Content note: Brief mentions of harassment and various social injustices. Brief mentions of a variety of kink practices, including impact play, D/S, and bondage.
Play parties, BDSM parties, dungeon nights — I don’t care how you call them, but I love them! Here are thirteen reasons why.
1. Not playing there
Since “do I have to play there?” is the most common concern I hear from people who haven’t been to a play party yet, let’s start with this one. No, you don’t have to play at a play party. You can also just hang out in the bar/social area, look around by yourself, or find someone to just have a friendly chat with. No, no one will look at you weirdly if you do (assuming you’re respectful about the space and other people’s kinky behavior). Yes, even experienced kinksters sometimes (or often!) just go to a play party to spend social time with our kinky friends and perhaps meet some new people.
2. Wearing and looking at fetish outfits and other kink wear
Playparties are great places for wearing your favorite fetish attire (whether it’s leather, latex, uniforms, sportswear, or lingerie/underwear with nothing over it) and/or be as naked as you like outside of your own home. Whatever you wear (or don’t wear), someone there will probably appreciate your style.
And if wearing elaborate outfits yourself is not your thing, perhaps you like seeing them on others? At play parties I’ve attended, I’ve seen everything from lingerie to uniforms, from sailor girls to full leathers, from full nudity to 1950s-style dresses, from tweed jackets to blue jeans and black t-shirts, from little black dresses to latex ensembles, from eccentric experiments to classic understatement, from high glamour to crust punk, and many, many variations inbetween.
3. Celebrating the diversity of human bodies
In my experience, play parties are exceptionally welcoming places to a wide variety of people, including those who aren’t considered ‘mainstream-attractive’ (that is, young, thin, white, cis, normatively gendered, and seemingly able-bodied). There are few other places where we can see how regular people actually look when they don’t have (m)any clothes on. There are even fewer places where we can see how ordinary people look like when they’re doing sexy/kinky things. That alone is a major (and for many of us majorly healing) counterweight to all the media depictions of perfectly styled, carefully posed, and meticulously edited bodies that are the only depictions of other people’s bodies many of us will ever get to see.
I’m not gonna lie: Racism, fat-hate, ableism, trans-hostility, and other forms of social injustice unfortunately still exist in BDSM spaces, too. However, looks (and the things that are tied into them) aren’t necessarily the most important characteristic for desirability. Physical flexibility, gorgeous responses, technical skills, creativity, and great communication and consent habits are just some of the things that can be valued much higher in BDSM spaces than a conventionally attractive face or a normatively beautiful/handsome body. So while everyone looks fucking amazing when they’re having a good time (really!), sometimes looks are fucking irrelevant when you’re having a good time with each other.
4. Recognizing and celebrating a variety of gender expressions and identities
I know several people for whom (queer) play parties were the first spaces where they could start exploring their gender beyond the range of the cis binary. Whether it’s occasional cross-gender role play that doesn’t have any impact on someone’s everyday gender identity or expression, or a first careful step towards a full-time transition from one’s assigned gender to one’s actual gender; whether it’s a subtle shift from one type of femininity (or masculinity) to another, or a dramatic transformation from one end of the gender galaxy to the other; whether the genders in question are binary or not: There’s room for it at a play party.
In fact, there’s a whole chapter about gender play and gender acceptance in this (highly recommended!) study of the European and North American “dyke+” BDSM community. This is how the author of the book starts his acknowledgements (he’s talking about said community):
“The first time in my life I entered a space of strangers who immediately recognized me for what I was — a boy in a woman’s body at that particular time — changed my life forever. It ultimately gave me the strength to live my gender and sexuality according to my own rules.”
While I have to acknowledge that trans-exclusionary people also exist among perverts, I’ve consistently experienced the BDSM community as much more welcoming to people of all kinds of non-standard gender identities, gender expressions, and gender journeys than any other community I’ve been a part of.
5. Indulging in voyeurism and/or exhibitionism
Play parties are wonderful places to listen to and look at other people doing kinky/sexy things with each other. Assuming you’re keeping a respectful distance and don’t interfere with other people’s play in any way, you can have a grand time watching others do all the perverted things you’ve ever dreamed about — and a few things you couldn’t have imagined in your wildest dreams. And there’s nothing quite like having a chat about some kinky nerdery (or even a non-kinky topic) with a friend while other people’s screams and laughs drift over from the play area.
Often, exhibitionism and voyeurism feed on each other. Maybe you’re the one who likes to be watched and/or heard when you’re playing. At a play party, there’s a good chance that someone will want to look and/or listen. If you go off to play, there will often be an alluring background soundtrack of whacks and moans and screams and slaps to accompany you and invite you to join with your own sounds. Many of us find that this heightens our arousal and makes it easier to enter a scene headspace.
