Book Review: Playing Well With Others by Lee Harrington and Mollena Williams

When I first began exploring the world of kink and BDsM, I was completely intimidated by the sheer amount of information available. I spent countless hours sifting through articles and YouTube videos suggesting ways to join the community, choose play partners and conduct yourself at events. The information I gleaned was often wildly contradictory and in some cases, blatantly false. It was an overwhelming experience that left me feeling afraid of proceeding further along my kink journey. What I really needed was a single resource from an experienced author to inform and encourage me.

While I was reading Playing Well With Others, there were many times when I thought “I wish I’d had this book when I was starting out”. It covered so many lessons that I’d had to learn the hard way with a welcoming, conversational tone that invites curiosity and exploration.

Playing Well With Others is a detailed guidebook to kink culture. It covers topics like kink etiquette, types of events, planning for events and scenes, consent and negotiation. As well as touching on these broader topics, Playing Well with Others drills down to the bedrock of the BDsM scene, answering basic (but rarely discussed) questions such as “what should I wear?”, “how should I behave?”, “What should I bring with me?”. It delves a lot deeper than most BDsM beginner resources, and looks less at the actual techniques like spanking or bondage, and more on equipping the reader to navigate the wider BDsM community. Playing Well With Others is the collaborative work of Lee Harrington and Mollena Williams, who have a collective wealth of experience and are highly respected in the BDsM community.

As a highly anxious person, Playing Well With Others would have saved me so much grief had I read it in my early days in the community. I wasted so many hours before an event worrying about what to expect, whether I was going to be appropriately dressed and whether I’d make a fool of myself. This book goes into great detail discussing the different types of events, and what you would expect to happen at each. It gives you a run down of what to wear to a broad variety of encounters, and talks about etiquette and how to get the most out of the events you attend. It’s not preachy or condescending, but rather takes on the tone of a more experienced friend, encouraging while educating you. The advice contained in these pages would have soothed my nerves and given me the confidence to introduce myself to people, rather than just hanging in the background like I did at my first munches.

Although Playing Well With Others is aimed towards BDsM newbies, and people who are just beginning to dip a toe into the scene, it’s also useful for more experienced players. There are chapters about preparing for large-scale events like conventions, emotional and physical pitfalls, building lasting relationships and merging your kinky and vanilla lives. I bookmarked the section about budgeting for conventions, because I always get carried away with my spending at large events. I learned so much from this book, and it gave me cause to pause and reassess whether I’m doing everything I can to get the most out of my play and kink relationships.

The back of the book includes a kink dictionary, a glossary of common symbols and flags and a very detailed negotiation checklist. All of these resources are so valuable, but I found the negotiation checklist incredibly useful. It gave me a great jumping-off point to reconsider my own boundaries and desires, and to begin discussing these with my partner. Whether you’re new to the scene or have been playing for years, it’s always good to periodically re-evaluate what you want to explore and where your boundaries lie. This appendix gives a great framework to use by yourself or with a partner.

The book also features several appendices which touch on some of the more difficult topics such as how to tell the difference between BDsM and abuse, disclosing your kink to healthcare professionals and STI prevention. Although none of these topics are discussed in great detail, I appreciated that they were included and resources were suggested for readers who wanted more information. Playing Well With Others does a good job of recognizing that it’s not the final word on BDsM and kink, and encourages the reader to seek more information with a detailed resources section at the back of the book.

Playing Well With Others has taken pride of place on my bookshelf, and it’s a resource that I refer back to often. It’s such a useful and easy-to-read guide that will empower you to explore the kink community with confidence. I certainly recommend this for anyone who is at the beginning of their kink journey, but it is also useful for more experienced players.

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