I hang out on Fetlife a lot. (I may have mentioned this before.) You can talk about practically anything there, kink or non-kink. You can even talk about Fetlife, and many people do! I myself run a group called “The Social Psychology of Fetlife.” Online group behaviour can be quite fascinating.
But of course, mostly folks are there to discuss bdsm in one form or another, at least some of the time. Or to link up. There are huge numbers of local groups announcing events. With over 800,000 members and 27,000 groups, there’s a lot going on. And if one word comes up more than most, it’s “play.”
There’s a culture – here’s where social psychology comes in – of “the scene,” which is about events and play parties. A pervasive assumption that this is how it’s done: semi-public scenes with strangers or mere acquaintances either involved or observing. And this puzzled the hell out of me when I first came across it, and made me wonder. Were these people all exhibitionists / voyeurs? Something I thought of as incredibly private was obviously seen very differently by the majority of kinksters. Even in my horniest youth, when my body wanted nothing better than to be tied and spanked, I could never have imagined some stranger’s hand doing the deed. Even then, for me it was all about relationship.
A relationship that included actual power, of someone else over me. For real. Not some negotiated bit of play in a club that I could end with the merest safeword, and talk about afterwards on an equal footing. That would imply that it was all about sensation, and that sensation could be enough. Which for me just wasn’t the case.
The other day I ran across a thread on Fetlife in which a woman wrote that using the word “play” for bdsm activity didn’t feel right to her. It sounded too light and frivolous for something that for her would be rather serious and important. She was something of a newbie. Most of the responses suggested that the woman lighten up, since there was nothing wrong with having fun. I don’t think they got the question. One poster put his finger on it when he said the issue wasn’t “play” vs. “work;” it was “play” vs. “real.” Is this just playacting, or does it mean something? Momentary enjoyment or an expression of something deeper? Or something in between?
A Fetlife friend of mine, oatmealgirl, who writes a lovely blog called Submission and Metaphor, commented on the “play” vs. “real” issue by saying, “I don’t play, I submit.” She takes what she does very seriously – not without humour or lightness, but with a great deal of meaning.
There’s nothing in the least wrong with play, or playacting, or role playing, or sensation, or exhibitionism, or bdsm as performance art. There’s nothing wrong with fantasizing about bdsm without taking it to the point of reality in any form. One of the commonest complaints in the bdsm world is about 24/7 types looking down on those who “only play,” while the ones who engage less intensively make fun of those who adhere to “the lifestyle” as if it was a religious faith, complete with doctrine (e.g. The Gospel of Gor). There is also the gospel of Safe, Sane and Consensual, which holds that everything must be public so that experts can supervise the doms and test the knots.
Another type of thread that puzzles me is the person asking for guidance on what they should do with their partner. Not just fun and kinky ideas, but on what they should do. Aren’t they into this because they have some ideas of their own? Because something in the bdsm spectrum intrigues them and turns them on?
As has been said a million times, there’s no one way to do this. We all find the path that works for us. The trick is to thread our way between the assumptions and directives, the groupthink and the safety czars, to explore and see what resonates. It’s a process, and a captivating one.
What’s your process been like? Do the broad paths work for you, or would they take you in the wrong direction? Are the twisty paths suspect, or are they the most intriguing? How does the word “play” work for you?