Vetting Potential Play Partners – My Approach by SunderSpren

A friend recently asked me for an opinion of someone I know in the scene. I thought I would post a part of it here on how I approach providing references and vetting other people in my own play. There is no right way, this is what I’ve found works well for me after two years of bumbling around and finally forming some semblance of a system.

How I Provide References and Vet Potential Play Partners

I’ll start with the same caveat I always provide when I give my opinion on a person, I can speak to my experience with a partner, and that’s all of the information I can provide. I can’t make promises for what that person has/hasn’t done in the past or what they might/might not do in the future. As a bottom coming into the scene, that is another piece of information to keep in mind. There are many players out there that have friends who would vouch for them and give positive opinions, and if you ask for references from a potential partner, those are the names they are going to give you. It will be the ones that have had positive experiences with them. It’s going to be rare that you get one of those contrasting perspectives from someone who might have had a bad experience with them.

When an abuser is finally named in the scene (a person that has serially crossed lines with several people – a person who has a pattern that they don’t care to fix), you’ll often have several more people step forward and say that they had a similar experience, it’s a pattern but the lack of communication about these things makes it difficult to ID those individuals.

For example, FetLife has a policy that you cannot publically name a person that committed a crime against you, violated your consent, etc. It’s something to do with liability laws in Canada supposedly (like if a false claim were made on Fet, they could be held accountable for the slander on the basis that that post was made on their website). That’s off topic, but just something to consider. You will be able to find positive opinions of someone; it’s rare you’ll find a negative one. Speaking to current partners is a great way to get some information, but don’t assume that their opinion is the only one out there.

It took two years for me to hit a consent issue with having a line crossed, but it did eventually happened. As a bottom in the scene, it’s a bit like playing with fire. It’s dangerous, and as long as you mitigate the risks and do your best to avoid them, you have decent chances. There is the acknowledgement of the risk you have to understand, though. I hoped it wouldn’t happen to me, it still did. Most female bottoms I know have at least one story where they had a line crossed somewhere in their BDSM journey. Your primary concern should be playing safe to the best of your ability.

How I vet people is that I use a multi-prong approach. The primary thing I am looking for are any red flags that make me pause for a second. It doesn’t matter what it is, if it makes me pause, I make a note of that moment, what it was that I observed or read or heard that I didn’t like it. Those things matter. If you haven’t read it, read the book The Gift of Fear, it’s written by a security firm operator who’s job it is to watch for the signs in people, determine whether a person poses an actual threat, etc. The basic premise is to trust your gut. Your psyche, your ability to read subtle perceptions, is based on millions of years of evolution. Don’t ignore those feelings and keep going down a road if you feel that something is off. There are the abusers that will do a perfect job of blending in, theoretically, but more likely than not there will be subtle hints along the way in small ways they behave. Are they too aggressive in their assertions, how do they speak about past partners? Do they try to push you along at a faster pace than what you are doing? Anyways, I digress. It’s a great book, it changed the way I vet people, and I encourage it to all newcomers to the scene, especially bottoms.

I don’t do a lot of pick-up play anymore (meeting a person at a play party and playing with them the same night at that event). There are things I miss when I do pick-up play. Do they have some sort of post on their profile about something that went wrong and them blaming the other party? Are all of their friends on fet 20-something females that suggest they are using FL to find partners and not worrying about integrating into the community? I prefer to have the opportunity to comb through a person’s profile and get an idea of the sort of interactions they are having with others, their online behavior isn’t the tell all end all, but it gives more insight than what you would get in a single meeting with someone.

So I meet someone, I think they are great! There have not been any red flag behaviors. I’m going to perv their fetlife profile. I’m looking at fetishes and photos – are they overlapped with mine? I’m not a person that mixes sex with my play. If 70% of their listed fetishes are about tying someone up and fucking them, their approach on kink probably doesn’t match mine. I find the best partners are going to have similar interests in kink (or at least the same philosophy). If you get a person who gets horny and wants sex after a scene but you negotiate that out and make it clear that’s not something you want, great, you’ve communicated that. And we hope that they are a decent human being who gets it and respects that. But they might also be sexually frustrated after a scene and want some sort of release and that could be a point you could get issues. If you’re spaced and or riding an endorphin high and they want something, you may not be in a state to effectively say no. I’ve had that issue a few times now too.

