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Ambrosio's Note to Readers: This is a list of guidelines for
polite behavior in the DBSM scene. It's based on observations,
personal experiences, and conversations with peers. While some
items of higher protocol are covered, the list is mainly to
address the most common social situations.
I. Eight Points for Socializing
1. Don't assume...
Making assumptions is dangerous enough in the vanilla world.
It's more so in the scene. BDSM is something most of us have
fantasized about for a long time before we are introduced to its
reality. Until then our concept of BDSM is more often based on
works of fiction like Pauline Reage's Story of O, Ann
Rice's "Beauty" Trilogy, or John Norman's
"Gor" series rather than the non-fiction guides like
S&M 101 by Jay Wiseman or Learning the Ropes by
Race Bannon. It's easy to build up an elaborate fantasy that
doesn't really prepare us for the mundane "normal"
reality of ordinary people forming real human relationships.
If you are just getting involved it's good to take a low key
approach. Start by finding out what's expected of you and what
you can expect. Attend socials, meet people, observe, and ask
questions. Get to know people on a human level without concerning
yourself too much with roles.
Don't assume you have to be dressed in a $500 designer latex
catsuit to fit in. The models in <<O>> and
Taste of Latex are not representative of the scene where I
play. The players I know come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and
orientations. As Ani DiFranco sings "You don't have to be a
super model to do the animal thang." BDSM doesn't have to be
about conspicuous consumption and outrageous fashion statements.
It can be -- if that's your kink -- but it doesn't have to be.
So how should you dress? It depends on the function. For SAS/M
socials in public restaurants we only ask that you not wear
anything objectionable like a transparent blouse or an exposed
thong. We would like to be welcomed back by the restaurant's
management. Otherwise you're welcome to dress creatively.
Cernunus likes to wear a military school jacket and black latex
pants. (I've heard that other groups in other states prefer that
you dress as vanilla as possible. Some people are afraid to be
identified as being a "pervert." If they're seen
associating with "leather clad bikers" and scantily
clad "exotic dancers" the word might get out. When in
doubt, dress like you're going to a PTA meeting.) For parties,
dress for your own enjoyment or for the pleasure of your
significant other. Just be sure to wear something over your more
"inspired" clothing when you're outside our party space.
Don't assume someone you've never meet 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
self-confidence. He is relying on an assumed role rather than his
own merits and abilities to find a partner.
Submission is a gift. The submissive chooses the Dom/me. (I'm
from a school of thought that every thing the Top does should
secretly be for the benefit of the submissive. I try to please my
partners and reward their expectations. As Princess Krista is
fond of saying "Topping is the ultimate act of
[editor's note: for an article that
presents another viewpoint on the "submission is a gift" school
of thought, you can read
"The Gift Theory" online here.]
Don't assume that BDSM is always sexual. BDSM is not synonymous
with swinging, swapping, or Polyamoury -- 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. Just remember: You don't have to have sex if
you're playing with someone.
The greater BDSM scene consists of a lot of contrasting
traditions (Old Guard, Gorean, Biblical, etc.,) The rules for any
one tradition generally don't apply to the rest. There is no one
true path. The closest that most of us agree on is that play
should be safe, sane, and consensual.
2. Be honest with others...
I feel sorry for those people who didn't know they were into
S&M before they got married but I don't have sympathy for
someone who lies about having a spouse or forgets to mention it.
Don't involve anyone in a non consensual act of adultery.
If you are a novice looking for a someone to play with let them
know you are new to the scene. Everyone has to start somewhere.
Being a novice does not make you a bad player but lying about
your level of experience is dangeous for everyone. Your partners
have the right and need to know how experienced you are.
