What to expect from your first time at a play party – with Toni Murphy

Minka: Hi everybody, and welcome back to Minka Guides. This month, we’re talking about what you should expect from your first time at a play party.

I am so delighted to have Toni Murphy here from Skin Out podcast.

Hi Toni! Introduce yourself to everybody.

⚠️ Content warning: The following discussion references kink, BDSM, sex work, consent and swinging.

Toni (she/her): Hi everyone. My name is Toni Murphy, and I’m the host of Skin Out podcast. 

First time at a play party CREDIT Toni Murphy

It is a podcast telling the stories of people of colour taking up space in the kink and fetish scene. All too often, when you think of kink and fetish and the play scene, you don’t really see a lot of marginalised identities. I really wanted to showcase that we are there, we’re taking up space, and other people of colour are more than welcome to join and be a part of that community as well. 

As for me, I am a freelance storyteller. I love telling stories, and how the podcast came about is telling those stories. I write, create content, and I act. Any way to tell a story. I love doing it. Yeah, that’s me.

Minka: Awesome. I think honestly, if you don’t follow my Instagram, you might not know this, but I’m such a huge fan of the podcast. I have been sharing every episode. I initially listened to it because, obviously, I had friends on there, and I wanted to hear their stories. 

But I got drawn in by the way that you craft it with everybody. Leading them to talk about exploring their identities and their experiences and all of that. It’s it’s incredible. So, yeah, I really love it. Well done with it. 

But my first question that I have to ask based on all of that is: 

Toni, have you watched Eyes Wide Shut yet?

Toni: Oh god, no. I still haven’t seen Eyes Wide Shut. I should. Oh my god, no. I still haven’t seen that movie.

Minka: If you haven’t listened to the podcast, then it’s very funny that everybody, almost every guest, mentioned the film Eyes Wide Shut. This is so strange because it is a film from like maybe thirty years ago.

Toni: It’s way beyond my time. Yeah.

Minka: Yeah, exactly, and it depicts if you hadn’t ever been to a play party. It depicts what you might think a play party would look like.

But it’s so interesting as well because it’s based on a book from the 1920s in Austria. How that play party plays out, very rich and lots of wealthy men and probably, I imagine (from reading the book) I think it’s like quite a lot of sex workers. 

So, it’s a very different kind of dynamic, to say, the play parties that we go to. But yeah, I can understand why people having that be their only reference point for a play party would be going along being like, “What is it all about?”

Toni: Yeah.

Minka: And also, why one of your guests on your podcast, Logan, talked about going to their first play party in a full tuxedo, wasn’t it?

Toni: Yeah, so Logan went to his first play party in; I don’t think it was a three-piece suit. But he went in dressing very smart because that’s what he thought he was supposed to do based on that movie. He was wearing a full black suit because he didn’t have anything any other clothing that was black that was suitable.

Minka: Yeah.

Toni: And he wore that the second time as well. One of the times that he actually went to the play parties, it was in a sauna, and this guy was wearing a full suit. 

Minka: Ah, which is so funny to know, seeing how Logan is now at play parties. It really showcases how our perceptions of what these spaces are going to be like are actually quite different a lot of the time from the reality of them.

Toni: Yeah, I love that the play party is now it’s more about self-expression and how you want to express yourself. You don’t have to wear a suit. I haven’t been to any parties where you have to wear a suit.

But it’s all about how you express yourself. Visually, you can dress as kinky or reveal as much as you want, and it’s very personal to you. I think that my favourite element of going to the play parties is dressing up, having fun with it and wearing things that I wouldn’t necessarily wear out in the real world or day-to-day life.

Minka: Yeah, exactly.

Toni: But just seeing everyone come together and how they choose to express themselves is really beautiful. It’s nice. I love it.

Minka: Yeah, exactly.

I think that’s one of the things: the dress code when people first go to a play party. I think that’s why a lot of parties have a set dress code, not only because… people don’t know if they haven’t been before but also because the people running the party want to help shape that space and environment and encourage people to come along with a particular look.

