I'm brand new to the lifestyle and have read all the books. Now I need to be around people who share my interests. Can you help?

There are several ways to enter the BDSM community for the first time. We recommend taking the first step by attending a munch or educational meeting of your local BDSM group. Munches are gatherings at local restaurants; their vanilla nature usually makes for a non-threatening introduction to other members of the BDSM community. Educational meetings of BDSM groups usually consist of more formal presentations on BDSM-related topics. The focused purpose of such a meeting may make it less threatening to some newcomers than general socialization at a munch.

If you are located close to Baltimore, we recommend that you join the Baltimore-BDSM e-mail list (http://groups.google.com/group/BDSMBaltimore), which provides information on all the issues and events of interest to the Baltimore-BDSM community.

Is it safe for me to attend educational meetings and parties alone?

There isn't any more inherent danger in going to a bdsm meeting than to any vanilla gathering.

BESS educational meetings are held in a public space, like a hotel conference room, and everyone in attendance is expected to behave in a manner appropriate for an educational forum. No one should feel that their safety is compromised by going alone to an educational meeting.

Going to a dungeon party is like going to any other party; some people are comfortable going alone while some are not. However, most newcomers would probably be most comfortable attending their first party with a companion.

Each party venue also has a different ambience. Small private parties, such as those organized by BESS, are different to those held in a large, public dungeon, like the Crucible in Washington, DC. Just remember to take basic safety precautions and take the type of venue, its location, and the type of gathering all into consideration when making a decision to go alone.

What is a munch?

A munch is simply a social gathering of kinky people (usually dinner) at a public, vanilla venue, such as a restaurant. It's a great way for newcomers to meet others in the BDSM community in a familiar and non-threatening environment.

BESS runs a munch in the hotel restaurant after each Wednesday educational meeting.

What should I wear to munches/meetings/parties?

Since most educational meetings are held in vanilla venues, ordinary vanilla street-wear is both expected and appropriate. While some people come directly from work and are dressed for the office, most dress casually.

For munches, dress as you would for any other evening out at a restaurant, leaving the fetish clothes and toys at home. The conversation may tend toward kinky subject matter, but your attire and behavior should not.

Generally, almost any sort of clothing is acceptable for a party. You'll see people in jeans and t-shirts, khakis and polos, fetish-wear, or nothing at all. When in doubt, consider black (the BDSM community's clothing color of choice) or choose something that you feel both comfortable and attractive wearing. Give yourself a chance to see what others are wearing and, with time, you'll find your own style. There are occasional events that require a certain type of dress (fetish-wear only parties, for example) and the advertising material should clearly state this requirement. You should also be aware of any party rules regarding the wearing of fetish-wear outside of the venue. Most people simply cover up with a coat or change into and out of fetish-wear at the venue.

What about privacy and confidentiality?

Confidentiality is a concern to almost everyone who attends a BDSM event or gathering. What you choose to reveal about yourself is largely a matter of personal judgement, although most people err on the side of caution until they get to know each person. BDSM is not a "secret society", but while many people in the lifestyle choose to be completely open about their interests, many others do not. It is important not to make any assumptions about this, to be discreet, and to be respectful of each individual's personal choices. Be especially cautious about approaching someone you have met at a BDSM event in a vanilla setting (such as a shopping mall). If you meet someone at a BDSM event for the first time, consider avoiding personal questions, such as "where do you work/live?" (at least, until you get to know them better).

Most BDSM groups maintain a high standard for discretion and have specific policies that protect your privacy. For example, BESS has a safe space policy to ensure that all BESS events are both safe and comfortable for all attendees. If you are concerned about this matter, you should ask to see the confidentiality policy of the specific group you are considering joining.

Am I nuts for being interested in BDSM?

Having an interest in BDSM is not a sign of mental illness; it is just one form of sexual expression. Any activity (from obsessive hand-washing, to bowling, to BDSM sex) can become a feature of a mental disorder if it impairs an individual's ability to fulfill their day-to-day responsibilities. However, such impairments are features of addiction, or of obsessive-compulsive disorders, and are not associated with any characteristic that is unique to BDSM.

Do I have to play the first time I attend a party?

Consent is one of the fundamental ethical values of the BDSM community. Put simply, you never have to do anything you do not want to do. If, at any time, you feel that you are being coerced or forced to do something you do not want to do, you should immediately approach a staff member or dungeon monitor and make them aware of the situation.

It is perfectly acceptable to come to a party and just watch what's going on. In fact, at your first party, we recommend that you plan to watch, socialize, and become comfortable with the environment. Just remember that you do not have to play until you are completely comfortable with the atmosphere and the people around you.

Will people be wary of me if I identify myself as a newcomer?

No. Everyone in the BDSM community was a newcomer once and most people are open to newcomers and want to ease their transition into the lifestyle.