3. Be honest with yourself about what you want...
If you are entering the scene to experience physical pain then
you are a masochist or at least masochistic. If you wish to serve
someone then you are submissive. It's possible to be both or only
one but you must recognize what you want out of the experience
and present yourself accordingly. The same can be said for
dominance and sadism. Tell your potential partners what you want
-- whether it's sensation or servitude or both. Subs, please
don't "top from below" by agreeing to submit to someone just so
that you can force them to punish you (unless you know for a fact
you both enjoy that sort of discipline.) Those types of subs are
dismissed as S.A.M.s (Smart Assed Masochist) Someone once said
"Never put a top in a position where they have to prove
The tastes in the scene are wide and varied. It's full of
sadists, masochists, dominants, submissives and every combination
of the four. There is someone for you whatever your proclivities.
4. Don't touch without permission...
This seems like a bigger irritant in our scene than in society as
a whole. I know a lot of Dommes who get notably irritated when
someone touches them, their toys, or their subs without
permission. I once saw a novice Dom/me make an enemy for life by
reaching over to touch a woman's hand and ask "are you a sub
or a Domme?" He found out the hard way.
5. Don't come on too strong...
There's a natural tendency to confuse the role of the dominant
with "being dominant." You don't have to be over
bearing to be a dominant. (Neither do you have to be a welcome
mat to be a submissive.) It's possible to be polite and dominant.
As Oscar Wilde writes "A gentleman is one who never hurts
anyone's feelings unintentionally." A low key approach is
better when meeting someone new.
SAS/M is a social group. It's not a dating service. Although we
hope people find like minded partners at our socials we don't
want to encourage a "meat market" atmosphere. If you're
unconcerned in getting to know people you won't have much success
finding someone to with whom to play. Can someone feel safe with
a Dom/me who isn't interested in who they play with or their
Don't be pushy: Don't coerce. Don't force your attentions on
someone who doesn't want them. This sends a seriously bad
message: No one wants to play with someone who is too pushy.
Submissives can't trust a coercive Dom/me. If the Dom/me won't
accept a submissive's "no" in the public setting is it
likely the Dom/me will accept the limits of an isolated, bound,
defenseless submissve in bondage?
6. Be discreet...
This is a very private part of people's lives. If word gets out
it could cost someone their lively hood, their standing in the
community, and even custody of their children. Don't talk about
someone else's activities in BDSM to anyone outside our community
that doesn't have a right and need to know. SAS/M takes privacy
very seriously. We have revoked membership over the matter.
7. Respect alternatives...
Remember...homophobia, racism, and BDSM don't mix.
8. Discourage negative behavior...
This is everyone's responsibility. Subs - please stand up for
yourselves or at least report inappropriate behavior. Dom/mes -
report inappropriate behavior to the munch (or event)
II. Negotiating Play
It's best to forgo play until are parties have negotiated as
completely as possible. Although it's the submissive's
responsibility to safeword when he/she reach his/her limits, it's
also the top's responsibility to watch the submissive's
reactions. Many submissives are -- for lack of a better term --
submissive. They find it difficult to object even when
it's their prerogative. The good top has to keep this in mind. He
needs to pay attention to how a submissive is reacting. He also
shouldn't spring surprises on a new submissive. Everything the
submissive hasn't specifically objected to is not by default
permitable. If the Dom/me and submissive have hurriedly
negotiated a flogging scene, the Dom/me hasn't brought up the
subject of amputation, and the submissive hasn't thought to list
it as a limit, that doesn't give the top cart blanche to bring
out his surgical equipment.
Use safe words such as "yellow," "red," or
"safeword." When the submissive reaches his/her limits,
he/she should be able to call out the safe word. At that point,
it's the Top's obligation to stop the scene.
III. Party Rules
Most of the parties I've attended have similar rules. I've included some
Sample Party Rules (from my site's "Community Service" section).
In some ways a Play Party can be a lot like a Ball Room Dance as one
passage from Jane Austin's Northhanger Abbey demonstrates.
IV. Flagging (not flogging)
Flagging refers to non-verbal signals that serve as very specific
cues in the scene. Most of them originated from the "old
guard" Gay leather scene of the 40's and 50's.
