Sex and Play

My partner and I had a long conversation the other night about what “playing” means to each of us. I had mentioned that we hadn’t played in a while, and that I’d really like to take a night to just do that. What he pointed out, and what I hadn’t really thought much about, is that he really has no idea what I mean when I say I want to “play.” What sort of activities are and are not included in playing? What distinguishes that from just sex?

Most of the time, when we engage in any sort of BDSM activity, it isn’t a scene — it’s sex enhanced by things like pain, d/s, and the like. It’s simply what naturally comes out of each of us when we start to fool around. It isn’t something that’s been planned or scheduled beforehand. And it’s not what I have in mind, not exactly, when I ask to set aside time in the evening to “play.”

A lot of the confusion around these terms is really rooted in what defines BDSM and distinguishes it from “just sex.” I feel a very big difference between having d/s-flavored sex and “having a scene” or “playing.” My partner feels that it’s all the same sort of play, just in varying degrees of intensity.

It’s been really hard to tease out exactly what I do have in mind when I ask to “play,” or when I ask for a “scene.” (The latter term is probably a better one for what I’m trying to describe.) I think a large part of that is wanting, as a bottom, for my partner to simply come up with something fun and to direct how everything proceeds — not knowing exactly what he’s going to do or ask of me makes everything a little scarier and a lot hotter. And so, my answers to “what do you mean by ‘play’?” have generally been along the lines of “something more deliberate” and “something more drawn out, longer than usual.” Pretty vague, and not very useful to him. At the same time, I don’t want to say, “Well, I’d like you to put a collar on me, and pull my pants down — but don’t take your clothes off at all — and then chain me to the bed, and then leave just long enough for me to start getting aggravated, and then come back in and use the flogger on me for a while, and then take me down and…” I don’t want to make him feel restricted, or like he has to perform a certain set of things for me to be satisfied.

When we really got into it, I was surprised at how simple and mundane the conditions were that led me to think of something as either “sex” or “play.” The first was location: any sort of sexual activity that takes place in bed, especially after we’ve “gone to bed” (to ostensibly go to sleep), is categorized in my head as “sex.” The exceptions to this rule come about when some sort of toy is used, something that I associate strictly with BDSM play (ropes, cuffs, clothespins, collar, etc.), or when pain play is involved (such as pinching and spanking) without any other sort of sexual activity going on. (More on this below.) Conversely, I’m more likely to think of sex that takes place on the floor or in some other location as “play.” I also think of any sort of subtle d/s that goes on outside the bedroom (and especially if other people are around) as “play,” regardless of how intense or mild it is.

The second factor is time: “Playing” simply takes longer than “sex,” at least in my head, and it’s something that happens well before it’s time to go to sleep. It’s something that we deliberately set aside time in the day for (especially if we can make it coincide with the roommates being out of the house). I think of playing as something that usually takes a few hours.

The third factor is sex: While I certainly enjoy all kinds of penetrative and non-penetrative sex (including oral and masturbation), it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think of playing. For me, while playing can involve sex of various kinds (and generally I want it to, at least at some point), it also involves activities that are done just for the enjoyment of dominance and pain. This includes things like bondage, boot worship/licking, cutting, spanking, flogging, and the like. The interesting (and confusing) thing is that for me, everything changes once sex enters the mix. If my partner spanks or pinches me while fucking me, that’s rough sex. If he orders me to remain still and digs his nails into me, holding his grip firmly while watching me squirm, that’s play — even if the pain intensity is the same.

On the other hand, I’ve also had experiences that I’d classify as “sex within a scene.” This would be something like painful penetration used as a means of establishing dominance, or forced penetration with an object, or possibly a rape scene. And of course, I don’t think that a d/s scene concluding with sex is at all bad; in fact, I think I’d be pretty disappointed if it didn’t.

I’d be interested to hear if other people share any of these complex and perhaps somewhat arbitrary distinctions between “sex” and “play”…

4 comments so far

  1. Meer on

    The exploration of variations and complexities provides novelty. Novelty is what sets a mind to Venn hula-hooping and marvelous categorization. Add this race to understand to the immediacy of physical duress and you’ve got a fine, heady wine. How the complex and arbitrary distinctions shake out almost seems secondary. The race is the thing.

  2. BBW Switch on

    After reading your post it occurred to me that I too have different mindsets for “sex”, “play” and “scene”.
    A scene for me, is planned, purposeful and directed by the D. It is meant to test limits, explore new techniques, create a new dimension to the D/s in increasing endurance of pain or expanding servitude. It is a cultivation of what has been discussed previously in a non-D/s setting, such as, “Have you ever thought about being…?” type of conversation, a dialog that implemented.
    Play for me is more fluid, more about an interaction of both D and sub, it is more spontaneous. In play there is not an agenda on the D’s part, or the sub’s part for that matter, it is just an extension of what each is feeling/craving at that moment.
    Sex for me can be an compentent of either play or a scene but it is also just a basic coming together for physical enjoyment and release. For me, sex is less about D/s, although it includes D/s aspects, such as toys or instruments, but they hold less of a status than just enjoying our bodies.
    Even as I write this I am not sure it will make sense to anyone but me, but hopefully it provides you with a different perspective. 🙂

  3. omnivoresdilemma on

    This is a really well-thought-out and thought-provoking post. It’s interesting to me the sorts of lines you draw between rough sex, sex, and play. I’ve always had a bit of an issue with the word “play,” especially when it’s used to refer to sex that’s very close and intimate. When sexuality and lovemaking lead to intimacy, that doesn’t feel at all like play to me. It feels very grown-up and powerful.

    Playing is something light and, well, playful. But one can lead to another.

    I’m not sure that Bran and I really worry too much about these distinctions. I know that when he’s topping me, or I’m topping him, when one of us is ordering the other around, it’s usually in a very sexual context. I know that when I’ve got him on his knees in the living room, that feels much more playful than when we’re together in bed. In that sense, your definition of sex as something that happens in the bedroom makes a lot of sense to me.

    I think about the term “foreplay” and about a pattern that happens a lot when I’m being sexual with someone. It often starts on the couch and at some point I end up dragging them to the bedroom. Bran has asked more than once, “can we go your room?” and when he does, I think that’s a sort of request that we move from the foreplay part of our lovemaking into the more sex part of it.

    In terms of pure play, that doesn’t involve sex… hmmm… it’s a question I’d like to think about more, especially as Bran and I continue to deepend our relationship and try to decide whether it would be possible for one or both of us to really do any playing with anyone else outside of it. I think it would have to be play with anyone else, because the sex and intimacy piece of things is something that I think really needs to be reserved for a primary partner.

    It seems to me that the kink community has a lot of experience in making these sorts of differentiations, as subtle as they may be, which is why it’s possible for a long-term couple to find playmates outside of their primary relationship.

    Your experience as a model for branding is a good example of that.

  4. JonathanSG on

    As a Dom., I’m glad I read your post. It makes one think of the basics, a good scene, especially in long term relationships.

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