Erotic Etiquette

At the last several sex-positive events I've attended, the most common question people have asked me hasn't been one of the two usual suspects: "Doesn't anal sex hurt?" and "What about the mess?" In fact, it has nothing to do with backdoor penetration at all. It goes something like this: "I'm here at this cool conference-party-meeting, in a sexually charged environment, and I don't know how to meet people or hook up." For whatever reason, I've been nearly bombarded by scared singles, shy wallflowers, and socially challenged perverts needing advice. I've tried to reassure them with a fact I know to be true: Even the strangest, most awkward, fashion-unconscious folks among us get plenty of action—trust me, I've seen it with my own eyes—so you can too. But lately, I've realized that it's time to get more specific.

We take for granted that everyone has taken Basic Social Interaction 101 and passed with flying colors. We forget that it's not an actual class and some people don't just intuitively know how to socialize. In the various communities in which I hang out—among kinky people, queers, trannies, and sex-positive peeps—we pride ourselves on welcoming all of society's freaks and geeks into the fold. As children and adolescents (when we're supposed to develop our social skills), if we feel different, we can often retreat, turn inward, and avoid social situations because they're painful. As adults, we struggle to claim our former outcast identities and we seek community for validation, friendship, and potential partners. But when we find it, we're suddenly lost again. We're transported back in time to episodes of alienation like team selection in gym class (yup, I was always picked last for dodgeball) or the senior prom (the guy I asked turned me down). Feeling ostracized is a tough thing to shake.

If there's anything that's desperately needed in this culture, it's lessons in social skills. I don't mean Paris Hilton's mom training socialites-to-be on dinner party manners. In this age of endless makeover shows, experts show people how to trim their facial hair, pick an outfit-appropriate belt, and select the perfect wine to go with a meal, but there's no syndicated half-hour or superhuman Carson Kressley to give people help on how to pick someone up, how to flirt, how to seduce. How do you learn to communicate desire in a thoughtful, accessible way without being overbearing or inappropriate? So, dear readers, I've taken it upon myself to school you in the ways of successful social and sexual butterflies.

Let's begin at the basic corporal level: Bathe. It's a fact—the better you smell, the more likely people are to want to be around you. Hygiene trumps fashion any day.

Do your homework. If you're single or looking for a playmate, don't go to an event that caters to couples. Go to something specifically for people looking for play/sex partners. Nothing like that on the schedule? Then contact organizers and ask if you can coordinate an event for people looking to meet others.

Be yourself. Own it and work it. Even if that self is shy, awkward, inexperienced, and nervous, remember that someone may find those qualities endearing.

If you're new to the event, tell someone you're new. In some cases, there is an orientation person or host who will show you around, go over basic guidelines, and if you're lucky, introduce you to some people.

Find out what the rules are and follow them. Different communities have different etiquette and expectations, so read the program and posted signs and watch how other people behave. If you don't know or understand what's expected, ask someone. A good rule of thumb is to extend everyone respect—respect people's physical space, their possessions, and their scenes. You'll find that etiquette is mostly basic common sense, but when the environment is sexual, people can stop thinking with their brains. Don't be one of those people. Politeness will get you more tail.

Put yourself out there. Summon the courage to approach people, begin conversations, and connect. Your one true love (for the night or forever) may not waltz right up to you. And no one will if you're hiding in the corner looking at your shoes. Make an effort. Remember, as with anal sex, don't try too hard and never force it.

Volunteer. Donating your time will not only endear you to event organizers, it will force you to interact with lots of people right off the bat. Take it one step further and volunteer to be a demo model for a hands-on class, a contestant for the amateur striptease contest, or something similar. The more you put yourself out there—the more people who see you—the more potential fuck buddies.

Take the initiative. Want to meet people at a national conference who are from your area? Wish you could find other folks into foot fetishism? Post a message in a public area inviting like-minded people to connect with one another for coffee or a meal during the event.

Talk. Flirt. Flirt some more. Don't know how? Practice on a friend you trust, and get thoughtful feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. Read a book like How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes or take a flirting class.

Be specific. Queries like "I watched the bondage scene you did with that tall guy, and it was really hot. Would you like to tie me up?" or "Wanna fuck?"—after proper introduction and the exchange of niceties, of course—are not out of line when delivered with honesty and sincerity. The worst someone could say is no. No feels crappy, but don't take it personally. You've got to keep asking until the answer is yes.

Know what you want. If someone says, "Yes, I'd love to play with you!" don't get stalled at that point by not knowing your next move. Think in advance about what you want and what you don't, plus what you're curious about and might like to try. Clearly communicate your limits and boundaries (no unsafe sex, no hair pulling, whatever).

Have reasonable expectations. Too often people come to erotic events and think they are going to meet a drop-dead gorgeous prince or princess and do it doggy style with them within minutes. Scale down the fantasies and be real.

Confidence is sexy. If you believe you're hot and sexy and worth a second look, you'll project that, and people will believe it too.

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