If you're among the folks who spent the past 18-odd months bored, confined and sexually frustrated, rejoice! With COVID-19 vaccines available and restrictions easing up, society is slowly approaching a sense of normalcy we haven't felt since the Before Times. And with this return comes a renewed zest for life.
In an unpredictable world, we've learned, you have to make the most of the here and now. So go ahead and sign up for that flower arranging course you've had your eye on. Make plans with that friend you always say you'll hang out with but never do. And maybe, just maybe, check out that dungeon you've been so curious about.
"But Emily," you say, "I've never been to a dungeon before. I'd have no idea what to do!"
And to that, I say, "Pish posh! Listen to Jezebel, and you'll be just fine."
What you should expect
As a former professional dominatrix and the owner of Black Thorn, a dungeon located in Oakland, California, Jezebel is more than qualified to offer the lay of the land, including tips on finding the right dungeon, what to expect and how to fit in.
Step 1: Research
Before you book into your local dungeon, Jezebel recommends thinking about exactly what kind of experience you're looking for. One of your first considerations is whether you want a private session with your partner(s), or to attend a meetup where you can play with other kinksters.
"Research the space itself," Jezebel advised. "You want to understand the type of space it is, whether it's more for small private rentals or play parties. Also, find out what that space can provide for you based on your unique interests. Usually, there will be pictures or descriptions of what kind of equipment they have."
Beyond the space itself, it can be a good idea to look into what others say about it. For instance, consider these questions:
- Does it have a reputation for being dirty or clean?
- What's the general crowd like?
- Is it known as a place where boundaries are respected?
"If you know where the dungeon is located, join a local FetLife group," Jezebel suggested. "You can get a lot of community feedback about what the experience is like."
Critically, you'll want to make sure that you're not being swindled. Every once in a while, scammers will advertise a dungeon for rent that they don't own so they can take people's rental money and run.
"I've had a few people reach out to me and say, 'Hey, this person told me to rent your place in Texas,' and I have to correct people and say, 'Actually, no, I'm in Oakland. There is no other Black Thorn in Texas, you're being scammed,'" Jezebel shared.
Look up the space to make sure the info listed lines up with what you've seen advertised.
"Google is your friend there," Jezebel said.
Step 2: Preparation
Once you've found a location, you can start planning. Start by checking the dungeon guidelines: A lot of places will have rules about health, safety and consent posted on their website—and if they don't, that's something else to consider.
"You want to go to a space that has rules," Jezebel said.
One thing Jezebel advises looking for in particular: Check to see if you can have sex, because some spaces don't allow it.
You'll also want to think about what kind of toys you'd like to use, and whether you have to bring your own or borrow them from the dungeon itself. Again, some places allow this and others don't. At Jezebel's dungeon, toys are available for private rentals provided guests use proper protection, such as condoms for insertable toys, and sanitize them afterward. During play parties, however, they stay locked away.
If you're new to the scene, breaking into the world of kink may seem intimidating, but many newcomers quickly discover how rewarding it is to experiment and indulge their fantasies.
Thinking about your personal boundaries (and, if applicable, those of your partner(s)) is always good, too. The first time I went to a play party, my companion and I decided we would only look, not participate, and keep to ourselves. We also agreed to let each other know if we started to feel uncomfortable, at which point we would leave with no hesitation.
The second time we went to a party, we decided to play, but only with each other. Discussing this beforehand made me feel more comfortable and confident—I don't think I would've had as good a time if we hadn't communicated. Be specific, and discuss safe words, consent and which acts you are and aren't interested in. If you need inspiration or instruction, check out this great list of resources.
And though I'm sure you're as tired of this topic as I am, it's well worth your time to look into the dungeon's COVID-19 safety protocols.
"You have spaces now in which the requirement is vaccination," Jezebel said. "I have a couple of friends who just came back from Seattle. They went to a play party, and they checked vaccination records and ID at the door, and the place was operating at half capacity."
Step 3: Have fun and stay safe
After an abundance of thorough research and planning comes the good part: Actually visiting the dungeon. When you show up, you should probably be discreet.
"If you want to be naked or wear latex or fetish wear inside the location, that's generally fine, but playspaces don't want to draw attention from the general public," Jezebel explained. "So bring a coat, don't let your gear hang out of your bag when you're getting out of the car and be conscientious of your presence before you actually get onto the property."
If you booked a private rental for you and your partner(s), you'll have the place to yourself. But if you're attending a play party, expect multiple guests and dungeon monitors—experienced kinksters, often wearing a vest, sash or other easily identifiable item—who walk around to help ensure things stay safe and consensual.
"They don't interrupt unnecessarily, but they do keep an eye on things and look out for potential bad actors," Jezebel said.
Sometimes, a situation requires intervention—for example, if someone yells their safe word and their partner doesn't stop, or there's a blatant violation of a serious safety rule. "The etiquette is to never interrupt an ongoing session when people are in the middle of a scene," Jezebel explained. "In general, you can watch but never start asking questions, maintain a respectful distance and don't ever touch anybody or their gear without consent. Some of this is common sense, but you'd be surprised."
Joining the community
Here are a few more tips Jezebel shared:
- If you're attending a play party, especially alone, grab a play station—a designated area where you can use toys to play with yourself or your partner(s)—early while they're still available.
- Don't hog the play station. Others probably want to use it as well, and there may even be time limits.
- If you're looking for a partner at the party, a good place to strike up a conversation is the snack area or other common spaces.
- Building relationships takes time—if you want to really feel like a member of the community, show up regularly, introduce yourself and take an interest in your fellow dungeoneers.
- If you're new, ask someone working the event if they or someone they know could give you a tour.
- Pay attention to rules and instructions posted throughout the space. For example, you'll probably be expected to spray and wipe down your play station after you've used it.
- If you have any concerns, talk to a dungeon master or host.
Beyond the designated areas for play and socializing, there might be a specific space for aftercare, the period after a scene where you and your partner(s) check in with one another and take care of your physical and emotional needs.
Jezebel said this can involve anything from physical contact—such as hugging, using cleaning materials and general check-ins—to asking if your partner needs some water.
"Just like after a workout, you want to cool down," she explained.
Go forth and explore
If you're new to the scene, breaking into the world of kink may seem intimidating, but many newcomers quickly discover how rewarding it is to experiment and indulge their fantasies. And wouldn't you know it, there's a great community of people who have your back.
"The BDSM community is awesome," Jezebel said. "Once you get involved, you'll find so many opportunities to learn. It really is a playground out there: An opportunity to educate yourself and grow in your relationships. So, I'd just encourage you to get out there, disregard whatever preconceptions you might have and see what it's like for yourself."