So yes, when we talk about play parties, obviously, it crosses a broad range of different types of parties. It’s interesting if you look on Wikipedia, it says that play parties are just specifically for BDSM, which is interesting because obviously, there are parties that are just kind of just for play and not necessarily kink-focused.

Have you been to a cross-section of different parties?

Toni: Yes, I’ve been to quite a range of different parties. I’ve been to the bigger ones, which are play raves. So they have the dancing element to things, and then you have the playrooms and most of the time, the playroom is kitted out with equipment (so BDSM-type equipment), but you don’t have to use them. They have benches there as well that you can just lay on and do whatever you want to do.

The smaller parties I’ve been to are not about BDSM. They don’t actually have that sort of equipment. It’s about how you want to play with your partner. It doesn’t have to be always to do with BDSM because not everyone’s into that who likes going to these parties.

Minka: Exactly, and I suppose that’s a good thing to think of before. If you’re looking to go to your first play party, look at what it actually is. Is it primarily kink-focused or play-focused or, as you say, like a play rave? Where you’re not walking into one room, and it’s just that. It’s more you’re going into a space where there’s lots of different activities and everything going on.

Toni, tell me about how you felt the first time you went to a play party.

Toni: So, my first-ever play party was back in 2021, and it was just after lockdown restrictions were lifted. It was at Fabric of all places. The first time I went to Fabric, I didn’t really have an idea of what to expect. I went in with an open mind, and it was a really cool environment. It was a chance to meet the people that I’ve been seeing online.

The thing is, when I went there, I went with a group of people I didn’t actually know because I didn’t know that many people in the scene. But at the time, the organizers had a social where you could meet other people who were also first-timers. So we made a group, and we went to the party together.

We came in, and I spent some time exploring the environment just to see what was there. After a while, I was dancing, but then I don’t know… something just changed inside of me where I felt just very overwhelmed and very anxious about being in that environment. Because it was my first time, I didn’t know anyone there, and I was like, “Oh my god. What am I doing here? Maybe this isn’t for me.” So I kind of left the group and did a walk around and just to kind of be alone.

But that didn’t help at all. So fortunately, the organizers at the time had a wellness sanctuary that you could go to decompress, and it was quieter. They had wellbeing monitors in there who were on hand to kind of help you. So I went in there, and I was in there for about half an hour, and I’m so grateful that someone there on the staff sat with me and talked with me. They really helped ease my nerves, and it wasn’t because they were saying anything about the party. Just them having a regular conversation and that helped to ground me to kind of realize that this isn’t a fantastical environment. These are just regular people having fun who are like-minded. 

That moment just really solidified that I wanted to be a part of that scene because it’s not just about the play and the rave. It’s about the community, and it just showed that the people who are organizing really cared about the people coming to these parties. 

Fortunately, after I left the wellbeing sanctuary, I bumped into someone that I knew. I didn’t know they were going to be there, and they then introduced me to their friends and from there, it kind of spiralled into the best night ever. I went to an after-party, and I didn’t go home till like 11am the next morning. 

So it was an amazing first time, and I actually played that night as well. I didn’t think I was going to play, but I played, and it was great. It was magical. 

Minka: Wow, you went through the full range of emotions and feelings and experiences during that night, which is kind of incredible. I’m so impressed as well because I was at that play rave, and it was like 1,500 people, wasn’t it? It was that first one after like covid, right?

Toni: Yeah.

Minka: So, to set the scene for everybody. It was, as you said, at Fabric. It was in this enormous club space, and they sold up to 1,500 tickets. This was the first party I’d been to since lockdown. So most people hadn’t been socializing and hadn’t been in a space with lots of people, let alone 1,500. So that was overwhelming as it was, let alone to be your first experience. That’s huge. You definitely jumped right in the deep end there.

Toni: Yeah, it turns out I don’t like doing things by half measures. I was like, “I want to go to a sex party. Let me get to the biggest one ever right after I’ve been restricted from seeing everyone else in public.”

Minka: Oh my god! Exactly.

