So you’ve now reached the very exciting point where you’ve found someone who is interested in playing with you – and you’re interested in playing with them too! Fantastic. But before you dive right in with floggers and ropes, it might be worth taking a moment to ask yourself a few questions. Although some of the below might seem obvious to you, remember that you’re involved in a completely new scene, with radically different rules from what you’re used to. It’s worth making sure that everyone involved is on the same page before play begins.

To that end I’ll now list a bunch of questions that I think it’s important to ask someone before commencing any sort of play. Naturally you might disagree – there might be questions which are essential to you which I miss of my list… or you might thing some of my questions are a little bit unnecessary.

I suggest you take the list below and adapt it to suit you. Many people like to have a checklist – either one that they keep in the back of their mind, or one that they actually physically print out. I’m an advocate of keeping a physical list, as it means you’re sure not to miss anything out. Don’t worry about this seeming unusual – checklists and memory aids are not unusual in the BDSM world, and serve a very useful purpose.

What is BDSM about for you?

Although this is quite a probing question, it’s a good one to start with. It gives you an insight into the other person’s mind, and breaks the ice a little when it comes to talking about BDSM related things. Perhaps you’ll find that your views about sex and BDSM line up completely, or diverge in ways that could cause problems. Either way, it can be a fun and illuminating thing to discuss.

What do you want from this play session?

Do they want to have an orgasm? See you have an orgasm? Restrain you? Get some good pictures? Try something new? Give you an experience that you’ve never had before? Get high? Have fun? Test out an idea? Explore something new? If you each know what the other wants from your session, then you are both more likely to get it. At the same time it’s quite all right to not know at all what it is that you want – many people don’t.

How experienced are you?

Be a little sensitive when you ask this question. A good way of phrasing it can be, “Have you ever done anything like this before?” It’s an important question to ask, as you want to be able to assess how competent and experienced the person you’re going to be playing with is. If they’ve never done the particular activity that you’re about to undertake before, then it’s wise to proceed with caution. If they’ve done it thousands of times, then they probably know what they’re doing – but don’t take this for granted! Don’t be afraid to ask how they learned any particular skill, or dig deeper into it. If they’re genuinely into that particular kink or fetish they’ll probably be quite happy to talk about it.

Who’s going to be in charge?

Who is going to be leading the scene and directing the action? Who will decide what happens next, and when? Who will set the tone of the encounter. It’s difficult to have a scene in which both participants are steering at once, and as such it’s worth agreeing in advance who is supposed to lead and who is supposed to follow. Not only will this lead to a safer scene, but it also manages both of your expectations, and hopefully results in a happier and more fulfilling experience for everyone.

What roles will we be in?

Once you have decided who is going to be in charge of the scene, it’s time to decide what role each of you is going to take. It may seem logical that the person in charge of the scene should be the dominant one, but this is not always the case. It’s entirely possible to run a scene whilst being submissive. For some inexplicable reason a lot of seasoned kinksters don’t like this practice – they refer to it sneeringly as “topping from the bottom”. Don’t listen to them – it’s entirely legitimate, and if that’s the way you want to play, you should do.

Don’t think that the roles you can occupy are restricted to a simple binary of dominant or submissive. There are a whole range of roles that transgress outside these norms. One of you might decide to be a daddy and another a little – or else you might both be equal in status, but one of you a masochist and one a sadist. We’ll go into more detail about all the different roles you can occupy later on in this guide, but for now just remember that it’s not as simple as dom and sub.

How will we stop if we need to?

What if either of you wants to stop the scene midway through. Discuss how you might do this – what would you say and what would you do. There’s a lot of focus on safewords – a designated word that means the end of the session if uttered by either party. Safewords aren’t always necessary (although you may meet a lot of people in the scene who get quite worked up about them). If you’re doing a straightforward scene, more often than not you can bring it to an end simply by saying that you wish to stop. A safeword or action might be necessary when you start to play with ideas of consensual nonconsent, or when you involve gags or other restraints that might stop someone asking for an end to the scene in a more casual fashion.

Agree in advance whether or not you’re going to have a safeword, and if so what it is. Make sure you both know how to stop the scene if you feel that you need to. Bear in mind that the dominant in a scene might wish to stop it just as much as a submissive. Whoever brings the scene to a halt – and for whatever reason – should, needless to say, have their wish respected.

Do you have any medical conditions?

Do you have any medical conditions which might be relevant. Bear in mind that many BDSM activities put your body under a great deal of stress, and so can result in illness flaring up. Do you have a history of fainting? What about epilepsy or diabetes? Do you have a heart problem? Is there any medication you might need to take midway through a scene? And are you allergic to anything that you might come into contact with? On a more focussed scale – are there any areas of your body that your partner should avoid stressing for medical reasons? Perhaps you recently dislocated your shoulder, and have been ordered to rest it for a few months. Make sure your partner knows about this before you begin the scene.

