Hey again, lurvly reader. I talked in this post about where and how to meet great play partners, but once you've met someone who's piqued your interest, how should you approach them?
Should you jump right into your "role" like people do in movies? Do good tops act domly from the get-go while submissives drop to worship at their feet?
In this post I'll cover strategies for approaching and getting to know potential play partners in a way that keeps the vibe comfortable and positive, and will help you suss out the right person for you.
"It's going to be hard for me to click with a compatible play partner, Molly. I don't look like a supermodel. / I'm shy about these things. / My fetishes are weird."
I hear you and have dealt with the same insecurities in the past.
Now hear me. (And hear me well!)
None of that has to stop you from finding great people to get your kink on with. Practitioners come from all walks of life and many of the people you'll meet are likely to have concerns similar to your own.
The main characteristics great play partners share are:
If you foster these traits within yourself and meet the right person, magic will rain down from the sky and superficial concerns will be the last thing on either of your kinky minds.
So set aside those worries and let's get into this list!
1. Remember to keep your own desires in mind as much as those of the other person.
Some of us lose sight of this while getting our feet wet. We want so much to explore and get real-life experience that we end up playing with people who aren't good matches for us.
Perhaps the other person's fetishes don't complement yours, you're seeking different levels of intensity, or your personalities and values don't align.
"Prolly should've mentioned my aversion to needles ..."
Even if you can fulfill the other person's desires, your partnership won't pan out well if they can't do the same for you in return.
This initial getting-to-know-you period isn't about trying to win anyone over. It's about assessing whether or not playing together (and therefore embarking on a considerably intimate adventure) will be an equally enjoyable experience for both of you.
After all, you wouldn't date someone solely because their sexual orientation complemented your own, right? In the same way, you don't want to hop into a BDSM relationship with someone solely because they identify, for example, as a dom when you're interested in submission.
If it doesn't seem like the other person will be able to meet you halfway, for whatever reason, it's best to move on and keep looking.
2. Take in the whole person exactly as they are.
We often take our image of the "perfect partner," meet someone who possesses some of those qualities, and then try to fit that unique and autonomous human into the box we've designed for them in our mind.
As a result, we end up infatuated with our idea of that person, rather than keeping an open mind and allowing them to show us who they actually are. This is a delusional way of handling relationships.
(I say that not from a place of judgment, but from a place of humble experience. It took me a while to stop making this mistake!)
You'll get better results with potential play partners if you drop any preconceived notions you may subconsciously be carrying. While nearly all BDSM practitioners share an affinity for power exchange, everyone in the scene is different.
For instance, some people like casual play while others only do BDSM in the context of committed relationships. Some are polyamorous while others are monogamous. Some are into seriously hardcore shit while others prefer to keep play light.
Add all this to the fact that we each have individual histories, sexual orientations, gender identities, and ways of thinking about BDSM.
There's obviously no way to know any of this right when you're meeting someone, so do your best to keep an open mind.
3. Don't take initial reactions personally.
The person you're interested in may not reciprocate your interest right from the get-go, for any number of unknowable reasons.
For instance, maybe they don't do BDSM with people unless they've developed a solid foundation of friendship first.
This is quite common. Experienced practitioners have been through ups and downs with other play partners in the past, and tend to become pretty choosy and/or cautious as a result.
Don't take it personally. Getting upset would ruin your chances of getting to know that person more closely in the future, and possibly others in the community as well.
Keep the vibe mellow, and if it doesn't end up working out, no stress. There are plenty of kinky fish in the sea.
This leads into the next tip,
4. Take your time.
Good play partners are patient. Rather than diving in at full speed, they savor the process of learning what makes the other person tick. Bit by bit they try new things, test kinky limits, and increase intensity during scenes.
So as you can imagine, approaching people with a sense of urgency is likely to be seen as a red flag. It sends the message that you may lack self-control, only be thinking of your own needs, or be trying use BDSM to fill a void within yourself. This isn't a good look and won't inspire trust.
Going with the flow and enjoying the present moment for what it is will make everything go more smoothly in the long term.
5. Treat kinksters like you'd treat anyone else until after you've decided to play and have gone through the negotiation process.
I've had complete strangers say some very uncomfortable shit to me simply because they know I'm into BDSM. Some went into graphic detail about all the specific ways they wanted to torture me. Others immediately began addressing me with terms you might use during role-play. (Cutsy names like "princess" or degrading ones like "filthy slut.")
Some of the kinksters you'll encounter may be down with that kind of talk right off the bat. I've heard of one dungeon where all bottoms are expected to address all tops as "Master" or "Mistress."
This isn't common practice within the community, however, and I'd personally run right out of a place like that.
