Pickup & Public Play Problems
This is based on a discussion I’ve had often enough that I felt it was worth writing about. The question is simple: why don’t I do more (or like) public and pickup play? There’s no one origin for this, but rather a culmination of a very similar question from two different places of interest. The basis for the question is usually due to (A) a nice inquiry or invitation which I’ve politely declined, or (B) my lack of surprise at the year of consent violation implosions, which I surmise will continue for another year at least.
My views on this topic is not something I’m personally saying is better, right, or should be adopted by all – it’s just my personal choice. But as with all choices, sometimes we struggle to understand how we feel about them or comprehend why. Sometimes we are intrigued because something about it resonates with us, yet other times we find it somehow offensive or off-putting. How you feel about it is strictly up to you to decide, but rest assured that whatever my (or anyone’s) decision is, it bears no reflection on anyone but our own choices.
Now while I hate “listicals” and their format, this particular topic is difficult to format in any other way. There are too many factors involved, and not any one is necessarily greater or more important than the other. I have tried to put this in my typical format, but it doesn’t work. My apologies to you, and to my inner critic… So let the following serve to be a part of your “informed risk”, what you do with it is strictly up to you.
Safe Station Space
One of the first things I look at in any venue or event is the space between equipment stations. If that space seems so uncomfortably close together that I deem it either unsafe or intrusive, I won’t do it. There have been several instance where stations were placed “shoulder to shoulder” so as to be unable to create any sense of personal space. Playing in public, which is where most pickup play occurs, isn’t about how many pieces of furniture or stations are available, but is it safely laid out and aesthetic to facilitate intimate activity and connection.
I need my space, and I need to know I can create the space to have that exchange with another without being constantly interrupted and having that connection broken.
Public scenes are (in theory) safer for pickup play than in private. This is because pickup play often lacks the element of many known quantities and so, with dungeon monitors and many others around, there is a sense in the safety in numbers. Public play, where most pickup play occurs, is typically far safer for the bottom.
However, as a significant introvert, I find this format highly distracting. The public dungeon or play-space is often a very busy space, or at least how many parties are determined to be a success. For me this means my Situational Awareness is on high alert, focusing more on the movement and overall interplay of people and space than on my play partner. As such, I’m expending a good deal of effort trying to balance between my situational awareness, my partner, myself, and any techniques I’m using. The only real exclusion is when the scene is meant to be observed, more like performance art. However, for most scenes, that is not the intention.
As a result – It’s exhausting, its work, and it’s not very enjoyable for me. However, I would never insist or pressure a bottom or sub to play privately because (as previously mentioned) it’s not optimally safe for a bottom. Even though I consider myself very responsible and safe, I try to back-up my advocacy with action. Call it being consistent, or walking the talk.
Just because it works against my other interests or goals does not mean I can sacrifice the core principles of responsible safety.
Inattentive & Unaware
Given plenty of space between stations, there is still the challenge of attendees so distracted or self-absorbed that they completely ignore matters of personal space and of observing at a “safe distance”. I routinely practice the habit of marking off any station I’m presently using with rope to clearly create a boundary of safety. Safety for me, for my bottom, and for other attendees. I have also had these boundaries completely ignored with others wandering into the space with complete obviousness for their own safety and the safety of others.
I do not want my scene interrupted because someone decided a short cut was more important than maintaining a safe space. I don’t need someone adding to risk and bump into me, severing my knife bottom’s tendon or artery. I don’t want your intrusion to be the result of your own injury because you got too damn close to a whip. If I’m putting effort into minding my space and awareness, then it’s reasonable to expect no less of others. But since you can’t seem to stay clear then I just need to stay out.
I cannot allow someone’s carelessness to cause injury or increase risk to my bottom, myself, or potentially others (including the offending ignoramus) lest I be held acountable.
Equipment Safety & Cleaning
There are events and venues that put the safety of their participants above all else. They almost abusively stress test their gear so they know it’s safe. If there’s a problem or even a doubt, the equipment gets flagged and pulled. I respect that because it’s leading by example, reiterating that safety should be paramount. Then there are those that put the priority on giving their patrons or “customers” the most options and more stations. They seem to give their gear a quick shake and say “yeah, that’s good enough”. Good enough for what, avoiding a lawsuit? Are you actually betting on a bottoms physical safety against going that extra mile to ensure the gear is safe?? REALLY???
Another matter related to overall safety, is equipment cleaning. Furniture must be properly maintained, sealed, and treated so it can be cleaned without compromising its components. While this part seems to usually be attended to, there is also the matter of what they use to clean the equipment, and how often. At times I have seen cleaning left to participants, who give the gear a cursory wipe-down. The wipe making the barest of kiss with the surface before being discarded in their rush to get to the next thing or person on their list. That is not just lackadaisical but recklessly irresponsible. The only way I can see addressing this is to ensure that each station is also followed up by a thorough cleaning by a DM, and then marked as cleaned to give attendees assurances equipment has been verified as clean.
