A Beginner's Guide to BDSM Munches
(Version 1.4, written 8/14/03)
Copyright 2003 by Jay Wiseman, JD
Author of "SM 101: A Realistic Introduction" and "Jay Wireman's Erotic
Bondage Handbook" -- and other books published by Greenery Press.
Please contact the author at email@example.com or
via his publisher for reprinting and reposting requests.
Hello and welcome to the munch! Perhaps this is your first munch. Perhaps this is
your first BDSM event of any kind. Congratulations for contacting what many of us
call the BDSM community (or, more simply, "the scene"). You are on the threshold of
meeting many new people, having many new experiences, and both learning and growing a
great deal. By the way, "BDSM" is a general, overall term for what we do. The term
is pronounced just like its letters - B D S M - and represents a compression of the
phrases "bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism."
1. What is a BDSM munch? In broad outline, a BDSM munch is an informal gathering of
people with an interest in BDSM so that they can eat and socialize. Please note that
munches tend to be social events, not educational events. If you'd like to learn more
about BDSM, please see the end of this document. Most munches are held in restaurants,
often in a special room or area of the restaurant. Munches tend to be informal affairs
with relatively little structure or protocol. (If there is something special about a
particular munch's structure or protocol, and you haven't already been informed of what
it is, don't worry too much. You'll likely be told what you need to know about that
before the gathering gets well underway.) Most munches are publicized primarily
online, and the Internet figures prominently in their history and development.
2. How did munches get started? Munches were started in the early 1990s by people
who had an interest in BDSM and who were also online. (The Internet had not yet gone
really mainstream.) These people began meeting at local restaurants. On the west
coast, the original gatherings were held in Palo Alto, California, and called "burger
munches." After a while, particularly as the Internet grew in popularity, the idea
caught on and similar gatherings began to be organized in other cities. Today, these
"munches" as they are now called, are held in dozens of cities across the country and
also in some foreign countries. Their number continues to grow. (Munches continue
in Palo Alto to this day.)
3. What kinds of people attend BDSM munches? People who attend munches can vary
widely, however as a group they tend to be highly intelligent, highly imaginative,
and highly individualistic. Essentially all attendees have a personal interest in
BDSM. Most munches have a designated host or hosts who are informally - but firmly,
if need be - in overall charge of the event. Some munches are especially intended
for certain types of people such as people of a certain age range or people with an
interest in a particular aspect of BDSM play, and these are usually specifically
advertised as such. While munches are definitely open to people of all sexual
orientations, most have something of a mixed-gender, heterosexual/bisexual tone to
them. People who cross-dress and transgendered people also sometimes attend. (If
you have an interest in one-gender events, the munch hosts will likely be able to
make a referral.) Munches are almost always "for adults only" and persons under 18
should not be brought unless the ground rules of the munch specifically state that
they are welcome.
4. What should I wear? Most munches do not have a specific dress code so, in general,
"reasonably presentable" clothing appropriate to the season will be fine. "A bit of
black" will usually go over well. Dressing up in "high fetish" clothing is not necessary
and may be inappropriate for the event unless you have been told otherwise beforehand.
On the other hand, showing up in highly informal clothing may not make the best first
impression either. Don't be too surprised if you see people wearing items of black
leather clothing or footwear, and please try to not look too shocked if you see someone
happily eating and chatting away while wearing a collar of leather or steel locked
around their neck.
5. Confidentiality. There is a strong rule in this community, sometimes spoken and
sometimes not but always there, that the privacy of event attendees is protected. Please
remember that people are here to interact regarding a highly personal aspect of
themselves, so once you leave keep your mouth shut about the identities of who you saw
there, what they said and did, and so forth. For example, if you saw a co-worker at a
munch, keep quiet about that when you return to work. (Although you may find that you
and the co-worker will want to arrange a private lunch or after-work coffee date, or
at least trade the occasional knowing smile.) Violating the confidentiality rule can
get you shunned and banned. Be advised that some people use "scene names" instead of
their legal name, so please don't feel too surprised to learn that someone calls
themselves "Master Tom," "Slave Pat," or "Cruella." By the way, titles are often
omitted in direct personal conversation, so you are not expected to address him as "
Master Tom" unless he is _your_ master. (And until you've _both_ agreed that he's
your master, he isn't.)
