Get consent, read the signs, and stop gawping like you're in a zoo – everything you need to know before your first sex party
It makes total sense that there’s been an influx of first timers at fetish and sex clubs in the past few years. Ever since a certain book and movie franchise (yeah, Fifty Shades, we see you) piqued people’s interest in BDSM, the community has seen more newcomers on the scene. It’s not entirely down to Fifty Shades, though. Women like Kim Kardashian and Ashley Graham have been rocking the shit out of latex in public, and fetish wear has been slowly creeping into high fashion since LFW 2015. From Coco’s fetish-inspired chokers being worn by FKA Twigs, to Divamp Couture sending models down the runway at New York Fashion Week in dominatrix-inspired corsets, latex and PVC is everywhere.
Unfortunately, while new people coming onto the scene is mostly positive, there have been a few problems. Master Dominic, a professional dominant and sex educator, says, “That bloody book attracted people who were entering fetish clubs like a zoo. For them, it might be a one-time thing to talk about over the water cooler on Monday, but for us it’s important.” Professionals have witnessed some conflict due to newcomers’ lack of respect or understanding of club etiquette. Zara du Rose, a model and fetish event organiser, says there have been times when girls and guys have failed to get consent before getting involved in sex play. “From our experience, the scene has always been very welcoming and friendly, but you do have to talk to people in the correct manner.”
RESPECT THE DRESS CODE
At fetish clubs, dress codes exist to keep everyone safe. “It’s not to be pretentious or exclusionary, although it might seem like that to some people,” Master Dominic says. “It's to protect the people inside. About 10 years ago, I was at a club and the dickhead bouncers let in a load of guys in V for Vendetta masks and ponchos. They were just fuckboys, and ended up beating someone up.” The thinking here is that if someone can’t even be bothered to get an outfit together that hits the dress code, they’re less likely to be respectful once they’re inside.
Every club has a different dress code, so you don’t necessarily have to drop £800 on a latex outfit just to get in. Some are cool with you wearing something black and ‘sexy’. Just look on the website before showing up.
If you do arrive at a club without the right outfit on, that’s an immediate red flag. “Automatically I know I need to watch that person,” Master Dominic says. “They haven’t even crossed the door and they've already flouted the rules. What's going to happen when a naked sexy lady is in there – are they going to be respectful?”
“Generally, if people are in the social areas – bars, smoking areas, dancefloors – it’s fine to start a conversation. Be chatty, be friendly, say ‘hi’,” Master Dominic says. Zara du Rose agrees: “Don’t just assume they’re an object there to play with, talk to them like a human being! There’s nothing wrong with approaching someone and asking, ‘How is your night going?’ And taking it from there.”
Also be aware that not everyone is there to chat. “Some people will say 'not interested',” Master Dominic says. “For some [fetish clubs] are social, but for others it's a very sexual environment. If you're not the gender they're looking for, or if they're in a dom/sub relationship and not allowed to speak to you because they've been sent out for being badly behaved, be prepared for things like that to come up.”
READ THE SIGNS
Yeah, there are literal signs. Master Dominic says the most annoying thing is when first timers choose to ignore them. “When I was living in a dungeon where we used to have events, over the course of a year the signs got bigger, and angrier. Eventually, I was drawing on the walls in crayon. Because people don’t read them. It’s infuriating.”
From asking people not to finger each other in the bar, or go to a specific room if they want to have sex, the management don’t just put them up to be a pain in the arse. There’s often good reason to ask people not to be dropping trou right in front of the bar. Clubs have licensing laws they have to adhere to, people can’t just be shagging all over the place. Be aware of that.
“Try not to treat people like they're in a zoo enclosure, because that’s what it can feel like,” Master Dominic says. Once you’re through the door, go to the bar, get a drink and have a wander. Fetish clubs (unless they’re hardcore dungeons) tend to be zoned: there’s a bar or dancefloor, and then specific rooms for sex play.
“For the most part, it's a lot tamer than people think,” Master Dominic says. “But, there's also a chance you might walk into the dungeon and go, 'Wow, there's someone over there getting double fisted'. Try not to react with shock, horror and disgust, even if it's not your thing.”
