This is a copy of Etiquette for the Scene by Rose. It was
originally written for and © copyrighted by the Black Rose in
It is reprinted here with the Author’s permission.
Before we chose to join the leather tribe, we all were first and
foremost human beings. We learned that in order to survive, we
all had to be capable of living together and being polite to and
tolerant of each other. Rules like “Do unto Others as You Would
Have Them Do unto You,” and “If You Can’t Say Something Nice
about a Person, Don’t Say Anything at All” may seem cliché and
irrelevant in the times in which we live. The truth is, those old
lessons from childhood still are meaningful in SM relationships.
All those things your momma taught you about good behavior
and manners apply just as aptly to the scene as to a fancy dress
We have all been through the ordeal of the dating ritual. Some of
us are better at it than others, but basically the techniques are all
about the same. If we feel attracted to another, we don’t go up to
that person and just take what we want or demand, “On your
back, baby.” We try to be nice, friendly. We start a conversation
and get to know each other. We do the mating dance.
The same holds true for the scene. We do not live in the pages
of a fantasy. Just because a person’s sexual identity may be as
Dom/me or sub, does not negate the rest of the person. Most
people in the scene prefer to be approached by potential
playmates as people first – not as their sexual roles.
Do not make assumptions – you could be wrong. Some tops
wear dressy collars as part of a scene outfit. A woman in a collar
is not necessarily anxious for you to walk up to her and say, “On
you knees, bitch,” whether she is top or bottom. Use your vanilla
dating senses when attempting to meet someone in the scene.
Maybe “What’s your sign?” isn’t the right approach, but “Will you
whip me, Mistress?” isn’t either.
How would you approach someone at a bar or a college mixer?
Try that. “Hi, my name is Rose,” followed by some opening small
talk still works for me. Everyone loves to be flattered, use that.
“Hi, my name is Rose, and I’ve been coveting that lovely corset
you’re wearing. Where did you get it?” Break the ice; don’t bang
her over the head.
A most important element of scene etiquette is discretion. Most
of us have to live in the “real” world, and our scene identities may
be something we must keep separate from our professional
identities. What we see and hear at leather organization
meetings or play parties should stay there. Don’t take it on the
At Black Rose, we do not use last names; this helps to protect
the identity of those who prefer anonymity. Certainly some
people exchange real names, but we urge all our attendees to
keep that knowledge to themselves. Being in Washington, DC,
we get visited by many people in political jobs and in sensitive
military positions. Discretion may be more important to us than
in other communities, but protecting others from harm we can
cause by opening our mouths at the wrong time is simply the
right thing to do anywhere.
How would you feel if you were walking down the street to lunch
with a client, or your boss, or your mom and someone from the
last Black Rose meeting came up to you and said, “Hi, I really
loved watching you get caned last week. You were black and
blue and crying so beautifully! You are such a SLUT!” As a
courtesy to members of the community who you do not know
well enough to know if you will be offending or endangering,
keep what you see and hear at scene events out of the eyes and
ears of the vanilla world. Until you know it is all right with others
to discuss the scene with their friends and associates, be
If I chose to give you my name and number, it is for you only
unless I give you permission to give it to others. Respect this. If
someone calls and asks you for my number, say “Why don’t you
give me your’s and I’ll ask her to call you?”
I witnessed a nasty little exchange one night early in my years at
Black Rose. A man approached a female friend as we were
talking; and after politely waiting for a chance, he asked my
friend for her telephone number. As she was giving it to him, I
noticed a man standing behind us writing it down also. When I
pointed this out, my friend almost bit this rude dude’s head off.
And he deserved it. Do not take advantage of others. Because I
give my personal information to another and you just happen to
overhear it does not give you the right to use it. If you do, nine
times out of ten you will be sorry that you did. People do not take
kindly to such behavior.
A. Certain rules of behavior apply to scene events, just as certain
rules of behavior apply to events in other cultures.
When Black Rose began, the ratio of males to females was
almost 15-1. Any female walking in the door was either thrilled
with the odds or intimated by all the come-ons she endured.
