Playing and Staying Safe 
Six Thinking Points Before Playing with Someone New

2001 by Gloria Brame, PhD - reprinted with permission

 

This six-point guide addresses questions vital to everyone who is beginning a new SM relationship or who attends play parties and other events where strangers play together. Hope you find it helpful.


1. WHO IS THIS PERSON I AM ABOUT TO PLAY WITH?

Remember what mom and dad told us about talking to strangers when we were kids? Now let's talk about doing SM with them.

The simplest and most basic question of ANY relationship is one which most newbies never even bother to ask. Many people automatically assume that if they are attending a well-known club or a party organized by a reputable group, all the people they'll meet are trustworthy. BAD ASSUMPTION.

The greatest disasters in SM inevitably occur when the people involved don't have a very clear knowledge of who the other person is, what that person's history has been in the world of SM, and whether that person is, in all respects, a trustworthy, decent human being.

We recently heard from a submissive who optimistically joined an SM friendship group, made some contacts there, and then endured a weekend of nonconsensual torture in the guise of SM on the part of predatory sadists who'd represented themselves as serious, respected dominants.

She naively assumed that if they belonged to this group, and were known in the group, they were therefore trustworthy. She was wrong. They were people who exploit the Scene--and naive newcomers--to act out their violent impulses. Although their behavior AT the group's events was quite respectable, once she was alone with them, they displayed their dangerous side.

It is an unfortunate fact that as the Scene expands astronomically, more and more people will join our clubs and attend our parties who are positively clueless about conducting their SM relationships in a safe and consensual fashion.

PLEASE REMEMBER: SM and abuse are no more related than intercourse and rape. The only difference between a dominant who forces you to do things that upset and terrify you and a criminal is that no one's called the police (yet) on the dominant. Responsible people in the Scene deplore all instances of nonconsensual force.

2. HOW DO I KNOW WHO TO TRUST?

After eleven years of heavy playing in the Scene, I've come to the personal conclusion that there is simply NO substitute for the tried and true method for ALL romantic relationships. You MUST take the time to get to know the person. If you think you know someone well enough to put your full trust in him or her after a week or two, or after a hot email exchange, you are kidding yourself.

If you're looking for a long-term or permanent relationship, what I recommend (and implement in my own life) is something I call "D&S Dating." This is not unlike regular dating, in that you spend time doing real-world things together--going to movies, having dinner together, visiting museums, or any other normal, social activity as a couple (or threesome or foursome, or whatever it is you're setting up). The main difference between D&S Dating and regular dating is that instead of having vanilla sex you do SM. As often as possible. :-)

Personally, I give myself about 3-4 months of D&S Dating before making a commitment to a long-term relationship. I tell a prospective submissive that during the dating stage, he is still free to experiment with other people. He doesn't wear my collar and I don't require him to call me Mistress when we're out in public. I still make most decisions (about where we go and what we do and so on) but it's in a natural context. In other words: he sees me in my street clothes and gets to know me as a complete human being, not just a mysterious creature who exists only to fulfill his fantasies.

This cushion of time gives me and my potential partner the opportunity to see one another in a wide variety of circumstances. If in the course of dating, I discover that, for example, he tends to lie or fudge the truth about things; that he is generally irresponsible and directionless; that he plays games or blows hot and cold a lot; or any other characteristics which I know will ultimately make him an incompatible partner for me, then the dating ends, and I am not locked into any commitments.

It may seem slow, but the rewards are that by the time I AM ready to make a commitment to being someone's permanent Mistress, I really know this person. I know how he reacts to situations, I have a sense of his hot-buttons, I know the way his mind works, and--naturally--I have grown quite fond of him.

The benefits this brings to my ability to control and dominate a submissive simply cannot be measured.

The submissive, meanwhile, has a very firm foundation for placing his trust in me. While I've observed his behavior, he's observed mine. If he is reassured that I am powerful in my daily life, that I exert control in the real world, and that I am comfortable giving commands in a variety of situations, his faith in my dominance is secured.

If he is a submissive who is only looking for a bedroom play-partner, or someone who wears fetish clothes 24 hours a day, he will quickly learn that I am not the right Mistress for him.

Of course, if all you're looking for are play partners, and not long-term relationships, the "D&S Dating" rule doesn't apply. But I still strongly recommend that you do everything you can to find out about who you're playing with.

3. THAT'S SO COMPLICATED! CAN'T I EVER PLAY WITH STRANGERS?

Sure. That's what safe words were created for: to limit the risk of unintentional harm when playing with strangers.

The real question is not whether you can or cannot play with strangers--the question is whether YOU are able to make a sane choice for yourself about how much trust you will give up to someone you don't know very well. You must be very careful not to give trust up too freely, particularly if you are the romantic, impulsive type who is likely to become smitten overnight and liable to say almost anything when your sex organ is primed for action (and this is one of those equal-opportunity deals: pussies and pricks are equally susceptible to taking over all thinking functions for the main organism).

Let's put it another way: if a stockbroker came up you to at a party and said he had a brilliant deal going that could triple your investment in two weeks, would you go to your bank that night and turn over your life savings to him? I hope not. More likely, if you didn't brush him off entirely, you might ask him to send you a brochure or set up an appointment to meet at his office to discuss it further. If you were a big risk-taker, you might even agree to investing a little money just for the gamble. In any case, you wouldn't turn your life-savings over to a guy you just met. You'd want some proof of his reliability and credibility. You'd limit your risk, and take certain safety precautions to protect yourself in case it was a scam.

