Pickup play is a term the BDSM community uses for playing with someone you barely know, maybe someone you met at a party a few minutes earlier. With dating ads or online postings, it can be hard to know how to know who is "the real deal".
So you've decided to look at online personals, or maybe you've posted one and have gotten back a few hundred replies. How do you know, of all these people, who is worth your time, and whose a predator waiting for prey?
I hope that this guide can offer some help to new folks navigating these sometimes difficult waters.
Are they looking for online only?
Being a dominant is hard work. While just like submissive, having dominant desires is intrinsic, but being a good top - being the active partner in a BDSM scene- requires a great deal of skill. Topping requires a multidisiplinary set of skills, from knowing how to tie knots that won't tighten, to throwing a whip so that it doesn't cut the skin too deeply, to being able to read body language and understand unexpected emotional reactions.
These skills take a lot of time and work to develop. After all this work, very few people who are will want online-only interactions. It's more likely that someone who is very experienced will want to meet and play in person, which is both more intense and emotionally satisfying.
Do they have a FetLife account?
FetLife is the Facebook of the BDSM/Kinky world. It's where kinky folks find out about BDSM parties, classes, and other social gatherings. It also has online forums and post writings and photos. Does your prospective top have a FetLife account so you can you look at their profile, see their friends, read their writings, see what kinds of events they attend and observe generally how they interact with the community? While not everyone who is kinky is on FetLife, not having an account is unusual if you're active in the scene.
Are they cheating?
It's very common to find people using online postings to cheat on their signficant other. Sometimes these people will simply omit their martial status. Other times, they'll say they're "married but open". It's fairly easy to suss out the married people just by asking to call them at home. If they're unwilling to do that, it's a fairly large red flag.
If they say they're in an "open relationship", ask them to define what that means for them and their partner. The term "open relationship" can mean anything from having a "hall pass" to being a swinger, to being in an open-ended polyamarous relationship. People in these kinds of relationships have often spent a great deal of time with their partner/partners talking about these issues and navigating the complexities of these relationships. If the only thing they're willing to tell you is that it's an "open relationship", that should be a red flag. You can, and probably should ask to speak to their partner one on one, by phone or video chat is also best here, so you can be sure you're talking to them, and also to get some of the tone that might be lost over text.
Are they only looking for sex?
What is "domination?" Is it rough sex? Does it mean being tied up in Japanese rope bondage? Does it mean being spanked? Flogged? Whipped? Does it mean having full time rules? Titles? While sex is certainly great, it's not the only thing that BDSM is about. As a dominant and a top, I do a lot of BDSM play that never involves sex even with my romantic partners. While there's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting sex, is it the only thing they're looking for? And if it is, is that the only thing you're looking for?
Do they negotiate?
There's a term in BDSM culture called "negotiation" that means when two people meet, they discuss the kind of thing they're looking to do in their play session. Negotiation is where people will discuss their interests, their skills, what they're looking for out of the scene, their hard and soft limits, etc. A dominant who doesn't engage in negotiation, including asking about your limits, etc. is something to be concerned about.
Do they push power dynamics or honorifics too fast?
Tiles and honorifics like "Sir", "Master", "Mistress", "Daddy" or "Mommy" are often reserved for intimate relationships, and certainly shouldn't come into place during a negotiation, which is a time meant for people to come together as equals. Even with people who are in a full time Master/slave relationship, there are times when all the power exchange needs to be put aside, so certainly when two people have just met is not the time to be imposing a power dynamic.
Are they willing to meeting a public place?
Meeting someone you've met online is already risky, but meeting them in a private place is a red flag. They should be open to, and suggest meeting in public place first and talking equals. If they're only willing to meet in their home or in a hotel, this is a red flag.
Where did they learn their skills?
If they're taking about doing something exotic like Japanese rope bondage, flogging, whipping, electro-play, needles, mummification, etc., it's a good idea to ask where they learned how to do those thins. Rope bondage, for example, requires a lot of skill and practice. There are BDSM classes around the world that teach not just technique, but also safety for all of these areas. As a bottom, you're making yourself open to some amazing new experiences, but also putting yourself at risk for significant physical injury.
