BDSM Basics: What is Play?

BDSM Basics: What is Play?

Welcome to BDSM Basics where we explore the building blocks of BDSM.

In the first post, we briefly touched on kinds of play – bondage, spanking, and more. So let’s explore more about the concept of play and some of the different ways it looks.

What is Play?

Play is a word used to refer to a wide variety of activities. It’s also used to refer to a scene or describe a play session. Someone might say that they played at the dungeon they went to the other night. Or they could say that they had a great scene with their partner. Play and scene are sometimes used interchangeably but refer to the same thing.

Play can also be used to describe a specific activity such as needle play or breath play. It’s a flexible word!

What Kinds of Play Exist?

There are tons of different kinds of play. I won’t be able to list them but all but here are some broad terms:

  • Impact play
  • Bondage play
  • Sexual play
  • Power exchange play
  • Edge play

Impact play covers things from flogging to spanking to caning. It’s play centered on hitting someone, typically with an implement. Rough body play is another kind of impact play.

Bondage play can cover things like cuffs and restraints to different kinds of rope.

Sexual play covers anything defined as sex between two parties. Penis-in-vagina sex is what most people think of but it can include orgasm control, fisting, anal, etc.

Power exchange play is when people negotiate a period of time to explore power exchange together. It can be just for a scene or for a weekend or longer. Many people, including myself, don’t consider their power exchange play but the structure of their relationship so be mindful.

Edge play can cover different things depending on who you talk to. Commonly, edge play includes things like breath play, needle play, knife play. These activities have a higher risk level to them and take more education and safety practices to do correctly.

There are tons and tons of different kinds of play out there. People mix and combine play types together all the time. Explore play and learn what works for you. Not everyone likes stingy impact but thuddy impact instead. Some people like only rope and never any impact play. That’s the great thing about play – it’s all about what you like to enjoy!

How Do You Play Safely?

All play comes with some level of risk. Whether that’s physical or mental can vary but it’s important to acknowledge that risk. Here are some tips that I share with new folks about how to learn to play safely.

  1. Get educated. Go to classes from both the top and bottom side. Learn how play is supposed to be done, learn the safety protocols, and risk factors. You can’t be sure a top is hitting you correctly if you don’t know what ‘correct’ looks like in the first place.
  2. Learn negotiation skills. If you’re new to the scene, you may end up playing with more experienced people in your community. Learning how to negotiate with them is important. There are two styles – opt-in and opt-out. Opt-in is when you say “I want to be flogged, cuffed, and hit with this cane.” Opt-out is when you say “I don’t want to be blindfolded, have my hair pulled, or my feet touched.” It’s okay to use a mix of the two! If you’re new, be honest about that. If you’re not sure what you like, be honest and open to suggestions.
  3. Learn from experienced people. Watch people play. Ask questions (not during or right after a scene please!). Talk to people and listen to the mistakes they’ve made and lessons they learned. Experienced people are generally open to teaching others different kinds of play and many love giving newbies their first taste of a new kink.
  4. Use your safewords. However you decide safewords work for you and your play partner (plain language, stop light system, etc), utilize them. They are an invaluable communication tool during play. Don’t ever be afraid to stop a scene if you’re uncomfortable or not enjoying it. This goes for both tops and bottoms! We all have the responsibility to play safely and that means a top has as much right as a bottom to stop a scene.
  5. Aftercare matters. Aftercare is what happens after a scene. This can look very different for people. I like getting wrapped up in a blanket and having a little snack. I know bottoms who are tasked with cleaning up the play space. Others may want some quiet time and to be left alone. Aftercare is also important the day after (or several days for intense scenes). Drop can happen in stages and sometimes we need a check-in the day after a scene.

Play is a massive component of BDSM and comes in so many different forms. For new folks, I encourage slow exploring and trying new things that interest them. If you’re not sure if you’ll like it, watch other people do that kind of play. What feelings does it bring up for you? Does it challenge you in some way? Or does it seem pleasurable? Sometimes we don’t know until we do the play or kink for the first time.

If you’re a more experienced player, please drop some thoughts on play in the comments! I know everyone has different ideas of what play can look like and I certainly didn’t cover every single kind of play that’s out there.

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