So why do so many submissives and dominants meet someone in a party or club setting (or on-line) who announces themselves to be the yin to their SM yang and then suddenly make a complete physical and emotional investment in the relationship?

Desperation.

We understand the eagerness to have experience. For some people, the urge to do SM is indeed overwhelming, particularly if you've been bottling it up for a long time. But the plain fact is that: THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS IN SM

If you want a quality relationship, you must invest the time and make a commitment to YOURSELF not to settle nor to jump at any and every opportunity that comes along. Not all opportunities are equal. Some will lead to significant emotional pain.

4. DOES THIS MEAN I SHOULD NEVER PLAY WITH PEOPLE I JUST MET?

Look, you're an adult. There's nothing wrong with experimenting to your heart's content. Life is for living and if you are a sadomasochist, you owe it to yourself to accept and embrace your innate sexuality. Which means you're going to be perverted and slutty and, with luck, you'll have a lot of fun with it.

What I'm saying here is that you should be cautious and protect your own best interests until you have very good reasons (such as repeated, positive experiences with the person) to give up (or assume) complete control.

5. SO HOW DO I PROTECT MYSELF UNTIL I REALLY KNOW SOMEONE WELL?

Simple: you limit your risk. You do NOT give carte blanche consent to people you don't know for a significant amount of time (my basic rule of thumb would be three months). Meanwhile, although the network isn't as reliable as it once was, if you met this person at an SM party, club, group meeting, or any other SM venue (including IRC and other on-line environments), you should be able to find at least one and possibly more people who know this person. Ask them for feedback.

There is nothing rude or disrespectful about asking people whether they know another player or have ever seen them in action. If the person you want to play with (or are already playing with, if it's a brand new relationship) expresses anger, fear, resentment or any other negative emotions about you talking to others, then you have your first warning that something is fishy.

If your potential partner says any of the following, RUN:

         I don't want you to talk to anyone else about me

         You have no right to ask other people about me

         If I find out that you talked to others about me I'll never have anything to do with you again

         You should only trust what I tell you and not listen to anyone else

         Yes, what they told you was true, but I am a different person now

         Everything people have told you about me is a lie.

Although I've been in the Scene for a long time, although a lot of people have seen me play, and although I am well-known as an author of an SM-positive book, I still would not take offense if anyone who wanted to play with me asked others for references about my trustworthiness.

In SM, a person's first responsibility is to his or her own health and well-being. I EXPECT new partners to be cautious and encourage them to make their decisions independently and without pressure from me.

6. BUT WON'T MY SAFE WORD PROTECT ME?

Not necessarily. In the abuse situation mentioned in Question 1, the submissive was given a safe word. But she was also told that if she used her safe word, she would be banished from the premises and would never have any contact with the people involved again.

Now, from a distance, you might think that any submissive who is threatened in this way would have the sense to walk away at that point. IN REALITY, however, I've seldom known a submissive who COULD walk away from such a threat. Quite simply, a submissive is a submissive is a submissive: this is a person who is, by nature, vulnerable and who desires to please; he or she may already feel a kind of bond to the dominant, or may be so hungry to live out his/her fantasies, or so inexperienced that s/he thinks "the dominant always knows best" that s/he would rather suffer a little more than risk losing the relationship or disappointing the dominant.

The most wonderful and endearing characteristics of a submissive (the desire to serve and please) are precisely the ones which abusers prey on.

Next, consider this: if you don't know your partner well, how can you be sure this person will stop when you use your safe word? There was a notorious crime in the SM Scene in New York a few years ago where a male dominant was picking up submissives at gay leather bars, assuring them that he respected limits and granting them safe words. Guess what happened, though, when he had them alone in his apartment?

If you guessed that he ignored their safe words and even made it impossible for them to speak the words (because he gagged them with duct tape), then you guessed correctly.

Finally, for the sake of dominants who too have gotten burned: please remember that not all submissives are trustworthy or genuine either. There are plenty of "do-me" submissives out there (game-players and people who are not seeking a sincere SM dynamic, but merely someone to get them off in the moment and in the way they want to get off). There are newbies who don't have a clue about when and how to use safe words. (My advice: spend the time to make SURE they understand, so you save yourself grief and bitter feelings later on.) Meanwhile, some experienced subs may use safe words to control or manipulate you, rather than to indicate when they've reached a genuine limit.

One of the more troubling situations is when a submissive doesn't use a safe word when s/he should. This leads the dominant to believe that everything was hunky-dory--only to discover, hours, days, or months later that the submissive felt you'd gone much too far. Why won't subs use safe words as God intended them to be used? Occasionally it's an overwhelming desire on the part of subs for dominants to be psychic mind-readers. Sometimes it's sheer naivete; other times it's stubborn pride. Some subs set out to prove to themselves that they can take anything the dominant gives, even if they're unhappy about it. This is a dangerous attitude for all concerned.

Subs and doms alike should protect themselves by never letting a safe word lull you into a sense of complacency. They are a tool to safer play, but they are not a guarantee of it.

Remember: PLAY SAFE! STAY SAFE! And don't let your genitals do the talking when your health is at stake.

CUFSmaine Note:  Our thanks to Gloria Brame for allowing us to reprint this article.  Please for more information and articles, please visit her website: http://www.gloria-brame.com/

 

  Page Updated 08/27/05

 

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