Nowadays our ratio is much closer to 1-1, but the past has
taught us some important lessons -lessons applicable to all the
sexes and the all the combinations thereof.
Be aware of the concept known as “my space” – that zone around
ourselves which we hold sacred. Give a newcomer space to get
comfortable with the group, the setting, all the new faces, before
pouncing. We have way too much experience with “Vultures.”
These are men and women who have to be the first one to hit on
every newbie who walks in the door. Getting that reputation in a
small community will make you persona non grata quickly.
We all have our quirks, and we don’t all like each other.
Instinctively, we tend to feel good or bad about another person
almost immediately. Either our pheromones activate, or we turn
off. If you make a good approach and get a favorable response,
great. Continue. But if s/he isn’t interested?
Take no for an answer. Doing so graciously may turn that “no”
into a maybe another time. Even if you love being humiliated, if
the Domme you approach spurns you, go away. You will not
ingratiate yourself to her by humbly begging at her feet for her
attentions. Her additional invective might thrill you; it is not
to urge you on but, rather, away from her. Get the message
before she asks a DM or an officer to make you leave.
Merely because one person rejects your offer does not mean
you will never find anyone to play with you. Sometimes the
chemistry is simply wrong. Accept that. Go on and try again.
If you are the rejecter, be gracious as well. There is no need to
humiliate someone for trying politely. If you mean no, don’t be
afraid to say it; but if you are busy and might be interested later,
let that be known.
B. Everyone wants the “popular” man or woman.
At meetings these folks are usually surrounded by people who
want attention. Wait your turn. If s/he is speaking with someone
else, use your common sense and don’t interrupt. I have,
regrettably, been less than patient with several ill-mannered
men in this category.
Don’t castigate someone for not knowing your sexual orientation.
We can’t all look at a person and know if s/he is gay, straight, bi.
If you must reject someone for being of the wrong sex, do it
When you approach someone, introduce yourself – not your role.
Speak to the person, not her/his role. At meetings, most people
are not “in scene,” and even if someone is, you have no
obligation to react to him/her as if you were in the opposite role.
Submissives are neither required nor expected to be
submissive to every dominant in the room. Don’t expect it if you
are a top, and don’t feel obligated to do it if you are a bottom.
Men, not every woman in the room wants to be your dominant.
Until otherwise requested (and if you consent to do so), you
needn’t address every woman as Mistress. In this situation, my
friend says, “I am not your Mistress. I haven’t earned that respect
from you, nor have I taken you as my submissive. Don’t call me
Most SM clubs and private parties are composed of at least two
spaces – one for eating and socializing and another for play.
Make a note of which is which when you enter the space, and try
to respect these boundaries. There are reasons for them (see
Section C below).
Each scene also has a boundary. Be aware. Just as individuals
need their “space,” a scene needs its space. A couple from New
York grew so tired of having their space invaded by wankers,
they began bringing police tape and barricades to delineate the
area in which no one else should enter. It stopped the problem.
Watching is a great way to learn and part of the excitement for
many people who play in public, but give players the space they
need to do their scene. If the Top has long arms and a long
whip, he’ll need to stand further away from his bottom. On the
other hand, if a Domme is bending closely to the breast of her
sub to do a cutting, she should not have to worry about someone
bumping into her arm as she draws the blade down the skin.
Pay attention when walking through a space full of scenes, too.
Each implement we use requires a certain amount of space for
the extension and follow through. Don’t walk into the arch of a
whip. If you do and get hit, it’s your own fault. You just walked
through a scene. Even if you don’t accidentally get hit, you may
get a thwack from the angry Top whose scene you just invaded.
You may be the world’s leading authority on some SM game, but
unless you are the DM or your opinion has been sought, keep it
to yourself while observing a scene. Stopping a scene to give a
lesson not only unnerves the top (not to mention embarrassing
him/her) but also destroys the headspace of both partners in the
scene. If you see something you consider dangerous, go tell the
DM. If you can offer constructive criticism to someone who wants
it, do so after the scene – in private.
