This might be an unpopular opinion, but it’s something I’ve been mulling around in my head lately: the way I play privately is very different from how I play publicly…never mind “best practices” discussions and what we teach about safety, consent, and how to navigate the scene. It’s not bad or good; it just is what it is.
I think there is a lot of “do as I say, not as I do” that happens in the scene. And I get it. I call it the caution tape model: when I teach, I’m going to give all the caution tape, all the risks as I understand them, and then recognize that people will cut through some of that based on their own risk profiles, and I try to talk about that honestly- including the ways that I assume greater risks in my own play.
In the majority of my play, I practice opt-out consent. For me, this goes beyond just negotiation. This often manifests as, “I’ll tell you if something isn’t ok or goes too far.” It’s absolutely mid-scene negotiation. It’s trusting an understanding of boundaries and limits, the nuance of soft no’s and hard no’s. Trusting someone to stop if something does go awry. Trusting my own intuition and read of someone which, when it comes down to it, means, “I really hope I’m not wrong about this person.”
I also rarely do pickup play anymore, and with one exception, I haven’t played with someone I just met in a really long time. I play a lot harder behind closed doors than I do publicly. I tend to only play with people I have known for awhile. And I have been playing more outside of public playspaces-y’know, where there are no DMs and no real safeguards in place.
I know the risks I assume by playing this way. I “know better” and I do it anyway. And I think that’s something that should be talked about. I don’t think it’s hypocritical to say, “Here is best practice, and that is what I recommend other folks do- especially folks just getting into the scene- even though it’s not what I do.” Because I used to do the things that we call best safety practice. I used to vet people. I used to do long, lengthy negotiations- and still will sometimes, depending on the person, situation, and dynamic. I used to have a safety person with me when I did a scene. I didn’t play outside of public spaces except with my partner. And when I need to, I will fall back on some of these practices (playing with someone I just met, for example). Having those tools is immensely helpful, and gives me something to employ when I’m walking into a new situation.
But I also got frustrated. I got annoyed that I needed to do a lot of extra things to ensure my own safety (beyond general common sense measures) instead of playing with people that I trusted to not act in busted ways. I had enough time and enough friendships and enough conversations with people that I started getting a lot pickier about who I was willing to play with- as a top and a bottom. And I decided that I didn’t want to play with people that I didn’t know how they would handle criticism or handle something going sideways.
Cause here’s the thing for me: something is going to go sideways. Something is going to happen that we don’t expect, or something is going to get miscommunicated, or whatever. That’s kind of a given at some point, if you’re in the scene long enough. And maybe it’s pessimistic, but I walk into every scene, every situation with the assumption that something is going to go wrong. I try to imagine how that conversation is going to go. And if I can’t picture that conversation, or if I can’t picture it going well, I don’t play with that person.
I play risky, at varying levels with varying people. And I open myself up to a whole slew of things playing that way. But I also don’t play with anyone that I can’t imagine myself being able to say, “hey, this thing went a little sideways,” or, “hey, it kinda wasn’t cool when you did X.”
Because with every precaution taken, every safeguard in place, every risk accounted for, I’m still going to have to have that conversation sometimes. And that’s what I care about more than anything: how are you going to respond when that conversation comes up? If I can’t answer that (either because I don’t know you well enough or haven’t seen you handle something like that), then we probably aren’t going to play.
I’m looking for patterns, too. I’m looking for patterns of accountability. I’m looking for the habit of questioning yourself and how you fit into the community and into the scene. I’m looking for self-awareness, for open communication, for conversations about privilege and honest analysis about the things that we do. I’m not looking for perfection; I’m looking to see if you’re someone that makes a habit of being accessible and accountable.
A lot of us do a “do as I say and not as I do” thing. And I think that’s ok, if we own it and acknowledge it and have some analysis and perspective around that. Especially if you’ve been around for awhile, and you’ve formulated your own way to navigate the scene and different spaces, and you’re able to do so with informed consent about the risks you’re assuming. I’m all about harm reduction, and it comes out in how I kink. Harm reduction, not necessarily harm elimination.
I am NOT saying it’s your fault if your consent gets violated. I have a specific way I define a violation for myself, and I would never push my perception of a violation onto someone else, nor god forbid, use it to create a general definition. We all have to decide and define what consent (and consent violation) mean to us and honestly, that definition might change over time. Mine certainly has, and it changes based on who I’m playing with.
What I am saying is that how I define consent violation for myself is also tied into how I define and assess my own risk profile. The way I play defines my consent practices and vice versa. Is it best practice? No. Is it what I recommend to other folks about how to navigate things? No. But does it work for me? It does, and that’s the part that matters.
I think being transparent about that is good. I think talking about how we play at different points in our kink journeys allows for more open, honest, frank discussions about risk, risk mitigation, and the practical applications of the things we talk about. I think it’s ok to say, “hey, I don’t always do this thing, and here’s why, and here’s how I manage my own risk profile under these conditions.”
Because we aren’t always perfect practitioners of what we teach. Sometimes we follow intuition instead of asking all the questions. Sometimes we mid-scene negotiate. Sometimes we give people carte blanche to do what they want and trust like hell that they will stop when we tell them to. So let’s talk honestly about that, instead of feeling caught up in guilt and shame because “we knew better” or “we must have deserved it because of playing this way” and the other self-blaming things we say when things happen.
Let’s talk about the difference between being in the scene for a few months and being in the scene for years, and how that changes how we interact and play. Let’s talk about how we build our risk profiles and manage those risks. Let’s talk honestly about how we actually play, instead of saying the same things that many of us know and don’t actually employ. I don’t always do the things I teach anymore. It doesn’t mean that what I teach is wrong, or what I do is wrong; it means that I’m at a point in my life where I want to engage in different ways than I have in the past, and I want to do it responsibly, and that’s ok. We change, we learn, we grow, we do things differently. Everything is dependent on context; there is no “one size fits all” model here. And I think we should talk about that, and be honest and open about that, because I believe that that is the best way to keep ourselves- and our communities- as safe as possible.