Also, I wonder if that would have set such a high standard for me in terms of play parties because of the scale. I like really big parties, and, in terms of the setup and all of that, I would have just been expecting every single play party to be that big. 

But obviously, we’ve seen each other at smaller ones since, which have been lovely and have had a different kind of energy and vibe to them. That must have been kind of like, “OK, wow. This is what it’s like. This is this whole other underground world that’s happening.”

Toni: Yeah, it was. It was so surreal because it was an underground world, but it was also very public. It was in Fabric, such a well-known club in London, so it wasn’t that underground, really. It’s just a matter of knowing people and knowing where to look to find these play parties. 

But yeah, the different sizes of play parties have been great. I’ve started to really enjoy the smaller, more intimate parties because then you can get to know people a bit easier. Not all of the big ones have socials where you can get to know people outside of the play setting, which can make it hard if you go alone like I do.

Minka: Absolutely.

Knowing that we were having this conversation, I was trying to think back to the first time that I went into a play/kink space. I remember that when I was 18, I moved into my first shared house in university, and I moved in with a dominatrix. I was already understanding a lot about the kink world by that point, and so I was like, “Yeah, take me along.”

So she took me along to my first party like that, and I was so young and just bouncing around the space. I wasn’t engaging with anything, but I just was so happy to be there and absorbing the energy of everything. 

But I think the first time I went to a play party where I played that was like a public party, as in it was a ticketed event, probably wasn’t until maybe like a decade later. So, about 2008, at Kinky Salon London when they used to run those parties here, which I think set up a lot of the more public queer-friendly play parties that happened in London. They kind of all stem from a lot of the stuff that KSL did back then.

But yeah, that was probably the first one that I ever went along to and played at in public. I was going with a monogamous partner at the time, and so we were going curiously. I remember our energy being very curious, like, “We want to go to this and see what it’s like. We’re just going to play with each other, but isn’t it nice being around other people playing with each other.” I think you can go to a play party under lots of different circumstances and different dynamics and with different groups of people.

How would you say that your first-time experience compares to other people that you interviewed on the podcast? Did they all have quite similar experiences?

Toni: I think my experience was a little bit different to the other people that I interviewed in the podcast. It was all so varied. Some people started off going to smaller, private parties, and then, like Logan, they went to these, I guess, very hetero in a way, heteronormative sort of parties. Where guys were suited and girls were wearing lingerie. I think, yeah, it, it honestly varies. 

But I think now, in 2023, I think most people are gaining a similar sort of experience, but it can be very hit-and-miss. It depends on the party, for sure. We had a conversation, me and Logan, about how certain organizers organize parties either for profit or they’re doing it for the community. You can definitely tell the difference where there isn’t a lot of care being put into wellbeing. 

I remember going to Torture Garden, and that was a really well-known party. I went for Halloween with a good big group of people, and it wasn’t a great experience because there were so many incidences that happened that night that I hadn’t experienced elsewhere to the same degree or same intensity. I think you do run the risk of that happening.

Then I remember there’s another girl in the scene called Kitty, who had bad experience after bad experience going to several different parties. So I can’t guarantee that you know your first time is going to be amazing because you can’t really control what other people do. 

Even though these spaces are safer spaces and they’re very intentional spaces, and we have all these rules and guidelines, people can just memorize them to get in. Then their behaviour is contradictory to what they’ve said they’re going to do. We can try very hard to make sure those people aren’t in those spaces, but they do slip in, and unfortunately, they can ruin the experience for a lot of first-timers.

But I do implore that if you are going to your first one, I guess not try and try again, but try within your capacity. I don’t overdo it because you really want to have a good time. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have a good time, and don’t let a bad experience ruin your perception of this community because there are a few bad eggs, and hopefully, you will find somewhere that really resonates with you.

Minka: Yes.

This leads us to a really great opportunity to give some advice about if you’re going to a play party for the first time.

If you’re watching this because you’re like, “Oh my god, I don’t know. How do I prepare for this? What do I expect?” 