However, even with the above cleaning properly executed and marked, there is still the matter that many of the sanitizing chemicals used are marked as unsafe for human skin contact or are potentially carcinogens. I know plenty of folks with sensitive skin who will develop significant skin rashes as a result of contact with the equipment, or even have some measure of respiratory distress by the lingering fumes from the cleaning agents. Using chucks on the equipment helps, but it’s yet another factor that adds complexity to personal safety, aftercare, and ongoing follow-up.
So it’s not just equipment injury or contamination but also the possibly of an allergic reaction; these things do not build a bed of positive memories for further development.
Pickup play requires very strong communication skills with the willingness to be upfront and honest by all involved. While I may be a Dominant, and highly observant, I cannot read your mind. Though it may sometimes seem like it at times (through study, practice, experience, etc.) it’s just guess work unless it’s clearly communicated. In other words, while I can infer quite a lot with fair accuracy, I can never allow myself to forget that I don’t actually know but rather make educated guesses. Being personally responsible means not putting someone’s health or wellbeing at risk because I guessed wrong.
Supporting and establishing full negotiation and consent requires that all parties involved possess the communication skills necessary. This is because there is activity with risk which can cause harm if activities not fully understood and if certain requirements aren’t met. Such risk only increases in pickup play where most interactions are with veritable strangers of whom there is little knowledge about one another. If the play partner isn’t able to speak up and communicate, then it’s either guesswork or ego that’s making up for the other half of the communication equation.
A bottom or sub needs to be able to communicate clearly and effectively. It is irresponsible to expect me to “extract” an agreement and intuit their needs because they’re too shy or embarrassed to properly disclose key details. Getting consent and sharing critical aspects in negotiation like wants, needs, and limits should NOT be like pulling teeth. If you enjoy that, look into interrogation scenes as a form of play. However, when it comes to the up-front negotiation I need good and clear communication without mixed signals, contradictions, or the inhibition of disclosure to bite me in the ass later. This is not a game, this is a matter of mutual respect, consent, geared towards devising a scene for mutual satisfaction – it’s not a quiz show to test if either of us gets our guesses right or wrong.
If either top or bottom gets the signals crossed or wrong the results can be catastrophic and irreparable for all.
All Faith, No Trust
When there is only perhaps one or two conversations allowed for some connection and negotiation, what you have is not trust but rather a matter of Belief or Faith. Exercising one’s faith means you are choosing to believe in something regardless of any proof. This includes electing to believe in something without building a baseline of observational experience (i.e. building trust). Belief can be instant, faith is when you suspend disbelief in order to persist in a belief. Trust, however, is something that is only built over time with a consistent character to it.
I can trust in gravity drawing me back to the earth, no matter if my belief is I can fly unaided. Yet in pickup play we suspend disbelief and extend ourselves into the hands of others with little to no knowledge to draw from. After all, how many actually go through the process of several weeks of dialog first, do a good reference check, have a scene contract, setup a safe call/check for any meetings or scenes, etc? It seems to me to be exceedingly few and far between.
As a top, if all I’m doing is giving a light spanking, maybe the level of risk is pretty low (but never non-existent). But I cannot say that I KNOW the other person yet, and so I don’t necessarily know what I’m getting into. The risk is even greater for the bottom if careful trust building and risk mitigation steps aren’t taken.
Furthermore, the things that I like typically involve a mix of edge play elements, and THAT requires a lot more knowledge and trust to be established. I need to know, not guess, that my partner can be responsible, level headed, can communicate clearly, can negotiate constructively, and can be flexible if the venue isn’t safe or if their own health is off. The tendency to forego building trust over time in lieu of the immediate experience basically sends the message “I don’t really know you at all, but I will place my utter faith and life in your hands”. Well if that’s not seriously fucked in the head I don’t know what is.
Right, wrong, or indifferent – taking the time to establish Trust is a rare thing indeed.
I have noted that it’s only very rarely that are contracts used. Even mentioning negotiation and using simple contracts for consent is a process seems to be an instant turn-off for many. The predominant attitude (and not just with new folks) seems to be the need to follow impulses and urges, to fill the dance card or “do all the things”. That the time for Thinking is later ‘cause right now it’s about grabbing all those feels! Frenzy and desperation lead to a state where it’s really not about the connection, so don’t fool yourself. It’s about looking to fill those proverbial dance cards as if scenes are video game achievements to be unlocked. This is an attitude which is astounding and needs to be dissuaded by tops, DMs, friends, etc.
I believe in the value of comprehensive negotiation and total consent. However this works only if all those involved are being honest with one another and also honest with themselves. Frenzy and desperation also results in a tendency towards manipulation and deceit. Far too many times I have seen the tendency to downplay, omit, or blatantly lie about matters of physical health and wellbeing in order to keep “doing all the things”. Sick or injured? On new medication? Put yourself on a fasting diet? Only got 2hours sleep? None of that’s really relevant, right? WRONG.
This includes those who are rebounding from prior relationships, play partners, or just flat out desperate due to a prolonged dry spell. Even if unintentional or if completely unaware of the behavior, if the drive to fulfill their goal has hijacked ethical behavior and obviated the need for honesty, respect and trust… then they are in a state of frenzy.