6. Special Terminology. BDSM people often use scene-related jargon to let others
know what activities they enjoy. For example, if a woman were to refer to herself as
a "bi poly switch" this would indicate that she was, to a greater or lesser degree
1) bisexual, 2) poly amorous (basically, someone who has intimate relationships, which
can include sex, with more than one person) and 3) enjoyed at least some aspects of
both the dominant and the submissive roles. People who prefer the "dominant" role
may refer to themselves as dominants, masters, daddies, or tops. People who prefer
the "submissive" role may refer to themselves as submissives, slaves, or bottoms.
(I put "dominant" and "submissive" in quotes because the scope of these terms is
subject to lots of debate within our community.) By the way, don't be surprised if
you're asked if you're a top or a bottom, or something similar. If you're not sure
yet, it's fine to reply that you're still exploring that question. Consider asking
what those terms mean to them.
7. Behavior Tips. Because protecting the privacy of attendees is so important, it
can be discourteous to ask someone direct, specific questions about what they do for
a living, what company they work for, details about where they live, if they're in a
committed relationship, and so forth. It's fine if they volunteer such information
(some people are very "out" and forthright, a few almost too much so [grin]), but
don't probe. If someone asks you a direct question that you don't feel comfortable
answering, a simple reply of "I'd rather not say just now" is entirely appropriate.
(They shouldn't ask again, at least at that event.) It's generally fine to have
some beer or wine with your food if you wish, but make sure you don't drink alcohol
to the point where your behavior becomes a problem. By the way, given that non-BDSM
people, including children, are probably also at the restaurant and may be able to
see into the room where the munch is being held, explicit BDSM behavior is generally
8. Dealing with the restaurant staff. Be exceptionally courteous and friendly to
the staff. Violating this rule can make a seriously bad impression on the munch
hosts. When it comes time to pay, be sure to pay your full share plus a generous
tip. You can score a few extra points as a team player if you bring along some
one-dollar and five-dollar bills to help the other attendees make change.
9. The etiquette of touching and personal space. The BDSM community is a bit "touchy"
about when, where, and why it's OK for one person to touch another. While ordinary
social handshakes are usually fine (some "old school" men observe the etiquette rule
that a gentleman never offers his hand to a lady but rather waits for her to offer
hers, if she chooses to) more intimate touching such as hugging and so forth is reserved
for people who already know each other well. (Because a lot of the people attending
already know each other well, you may see a lot of hugging.) A good general rule is
to not touch another person's body, clothing, or BDSM equipment without first obtaining
their specific permission - and don't be too aggressive about asking for that permission.
It's especially wise for men to be cautious regarding touching women that they don't
already know very well. Whatever you do, don't touch another person in a "dominant"
manner unless you're very certain that you have permission. (If the person is wearing
a collar, there's a good chance that they are in an ongoing dominant/submissive
relationship and that the person they are collared to is also at the event, so it's
wise to get explicit and specific permission from that person beforehand as well.)
Also, if another person touches you in a dominant manner without your permission, it
is entirely appropriate to let them clearly know that you didn't appreciate that, and
also to notify the munch hosts about this. This is true even if this is your first
event and the other person seems to be well-known and prominent. If they are making
you feel uncomfortable with their behavior, there is a very good chance that they are
also making other attendees uncomfortable as well and the hosts need to know about that.
Make sure that you keep a respectful distance from the other attendees. Men need to
be especially mindful on this point. Sitting too close to a woman whom you don't know
well, "friendly" hugs or other touching, and looming over a woman in a "dominant" manner
can quickly get you a bad reputation that is hard to shake. (Women in the community tend
to be somewhat close-knit. Offend one of them with boorish behavior and many other women will quickly learn about it.)
10. Munches are not highly screened. Munches are often publicly advertised and are
generally open to all attendees who can observe a few basic rules of social conduct.