A healthy kinky partnership is based on an underlying sense of equality between participants. How can you create that foundation with someone unless you start out treating each other as equals?
The person you're interested in is obviously human first and kinky second, so try not to make everything about BDSM right off the bat. Ask them about their job, hobbies, background, and all that everyday-life shit too. Talk to them like you'd talk to an acquaintance until you've both agreed to play and hashed out the details.
6. Respect personal space.
BDSM is usually a sexual interest, but just because someone's into it doesn't mean they'll have flimsy boundaries.
In fact, it's the opposite. EVERYONE in the community has boundaries, whether they're a top, bottom, or switch. Being explicit about boundaries helps everyone stay in enjoyable territory during scenes. It's what makes BDSM sustainable in the long term.
You want to convey a respectful awareness of this, and getting touchy-feely with someone before knowing whether they're down to play with you would send the opposite message.
Don't expect kinky physical contact to be received well until you're explicitly aware of the other person's preferences. Until then, I recommend a hands-off approach.
7. Ask the other person BDSM-related questions without getting too personal.
Asking questions about the people you want to play with is great because it shows them you care about their enjoyment as much as your own. After all, you'll eventually need to understand them in order to collaborate on exploring both of your fetishes.
However, it's not good to start with incredibly personal questions, like what they like in bed. "Hey, I'm Josh. Soooo, ya like anal?"
However, there's probably nothing wrong with asking more general BDSM-related questions. For example:
Is this your first time at a public dungeon?
When did you realize you were into BDSM?
What is it about BDSM that appeals to you?
People at kinky venues are comfortable enough to have gone there willingly, so that level of inquiry isn't likely to squick them out.
If the person you're talking to perceives safe and positive vibes from you, they're likely to offer more personal info about themselves and ask about you in return.
This casual back-and-forth can help you both assess whether you'd mesh well during play. That's exactly the kind of info that will help you form good partnerships.
8. Share some of your own (less graphic) thoughts and feelings about BDSM.
Smart potential play partners will be looking out for red flags and wanting to know your feelings about kink. Though they may not be comfortable asking you right off the bat, they'll have questions on their mind, like:
Are you a top, bottom, or switch?
How much experience do you have?
How do you feel about safewords, limits, and consent?
What kinds of fetishes are you into?
Offering up some of this information without getting tooooo personal can end up working in your favor.
I once became interested in a play partner while he was talking about a past experience with a submissive who had poor communication skills.
"She would never talk with me openly about her fetishes and kept giving me mixed signals. I never felt confident that she'd use her safeword when she needed to. I can't do S&M with people who won't communicate."
YOU. I like you.
If you don't express your thoughts and opinions, the other person won't learn anything about you, making them less likely to form an interest in you as an intimate partner. Give them reasons to want to find out more.
9. When you finally do propose the idea of playing, be direct about it.
Being passive aggressive, dropping vague hints, or acting coy isn't usually the best route to take with BDSM interactions.
Speaking personally, I've always liked the straightforward approach better, whether it's coming from a dom or sub.
(I've also had more success with directness as the one making the approach. Saying things like "Do you wanna ... y'know ...?" has never gotten me what I want. When "y'know" stands for "beat my ass black and blue until I lose the ability to speak English," it really is best to be explicit.)
Just a casual bit of y'know on a Friday night.
Clear and open communication utilized at the right time and place conveys confidence and can be immensely attractive. It also gives the other person the chance to show you their communication style in return.
(If they really can't tell you how they feel, then frankly, you're probably dodging a bullet.)
Drop any worries about rejection and just ask. "Hey, wanna play sometime?"
If they say yes, you can move onto figuring out a time or way to negotiate.
If they say no, cool. It's not meant to be.
And if they're unsure, let them know they're welcome to talk with you about it in the future. Leave the ball in their court, and perhaps they'll bring it up once you know each other better.
10. Allow yourself to feel confident.
It's easy to feel unworthy or self-conscious when you're new to BDSM. The scene can feel intimidating from the outside.
Don't worry. We've all been there!
A lack of experience isn't a reflection of your worth as a person. You are worthy, and it makes sense to feel nervous about all this shit in the beginning. No one automatically knows how to do BDSM well, and even experienced people make mistakes.
It's all good, my friend. You'll get the hang of it eventually. Until then, just do your best and keep things relaxed.
That's it for the list!
As I'm sure you noticed, many of these tips apply to vanilla dating too.
Don't make assumptions.
Ask about the other person.
Let them know about yourself.
Go with the flow and keep things mellow.
If that all goes well and you seem compatible, the ever-important and titillating process of negotiation comes next. Yummy!
You can read all about it in this post.
Any thoughts or questions about these tips, or tips of your own to share? Let me know in the comments.
Thanks as always for reading!