It's perfectly fine for someone to have learned some of this from websites, books or videos, but then they should be able to tell you exactly which resources they learned from so that you can look at them yourself.
What kinds of safety precautions are they taking?
BDSM can result in physical injury. Rope bondage can lead to nerve compression injuries, caning can lead to skin tearing, fire play can lead to burns, etc. While sometimes minor injuries are part of the goal (ie bruises due to spanking of paddling), it's important to recognize that unexpected serious injury can occur. How is the topic of safey discussed? Does the top bring it up first? If you bring it up, do they seem confident not just in their own skills, but in the safety precautions they've taken, or do they dismiss them? Do they keep a first aid kit on hand? Do they keep safety sheers on hand for rope? How do they clean their toys?
You want to be sure that not only are they prepared for small injuries, but that if things did go seriously wrong that they'd be willing to help you get to a hospital. This is when embarrasment and titles go out the window the focus needs to shift to medical treatment. Do they seem prepared for that?
Where did they get their toys?
BDSM toys are expensive. For example, a high quality flogger can cost over $150 and a high quality wooden paddle can cost over $100. Many people like myself have an assortment of toys and have spent thousands of dollars building up their collection. Often BDSM toys are hand crafted, one of a kind and involve a great deal of skill and artistry to make. Many of us know exactly where we got each toy. It's a very reasonable question to ask about one's toy chest and can often reveal just how the top thinks about their toys- if each one has a story, or if it's just "I bought it at a sex shop online".
It's also possible to make your own toys, either by learning the craft of re-using existing things you might find around the house. If your top is re-using common household items (known in the BDSM community as "pervertables"), it's a good idea to ask if they have played with them before, if they understand the safety implications of the toys they're using.
Do they seem concerned/knowledgeable about psychological risks of BDSM play?
The joy and pleasure of BDSM play can sometimes result in a counter-reaction called "drop", which manifests itself as a sort of angst or depression that can last hours or days. While there's no one sure-fire way to entirely prevent drop, and the presence or absence of drop is not an indicator of the top's skill, there are steps that can be taken to help prevent it, including build the scene up slowly, check-ins and aftercare. Before playing with someone, it's a good idea to note if they seem concerned about your psychological state of psychological needs.
Do they bring up aftercare?
After a scene ends, some people (tops and bottoms) need some special attention to help bring them back down. This is called aftercare and it's an important topic to discuss, even if neither party needs or wants aftercare. Having compatible aftercare is just as important as having compatible kink needs.
Do they seem willing to say no?
When you meet someone you want to play with, there's a very strong urge, especially if you're subby, to be what they want and to please them. As a top, there's a similar urge to be the right fit for the bottom and to get to play. At the same time, someone who is too eager to be the right fit is a concern. Someone who agrees to every single thing you're suggesting or talking about is a red flag. It means they're not being honest, either with you or possibly with themselves, and that can lead to problems when ultimately their needs or desires aren't met.
Is this about an experience or a relationship?
Sometimes people want a simple experience, and sometimes they're looking for a specific type of relationship. Not being on the same page about this can lead to really huge problems. There's no right answer to this question, but it's imortant to be sure you're both on the same page.
How do they handle all these questions?
One of the most telling things in this is how your potential new play partner responds to being asked these questions. Do they welcome them as an chance to show how well prepared they are? Do they connect with you on them, and use them as an opportunity to explore different experiences and forms of play, or do they get angry or sullen? Do they take these questions as an opportunity to rise to the occasion or they do take it as a challenge to their authority?
After the play is over.
After the scene ends and you've parted ways, it's a good idea to ask yoursef how it went. Sometimes the first time you play with someone new, it can be awkward or a little stiff, but did they stay within your negotiated boundaries? Did they do what they said they would do? Did you feel comfortable with how they play went, and if aftercare was discussed, did they do what they said they'd do.
It's all about you/the connection.
Ultimately there's no one perfect dominant for every person or every situation. Just like how everyone envisions a romantic partner differently, the things one looks for in a dominant or play parter will also depend on the type of person you are. It's ultimately about the connection and the experience.
Good luck in your search!