I talked with a man recently who attended his first play party. It didn't go well and it reminded me of my own bad experiences at play parties.
I was terrified at my first play party. A friend of mine in the scene brought me along with her (thank you, you know who you are!), but once she went out to play, I was left on my own. I knew a few of the attendees, but that didn't make the experience any less scary.
I remember my heart racing in my chest as I saw and heard people doing "the thing". The activities that I'd done in my bedroom, or only seen as a demonstration in a class were now being done in earnest around me.
The room was dark and an electricity was palpable in the air. The music was a low throb in the background, punctuated by the sounds of moans, cries, and whips. The people were friendly but that didn't matter. I felt entirely out of my depth.
The question in my mind was "Will I get to play?". After all, that's what I was there for! I wanted to play! To do the thing! I'd packed my bag full of toys and even though I knew some of the attendees and did my best to socialize, as the night wore on, I became more worn knowing that it wasn't going to happen.
I left the party feeling disappointed and embarrassed.
I repeated that experience nearly a dozen times. I'd attend a party and leave without having played. Sometimes my luck would change, but not often.
I've talked with other people about their experiences, both tops, and bottoms. I've heard and experienced successes as well as failures. Here are my sixteen tips for playing at a play party:
1. Go with intent but not desperation
If you want to play at the party, then have that as a goal. At the same time, if you don't get to play, then it shouldn't be the end of your world. Your value as a person is not connected with your play experience.
2. Make friends
Make friends at the party. Talk to people and enjoy the other attendees, not as potential playmates, but as potential friends. Talk with attendees you'd never play with. If you're a straight man, talk to other straight men. Talk to people that you might not play with, but you'll be glad you got to know.
3. If there's a munch beforehand, attend it
Many play parties also include a munch beforehand so that people can meet up in a casual place and talk to one another outside the party. It's also a place for new people to come and talk to the attendees.
If the party you're attending has a munch, attend it and use it as an opportunity to meet the other attendees and talk to them. And if there are other munches in the area, you might want to attend those too.
In my time in the scene, I've found that the thing that kept me from playing the most was simply not asking. "Would you be interested in..." often yields a yes. The thing that held me back was thinking that they wouldn't be interested in me, or that they already knew someone who was better at a particular activity. When I asked despite this, people often said yes.
5. Take anything other than "Yes" as "No"
If the other person says "Maybe later" then take that as a no and don't bring it up again that night.
If you see them at a future party, say hi and be friendly. If you find yourself talking with that same person, you can bring it up again but if the answer is anything other than an enthusiastic yes, then you should see it as an explicit no and focus your energy elsewhere.
6. "No" is not a rejection of you.
A person may turn you down for play for a number of reasons, and it doesn't speak to your value as a human being. They may be uninterested in some of your gender, or sexuality or body type. Maybe they've had a bad experience with a certain type of activity. Even if it was something you said or did, that doesn't speak to your value as a person.
7. Do not ask "Why?"
If you are turned down for play, do not ask the other person why. They don't owe you an explanation and by asking, you are pressuring them. If you feel the need to ask anyone, ask a friend who you trust will be honest with you.
8. Get good at a skill (or hang around those who are good at a skill)
A person is more likely to want to play with you if you establish the boundaries of what you'd like to do with them. If you're a top, that means getting good at a skill such as rope, flogging, knife play, wax play, etc.
Getting good at a skill also means going to events, especially classes, where that event takes place. And you can use the people you meet and possibly practice with as potential future play partners.
If you're a bottom, going to classes and volunteering as a bottom gives you the opportunity to meet tops who are interested in what you're interested in. Seeing someone at a class gives you the opportunity to observe them and they have a certain level of skill. The instructor can keep you safe in a class, and you'll get a chance to see a variety of play styles.
9. Learn negotiation skills
One of the best skills you can learn in the kink community is how to have a good negotiation. That does not imply a long negotiation- it means being able to work out what's important to you for the scene, and to know from your partner. This is important as both a top and a bottom.
There are a number of negotiation frameworks and styles. Find ones that work for you and create your own style, including ways to ask about sensitive topics such as health concerns and limits. Limits are vital for bottoms but important for tops as well. If an activity is outside of your skill level or comfort zone, you need to be able to express that.
These negotiation skills also need to include issues of aftercare and ensuring that your aftercare styles are compatible as well.
10. Walk away from negotiations that make you uncomfortable
It can be very tempting when you haven't played much or in a long time to agree to do something you don't want to do, or play with someone you're not 100% comfortable with. My experience is that, at best, you'll have a boring scene, and at worst, it will turn sour.
If you're uncomfortable with the direction of the negotiation, see if you can direct it to something you are comfortable with. If you can't, then I strongly recommend saying that you're not feeling it and letting it go. If the other person is insistent or tries to guilt you, then you know it wasn't going to go well anyway.
11. Realize even the best tops don't always play
At my first play party, I saw an extremely talented and popular rigger sitting down in a chair, not being spoken to by anyone. I was shocked! How could he, this incredible talent, not be playing?
Even the biggest celebrities in our community don't always get to play!
12. Stay within the negotiated boundaries
If you are topping a spanking scene and the bottom has stated that they don't want insertion, then do not insert your finger in them!
If you are a bottom, and you haven't negotiated kissing, don't kiss the top.
Staying within your boundaries is vital, and not doing so is the easiest way to ensure you won't be asked to play again.
13. Hold back...
You may think "It would be so hot if I did..." during a scene but worry that it rides the line. My recommendation is not to do it. Don't take the risk.
If you're enjoying yourself, you want to play with this person again. After the play is over, you can tell them about what happened and what you were thinking about. Gauge their reaction. If they say "That's really hot" or "I wish you had!" then you can suggest that it's something you do in the future. If they say "I'm glad you didn't." then you can rest easy in the knowledge that you made the right choice. In either case, you win.
14. If you're nervous, name it and address it
It's normal to be nervous at your first play party. If you suffer from extreme social anxiety (as I do) it can be even more challenging. The best thing you can do is to work on your anxiety, but it can also be helpful to tell the other person how you're feeling, "This is my first play party and I'm feeling really nervous!". It helps the other person know why you may seem awkward, and naming it will help you accept your situation
15. Learn Scene Etiquette
Learn skills about being in a play party, such as not to interfere with a scene, and not approach someone immediately after their scene ends. Give the players space and time both for their scene and aftercare. This is a very important skill.
16. Try Again
Once you've attended your first party, you may want to attend a second, or third, or fourth. Once people know you, they may be more inclined to play with you, or at least trust you. So keep going, keep meeting people, and keep learning from the experience.