What this means is that very little can be certain about a person's level of knowledge,
experience, or trustworthiness from the mere fact that they are at a munch. While most
attendees are fine in this regard, every now and then someone attends that you most definitely do not want to find yourself alone with - particularly if you're tied up! An excellent way to deal with this is simply to give things time. There is certainly no need to go back to somebody's house and engage in BDSM play with them on the same day that you meet them. Doing so can be especially risky. Remember this saying because it's very important: Time is your best friend. Take your time, give it time, and let time do its work on your behalf. With enough time - and often a surprisingly short amount of it - the right thing to do usually becomes clear. Never let anybody rush you.
11. Exchanging personal information. Because preserving the privacy of attendees is
so important, if you'd like to have further contact with someone after a munch a good
general rule is to offer your telephone number or email address to them instead of
asking them to give you that information about themselves. (Ladies, this means that
if you meet a man that you'd like to see again and he gives you such information about
himself, you'll have to make the next move and contact him.) Some people have special
email addresses created to handle scene-related emails. (YourRealName@YourWorkplace.com
might not be the best email address to give to someone until you get to know them really
well.) Some people create special business-type cards that contain contact information
that they're willing to have fairly widely available, such as their scene name and their
special email address. You can either have these printed in quantity or use your word
processor to print them out in small batches. (Your local office supply store will
have "business card" paper.)
12. Reputations, references, warnings, and politics. If you meet someone and you're
thinking about engaging in BDSM play with them, perhaps particularly if you're thinking
about taking the submissive or bottom role when you play, you might want to ask around
a bit to see how this person is generally regarded. Because genuinely dangerous
predators are usually spotted and driven from the mainstream community fairly quickly,
if someone is well-known and generally well thought of, the probability that they are
genuinely dangerous is fairly low (but not non-existent). The BDSM community is somewhat
known for attracting people with strong personalities and strong opinions. (Some of the
people with the strongest personalities and opinions usually take the submissive role
during BDSM play.) Therefore, a certain amount of social/political feuding is something
of the norm. This is usually very low-key at a munch, but there may be good reasons
why two people are sitting on opposite sides of the room from each other. How this
pertains to you is that if someone comes up to you and gives you an unsolicited warning
bout another person, you might want to keep in mind that your "helpful friend" may have
an agenda regarding that other person that they are not being candid about. Once again,
time is your best friend.
13. Getting together after the munch. Munches are social affairs, and it is not at
all uncommon for people who meet at a munch to wish to get together later on. This
can be for further socializing, for a private meal, or even for the purpose of a BDSM
play date. This can be, and usually is, just fine. However, remember that munch
attendees are not highly screened so take your time in getting to know this person
(that "time" thing again) before meeting them for a BDSM play date, particularly in
private. Note: a standard safety precaution, especially recommended when doing BDSM
play with someone new in private, is to tell a trusted person where you'll be, who
you'll be with, and when you'll be back in touch, and then before you play to politely
let your potential partner know that you've done so. This is known as a "silent alarm"
or "safe call" and you should be taught the details of how to set one up very early in
your BDSM education. Reputable players should have little problem with this and may
even take the initiative in telling you that you should set one up. (Don't be surprised,
or offended, if they do so as well. Such a device is a standard safety precaution.)
14. Special symbols. Sometimes people wear their keys on their left hip to show that
hey prefer the top or dominant role or wear their keys on their right hip to show that
they prefer the bottom or submissive role. If you see someone wearing a collar of metal,
leather, or some other material, there is a pretty good chance that they are the
submissive or slave in an ongoing BDSM relationship. Sometimes people wear colored
handkerchiefs in their left or right hip pockets to indicate an interest in a particular
activity. For example, a gray handkerchief often indicates an interest in bondage. In
general, wearing the handkerchief in the left hip pocket indicates an interest in being
the dominant or active partner during the activity and in the right hip pocket often
indicates an interest in being the submissive or passive partner. Note: sometimes a
handkerchief is just a handkerchief. If you're not sure, it's fine to ask someone if
their handkerchief has some sort of special significance.