So I ask about how they mix sex with their play. I ask them what they need out of a scene to feel fulfilled and have it be a positive experience. If it’s a point of contention – they do sex 90% of the time after a scene but would be okay with not doing it this time, I respect the person for being willing to play in my sandbox, but I usually decline play with that person. A scene should be fulfilling for both parties, if they are stopping short of what they would want out of a scene, there is an imbalance there. I got everything I wanted, maybe they didn’t. I don’t think that’s fair to them, and if there is that discrepancy in major views on kink, there could be that urge to push further once you actually get into the scene. It may be a person I have great chemistry with, but I try to be firm on this point. If there is a major incompatibility like that, I’d rather walk away and miss play on that one night than have a bad scene, an issue with consent, and live with that experience haunting my psyche for months.

I do look at their friend count, it gives an indication of how integrated into the local community they are usually. You have to go in and perv on the list a bit, again, they could have friended 200 young females who are just getting started in the scene in hopes that something will pan out with one of those. We want to screen those individuals out. So look at the composition of their friend list: I’m looking to see that’s it’s a fair balance of all genders, that they are people who are local. Most people don’t add friends on FL unless they have met them at a function. A higher friend count with a rounded local composition suggests they are at least making an effort to integrate into the community.

Personally, I only take partners that do participate in the public scene. Our community has standards that I believe in, and the best ways to learn them and live by them are to see them acted out again and again by the people around you. You usually pick up those good habits along the way. Or if you don’t, if you give people pause, they will hopefully be less likely to accept you into the community.

I’m looking at their current partner list. If they are newer, that might be an explanation for being single. If a person has been around, awhile, though and has no partners it might be because people in the community are recognizing something they didn’t like and splitting around that person and giving them an insulative bubble – not really accepting them into the community but not really being able to kick them out. A pick up scene I did with another guy was like that. He told me he was poly, we played, I found out later on that he was probably cheating on his wife by not only being at that party, but by playing with me. The people at that party knew it, it was why he didn’t have any offers of play. But hey, my first time at this dungeon in this community, I had no way of knowing, and that’s not normally the first conversation you have with a person about how the person that is circling them is cheating It’s one of those unspoken understandings in a local community that people coming in from the outside or other areas will be blind to.

There were other flags there when I looked back – he had tried to get more sexual with me than what I was comfortable, he volunteered to drive 3 hours to play with me again based on that one scene we did. It’s not a bad thing for a partner to be willing to make it work, but in my experience, it usually takes a higher level of commitment before a person is willing to make that leap. The fact that he said that should have indicated that his local pool was dry, no one was humoring his offer of play. If you read through his profile, he talked about how he didn’t have time to take on a serious partner because he was an addiction-worthy personality. Newcomers to the community shuddered to his touch and he was too busy “training” them in the ways of the “proper” ways to do kink. Such a self-inflated perception of importance is a flag, as is excusing a lack of partners by claiming newbies need some sort of training program. Bullshit, people do kink in their own ways. “Training” can be an attempt to isolate a person, bring them into the control of that one top and let them communicate their way of kink instead of letting a newbie be exposed to the community standards of good BDSM and deciding for themselves.

So there were flags there. I couldn’t have known they were there without doing that vetting, which I neglected to do before the scene since it was at a party. And turns out those flags accurately reflected his personality – he was probably cheating on his wife.

I’m looking at any journal entries (if they have any). I personally like people that are self-reflective and when a person has some journal entries, it’s usually a good thing. But watch for flags, again. I had one person I played with that was a little bit of a firecracker in terms of personality, she was prone to anger and blaming others for an entire situation that might have gone wrong.

For example, had I dug deeper into her profile, I would’ve seen the post where she got publically drunk, was wandering around downtown in the middle of winter, and drunk dialed several friends who were worried about her. The friends were worried that she was going to end up passing out outside in a ditch somewhere and get hypothermia. They called the cops to check on her. The cops ended up picking her up, she was belligerent, and ended up having to do court-ordered anger management classes. That in and of itself is kind of a flag, but her reaction even more so-she blamed her friends who had been justly concerned for her entire situation. In her eyes, it wasn’t her fault for getting drunk or getting combative with the cops, it was the fault of her friends and she justly cut them out of her life.

If a person can’t accept responsibility for their own errors, how are they going to take responsibility if something does go wrong in a scene? It doesn’t have to be intentional, lets say the bottom flinches and gets hit in the face instead of on the breast. That would be an innocent mistake, but I want partners who can say, “Oh, shit! Let’s take care of that welt rising on your face, get some ice on it. Then can we figure out went wrong, and try make sure it doesn’t happen again?” I don’t want the top who is going to tell me it was my fault for ducking into it.

When we played, there were no major issues fortunately, but there were things in her demeanor that didn’t mesh well with my views on kink and she probably wasn’t the best play partner for me. We played once and went our separate ways, but that would’ve been an example of where deeper vetting would’ve done me some good.