Keys: Keys on the left represent dominance. Keys on the right
represent submissiveness. (For more on this see the Glossaries
section of the menu on the left).
Hanky code: Even today the hanky code is used in Gay leather bars
to signal interest or specialization in particular sexual
practices. My site includes a very extensive
Hanky Code. (And of course there is
the Complete Unabridged
Collars: Wearing a collar is a sign of submission to an
individual Dom/me. Sometimes it can be temporary, as when the
Dom/me puts it on a submissive before a scene and then takes it
off when the play is over. Usually it's a sign of the Dom/me's
permanent ownership as when the submissive accepts it as a gift
and wears it even when they are not playing. On the other hand
I've read where a submissive looking for a Dom/me will wear a
collar with the lock hanging open as a sign that she's available.
Hypothetically it's considered very bad form for a top to speak
to a collared sub without the owner's permission. Although I
haven't seen this tradition adhered to very much in Central
Texas, I strongly urge serious consideration before speaking to a
collared sub. You might very easily offend someone who follows
the old guard protocols.
V. Go On...
This essay is only meant to be a starting point. There's much
more for all of us to learn. Do your part.
Don't learn passively -- don't expect someone to teach you. That
attitude shows you consider your time to be more valuable than
the mentor who teaches you. Once upon a time, so we are told, all
novices were mentored into the mysterious and confusing ways of
BDSM. Good for them. Today, so I've found, things are different.
Sex is not as dirty a subject as it once was but at the same time
promiscuous sex is more dangerous. People are sexually more
adventurous but they can't afford to exchange bodily fluids with
as many partners as they would in a world without AIDS and other
STDs. Many are exploring BDSM to satisfy their need for novel
love play. Consequently, the influx of novices in the scene is
huge. The more established players don't have the resources to
"mentor" all the novices individually.
(I don't want to discourage anyone from asking questions. I am
only suggesting that novices make more of an effort to learn than
show up at their first BDSM event, turn to someone, and say
"I'm here -- teach me everything about BDSM but make it
snappy. I've got to get home in time to watch 'Melrose
Place.'" What does that say about that the novice's self
discipline and respect for others?)
So how is a novice to learn? Fortunately, the truth is out there,
available through various resources:
Web sites like Ambrosio's BDSM Site (plug plug
http://www.io.com/~ambrosio/ ). For eager new submissives I
recommend Jay Wiseman's "Ten Tips for the Novice, Single, Heterosexual,
Submissive Woman" and Ms. Margo's "Three Essays on Finding a Domme".
Although Mr. Wiseman's essay is targeted to women and Ms. Margo's
articles are targeted to men, both articles are beneficial to
submissives of either sex (as well a Dom/mes.)
Books. While Web sites are an easily available source of
information, books are better. They go into more depth and you
can carry them around and loan them to friends who don't have
computers. View the "Books for Beginners" section on
Ambrosio's BDSM Site.
S&M 101 seminars. The larger cities are likely to have a
group or business that sponsors "S&M 101" lectures.
Educational groups like the National Leather Association. It
seems to me that these groups are not as well represented as the
social groups. That's a shame because they provide a very
important resource to the community: year round education in
techniques and safety. They usually have a business meeting and
educational program once a month. In addition some of them, such
as NLA: Austin, provide an entire weekend of classes once a year.
Social Groups like GWNN or SAS/M. The educational groups are a
better resource for practical knowledge but you can learn
something of value from attending social groups. Just remember to
take what you hear with a grain of salt. Opinions are like belly
buttons, (almost) everyone has one.
Ultimately, however, we are responsible for our own education. So
in summary -- play nice. BDSM is about playing games and in the
best games everyone has fun.
Copyright 1999 by Ambrosio. This material may not be
copied in any manner. For permission to reproduce this
essay, please contact email@example.com
or visit his site at