That’s a really great piece of advice because people like to know that, yeah, not only… I mean, it really depends on where you live and what opportunities you have or what access to parties. But don’t see this one party as having to fulfil all of your fantasies and that you never need to go to another party ever again. 

See it as a little stepping stone and entry point. Perhaps you want to go and explore other parties elsewhere. But don’t see this as huge pressure, and also don’t see it as you have to play. I think that most people… as you said, you were surprised that you played your first one. I think people put a lot of pressure on themselves like they’re going to be expected to play. But that’s not necessarily so, is it?

Toni: No, absolutely not. I find that two years on from going to parties, I didn’t actually play at every single play party I go to now. I’ve met so many new friends that I go to to dance or to hang out with them and to dress up and look sexy, and have no intention of playing.

I think there is this misconception that you do have to go to these parties to play. But I think that’s the difference between play parties and swinger parties. Swinger parties are definitely sex-oriented. You go there to have sex, and if you’re not having sex, then why are you there? 

Minka: Yes.

Toni: So, I think that’s where they differ in that sort of sense. You don’t have to feel that pressure to do things you don’t want to do. 

Minka: Yes.

Toni: Going back to what you said about trying to find what party suits you, one of my guests on the podcast, Don, spent time going to multiple different events on behalf of himself but also his partner, who wasn’t too keen on it. She wasn’t really sure about the play party scene, so he went to all these different parties and gave her a little review about which one she would like, which one she wouldn’t like, which one was too loud, which one had a great community.

So he was there doing a public service and trying out all these different parties. Also, with him as well, his first two parties weren’t great, but then it was the third time lucky, and he had a great time that third time. So, 100% if it doesn’t work out the first time, it doesn’t mean it’s never going to work out.

Minka: Exactly.

Going back to what we were talking about earlier, I think also people put a lot of thought into what they’re wearing to a play party. I think one of the things I would recommend is always wearing something almost slightly layered. Most people want to wear a little bit more because they’re not used to wearing very little to their first party. Then, often, people get in, and they’re like, “Oh, I don’t actually need to be wearing all of this clothing. You know what? I can take off this top or something.”

So, if you’re feeling a bit nervous, you can always kind of layer up but have something that you can layer down to as well. Whether that’s wearing nothing underneath or maybe some lingerie or something. Sometimes, people wear a little mesh top or something over it just to feel more comfortable, and particularly if you’re not used to wearing lingerie or underwear or whatever in public, it can feel a bit nerve-racking the first time.

Toni: Yeah, definitely. At my first party, I probably wore the most clothes I’ve ever worn to a play party. I was wearing this skirt, it’s a tartan skirt and a lacy body suit and some fishnet tights. 

Minka: Right.

Toni: That’s the most I’ve worn at a party, and for that very reason. I wasn’t sure, “Should I wear less? Should I wear more?” I was a bit shy, but I think that’s so true. You don’t have to show everything your first time. Just wear what makes you feel sexy to you. Wear what makes you feel comfortable. That’s the most important thing.

Minka: Exactly, yeah.

Toni: You don’t want to feel like, “Oh my god! All eyes on me,” but in a not-nice way. Yeah.

Minka: Exactly. But also, if you have something that you can be like, “Oh yeah, I can take these bits off, and then I’ll fit in a bit more.” If that’s what you feel like as well. 

Also, your point that you were saying about your first experience and going with a group of people you didn’t really know… I suppose that one of the things people struggle with the most is who to go with. Sometimes, it’s like, “Well, I don’t have anyone to go with. Or I have a partner, but they aren’t very keen. Or how do I ask my friends if they want to come to a party like this with me?” 

Do you have any advice about how to navigate like your first time with other people coming with you?

Toni: I would suggest going to socials if that’s an option. A lot of the bigger play raves have socials that you can go to, which is non-play. It’s a great way to meet people within that community, and it’s a great way to meet people and to find a group of people that you could go with.

If that’s not possible, then Instagram and online communities have been really great in being able to find other people with a similar sort of interest and getting to know them. So, following the accounts of these play organizers is a great way to meet other people. 