Most SM clubs and private parties have rules regarding what is
and what is not allowed. These can be as simple as “No
penetration” to a list which is quite extensive. Make yourself
aware of the rules before you start to play. If you’re not sure, ask
the DM or host.
Smoke only in designated areas.
Many places/individuals designate certain play which cannot be
done for legal reasons. Often these can involve full nudity,
penetration, needle play and fire play. Many people prefer that
any type of sexual intercourse be conducted in private rooms
rather in the main dungeon space. Follow these guidelines if
you want to be asked to the next party.
Be responsible. Illegal drugs may cause the owner of an
establishment to be shut down or a homeowner to be arrested.
Don’t bring them. Don’t knowingly violate any laws which may
impact others in the same space. If alcohol is not allowed, play
without it. If you can’t play without a drink, you have a serious
problem and should not be playing anyhow.
C. The main reason that parties are usually divided into
socializing space and play space is noise. Conversations are
meant to be held in the socializing room – not in a loud voice 2
feet from intense SM play.
Laughter can be devastating to a nervous sub. S/he may feel
humiliated because you are laughing at her/him even if you are
responding to joke someone just told. Or a sub may be deep
into headspace and sailing though a difficult pain scene, but
your obnoxious loud laughter and territory.
We all make occasional mistakes in this category – even the
most seasoned players. If you must talk and greet others in the
dungeon, do so quietly. If asked to “take it upstairs,” apologize
and do so quickly.
Another problem can be the loud bottom – one who makes an
inordinate amount of noise while playing. This can be very
disconcerting to other players, not to mention draw the attention
of nosy neighbors. There is one sub in our group who screams
like a maniac when she is playing. I’ve gotten to the point where I
just won’t start a scene if I come into the dungeon and she’s
playing. If you know you can’t be reasonably quiet in a scene, let
your partner know that. If you’re the Top, bring a gag and use it if
it becomes necessary.
D. Reaching, Touching and Interfering – the Big Three.
At one of my first public parties, I was involved in a scene with 3
other bottoms and 4 tops. Everything was fine, until I opened my
eyes and saw someone I didn’t know with his hand on my
nipple. I freaked. Needless to say, the scene was stopped and
the offender asked to leave; but it taught me a lesson I cherish
now that I almost exclusively dom. I must patrol my scene
because there will often be people who feel they have a right to
reach in and touch someone.
A scene most often consists of two players, though occasionally
may involve multiple people on both sides of the equation.
Those people are playing together because they chose to play
with each other. You can watch, but do not dare reach in and
touch or join unless you have been asked by the Top in charge. I
trust it is not necessary to say this applies to one-on-one scenes
as well. BDSM, as we play it, is CONSENSUAL. If you and I have
not agreed to a scene, then don’t try to get into one I am having
with someone else. You will suffer the consequences which
could be as simple as being asked to leave or as severe as
being smashed in the face with a fist.
Not only our bodies deserve the respect to be touched only with
consent, but also our belongings and clothes. If you touch my
leathers while I’m wearing them, you are touching me as well. In
legal terms, touching my jacket is as much a battery as slapping
me in the face.
It may be socially acceptable to see a new golf club your best
friend just purchased and grab it for a couple swings, but you
wouldn’t do that to a stranger’s equipment. The implements of
SM are very personal. Never feel free to pick up someone else’s
toy to try it without permission. Most people will be gracious if
asked. Give them the chance.
I cannot say this enough. Unless it is the pre-accepted theme of
an event, not every sub there must be respectful and submissive
to every dominant in the place. Just because s/he may be
kneeling on the floor naked and collared, you have no right to
touch without permission.
Naturally, the same holds true for subs. Not every dominant in
the room wants or must play with you – or even be polite to you if
you do not deserve it.
There are certain accepted conventions in every community. In
ours, one doesn’t approach an “owned” or even a “temporarily
collared” sub and seek to play with him/her. The proper
procedure is to approach the top first. Knowing who IS collared
to whom and who won’t or can’t play with others without
permission may be a bit of a problem because not all Doms
dress in fantasy costumes. Not all subs are collared. Be very
careful how you approach someone if you are not sure. If you
make a mistake, and a sub directs you to his/her Dom, then
explain your ignorance of the situation to the Dom first, then
make your request. Despite our growth in the last few years, we
are a very small community. If you aren’t sure about someone
and don’t want to make a mistake, are the best bets in which to
make inquiries, since they usually invited the attendees. When
I’m approached in this situation, and it is appropriate, I offer to
make an introduction.