15. Cruising and Aggressive Cruising. Munches are social events, and one of the main
reasons people attend munches is to meet new people. Their goal regarding meeting new
people can range from socializing together, attending events together, playing together,
some of the above, all of the above, and even more. Indeed, it is not particularly
unusual for people to meet at a munch and eventually end up in a long-term, committed
relationship. "Cruising" is a term describing the behavior of people who are making
special efforts to meet new people. "Aggressive cruising" is a term for people who
come on so strongly, especially to new attendees, that the other person becomes
uncomfortable. You don't want to get a reputation for doing this. There is no sharp
distinction between cruising and aggressive cruising, but there is an old joke about
how anybody (particularly somebody that you don't like) who gets the phone number
or email address of a person that you're attracted to before you get that information
is guilty of aggressive cruising.
16. "Swarming" and "Chopped Liver." "Swarming" is a condition in which a newcomer
gets a lot of "welcoming" attention. It happens with some frequency to women who
attend by themselves. In such a situation, the woman may be approached by numerous
men, and even some women or couples, for conversation and may leave the event with
a large handful of phone numbers and email addresses in their possession. If you're
a woman and are concerned about this, you might want to attend your first munch with
"Chopped liver," on the other hand, is a condition in which someone attends a munch
and receives very little attention. Sadly, this often happens to single men who are
not yet well known. Fortunately, if such men continue to attend munches and other
events, they should make friends before too long. There is always room in the BDSM
community for another ethical, friendly single man.
17. Introductions and announcements. Many munches have a special time period, usually
shortly after the starting time, where people are asked in turn to say something about
themselves to the group. This is usually a short statement about their name and their
general interests. For example, I might stand up and say, "My name is Jay, I'm a switch,
and I really enjoy rope bondage." Someone else might say, "My name is Patricia, I'm a
dominant, and I'm really into giving spankings." A third person might say, "My name is
Kelly. I'm a submissive and a pain slut, and I'm a slave to Master John." You get the
idea. When your turn comes, if you're not sure what to say, simply state either your
first name or the name that you'd like to be called by, and that you're a novice. If
you're attending your first munch, it's fine to mention that as well. There may also
be a period where people announce various BDSM-related events, workshops, and so forth.
18. Arrive on Time. Munches tend to operate on something of a timetable. For example,
food is often mostly ordered by a certain time, announcements are given at a particular
time, and so forth. Therefore, arriving "fashionably late" may not work out well at
all. Arriving no later than about 15 minutes after the official starting time usually
19. Don't make up your mind too quickly about a particular munch. If you attended
a munch, had a good time, and plan to return, that's great. If you attended and didn't
have such a good time, and are not sure about returning, please don't feel too
discouraged. Consider coming back at least another time or two before writing off a
particular munch forever. Given their highly variable nature, you can have a very
good experience at a munch that you previously didn't have all that good an experience
at. However, if you've attended three times and not enjoyed yourself or connected
with the people to any significant degree, it may be time to seek another munch or
20. Where to learn more about BDSM. Munches are not educational events, however
there is almost an embarrassment of riches available to people wanting to learn more
about BDSM. Literature regarding some of these resources may be on hand at the munch.
Available resources include websites, books and videos (ahem), classes, workshops,
parties, socials, and private lessons. Excellent resources exist in every major city,
and also in quite a few smaller-sized cities. Some cities have events especially
intended for BDSM newcomers, so you might want to be especially alert for information
about those events. To get you started, I will refer you to two excellent "gateway
resources" - one on the east coast and one on the west coast. (These are called
"gateway resources" because they will quickly lead you to numerous other equally
excellent resources, all over the country, including resources near you.) On the
east coast, check out the website of TES in New York City.
On the west coast, check out the website of the Society of Janus in San Francisco. By the time you've spent half an hour on each website exploring its
content and links, you should have a good overall idea of what educational resources
are available to you.
My best wishes to you in your explorations. Please remember that time is your best
friend. See you at the munch!
Note # 1: This document is always a work in progress. Feedback is welcome and may
be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org..
Note # 2: This document may be freely posted on websites that do not require payment
to access. Please contact me regarding reprinting or reposting in other venues.
Note # 3: I'm the author of several books pertaining to health, relationships, and
sexuality, especially BDSM. My best known book is "SM 101: A Realistic Introduction."
I've also produced a how-to video regarding basic rope bondage. My books and videos
are fairly widely available. including here on this website.
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