A lot of people have wondered what the rules are at various events, and why they’re there, as well as the difference between “fetish nights” and “play parties”.
There are basically three kinds of BDSM-related parties, not counting munches and brunches. I’m going to describe them, but keep in mind that these are not rigid categories — every event is different, and what I’m providing here are generalizations.
Examples: various Northbound Leather events
These events are open to the public, usually for an admission fee, and they do not use a guest list. Because it’s a public event, there are some fairly rigid rules as to what is and is not permitted. There is also usually a dress code — if you’re not wearing leather, latex or other fetish attire, you either won’t be allowed in or will be expected to pay extra.
The big advantage of fetish nights is that they’re low-committment — you can decide on the spur of the moment to simply drop by. The disadvantage is that they sometimes draw a lot of vanilla folk, who come out to gawk at all the strange people in leather.
Because there’s no guest list, finding a play partner is a bit risky. You have no way of knowing who somone is, or how safe they are. Many of these events have no Dungeon Monitors. So… if you’re planning to play at these events, you should bring your own play-partner.
At some (but not all) of the fetish nights there is more of an emphasis on fashion and dancing than on BDSM. That’s both good and bad — it’s good that there’s a way for vanilla folk to dip their toes in the waters of kink while still being able to retain “plausible deniability”. However, if someone is looking to play or to watch others play, they might be happier at a play party.
Unlike fetish nights, play parties have a guest list that gets checked at the door. This means that the general public is not allowed in. There is usually no dress code, and the focus of the evening is on socializing and playing rather than on dancing.
The fact that play parties are not open to the public greatly reduces the problem of “gawkers”, since everyone who’s there is either involved with the BDSM community or has been vouched for by someone who is. The fact that it’s a private event also means that the rules of conduct are often (though not always) more relaxed than at a fetish night. In most cases, full genital nudity is permitted.
However, in most cases no explicit sexual activity is allowed. This is because admission to the event still costs money (since it’s in a rented club), and the combination of money changing hands with sexual activity would put the event at risk of breaking the “Bawdy House” laws. That’s one reason why DM’s have to be extremely careful not to allow anything that “crosses the line”.
Unlike the fetish nights and play parties, private parties are typically held in someone’s home and so no admission is charged. This means that the host of the party is free to set whatever rules he or she likes. Not only is full genital nudity permitted, explicit sexual activity is often allowed.
The disadvantage of play parties is that they’re usually (of necessity) smaller events, generally with no more than a couple of dozen people.