Following on from my thoughts on KSL and Torture Garden, I've been the way developing some methods of improving interactions in sex clubs, fetish clubs or at kinky parties. This is both a distillation of my own opinions and how I want to fulfil my own desires, so your mileage may vary. There's two main aspects here, one is around meeting new people, with the possible intention of fucking or playing with them, and the other is around the public play / sex and the aftermath. I'm going to be using "sex" as a bit of a catch-all term in this post to cover all manner of sexual encounters that are not about putting bits of genitalia in other bits - so I'm using sex to include BDSM play, sexualised games and similar.
Let's take the social bit first. We're British, so we have a lot of unwritten (though Watching The English does write some of them down, and it's a fascinating read) rules on how, when and where we can relate to each other. These all count for double when we are around strangers. And triple when they are potentially sexually available strangers, potentially available for potential sex, right now. There's a lot of potential, and that means a certain amount of expectation management is in order, partly so you don't become crushingly disappointed, but also so that you don't let false hopes cloud your ability to behave in a way that will give you - and those around you - the most pleasure and benefit.
At the most recent Kinky Salon London I ran a couple of games in the space to help people mingle and learn the rules of the event. The night was panto themed, so I styled it as a quest in which people could help Prince Charming (me) discover some magic items. I'd placed pictures of items around the space and a little word puzzle on the back which was made from the rules. Players found the "magic word" hidden in the puzzle, thereby reading the rules. I also ran a little "secret santa" messaging service so people could approach potential partners in a more covert fashion.
The two games were designed to counter two of the biggest problems that occur again and again in these environments - at almost every kinky, perverted, swinger and sex club I've been to. People who don't know the rules, or who don't follow them and people who don't know how to approach others and ask for sex or play.
People who are new to sex clubs or to the BDSM scene often do not realise that almost every club or night has its own particular set of rules - things that are and aren't allowed. Often called "dungeon" rules from the days when we kept our kink below stairs and in cellars. These are available in advance and often they are at the events themselves, although not always. Like check box terms and conditions on iTunes, I am fairly certain that no-one actually reads them, which is a shame because each set of rules reveals the kinds of games that are permissible in the space. And I mean both what sort of activity you can do and the sort of form the event will take - you can learn a lot about a club by looking at how they choose to write and present their rules.
So, if you are going to a club for the first time, read the damn rules. I'd do that before I bought a ticket, personally, and there have been events where, following a look at their rules I've decided that it wasn't the night for me (especially swingers nights that don't allow boy-on-boy). Further to this, when you get to the club, behave according to the rules, even if others around you are not. It's a basic piece of respect to both those who are running the event and people who have decided to turn up on the strength of how they thought the event was going to turn out. This is important especially if you want to do something that is against the rules. I like knives, cutting and blood. A lot of clubs don't allow this, so I don't do it at those clubs. I can do it at home, I can do it at other clubs. Just because I consider myself an experienced kinkster doesn't mean I get special rules, and if I decide to break rules because I think I am "special" or "better" then I send a very poor message about the etiquette of kinksters and about what it means to be on the scene.
The arrangement of space on the night will also help you see the unwritten rules. KSL was interesting because it separated the space for fucking (which they refer to as "the playroom") and the space for BDSM play which gave a nice visual cue to people present. There was overlap, of course, and the handcuffs and restraints on the bed showed that to neat effect. Take your time when you arrive at a club, look around, see how things are laid out, this will tell you, louder than words, what the organisers think about how play should happen. But be warned, just like the written rules, the arrangement of space will tell you what the event organisers expect to happen and what they want to happen, not necessarily what you might want. Unlike the written rules, it is sometimes acceptable to be playful with the layout of space, as long as you are considerate of other space users. Things like moving a spanking bench into the middle of an area designed for mingling is not a good idea, but nudging it slightly so you can move all the way around is probably fine. If in doubt, ask an event organiser.
The final element of the rules is you yourself and your interactions with others. The rules you have for yourself and the rules they have for themselves. Most people do not come with a sticker which indicates their desires and limits. Sad but true. People are often poor at talking about these things and poorer still, especially if new and nervous, about negotiating. Additionally, rules change according to context and the person you are negotiating with. You are not a mind reader, you do not know what other people want. You need to ask. Ask before touching, ask before assuming.
Assumptions are rife, and many rules in clubs are assumed rather than being actually real. Parties and events create a sense of carnival and festival through dress-up, themes, alcohol, dance and the element of secret society. This makes us feel liberated from conventional rules and mores which can be very exciting, powerful and sexual. We feel able to say and do things we would not normally do, because we are following the "rules of play", playing a game as we perceive it. It is permissible, in these places, to ask strangers if they want to have sex. But this atmosphere can also turn us into idiots and put us in danger of going too far as we forget that the rules are only suspended, not removed. They will return the next day and we need to feel comfortable with how we behaved in the morning.
There's also the matter of what is sex and how far you can go - which is where the permissiveness culture of sex clubs can cause problems. For me, regardless of how the club rules appear or even how they are actually written, the onus is always on you to secure active consent, from yourself and from your partner, before any kind of touching can occur. This kind of rule is one that is often included in written club rules. But it is not always in such an explicit way and the behaviour (and dress, unfortunately we still live in a culture where revealing clothing equals "wants to be touched") of people within the space can make it feel unclear. When things are unclear, it's vital that you create your own clarity.
You need to be clear in and of yourself about what you want and don't want. And stick to your guns. Talking to a friend on the night and we both agreed that it was "ok not to have sex at a sex club". We had both had a good night, but neither of us had been in the mood and were comfortable with our feelings on that front. Just because others are fucking, doesn't mean you have to. We are not in the playground anymore. Similarly, when others are fucking, and you want to, but are unable to find a partner you like, you need to be prepared for that, to accept the fact that whilst you might want sex others might not want to have sex with you. It's a sad fact and it can make you angry, unhappy or miserable. But it needs accepting and respecting.