Social Etiquette and BDSM 102

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bdsm social etiquette

Introduction

No one is born knowing everything, especially social rules and etiquette. We all must learn through what others impart to us, through our self-education, and through our experiences.  This is never more true than in BDSM.  There are so many unspoken rules, many of which are highly subjective or which differ from the vanilla world.  It is the purpose of this post to provide some clarification as to key values or differences in conduct, social engagement, and showing respect.  This writing is not meant to be exhaustive, all-inclusive, or definitive – but rather as a strong starting point for your journey.

If you have not read it already, I suggest starting with my post Social Etiquette and BDSM.

 

Real-Life vs Online

It is the reality of our social lives that many people interact in a variety of experiences.  Some may be real-time and in person, while others are more “near” time online experiences. The Face-to-face experience is the basis of our psycho-emotional wiring, offering a more fully engaged interaction, but technologies such as Text, Chat, FB, FL, various boards and feeds, and interactives such as SecondLife or other virtual communities, often act as substitute alternatives.

Our technology has advanced far beyond our biological wiring, and the “mind” does not yet fully distinguish between emotions we feel in “real-life” from those experienced through technology.  All emotions, no matter where or how experienced, are to ourselves genuine and real.  This is how it can often pull people in deeper, offering a lure to greener pastures and stronger connections which are devoid of common or banal realities of daily life.

The highly casual and cavalier attitudes from many online often comes from the idea of anonymity, the notion that because a person doesn’t really know you or where you are, you can throw caution to the wind.  However, this is a false sense of safety and should not be relied upon.  It’s a small world, and it gets smaller all the time as we increase our connectivity with technology.  Reputation follows you, consequences will ripple outward, and the trail of your impact will always be there for others to find and follow…

 

Privacy

In the age of the global web, NOTHING is forgotten – it’s all recorded and archived since the dawn of the W3 standards.  The “Wayback Machine” from Archive.org is one such example of the history of various sites.  All of your earliest web pages, MySpace, Threads, Blogs, Facebook, Tweets, etc., are preserved somewhere.  Once you “publish” it on the web, you have made it public and immutable.  Online privacy is very much an illusion.

In addition to the above, the constant integration and aggregation of data will likely include anything that could be of public record.  Whether certain documents are a matter of public record by default or protected often varies from country to country and/or state to state.  Examples of what may be included in public records include, but are not limited to:

  • Census records
  • Criminal records: arrest, conviction, warrants
  • Consumer protection information
  • Civil Court dockets: liens, judgments, bankruptcy, divorce, child support, etc
  • Motor Vehicle: registration, license, driver history
  • Professional and business licenses
  • Real estate appraisal / tax assessor records
  • Sex offender registry files
  • Voter registration

Therefore, what someone may find just by Googling your name may surprise you. It’s certainly not their fault that this information is there to be readily found.  Similarly, it should not be unexpected for someone to look for obvious issues simply by Googling one’s name. If prospective partner feels shocked that someone would search their name to see what comes up – the naiveté is not your problem, it’s theirs.

How much of what is found should be disclosed is a rather sensitive area.  I might suggest approaching such a situation with something like:   “I want to be honest in that I Googled your name, just for my own personal safety; and I found more than I thought I would, or that you might be aware is out there.”   This can go either way, and sometimes silence is the better part of valor.

If you see something that concerns you there is a relatively straight forward choice.  You can (a) simply ask them about it and evaluate their response, or (b) decide that any concern is one concern too many and back away.  If you discover something that concerns you, and a prospective partner asks what was found, it is completely YOUR choice as to whether or not to disclose your concerns.  In other words, no means no – deal with it.

Beyond this I cannot provide definitive guidance here, for it very much depends on those involved, their level of sensitivity, and individual concerns and limits.

 

Respect

Sharing experiences helps us form bonds, it’s part of building rapport with another where we attempt to establish how like or unlike someone is from ourselves.  Such dialog attempts to answer social questions such as whether there is common ground, shared interests, and similar values.  Are they like ourselves, or different in the “right” sort of way.  However, if we start off on the wrong foot, we will often close the door of opportunity before we can even begin.  Very often what seems like an innocent conversation opening can lead to a significant misstep and be seen as disrespectful by the other.

When asking or divulging information, there is a “reasonable balance” between what makes sense to disclose or discuss, and what is either unnecessary or premature at this point.   Your goal is to maintain a balance between sharing and asking for some information, but not everything.   It has to be relevant, meaningful, and valid.  Anything beyond that becomes a matter of looking for Too Much Information (TMI) and becomes either awkward if overly shared, or creepy if overly asked.

Consider the topic of Information like any other element of Consent & Negotiation – subject to judgments as Needs, Wants, and Limits both Hard and Soft.  For example, giving my Skype name may be permissible, my cell number may be a soft limit (once I know you better), and any family cell numbers may be a hard limit (fuck no).

Another person’s needs, wants, and limits may be similar to my own, or different.  Respect is showing that I can accept a difference in needs, views or opinion. I can accept it at face value and be okay, or choose to turn my attention elsewhere.  However, one should not disrespect another’s limits by trying to force them to divulge information they are uncomfortable giving or to engage in activity that needs more trust building first.

 

Healthy Paranoia

What many look as “common sense” really means things that we would do if we engage a healthy level of paranoid.  Meaning, there is value in accepting that not everyone that says they’re a friend actually is our friend.  Many people will not always act in our best interests, but rather their own, and potentially at cost to ourselves or loved ones.