I know that Fetlife has a lot of events that are munches (socials where you can meet people within the scene in a social environment). I think that’s probably a really good way to meet other people if you don’t have people around you who would go to these events with you.

Minka: Yeah, definitely. That’s such a good suggestion.

I suppose the other thing I would say is a lot of the time, when people are nervous about going to these parties, they might drink a lot. I would actually suggest people try not to drink too much or take any other substances. It does kind of cloud your ability, or it might change your behaviour in those spaces.

Maybe for the first one, you don’t necessarily have to be completely sober unless it’s a sober party. But maybe try to minimize the amount that you drink before and during those parties. Do you have any experience with that kind of stuff?

Toni: Personally, I don’t drink a lot at these parties either. Even on my first time, I had maybe one or two drinks for that very reason. I want to have a clear mind. I want to make sure that anything I get involved with is a hundred per cent consenting. You know there’s no outside influence, I’m not overly intoxicated.

A lot of these parties do advise you to stay within your limit, like know your limit, don’t go too far. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you can’t give full consent because then the aftermath is you having to battle with these thoughts of, “Did I actually want to do that?” 

I definitely think for your first time, don’t drink too much. You might think you’re helping with your nerves, but honestly, I think it’s not the environment to do that sort of thing. A lot of a lot is happening around you, and you want to be fully aware of what is happening and what you’re doing.

Minka: Yeah, exactly.

As a person of colour in these spaces, is there any particular advice that you would give to someone who’s going into them for the first time? 

The podcast was so great at showcasing the range of experiences with that. Is there any advice you’d give to someone who’s going for the first time?

Toni: Yeah, my advice is you’re not alone. The scene is getting more and more diverse. We are in these spaces where there are a lot of POC-centered events as well. So there are organizers like Serotonin who are POC-focused. There are some other parties like Anomalii.

So yeah, there are a number of different organizers that are POC-centered that you can go to as your first time if you’re feeling very nervous about going to these bigger parties and worried about not fitting in or feeling a bit othered.

The bigger parties are definitely doing a lot of work to make the scene more diverse. But unfortunately, I think because of cultural ideas of what is for us and what isn’t for us, people want to go to these spaces where they don’t feel like they can because it’s not seen as a ‘black thing’ or, you know something that we do. 

Whereas we’re allowed to do things that aren’t necessarily perceived as a black thing to do. You can explore your sexuality in a safe space. Just know that you have as much right to be in those spaces as everyone else, and we are going to be there to welcome you with open arms.

Minka: Amazing! Perfect.

I think on that note, if you’re listening to this and wondering about those kinds of experiences, check out your podcast because I think it is such a great way of hearing about that.

Where can people find a podcast?

Skin Out podcast CREDIT Toni Murphy

Toni: You can listen to the podcasts on all major podcast listening platforms. So, Apple PodcastsSpotify, Google podcasts. The only place it is not on is YouTube because it’s an audio-only podcast to protect the privacy of some of the guests because your sex life and what you want to do in your private life should be private. You don’t have to disclose that.

I’m very open online and on social media. So that’s just me, but you don’t have to be. So, to protect the anonymity of my guests, it’s purely audio. It just shows that there is a wide range of people in the scene you wouldn’t necessarily think are in the scene, but they’re there. So everyone is welcome, honestly.

Minka: Yeah, amazing.

Speaking of social media, where can people find you and the podcast?

Toni: So you can find me on social media. My handle is @tonivmurphy, and @skinoutpod is the handle for the podcast.

Minka: Amazing, amazing! 

Well, thank you so much for sharing all of this today with me, Toni. I think next time I come back to London, we should watch Eyes Wide Shut and have a bit of a laugh about it all, I think, before anyone else references it. You could be like, “Yes, I have seen that.”

Toni: Yes, absolutely. I need to see the film before season two of the podcast comes out.

Minka: I look forward to doing that wonderful. 

Thank you so much. Bye.

Toni: Thank you for having me.

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