6. Discovering new kinks
There are some events that cater to a specific narrow range of practices (such as fisting or spanking or foot worship), but usually you will encounter a lot of different kinks and expressions of sexuality at a play party. If nothing else, this is an excellent opportunity to practice the “if you don’t like it, look/go elsewhere” style of setting your own boundaries and leaving other people to enjoy what brings them pleasure.
And who knows? Maybe the thing you considered icky or boring yesterday will be one of your major turn-ons in a year or two — it happens! There is something about the radiant faces of people practicing kinks you’re not interested in that can make you very curious indeed: Would it feel as amazing to you? You may only know a certain practice from porn where it had no appeal to you. But now you see your lovely friends do that thing, and suddenly you realize there’s a whole new style to it that you hadn’t considered before… Kinksters as a group also seem to be rather prone to experimenting and trying new things, and there’s always “for science!” as a reason to give something a try and see if there’s anything to enjoy about it for you. (Sometimes there’s not. That’s also good to know, though.)
7. Learning and/or educating others about BDSM practices
There are several different ways to learn something about BDSM practices at a play party. You can simply go and watch other people’s scenes (while keeping a respectful distance). This might tell you something useful about good positions and angles for impact play, about how to use tempo and pauses in a scene, or about space management by the top. You might also pick up something about different response styles of different bottoms (or the same bottom in a different scene). Or you might be able to judge the tops’ accuracy in hitting their partners. However, you usually won’t know anything about any pre-negotiated agreements between the scene participants, and you won’t be able to see inside their heads to know how they are experiencing the scene from the inside (which might be completely different from what you assume from the outside) — for that you’ll have to ask (after the couple or group is done playing and doing aftercare).
You can also ask someone who isn’t currently playing (or negotiating or doing aftercare) whether they’d be willing to show you how to handle a specific implement or piece of play furniture. Sometimes people let you try out their toys on yourself (e.g. to compare the type of sensation created by various impact toys when you hit your own forearm or thigh with them). Some people can explain to you how different toys feel (while we have different preferences in the kind of impact sensation we like, we usually still agree whether a particular impact toy is more thuddy or more stingy). Someone may even be willing to give you a little demo of a specific technique you haven’t tried before and don’t know whether you’ll like it or not. These kinds of ‘try-outs’ usually aren’t considered full-on scenes, but they still require some basic negotiation of limits (e.g. “don’t hit my ass”), needs (e.g. “I need a pillow under my knees if I’m going to kneel”), and communication (e.g. “stop means stop” or “we’ll use the 1-10 scale to communicate intensity”).
8. Benefitting from their safety
Many people consider a play party a safer space for, say, a first play date with someone than a private home or hotel room. If something goes wrong, there are always other people around who can come to your aid should you need them. The presence of other people also provides increased safety in other ways. At a play party, there’s generally someone (such as a host, dungeon monitor, venue owner, or fellow pervert) who can explain or demonstrate how to safely use a toy, technique, or piece of play furniture. You can also usually find someone to keep an eye on your tied-up bottom when you need to unexpectedly go to the bathroom or eat a snack to prevent a blood sugar crash — or you can find someone to keep an eye on you when you’re with a new partner or trying a new technique.
Some people recommend watching others play to determine whether they’d be a good match for you, but I personally don’t think that watching someone interact with a different person tells you much about how they would interact with you. However, as I said in the previous section, you can learn something about someone’s technical skill level by watching them (Does their impact land where they aimed it? Do they pay attention to hygiene and safer sex? Do they place their rope with attention to nerves and other fragile body parts?).
You also have the opportunity to ask around about a potential partner and hear what experiences others have made with that person. You may still need to put in your own work and your own observations to separate gossip from facts, and determine if someone is just popular or actually safe. But you can at least find out if that person has been around in the community for a while or if they have just arrived and no one knows anything about them.
9. Being in a space with low/no alcohol or drug use
Compared to other parties, almost all the play parties I’ve been to have been spaces with an exceptionally low level of alcohol consumption or recreational drug use. That means there’s also an exceptionally low level of unpleasant behaviors usually associated with people being drunk or high. While I don’t recommend play parties as a going-out option to anyone who isn’t at least highly kink-curious, they can make a lovely space for socializing amongst fellow perverts even if you don’t want to play.
Please note that this can vary highly with the event/venue in question, so check ahead of time if this is an important factor for your enjoyment.
10. Enjoying a high-consent culture
Play parties are also spaces with a strong focus on consent. I have experienced a much lower frequency and intensity of harassment at play parties compared to regular bars or night clubs (including queer ones). While the BDSM community isn’t free from people who violate consent, there’s still a strong emphasis on consent as a necessity (not just a nice-to-have), and a widespread practice of extensive verbal negotiation before any play even begins. There are even studies that show that BDSM community members have lower levels of “benevolent sexism […], rape myth acceptance, and victim blaming.”
