loved, and learned in CT, Greensboro, NC, and ATX.

Ari has written 310 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. Perfect! I’m arriving at a place of discernment in my kink life, where I want to be really attuned to my actual wants/needs (as opposed to my idea of what a perfect bottom would do, or what I should want). What a good reminder that “no” should be as empowering as “yes.”

  2. Loved this! I’m fairly kinky, but sometimes I feel like I shoud be up for anything to be able call myself that because there’s this culture of FOMO and score-keeping around sex and kink. Reading a column about going to a play party and being “meh” about it was refreshing.

  3. Fantastic, Alaina. I still deal with guilt when I say “no”. It’s something I’m working on. “No!” was immediately the first thing I said when my Dom asked if I’d like to go to a party. XD

    Definitely not a space I’d be comfortable in.

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