Choose a club that’s reflective of what you’re personally comfortable with. “If it's marketed as ‘extreme’, don’t buy a ticket if you're going to react unfavourably to weird shit.” Master Dominic says it’s usually pretty obvious what goes on at a club by looking at their names. “There's one club called PisSoir and what do you think goes on there? Maybe don’t buy a ticket to that one if you don't want to see people getting peed on.”
ASK THE DUNGEON MONITOR IF YOU'RE UNSURE
Most clubs will have Dungeon Monitors walking around with ‘DM’ on an armband or lanyard. They’re employed by the club for your safety (and sometimes to play with if you’re feeling lonely.) “DMs are hired because they're friendly. You can tell them if you're overwhelmed, confused, or don’t know how to approach a situation,” Master Dominic says.
“For first timers (and anyone else), the main thing to remember is to ask first,” Zara du Rose says. “Don’t just assume people are there to grab/touch/spank just because it’s a fetish club! The same rules apply in any other environment.”
In the dungeon area, never approach people playing, or interrupt something that’s going on. “Straight couples get this a lot when there's a sexy lady on a spanking bench and some guy goes over and grabs her butt,” Master Dominic says. “For all you know, they're a monogamous married couple who've just come to this event for a bit of naughty exhibitionist fun.” Zara du Rose adds, “There have been issues at some events where guys and girls have been a bit too hands on without permission. But this is usually swiftly dealt with.”
Master Dominic says either wait for an invitation or just ask if you want to get involved. “Not when they're playing, but when they've finished, say, ‘Are you open? Are you looking for play partners tonight?’ and go from there.” There will be situations where it’s a “free for all”, but you’ll know it because people will just be getting in there without hesitation. The vibe is very different.
“Some people get so stressed about how it all works that they forget to have fun. People get so in their own heads and there's nothing worse than when someone's terrified, you can feel it in the room” – Master Dominic
ASK BEFORE USING EQUIPMENT
If you want to take your own condoms and lube, knock yourself out – but most events should provide them. “Sometimes there’ll be bottles of anti bac and kitchen towel to spray things off if they get messy,” Master Dominic says.
But do bear in mind, not all equipment lying around is there to be used by customers. “A lot of the house doms will have their own equipment, and some get very cagey if you ask to borrow it,” Master Dominic explains. You’ll find some places will have a rack with club equipment on it, which should be fine for anyone to use. When in doubt, ask a DM. Most clubs’ websites will specify whether you should bring your own play equipment.
DON'T GET TOO WASTED
As tempting as it is to knock back multiple tequilas before you go for the first time, getting too smashed should be avoided. All BDSM play is guided by the SSC (safe, sane, and consensual) principle. The “sane” part of that slogan means play should only continue when all parties are in a sensible frame of mind, and that includes being sober enough to know what you’re doing and give consent.
“Getting too drunk happens,” Master Dominic says. “I know liquid courage is a thing when you're nervous, but pick the kind of club you go to. If you want to get drunk and dance, and maybe poke your head around the corner of the dungeon, try something like Torture Garden, which you can dip in and out of. Don't go to a hardcore dungeon or serious play club.”
DON'T EXPECT TO GET LAID
“A lot of people think they're going to walk through the door and immediately have a row of vaginas laid out in front of them,” Master Dominic says. “The best nights at fetish or sex events are the ones where you just go because you love the outfit you've bought, you're in a good mood and you fancy a dance. Those are the ones where you inevitably end up having the best sex of your life. So don't go with an expectation of anything, instead go to have an experience.”
“Some people get so stressed about how it all works that they forget to have fun,” Master Dominic says. “People get so in their own heads and there's nothing worse than when someone's terrified, you can feel it in the room. Remember it's supposed to be fun, even if it turns out it's hugely not your thing and you end up leaving.”
You could be super into fetish in your personal life, but go to a club and realise being in public just didn’t really work for you. Or it just might not be your thing, and that’s fine. “Have a giggle,” Master Dominic says. “You'll find a lot of people there want to laugh and have a nice time. It's daft and silly, after all.”