Entering a sex positive scene for the first time can be a very powerful experience. You’re nervous as hell, but you want to EXPERIENCE ALL THE THINGS! There’s nothing like those first few workshops or parties, when you look in the mirror afterwards and see your shining eyes reflected back – ‘I just did THAT?!’ – and think about the amazing connections you’ve made. Finding your place in kink or any form of ‘conscious’ sexuality (or neo-tantra) can feel like a spiritual awakening.
What may take longer to realise is that you can experience NRE (New Relationship Energy) with a scene as much as an individual. Huge emotions come up when you explore at this level, and you can lay yourself bare to a point where you have the vulnerability of a child. At worst, you may unintentionally open yourself up to people who, however well-known and apparently respected in the community, may be operating in their own best interests rather than yours.
There is no way to sugar coat this one. There are people who are clumsy but willing to learn – and then there are predators, and often they are hiding in plain sight.
The scenes I am referring to may be straight or queer, including any and all genders and sexualities. Here is a brief guide to staying safe while having a good time. We are now in a post #metoo world, and there is no going back. Forewarned is forearmed.
(1) Think about what you want
Before entering any scene, write down your feelings, intentions and fantasies about it. What excites you? What are your hard limits? Read everything you can, join groups and forums, and observe how scene members interact with each other.
NB: Do you have a trauma/assault history? What support systems do you have?
(2) Invite other people along with you
If you don’t want to start solo, can you find a newbie buddy to explore with and share experiences? (A friend is better than a partner, as this can bring in complex dynamics, even if your communication is exceptional.) Do you have an experienced scene friend who you trust and can go to for advice? Should something challenging happen, it’s good to have trusted people you can talk to about it.
(3) Practise your yes and no
As children we are not taught to assert our boundaries. In touch-based workshops you will likely encounter psychodrama-type structures and games (such as ‘yes, no, maybe’) that help with this. Learning to ask for what you want, and how to say no, can be life-changing. Practise consent games with trusted friends. (See Betty Martin’s Wheel of Consent)
(4) Try a social first of all
Are there socials, munches, or meetups you can go to? I.e non-play events where you can suss out this new community. Some events have specific newbie policies and tables/areas set aside. (Take care of outing yourself as a newbie if there isn’t a clear policy.) Does this scene cater sufficiently to people who share your non-majority, non-mainstream identity? (This may get a rueful laugh, I know.) If you find social contact difficult, perhaps set goals to speak with one or two people (and don’t feel bad if this doesn’t happen).
(5) Look for a consent and boundaries statement
Does the organiser understand consent and power dynamics and have a boundaries statement about what may or may not happen at their event? Our society provides little mainstream education about inequality due to gender, race, class, age, body type, disability, or neurodiversity. Take care if a party or workshop organiser appears unclear on this.
(6) Beware of intoxication
You may have long experience with drugs, but none with kink. The endorphin rush can rival many drugs, and you may get to a place where you are incapable of consent. Start sober, and if someone tries to ply you with substances to get you to do something, run away.
NB: There is a myth that if you have too much clarity, then you will lose the mystery and excitement. This is not true. Clarity enables you to create strong boundaries within which you can have the experiences you want.
(7) Just turn up and watch
You are not obliged to play at any event or workshop. You can learn a lot by watching – about techniques and about people.
(8) Things to be mindful of at your first play event
Decide your boundaries beforehand and stick to them all evening. There will be plenty of time to do more. Don’t put people on pedestals, even if they have been doing this for 20 years or are much older than you.
NB: Please note these red flags! If someone tries to push unsafe sex on you; if they talk about their ‘crazy ex’; if they won’t discuss safewords; if they tell you their reputation will be an asset to you; or if they set you up with their close associates but are less happy when you make your own friends – run!
(9) Take care around ‘community leaders’
Sometimes people naturally end up in ‘community leader’ roles because they have people skills, ideas, and the privilege/resources/confidence to stick their head above the parapet and create events and workshops. However a few are also predators with an unstoppable need to gain power over others, (unfortunately, often young women). If someone reports a bad experience with them, the person may be told ‘But he’s done so much for the scene!’ (and it is usually, unfortunately, a cis man), or ‘You’re so young. No one will believe you,’ or ‘The venue will close because of your scaremongering.’ This encourages an atmosphere of fear and silencing.
If you’re new to a scene, check out the controlling person (or couple) in the middle. Get to know the group and don’t rely on the leader(s) as your sole connection. Take care if the community leader is a cis man who makes a big thing about his female partner – in some cases, he may be using her as a shield or ‘beard’. Keep a close eye on gossip and casual-seeming comments or looks – who do people *really* respect? (See ‘Taking it up a notch… or three’ [Needs Fetlife membership]
Some leaders will groom you by repeatedly telling you how exciting it is that you are coming to their event. This kind of flattery can wear you down, particularly if the person has picked up on any insecurities you may have, or impostor syndrome. You may end up confused to find yourself in a one-sided paid-for (by you) friendship.
If the person recruited you for their workshop at a play party, or assumes they can play with you at a post-workshop play party, this is a very bad sign. Take care if they start asking you to do admin or publicity work for them for free to help boost their brand. Ditto if they keep on suggesting ‘mentoring’ you because you’re ‘special’. Especially ditto if they try to make themselves into your therapist to ‘fix’ past abuse.
Sometimes people will tell you who the dodgy person is, if only to let themselves off the hook if something bad does happen. (See: The Missing Stair http://pervocracy.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/missing-stair.html) Take care if the onus on you is to avoid difficult people. It’s up to event organisers to connect with each other and do their best to keep these people out.
(12) Negging and gaslighting
Avoid anyone who tells you that you are ‘not a true sub’ (or dom/me). Anyone who asks you to prove your kinkiness to them is not worth it. Likewise if someone tells you you are ‘repressed’ or not ‘giving enough’ or ‘incapable of love.’ Similarly, if you do get the courage to call someone out, if you are told you are ‘projecting’ or ‘manifesting negativity’ or ‘denying your shadow.’ If you hear any of these, or someone tries to isolate you from your friends, run.
(13) Take care around spirituality
Don’t assume a ‘conscious’ event is automatically safer than a BDSM club. In more spiritually oriented scenes, some people may tell you off for being ‘negative’ or ‘spoiling the vibe’ for calling something out. Note the mendacious use of language that can proliferate (see point 12). You will know because you are likely to feel uncomfortable but may not be sure why.
(14) Trust your intuition
Some people are clumsy and un-self-aware rather than out and out predators, (and sometimes people are just having a bad day) but if something feels wrong it probably is, and you have the right to act on it. Women especially are conditioned to ignore their instincts so that they are not ‘rude’ to others. (See The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker)
(15) Accept your ‘signpost people’
When they’re just starting out, many people report having a relationship or association with someone who they eventually found to be toxic for them, but who somehow played the role of signpost into a scene. Don’t feel bad if your ‘first’ turns out to be someone like this.
(16) Don’t blame yourself if something goes wrong
It would be wrong of me to insist that there is an absolute binary of right and wrong - sometimes pushing your own boundaries can be incredibly enriching. The sense of danger can bring an edge to things. But don’t hold onto any shame you feel for having allowed something you wish you hadn’t. These things can happen and it is not your fault.
I’ve said a number of dark things here, but too often these issues are glossed over. You can have some amazing experiences where consent and boundaries are respected, and you have made an active choice. You can also find some wonderful new friends and partners. Daring yourself to explore can be incredibly therapeutic. Good luck in your adventures!