People in the BDSM “scene” often talk about “doing a scene.” Which is confusing, especially if you’re new. The phrase “the scene” refers to the BDSM community. The second “scene” in that sentence is something different. So what are kinksters talking about when they talk about “a scene,” as opposed to “the scene”?
BDSM as theatre
A scene in BDSM is a bit like a scene in a play or a movie. (It’s no accident that kinksters call what they do “play.”) There’s one or more “actors,” who take on different “roles.” The idea for the scene is like a script, or a jumping-off point for an improv game. Other theatrical elements – setting, props, lighting, and costumes – can be important! Your scene may or may not have an audience, depending what you’re into and what you’re trying to accomplish.
Most importantly, a scene has a beginning, middle, and end, and ways to know when it’s started and when it’s over.
What makes a scene a scene?
Generally three things are needed for a scene:
- At least two people
- A basic idea for what you want to do together
- Some agreement about how you’re going to do it
A scene can have three people, or four, or a whole group, though the more people you add, the more complicated things get! A person doing a sexual thing alone, without someone giving orders, isn’t quite doing a scene – unless they’re performing it for others to watch! But generally, two people who agree to focus on each other for a given period is the first thing you need.
As far as an idea, a scene can be almost anything, from mild and sweet to silly and playful to dark and intense, that the parties involved agree on. Jo is going to undress Ida and touch her with fur and feathers and her fingernails – it’s a sensation scene. Nakia is going to tie Jamal up with ropes and see how many strange positions are possible – it’s a rope scene. Robin is going to menace Chris and then rip their clothes off – it’s a ravishment scene.
Believe me when I say that almost anything can be a scene. I’ve seen a “serving birthday cake off of somebody’s plastic-wrapped torso” scene, a “repeated-throwing-into-the-pool” scene, even a whipped cream bukakke scene. (That last one involved a lot of people pretending whipped-cream canisters were ejaculating penises. Also a lot of cleanup.) Pretty much anything goes…that is, as long as you do one extremely important thing first. Before you do any kind of scene, you need to come to some agreements through negotiation.
Negotiation – the rehearsal
If the theatre metaphors help, think of the negotiation as a rehearsal. You’ll talk about what role you’re playing, what you’re each going to do, what goal you’re trying to achieve, and how the scene will end. (If you’re trying to figure out how to talk about it, read How to Tell Your Partner What You Want in Bed.) You’ll discuss the rules of the scene: your hard limits (things you absolutely do not want or will not do), your safewords, and your physical or emotional limitations (like an old shoulder injury, or a word the person shouldn’t say).
In order to make sure you have a great scene, ask yourself and your partner or partners the following five questions.
“What don’t you want?” is just the beginning!
A lot of folks only discuss their boundaries. Boundaries are important but they don’t give your partner everything they need to know in order to do a scene. If all your new play partner knows about you is that you don’t want anything to do with blood, your safeword is “pickle,” and you have a trick knee, they know what you don’t want, but they don’t know what you do want. You know the shape of the stage now – but you still have no idea what you’re going to do on it!
What are you going to do?
The “what to do” part doesn’t have to be complicated. A lot of it is about deciding who is in charge (if anyone; switchy scenes can happen, too!), and where your desires overlap. This can be as simple as: She likes spanking. He can’t wait to be spanked!
What is the goal of your scene?
But another, more important piece is why you’re doing it. When you know what your goal is, then you’ll know whether the scene is working, what to do next, and when it’s time to stop.
A goal can be simple: “I want you to spank me until I cry.” “I want to hit you with this cane 30 times.” “I want us to wrestle until you overpower me.” Or it can be complex: “I want to feel like a living doll.” “I want to make you feel helpless.” “I want to hang you from this frame, swing you back and forth, and have blindfolded people try to hit you with a bat like you’re a piñata.”
One of my favorite questions that helps with goals is “How would you like to feel?” This question can give a great shape to a scene that might at first be vague. “I want to be tied up” is fine, but doesn’t give the rope top much to go on. Do you want to feel relaxed and held? Threatened and afraid? Uncomfortable and challenged?
What are signs that your scene is going well?
The negotiation is also a great time to talk about what it looks like when things are going well. Especially because some people go into subspace and get quiet, it’s helpful to talk about how a top or dom can tell if things are great or about to go south.
How does your scene end?
The last piece to talk about ahead of time is how to know when it’s over. Having a goal helps; once you’ve achieved the goal, things can come to a natural end. But sometimes you want a clear sign or way to end the scene – a word or phrase, an action (like unclasping a collar or untying rope), or some other way to indicate that you’re starting the journey through aftercare and back into “normal” space.
Once you have a partner, a goal, and a good sense of what you’re going to do, have at! Scenes are a great way to learn more about what you enjoy, and whom you enjoy it with. They’re also great for practicing your negotiation skills – which over time, should get you more of what you want, and less of what you don’t!