While frenzied subs can be enjoyably intense – it’s not worth all the kinds of unsafe, unhealthy, and unhinged at large.
Personal Responsible Consenting Adults
There are many that believe that a scene ends when the activity stops. I tend to disagree, or at least feel that’s an incomplete view. A scene as the activity is just a part of the equation. Before a scene you have the process of negotiation and consent with mutually derived scope and terms having been completely established and clearly understood. During a scene you have periodic check-ins and various communication methods to signal a need to check-in, change pace or activity, or even red-out and take a breather for whatever reason. Afterwards there are various levels of aftercare and follow-up to ensure the bottom is processing the experience and recovering in all ways physical, mental, and emotional.
Example, many kinds of play have the risk of scarring (knife, needle, single tail, cutting, etc), tapping into deep emotional experiences, or can shake an individual’s sense of self. This can be minimized with proper instruction, preparation, and care – but is only effective if you Do It. Saying you’ll do something like wound care but then ignoring it (and then griping about scars afterwards) is not living up to the idea that you are acting as a personally responsible consenting adult. This is in part a generational phenomenon and the rotation of those aging out of the lifestyle and new folks aging in.
At one point it was thought that Aftercare is not something that needs common space, but rather something you did in private between two adults. At one point it was thought that consent was given if you asked for a larger experience, and not broken down with new consent required every step of the way. At one point the lifestyle was not this huge chaotic mess of various activities and relationship dynamics but rather smaller discrete communities with more closely shared expectations and values. But that was then, and this is now, and the gap between the two is a gulf where personal responsibility mean completely different things.
There’s a lot of folks who think that being personally responsible is for other people to manage for them, or isn’t applicable to them at all.
Lastly are those who have either lost or have never developed, the ability to differentiate between rational and irrational behavior. These are the emotionally dysregulated, the psychotic or sociopathic. These are broken people filled with self-loathing, self-pity, and self-destruction who rarely care for the collateral damage they cause in other people’s lives. Please don’t misunderstand, I have great sympathy for any psycho-emotional struggle and illness. I have spent considerable time studying and understanding psychology because I often see so many that suffer from it. My own run-ins with significant illnesses and dysfunctions have taken their toll and left their mark upon me. Though I seek to understand, I also need to own that I cannot cure it. I can sympathize without trying to fixing everyone. It’s reasonable to keep my distance from toxic influences so that I can focus on healing and improving myself. Some distance is needed to ensure I have the reserves and resources to care for those who are most meaningful and precious to me.
Everyone’s life is a mess in some way – and each of us needs to look after themselves (and their own) accordingly without having to be some savior.
For me caring about another is required in order to really connect to someone. That kind of connection is required to experience something mutually profound. Otherwise the experience is just strictly physical, which can be enough for some but personally I find it… limiting. While I have empathy and compassion to build strong connections, I’ve also learned to ensure that such is measured, filtered, and guarded. With all the dysfunctions and emotional vampires out there, one has to keep some shields and filters up (not to mention a rapid acting judiciousness) to keep oneself intact.
This presents a certain balancing act where the shields are up to protect but also need to be strategically let down to form connections to be built over time. Without that time developing the connection then I can’t say I don’t know you well enough to authentically care. Sure there can be physical connection (ooh the sparkles, fireworks, and electricity) but beyond that experience is would I care about your happiness, your experience, or the consequences of interacting with you? More likely it’s that kind of intense physical lust or infatuation that means you are entering a state of Frenzy – and that’s just dangerous.
I cannot authentically care about every potential play partner, and those I might find the most intense are likely signs that my rational brain has left the building.
Quality vs Quantity
As an introvert, more is not better. What’s better is better, quality has no relationship to frequency or volume. I’d much rather have one good scene in a month or even within a few months than trying to get in as much as I can hoping to somehow fill a void. My approach is therefore more targeted and selective rather than taking a shotgun approach. If there’s a strong connection, enough common ground, strong communication and trends of trust, responsibility, and mutual respect…. That’s a lot to ask for, but if present then it all adds up to a quality interaction of depth and intensity that could be worth it – but only then.
A good scene has an interplay of quality, depth and intensity which is tangible and radiates as an expression of art, spirituality and sexuality. Why else bother?
Old & Jaded
I’ve also lived long enough to know the difference between a person and people. Individuals can be awesome, awe inspiring, incredibly giving and talented, and beautiful inside and out. People, on the other hand, are a huge disappointing mess of chaos and stupidity that defies logic and reason. It is said that within every cynic is a very wounded idealist, and I can confirm that from personal experience and own it completely. It also doesn’t change things one bit. Part of my risk awareness is both knowing & feeling like I’m dealing with someone that is reasonable, balanced, and capable of mental and emotional maturity. The typical “intense and hot” experience too often marks inherent instability or dysfunction.
My goal for balance means making compromises; my interactions will be rarer, likely to be less intense, but with a greater appreciation for the subtlety and peace of mind
So there ya go – no less than 12 reasons why pickup play (and often public play) is something I just don’t care for or bother with. Perhaps next time I’ll post what I DO like about it, but that’s going to be a much shorter post.
Copyright 2018 Limits Unleashed