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These are guidelines for polite behavior in the BDSM scene. It's based on observations, personal experiences, conversations with peers, mailing list & newsgroup postings,
workshops, web pages, magazine articles, books, and personal mistakes. While some items of higher protocol are covered, these notes are mainly to address the most common social situations.

This article is introductory. It is not meant to be a "complete guide."

Play Nice: Some Notes on Scene
Etiquette and Leather Protocol

Version 2.09

Version 1.00 first posted May 31, 1999
Version 2.00 first posted May 31, 2005
(formerly entitled "Basic Protocol and Etiquette"
and "Some Notes on Basic Protocol and Etiquette")

This article is dedicated to Beverly M. in Austin

Part 3 of 7:
Cruising With Class

Cruising With Class

Expectations of Sex

BDSM is not always about sex. BDSM is not synonymous with swinging, swapping, or Polyamory -- although it's possible for it to co-exist with these lifestyles. A BDSM relationship can consist entirely of kinky role-playing and sex or have no sexual involvement at all. What is more you don't have to have sex if you're playing with someone.

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When attending a BDSM or Leather function, don't assume someone you've never met before is there for your pleasure. That "buffet attitude" insults everyone. It dismisses the "entree's" prerogative, loyalty, and ability to choose. It also says something about the offender's sense of self-worth. He is relying on an assumed role rather than his own merits and abilities to find a partner.

It's a popular maxim in the scene that "Submission is a gift." The submissive chooses the dominant. (I'm from the school of thought that every thing the top does should be beneficial to the submissive. As someone said "Topping is the ultimate act of submission.")

Way back in the 1970s Larry Townsend wrote about the M's (masochist's) prerogative in choosing a S (sadist). In the Leatherman's Handbook (p.63) he writes:

An S can usually make himself emotionally available on much shorter notice than the M. This has given rise to one of the unwritten rules of cruising: The S should let the M know he wants him, but he shouldn't push. ... There are contrary opinions, mostly to the effect that the S should command the action and the M should obey. There is a certain logic to this, as well; but if the M isn't ready for you, he will not be nearly so responsive.

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Approaching a Couple for Play

You might want to play with someone who is already in a BDSM relationship.

Generally speaking, approaching a couple you are not acquainted with to request play or sex simply because you find one of them attractive is no more acceptable in a BDSM situation than it is in a Vanilla setting. While polyamory and serial monogamy are well represented in the scene, the greater minority of people are involved in or seeking monogamous relationships.

But if you think there would be reasonable opportunity to play with part of a couple -- or both of them -- generally you would do well to approach the one in charge. As Drew Campbell explains in The Bride Wore Black Leather: If you're interested in a top, speak directly to that person. If you're interested in a bottom who is with another top, approach the top first; if the bottom speaks for him- or herself, you'll be referred to him/her.

(p. 142)

I would also warn against sending a submissive to her dominant to request permission to play with the submissive. You would be in effect sending someone else's submissive on an errand on your behalf. It's more respectful and courteous to ask the dominant yourself.

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Jus Primae Noctis

Jus primae noctis (law of the first night) or droit du seigneur (the lord's right) is the historically dubious right that kings and lords exercised to be first to sleep with the brides when their subjects married. According to Cecil Adams in his "The Straight Dope" column for 20-Dec-1996, it didn't exist.

That doesn't stop some of our "community leaders," "wise elders," and party hosts from adopting this colorful tradition for their own benefit. While they don't explicitly state the right, it's implicit in their presumptive manner at parties and munches. They can be a little bit too casual in greeting and interacting with attractive members of the opposite sex (or the same sex if they are so inclined) -- attached or unattached, dominant or submissive, straight or gay. It can take many forms:

  • A dominant explains to the novice married couple that the submissive woman needs an experienced dominant -- such as himself -- for her first BDSM experience.
  • The party host repeatedly grabs an attractive dominant woman around the waist and reminds her that he should top her sometime. (If it's unacceptable for his other guests to do so and if he wouldn't do so at someone else's party, then he's taking unfair advantage of the situation.)
  • A dominant generously offers one of his many submissives for play to another dominant but then expects something -- such as the other dominant's girl friend for play -- in return.
  • Under the guise of protecting submissives from predators, a dominant might take a vulnerable submissive under her protection -- without consulting with the submissive first -- and monopolize the submissive's time, steer the submissive away from eligible attractive dominants, and generally collar the submissive without negotiation.

The lords and ladies in these situations are taking unfair advantage of their status in the community or their positions as the party hosts and hostesses to intimidate and deflect criticism. Novices and party guests don't want to be rude to VIPs and their party hosts. But the lords and ladies are behaving like predators and acting unacceptably.

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