I’m going to go back through their recent profile history and look for any similar flags – are they interacting appropriately with other individuals or getting snappish and/or having erratic behavior. Basically, I’m hoping to find partners that follow community and societal patterns of what is and isn’t considered appropriate behaviors. If a person can see the standards, understand their intrinsic value, and adapt them into their own life, it’s a good sign.

I’m going to ask them to tell them about a time they made a mistake or something went wrong in their kink. If they tell you they never have, that’s probably bullshit. I don’t care if it was a misplaced strike or something more serious. I misgendered a partner in scene one time – it was an unintentional mistake that hurt them greatly – we worked on processing that together. I accepted responsibility for the mistake, did what I could do to support them and put measures in place to try to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again. Even as a bottom, I’ve still made mistakes and I admit my role in them freely. I want to know how they present the situation (again, taking some responsibility verses blaming others) and I want to know how they worked through it (things will go wrong in kink, it’s important to have partners that will be there for you when they do and you guys can work through them together).

If all of that checks out, I’m going to communicate with them more in whatever forms I can (fetlife messaging, online chatting, texting, etc.). I also like to meet someone in a non-kinky setting prior to playing. That can be a munch that can work, but I actually like getting a meal, just the two of us on our own schedule, with a potential play partner when I can. It’s a bit more of a personal environment where you aren’t going to get distracted by fifty friends wanting to come up and catch up or chat.

If we are still looking good at that point, I’m going to ask for references if they have any. I may or may not contact those references, again, take it in with a grain of salt. A person isn’t going to give you the name of a person that had a bad encounter; they are going to point you toward friends who can speak highly of them. Which may be all there is to say about this person, they may be as wonderful as they seem and references may reflect it, but you are not going to get the perspective of the one person who may have had a bad experience.

If all of that lines up, I’m going to start moving things towards setting up a scene if we are both amicable to the idea. I try to do the first play session at a public party when I can. It’s much safer to have those extra pairs of eyes and people present who could step in if something did go wrong. It also gives me one more opportunity to gauge for myself how this person operates as an individual within the context of a scene. If the scene goes textbook perfect, if they respect the negotiated limits and I feel good after the scene, it would only be then that I consider moving play into a more private setting (my place, their place, etc.).

I’ve talked a lot about the things that have me screening people out, but there are huge things that can be positive things for me too, things I love to see. I like to see participation in the public scene (there have been plenty of cases where prominent people in the community have been abusers and took advantages of their role, so take it with a grain of salt, but again, I like to see that they are ingrained in the local community at least). I like when a person offers references without having to be asked. I like it when a person asks if I want to set up a safe call (basically giving a friend information for where and when you will be playing with whom. You are supposed to check in by a specific point or they take the agreed upon action, like calling the cops and assuming something went really wrong).

Safe calls aren’t worth much in my book; I don’t use them in my own kink. The idea is great, I guess. But if something were really wrong, a top could make you place the call, or if you miss your window, at best, it might help them know something went wrong. But the critical point – that something went really wrong, would’ve already happened and couldn’t have been prevented. It would be more damage control than anything else.

So I don’t actually do the safe call thing, but if a top is telling you to set one up they are concerned about your safety. They understand the risk that a bottom takes in playing privately and want them to take steps to protect themselves accordingly. So that gesture, at least, is a sign of good faith for me – if they are educating a bottom on how they can protect themselves with private play, that runs counterintuitively to the predator who wants to isolate their subject and cross lines.

When we move into private play, I am still doing the pacing. I don’t do restraints with a new partner until well along our journey and a decent level of trust is established. When restraints are okay, we start with legs (or arms), but not both. I don’t do a full 4 point restraint unless I would trust a partner with my life.

There are some kinks where that is harder to follow – rope, for example, which has a lot of restraint work intrinsically involved, and I understand those limitations.

This isn’t the comprehensive guide for how to vet, it’s the methodology I’ve established to try to protect myself to the best of my ability. Kink is great, it’s a fire and a passion and amazingly sexy things. It’s not, as some people claim, some higher form of more highly evolved relationship where everyone respects boundaries and consent at every avenue. We have a lot of discussion and emphasis placed on negotiation and consent because play can ride the border between consent and assault and the intentions and permissions granted are what make the difference. Mistakes still happen, abuse still happens, and the risks for it are high.

As a new bottom in the scene, enjoy your journey. I’ve had some issues with consent, as most have or will, but the good still outweighs the bad, and it’s a community worth being part of even given the risks. I wouldn’t keep coming back otherwise. So enjoy the ride, explore, have fun, and grow into your kink, just be safe and smart about it.

– SunderSpren

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