What are we going to do?

Talk about the activities that you’re going to undertake. What exactly is going to happen? Are you going to follow a set narrative, role play, or make it up as you go along? And what activities are you agreeing to participate in. Even if it’s only a loose understanding, it’s a good idea to agree in advance what you’re going to get up to in a scene – and then to stick to this agreement once the scene begins.

What are the dangers?

Now that you know what you’re doing, you can both have a forward think and try and spot any potential dangers that might come up. Some of them are obvious – are there any slip or trip hazards in the way? And some of them are less obvious – what will you do if there’s a fire in the venue where you’re playing? If someone is in bondage, is there a quick way to release them. By both taking a moment to conduct a mental risk assessment of the activities you are about to undertake, you maximise greatly the chances of spotting any dangers.

What is the deal with pictures?

Do you consent to have pictures taken of you during the session? Does your partner? Both of you must be in agreement before pictures can be taken. Who is going to take them? Make sure that getting pictures of what you’re doing doesn’t interfere with your focus on the scene. And agree also what you’re going to do with them afterwards. Are they going to be shared or kept privately? Perhaps you’d like to just look them over once and delete them. Make sure you agree on the ultimate outcome before any pictures are taken.

Where are we going to do this?

Where are you going to play? Do you have a private space that’s suitable? Is it going to be at your house? At their house? In a hotel room? In a dungeon? In the woods? Make sure you’ve got a place sorted out where you both feel safe and secure. Make sure you can find it, and that you’ve both agreed that you are happy to play there.

What happens afterwards?

What is going to happen right after you play? It’s worth scheduling in some time, so that neither of you has to rush off immediately afterwards. Bear in mind that one or other of you may need aftercare – a concept that we’ll explore in more detail later in this guide. If you know what you might need after a scene, this is the time to say!

What if something goes wrong?

You can’t always prevent something from going on, but it’s worth just taking a moment to think about what might happen if it did. Where can you find a first aid kit if you need one? And do either of you know how to use it? What if you have to go to hospital? How would you get there, and how would you get back? What’s the quickest way out of the building in an emergency? Although thinking about the possibilities won’t stop them from happening, it can mitigate the effect if they do.

Can we leave marks?

Many BDSM activities can result in marks – bruises scratches and similar. Think in advance about whether or not you can have marks on your body, and whether or not you want them. Bruises can cause awkward situations if you’re likely to go swimming, be naked in public, or visit the doctor in the next couple of days. If you need to remain mark free, then work out with your partner how you’re going to change what you’re planning on doing to ensure that this will be the case. If, on the other hand, you’re perfectly happy with marks, make sure you know how to care for them, and prevents cuts and scratches from getting infected.

How public is this going to be?

The answer to this question will depend a lot on where you’re playing. If your scene is taking place in a dungeon or at a play party you will almost certainly have something of an audience. Are you happy with this? And is the audience likely to be okay with the kind of play you’re engaging in? If you’re planning to do something extreme, it might be worth warning them so that they don’t try to intervene. Make sure you’re okay with playing out a scene in public before you start, as it’s awkward to stop once you’ve begun.

Is there anything that might trigger you?

Are there any particular words you don’t wish to have used? Is there any particular activity which might have a negative effect on your mental health. People can be triggered by all sorts of things, and it’s important to know your own triggers, and to tell your partner about them so that they can be avoided. Triggers can include not just words, but also specific situations and activities.

Have you been fit and well today?

How have you been feeling today? If you’ve been under the weather recently, it might be wise to think twice about playing. Illness can have a drastic effect on what we are able to handle when it comes to stress. What might have been perfectly okay for you before, might now be more than you can handle, as your tolerance has been lowered by your illness. If you’re unwell you’re also more likely to faint, or otherwise encounter a crisis while playing. Some illnesses can be mitigated for with medicine or other concessions – sometimes though the best course of action is to delay play until you’re feeling better.

Do you accept the risks?

As you’ll see in the next section of this guide, play is almost never completely risk free. There is always the possibility that something will go wrong, and – just as with any risky activity – you cannot make anything one hundred percent safe. For that reason you should ask yourself whether what you’re about to do is worth the risk for you. If you enjoy BDSM the answer is usually a yes, but it’s still crucial to weigh things up and make a decision each time.

What relationship do we have?

Finally you should have a think about the relationship that might exist between you and the person with whom you are playing. After this session are you going to go your separate ways and not speak until you wish to play again? Are you going to hang out as friends? Are you, in fact, dating one another? Are you in a relationship, and if so what shape does that relationship have. It’s best to work this out before hand to ensure that everyone is on the same page when play commences.

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