Casual Play

If you’re at all involved in your local scene, it’s very easy to get the idea that casual and/or public play is something every “real” kinky person does. There’s nothing inherently wrong with casual play, but it’s not right for everyone and I don’t think we talk about that enough. Emotional risks may not be as simple to handle as telling people not to flog the kidneys, but they still count.

Not everyone is fulfilled by playing with someone they’ve just met. Not everyone feels comfortable doing something so intimate with someone they don’t have some form of relationship with, whether they’re a close friend, a regular play partner, a romantic partner, or something else entirely. Not everyone can relax and enjoy a scene without the safety net of knowing, thanks to the relationship they have with their play partner, that they’ll still be friends even if the scene goes wrong.

While casual play is generally physically safe, it may or may not be emotionally safe for any given person. It’s not terribly likely that you’re going to get seriously physically harmed in a party full of people with dungeon monitors roaming the play floor (although there are certainly horror stories out there of safewords being ignored even at play parties). Physical well being is obviously important, but so is emotional well being. While some people feel great playing with someone, exchanging thanks and potentially never seeing them again, other people may feel abandoned when the person they had this incredibly intense experience with just up and leaves. Mis-matched expectations about how much on-going (next day or later) aftercare is going to happen can be terribly painful, and so can mis-matched expectations of what an enjoyable scene means. For some people, a fun scene is just a fun scene. For others, it may be more like a good first date, in that if the first date goes well, you expect there to be further dates.

Some people can play really hard with people they don’t know well, but I’m not one of them. I need to know that if I screw up and actually harm someone, they’ll believe me when I say that I didn’t intend to harm them, let me make it up to them, and not decide I’m  the worst top ever to top and hate me forever. I can play relatively gently with people I don’t know well, but I don’t feel at all comfortable doing anything especially intense with people whose limits I haven’t gotten to know over time. Also, if I was ever to really push someone, I’d have to know for an absolute certainty that they would use their safeword if they needed to. I believe very strongly that it’s my job as a top to pay attention and notice when my bottom is struggling, but I also believe no one is perfect. I see safewords as kind of a safety net that help keep me from harming people, and I don’t think I’d feel comfortable doing anything especially risky without either having that safety net in place or knowing my bottom extraordinarily well.

Kink is extremely intimate for many people, and not everyone can be or even wants to be intimate with people they don’t know well. For me, it takes ages to really open up to people. If I can’t open up to someone, I can’t connect with them deeply enough to make playing with them worth it to me. Sure, I can whap someone with a flogger without making myself emotionally vulnerable, but play without at least some connection doesn’t really do it for me.

We all understand people not wanting to have casual sex, so why wouldn’t it be seen as completely normal not to want casual kink? This probably only applies to the public scene, where it’s extremely common to play casually at parties. There are plenty of blogs written by people who only play with their romantic partners, but those writers are also often not involved in their local scenes.

Particularly if you’re interested in exploring d/s, casual play may not work for you. I imagine it does for some people, but I can’t see how someone I just met wanting to submit to me would mean anything. I want someone to submit to me, not to the nearest dominant woman.

The one message I really want to get across to people who have never wanted to play casually, or tried it and didn’t like it, is that you’re perfectly normal. You don’t have to play with half a dozen people at every party to be a “real” dom/sub/top/bottom/switch/non-specific pervert. The only wrong way to do kink is the way that harms yourself or others.

10 thoughts on “Casual Play

  1. Hey Stabbity, I couldn’t agree more!

    It’s something I had to state on my profile, that I only play with people I know and connect with. For me there’s got to be that spark, that connection, that elsewhere would look like flirting or an old friendship. And trust is something that is much easier to build with time and the more trust there is, the easier it is to let go and enjoy a scene. I like going to public play parties but I go there to meet the small handful of people I already know, and am happy to play with. I *can* play with people I don’t know so well but I can’t bring myself to let go as deeply and enjoy it less.

    And your point about mismatched expectations is also really important. I’ve had my fingers burned a few times by getting too close to people too quickly and expecting there to be ‘second dates’ when they only wanted to play once or twice. =s

  2. Agreed, and a good analogy with the casual sex thing. I can bottom, especially for research purposes — I don’t like writing about stuff I haven’t done — and keep it casual, but I can’t top and feel good about it unless there’s a connection. I’m guessing that’s because I’m not a casual sex person, and bottoming is not very sexual to me, whereas topping very much IS. So beating someone else’s ass feels very much like a sex act, when having my ass beat does not.

    Interesting.

  3. This brings to mind an excerpt from an old post from Letters from Gehenna (http://lettersfromgehenna.blogspot.com/2009/07/not-exactly-wrong-questions.html?m=1):

    A lot of things were bulletins from an alien planet. “The scene”, clubs, play parties, all that stuff that’s normative within a lot of kink-contexted discussion? About as emotionally comprehensible as approaching a relative stranger and asking them if they’re interested in siring a child in the next half hour or so.

    .

    I’ve never really been interested in casual play as I’m not interested in casual sex and to me, play feels sexual even if “actual” sex isn’t occuring. I really like this post as I rarely see this kind if recognition of kinky people who don’t do casual play.

    • Ooh, I really enjoy Letters from Gehenna but I haven’t been keeping up with it lately.

      I really like the bit about the emotional comprehensibility of playing with relative strangers. I can top without much of an emotional context (although it’s becoming less and less fulfilling for me), but someone who I don’t know submitting to me is bafflling and meaningless. How can anyone know if I’m worth submitting to without getting to know me over an extended period of time?

  4. It’s nice that casual and public play is an option, but it’s important to remember the difference between option and expectation. I do play casually. The emotional risks, either of feeling a one-sided intimacy or a disappointment at the lack of connection or intensity that can come from not having a prior relationship, could be particularly damaging if unanticipated. Still, measuring the risks ahead of time and being prepared for potentially difficult conversations helps. It’s absolutely something new folks should be briefed on, right alongside “don’t flog the kidneys.”

  5. I can do casual play, but it’s not nearly as fulfilling as play within a relationship for the emotional reasons you mentioned. The connection just isn’t the same when playing with a friend.

    It’s also important for people to know what they are or aren’t willing to do casually. For example, I can do casual play, but not casual submission. I won’t do casual service either (though I don’t count helping out in the local community as service in the d/s sense.) These are all things to think about when considering what to do or not do casually- play, sex, d/s, and service.

    Locally, there is some pressure for people to do casual play. But those who don’t are respected all the same; people understand why they don’t do it. What we do is intense, and it can involve powerful emotions. Plus, some of the hardest drops I’ve ever felt were after casual scenes. It’s definitely not for everyone.

    • That’s a good point. I’ve mostly heard the interest in casual play described in black or white terms, but it makes a lot of sense to think about what specific activities work for us in a casual context vs what feels unsafe or unfulfilling.

      I definitely drop harder after casual scenes. Knowing and trusting my play partner makes a huge difference in how I feel the day after a scene.

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