Many singles attend SM parties, many of whom are newcomers
desperate to be asked to play. Being in that situation can be
difficult and too often leads to social blunders. Be aware,
however, that experience does not equate with social graces.
One will encounter more experienced players who also exhibit ill
It takes a lot of nerve to make the first encounter, especially for
newbies. Avoid the pitfalls previously discussed, and skip the
When you have steeled yourself for that first attempt, don’t just
walk up during a scene. Wait. And remember, a scene does not
end just because the whip is put down and the top begins to
release the bottom from bondage. Give them time to unwind
together, to cuddle or regain composure. Then make your move.
Most humans love to have their egos stroked, so use that to your
advantage. Instead of begging, “Beat me, Mistress,” go for the
compliment. Try something like, “I love your sensual play style,”
or “You were fantastic – the way you had her begging.” A
compliment may get a conversation started.
Another good ploy is admiring toys. As you will recall, if you want
to keep your hand, don’t just reach out and grab an implement
that doesn’t belong to you. After the scene, compliment the
owner and ask to examine it. As the conversation develops add,
“I’ve never felt anything like this before,” or “I’d love to feel
often than not, a friendly top will give you that opportunity. When
people admire my toys this way, I often make the offer to let them
feel it myself – I’ve made a lot of new friends and play partners
In addition to being polite to individuals at a party, there are
some general guidelines that are simply good behavior.
Don’t Bogart that sling! There are never enough play stations for
everyone to play at the same time. Be considerate. Don’t hog
one piece all night. If it is really crowded at a BR event, we ask
you to limit your scene to 30 minutes. Even if the rules don’t set a
time limit, do so yourself. You’ll gain favor with those waiting in
line for the space you’ve been using.
Leave the space as you found it. A lot of scenes are messy. If
you will be doing wax or blood, be sure to put down a drop cloth
or cover the equipment with towels or blankets so wax or blood
doesn’t go everywhere.
Remember also, BDSM is a physical activity. People sweat, and
sweat is a bodily fluid. So is cum and women’s natural lube.
Wipe off the equipment after you’ve finished your scene. Often
there will be alcohol or some other fluid and paper towels
available for this purpose. If not, ask the host or DM. It will be
Pick up your toys and get them out of the way.
Be a good guest. When you are invited to a private party, there
are certain things you can do to insure you will be asked to
attend future events.
Offers of help are always welcome; but if you offer, then be
prepared to help. Show up when asked, and actually do what is
asked. Too often there are people who should be preparing for
the party who are standing around chatting instead. This is not
helpful to your host.
Don’t show up early unless the host asks you to do so. We all
have busy schedules and too much to do – especially on party
day. I am lucky to be ready by 9:30 for a 9:00 o’clock party at my
house. Usually I have a few subs lined up to be ready on time,
but it is often a problem when guests start arriving too early. Too
early is even a minute before the starting hour. Be fair to your
hosts. Let them get a shower and change also. Not everyone
has a sub or partner to meet and entertain the guests while s/he
Almost no one offers to help after a party – when it is often most
needed. At a friend’s house, those who make the offer almost
always get a nice reward – the after party play for helpful guests.
And don’t think only bottoms or subs should help. Tops and
Doms make just as much mess and need to be just as polite to
their hosts. If you have a sub or slave to offer in your stead,
But it is even better if you both pitch in.
Finally, people who throw private parties go to a lot of trouble and
expense. Be sure to let them know you appreciate the privilege
of attending. A few words of thanks before leaving will be
remembered. If the host is in a scene when you are ready to
leave, find the DM or a family member to pass along your thanks.
Better still, the fine art of letter writing should be revived. Thank
you notes are the best way to keep your name (and return
address – hint, hint) in the mind of the host.