Dear MKE SEX,

I’m having a bit of a sex positive dilemma. I’ve been invited to a Halloween party by a friend that’s newly (and enthusiastically!) kinky. She’s also in a new Dom/sub relationship with a much older man. She throws lots of fun parties, for birthdays, dress up, random get togethers for fun, that sort of thing. My struggle to be sex positive and to not kink shame stems from the way they interact. She and her new partner used to low-key play out their kinks during these parties in ways that were flirtatious but mostly discreet. But it has evolved into high-key play. He slaps her legs and ass really hard when she walks by, he pulls her hair, he talks about how she better not upset him or she’ll pay for it later, and more things I’ve probably blocked out.

I’m not anti-kink or anti-Dom/sub relationships at all. I’ve even dabbled myself, but I’ve also had controlling, abusive partners in the past (some that used their Dom role to continue the abuse), and this couples’ “play” is incredibly triggering. I don’t feel like I can say anything because 1) it’s her party at her house, and 2) her body, her choice to do whatever she wants with it. But I did not consent to being part of their scene, and when they turn a random get-together into a bare-assed paddle party for two, well that’s just not my cup of tea. I’ve talked to several other party goers, and they have all expressed the same discomfort to me. I end up feeling like a Debbie Downer because I have to leave lest I suffer an anxiety attack.

Is there anything I can do? Should I confront her or just stop going to her parties?

Thanks,
Get A Room

Dear Get A Room,

I can see your quandary. It sounds like you want to be supportive of your friend’s new-found happiness, but there are some decidedly problematic behaviors squicking you out. The feelings you’re having in response to witnessing their play are really valid. The sight and sound of spanking, paddling, and controlling behavior can bring up lots of negative feelings, sometimes rooted in previous personal experiences, and sometimes just on their own. I’m glad you’ve had the opportunity to hear that other guests are having the same experiences. I think you’ve done the right thing by leaving the parties in the past. Whether you decide to skip future parties with this friend ultimately depends on whether you’re comfortable sharing your discomfort with her.

People in new relationships are often more showy in their public displays of affection (PDAs) than folks in more established relationship. They are under the sway of new relationship energy (NRE), that beautiful chemical reaction that makes it hard to eat and sleep, and makes the whole world seem brighter and more lovely. It can also really cloud our judgement about our actions. We can end up practically making out in front of people who would rather we just didn’t.

Additionally, people who are new to kink often don’t understand the ins and outs of consent, especially in terms of group dynamics. The combination of NRE and emerging kink identity can really cause a PDA-palooza. Of course, your friend and her new partner aren’t just indulging in typical PDAs. They’re openly engaging in kink in front of people who are presumably not kinky. These folks just showed up to hang out and play cards with some friends. Now they’re witnessing a power dynamic, complete with low-level impact play, right in front of their eyes.

Small PDAs like hand holding, short closed-mouth kissing, and occasional whispered secrets are generally accepted in groups. Larger and more overt PDAs should be reserved for things like play parties, where all of the guests in attendance are aware that sexy things will be happening all around them. By attending a play party, everyone present has consented to witnessing all sorts of sexy things and knows the protocol for disengaging. At any other event, though, being sexual in front of bystanders violates those folks’ consent. They didn’t get the opportunity to opt into or out of the scene—it’s just being presented in front of them.

It sounds like engaging the power dynamic in front of other people adds to the thrill for your friend and her partner. Maybe one (or both) of them like the exhibitionism aspect to it. Or maybe she enjoys the extra vulnerability that the displays expose her to. Or perhaps he feels like the public humiliation aspect is important to her training as a submissive. Regardless of the motivation, their scene is benefitting from the presence of witnesses. That means that the witnesses need to consent to being part of the scene. It’s worth noting that this is true for all overt sex play in front of other people, not just kink. If you’re going to grope your partner in front of people, you best make sure that everyone around you is comfortable with it.

If you can bring yourself to talk to your friend about all of this, you’d really be doing her a service. Other people are also uncomfortable with her behavior and, like you, will start skipping her parties. She might not love hearing it, but in the long run, it could be a real gift. There’s a great book that might help her understand the culture of kink play a little better, called Playing Well With Others, by Lee Harrington and Mollena Williams. But if you’re not comfortable with a potential confrontation, you don’t owe her that. You have the right to just skip her parties and take care of yourself.

Curious about cunnilingus? Anxious about anal? Do you have questions about queefs or problems with your prostate? Lucky Tomaszek is the education coordinator at The Tool Shed: An Erotic Boutique, Milwaukee’s only mission-driven, education-focused sex toy store. Send her a question at mkesex@gmail.com and she’ll get back to you with an answer.