Occasionally on soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm there is a flurry of email about some event that recently occurred (often in the SF Bay area) at which many net.folks were in attendance, and about the tremendously enjoyable things that transpired there. Then others around the country post, wishing they lived out here too. Well, you don’t have to live out here to have a play party!

What is a play party? A party where your guests can (and hopefully will) play with each other! It can be as simple as a backrub circle which turns into more intimate activity, or it can be one person who gets clothespins applied to them while others watch and contribute energy before going off into their own scenes, or indeed anything at all. The idea is to enjoy each other, to communicate and share the pleasure that touching and playing can bring. If there is a common interest in SM, that’s convenient, as lots of things can be initiated with a simple pair of handcuffs or a whip that looks like it’d feel good; also, if the guests have played with SM, they will understand the need for negotiation, and they will know what it is to respect another’s limits.

Some tips: Don’t encourage alcohol; make it BYOB. This makes the party safer, and the drunker you get the less likely you are to really be able to fully negotiate and communicate. Minimize video and loud music; this causes people to interact with each other, which is the whole point, rather than sit back and stay out of the action. (Good party music can help set the mood, though.) Keep condoms, dental dams, latex gloves, lube (water-based!), betadine (if piercers or cutters are present), bleach (for cleaning toys), and paper towels handy; this makes people aware that they can easily play safely–a matter of life and death–as well as expressing the hosts’ concern for the guests.

If possible, have several playspaces (i.e. rooms where people can recline and play with each other); this lets the exhibitionists exhibit, while the more private ones can be more private, and the heavy players can play heavily (serious whippings, candles, etc.) without freaking out the folks with lighter tastes. Have some knowledgeable people take turns as safety monitors; if anything’s going on that looks unsafe or nonconsensual, give those people authority to take action. Establish a party safeword (a great one is “Safeword!”). In general, make your place into a safe space, a haven here people can unwind and enjoy each other to whatever extent they want to, without feeling pressured or uncomfortable.

Possibly the most helpful tip: if you can, try to get a group of people in your area together, and try to get activities planned between parties–lunches, group shopping trips to your local toy stores, movies, etcetera. It’s hard to overcome the barriers to trusting someone enough to have sensual or sexual contact with them, especially in our pleasure-negative society; therefore, things may not get off to the rollicking start you could wish for at your first party. If there are a couple of exhibitionists to break the ice, though, it helps; and as people get to know each other better and get to be friends, it will increase the level of fun everyone will have!