I much enjoy being in spaces where even casual social touch (such as hugs to say hello or goodbye) is opt-in instead of opt-out. I like the culture of consciously asking each other about what we’re into and what we’d rather not do instead of assuming these things based on gender expression, BDSM role, or some other random and stereotype-associated characteristic. Most of all, I like the fact that this enables me to spend more time saying yes than having to say no — not feeling like I constantly have to defend my boundaries makes it so much easier to relax and trust the people around me, which makes it so much more likely that I’ll be in the mood to actually play.
Please note that different parties and communities will have different house rules about touching others and/or joining in with an ongoing scene. For example, gay male kink culture generally has a very different communication and consent style than the BDSM culture that has grown out of lesbian/dyke/trans contexts. So be aware of where you are and follow the house/party rules.
11. Being a part of a community
I’ve touched on this in previous sections already, but play parties are also a great way to feel like a part of the (larger and/or local) BDSM community, no matter if you actually play there or not. You can hang out with your kinky friends without having to worry who’s going to overhear your conversations about bondage events, D/S relationship issues, or the science of bruises. You can find out you’re not the only one to ever experience an allergic reaction to hemp rope, a three-day high after playing, a devastating drop, or an amusing mishap. You can give and get advice on a multitude of kink-related issues (see also #7 above). You can give and get support in difficult times (kink-related or not). You can volunteer for a task (whether it’s set-up, a bar shift, or a contribution to the buffet) and give some of your time and skills to the community. You can practice solidarity and pay a little more for your ticket so that someone poorer than you can get in for a reduced fee. If it’s part of your local kink culture, you can also be part of crowd funding and charity fundraising efforts.
In short: You can help take care of the social network that makes the BDSM community (or your preferred sub-section of it) and benefit from it in return. And play parties are one place to do so.
12. Finding play partners
Of course you can also find play partners at a play party. While some kinksters don’t like going to play parties when they don’t have a pre-negotiated play date, others enjoy the spontaneity of pick-up play (that is, spontaneous play that is negotiated then and there, either with people you already know or with people you just met). Pick-up play happens at almost every play party I go to, as do brief try-outs of a toy or technique (which sometimes lead to actual scenes later).
Even if you don’t get to play right away or prefer a longer build-up anyway, you can make connections with people for another time. Knowing lots of kinky people means you’ll also have a much bigger chance that someone will introduce you to someone they know who also is into that kink you just mentioned.
Personally, I’ve met almost all of my play partners at play parties. Some I’ve played with immediately, some I’ve spent a year or two talking to again and again before we ever did a scene together. Some I also saw/see elsewhere in my social life, some I pretty much exclusively see at BDSM events. Again, this is my community, so this is predominantly where I meet my partners.
Last, but certainly not least, play parties are excellent spaces to, well, play! You can come with your existing partner and enjoy each other in the company of others. You can find someone to play with then and there (see #12). You can cultivate play friendships, casual kink connections, long-term BDSM relationships, and whatever other arrangement suits you and your partners’ needs.
You can do a little light spanking twice a year or an intense sadomasochistic scene every weekend. You can do BDSM with and without pain, with and without power exchange, with or without bondage, with or without service. You can do role play in elaborate costumes or “just be yourselves” in your everyday clothes (as long as they go with the dress code of the event). You can do scenes that last ten minutes or three hours, or scenes that have started the day before and will last until the next night. You can do scene-based play between equals or be there in your 24/7 M/S dynamic. As long as you follow the house or party rules and have the consent of everyone involved, you can do whatever the fuck you like at the play party of your choice. Including fuck. If you like (and not all of us do).
And now: What do you like about play parties?
 ⇑ You should probably know that while I’ve also been to a small handful of straight-centered and all-gender queer BDSM parties, I’m most familiar with play parties for the “everyone but cis men” crowd. These events are usually organized by unpaid volunteers, promoted mostly by word of mouth and — nowadays — announcements on FetLife, and usually attended by 20 and 50 people at a time (with rare exceptions that have up to 200 guests). The queer BDSM community that has formed around those events is international, a lot bigger than it used to be twenty years ago, but still fairly small compared to both the gay male and the straight-centered kink community. While this creates some characteristics that may less common elsewhere, I still believe that many of my reasons to love play parties are also true for play parties in other BDSM communities.
 ⇑ Contrary to how it might seem to us in the kink/sex blogging world, not everyone has easy access to alternative/indie/queer porn or even knows it exists in the first place.
 ⇑ This seems to be more common in the U.S. where there is less of a social security system and no universal health insurance (compared to many European countries).
This is a post for the Kinktober prompt “dungeon, play party.”