Example: In a group chat window or post you write the following, “I just got this new home theater and can’t wait to hook up the New PS4 to play No Mans Sky!  That’s going to be the first thing back from my vacation trip!!!”  I look at this as a FAIL, for the meaning I could easily take away from this is: New and expensive stuff at my place, will be gone for at least a week, come and take it.

Caution is your friend – not everything needs to be, or for that matter, should be said.  A dose of healthy paranoia can keep you from over sharing information you may regret divulging.  This includes:

  • Don’t give out passwords, PINs, or other info to access online accounts
  • Don’t reveal confidential, secrets, or other potentially sensitive info before you are ABSOLUTELY ready
  • Don’t rush into any activity until you feel safe you can do so, and always make a safe/backup plan
  • If you have doubts, speak them directly and state what you need to feel safe or reassured

 

Trust & Confidentiality

Consider then how linked matters of Trust, Respect, and Dignity are intertwined.  There is often an assumption that trust, even if given easily, needs to be earned and honored.   Part of the process of nurturing and maintaining trust is how you foster your own sense of trustworthiness in how we act.

Just because someone shared private information with you does not give you permission to repeat or share it with others.  The old adage “discretion is the better part of valor” certainly holds true.   Confidentiality is a part of keeping and maintaining trust.  Even if trust is broken, by keeping confidentiality we are proving that WE are trustworthy (even if they are not).   Good guidelines include:

  • Avoid gossip, hearsay, rumor-mongering
  • Don’t repeat anything explicitly shared in confidence
  • Stick to facts as per your Experience, not what another did or said
  • Refrain from generating or passing slanderous or other “character assassination” remarks

Similarly, if you too readily give our sensitive information too soon, it speaks to your own judgments.  Is the need for connection so great that we must leave sensibility and acceptance of risk behind?  Far from it – a cautious person with their information tells me that they are indeed aware of risks, and accept accountability of risk.  Better someone a tad more conservative than the eager and reckless – because the latter is far more likely to wind up in the hospital from a “bad scene” than the former.

Even for those who are s-types, you are still your own person.  Even a submissive has the right to be independent and fully empowered until they CHOOSE to submit to a partner.   Let time bear out the mutual ability to build trust and respect.

 

Do’s and Don’ts

It’s one thing if someone volunteers information, and quite another when it’s requested.  In a lifestyle that values people’s unique sense of Privacy, Respect, and Consent – insisting on anything is usually considered rude or bad form.  Personal information is, like any other area of consent, up to BOTH parties.  As soon as one person determines that disclosing their information is a hard limit for them, then you have a choice:   Accept it -OR- Move on.

Here are a few basic ideas of when information seeking crosses the line…

PROBABLY OK  (general info) NOT OK  (specific info)
  • Ask permission to touch: includes shaking hands, hugs, pats on back, “love taps”, etc.
    (Always ask, Never assume)
  • What kind of work they do
  • Ask if they are local to a munch or event
  • Types of relationships they maintain or enjoy
  • Do they have children, pets, etc
  • Touch in ANY way without express permission; or assume that permission is blanket
    (OK to hug is not equal to grab their ass)
  • Where for what company or location
  • What’s their town or street address
  • Where their household, family, or partners live
  • What schools they go to, which vet do they use (stalker alert)

 

If you feel you require a certain level of disclosure, and the other says no or otherwise unwilling to give it, then STOP.  Do not persist, it’s not a game.  If someone says no and you don’t like the answer, go find someone else.  You are entitled to nothing but civility and courtesy, anything else is a gift or privilege that can be revoked.

 

Important Tips

Munches:

Always check a munch for a list of house rules, and if you cannot find them, reach out to the munch organizers to discuss. Some munches may include a newcomer welcome or orientation to ensure house rules are explained and questions can be answered.  The thing to remember, munches rarely pre-screen.  Its very intent is to welcome those new and feature a low barrier to entry.  For more information, see my post on What’s a Munch?

Events:

Similar to the munch, always check an event for their rules and codes of conduct.  If you cannot find them, contact the event organizer for the web page or document that spells out their policies.  When dealing with event attendees, steer your judgment towards the conservative approach, or simply ask for clarification or permission.  Remember, there is always a tomorrow, and you can always plan more time with others later.  Don’t get caught up in the Fear of Missing Out.

Initial Meetups:

Meeting up with someone for the first time should be done in public space you consider safe and is neutral.  Factors such as setting clear expectations, arranging a safe call, and managing your boundaries are all a part of the picture.  For more information, see my post on Dating for Kinksters.

Find a Mentor or Trusted Advisor:

Such a person is someone who is knowledgeable, has good standing and is backed with references, AND is not deeply involved.   This is a person you can address questions freely, without guilt or shame, and get honest and open feedback and advice.  If you are in (or looking to be in) a Power Exchange relationship, I suggest you find someone on both sides of the slash so you get both perspectives.  If only one is available, find someone experienced in your interested dynamic (a new sub should seek an experienced sub as advisor/mentor).

 

– Sir Vice
© Limits Unleashed 2016

 

*Have an example of an obvious transgression of information you think is missing and would like to see it included?? Share it with me, along with express permission to publish, and I will update this post accordingly.

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