Does Experience Count?

Woman with whip

“Are you experienced?

Have you ever been experienced?

Well, I have”

Jimi Hendrix

“I have years of real world experience”. “I’ve been in the scene for x number of years”. “I’m an experienced (insert your favorite kink role)”. In BDSM, the role of experience comes up a lot. For a lot of people,  the experience level of a scene partner is the deciding factor when playing with someone. That’s because we tend to equate experience with competence, safety, integrity, etc. 

However, when we delve deeper, the question of experience is quite complicated. So, does experience count when considering whether to play with someone? The answer is, well, complicated. 

What does experience mean?

What does it mean to be experienced? The baseline definition of experience is “skill or knowledge gained through participation”. (Merriam-Webster) When we think of someone that’s experienced, we think of someone that’s been doing something for a long time, and therefore has reached a high level of skill. However, this presupposition of time indicating competence isn’t always applicable. Why is that the case? It’s because experience can mean vastly different things to different people. 

Take for example, two members of a hypothetical kink community. One person has been active in the scene since 2000 and is considered to have 20 years of experience in the lifestyle. Another person has only been in the community since 2019, or roughly for one year. The person that’s been around for 20 years could be considered to be more experienced, on account of being around longer. The newbie with one year is naturally considered as less experienced. But remember, people define experience differently and this is what complicates things. 

The person that’s been around for 20 years may only go to a few events a year, and only play a few scenes. If that person has only done two events a year for the last five years, then they may have only done five to ten scenes in the last five years, assuming they played at every event they attended. It’s possible that 20 year veteran may also have played far fewer scenes and may even have had years they didn’t play any scenes at all. 

Now contrast that with the newbie who’s attending a bunch of events, classes, munches, etc. It’s not uncommon for people that are new to kink to attend a party every weekend and try all the things, including playing a lot of scenes. That person with a year in the scene may have experienced playing five to ten scenes in one month, because of the sheer volume of play opportunities their schedules are allowing them. 

This is where the complexity comes in. Say you’d count up all the scenes from every year for the person with 20 years of experience. You find that they played a lot of scenes in their first five years in the scene, played sporadically for the next five years, then took five years away from the scene, before returning to scenes in the last five years. When tabulated, the 20 year person has done 40 to 50 scene total over the last 20 years, ranging from heavy, sporadic scene opportunities, to not playing at all, then finally back to a moderate pace of playing. 

Now look at the newer person, who entered the scene in January of 2019. For the first six months of the year, that person went to at least two events a month and played scenes. For the next six months, the person went to four events a month and played scenes at every event they attended. If you count their scene total, they played 36 scenes over the last year. 

If based on the scene tally alone, the person who started in 2019 has almost as much experience as the person who started in 2000. Yet, conventional wisdom tells us that the person who’s been going to parties over a span of 20 years is going to have more experience. What this example tells us is that experience is highly subjective in nature and up for interpretation, depending how experience is defined. 

This gets even more complicated when we consider that experiences vary. For some, they count classes, mentoring, play parties and scenes as experience. For others, experience is going to munches, volunteering and just being a part of the kink community in some way. All of these experiences are valid, because everyone’s journey is unique. However, it’s reasonable to assume that someone who has worked at their technical skills over a length of time has done so with the express purpose of getting better, to the degree that they can top or bottom reasonably well. 

I’ve met people that count creating a Fet profile as the beginning of their kink experience, for others it’s when they completed their first full scene in a play space. This analogy illustrates just how broad the definition of kink experience can be. Because how we define experience isn’t linear, it’s impossible to get a definitive answer as to who is experienced and who isn’t, based on interpretations alone. 

Quality vs Quantity

Gaining experience is both a quantitative and qualitative process. To gain experience, you have to do something several times, but you also have to develop proficiency in a particular skill. If someone wants to do suspensions, they have to get a lot of experiences rigging or bottoming in rope. But they also have to develop the right experiences, which are high quality. A person can go to ten rope classes and develop some competent skills. Another person can go to twenty classes, and not develop the skills necessary to tie properly, because more experience doesn’t automatically equate to having more skill. 

As stated, experiences have to be high quality to be beneficial, especially when related to learning. People learn and develop skills differently. Some adapt quickly and others take more time. You wouldn’t want to do a full fire scene with someone that had no training, because clearly they haven’t developed skills through quality experiences. But you shouldn’t automatically assume that someone who has been around forever knows what they are doing, because sometimes they don’t. 

Also, experiences can be good or bad in nature and how someone defines those experiences also says something about how they approach kink. Everyone will tell you about their vast experience doing really flashy, high-level scenes. But how many people will tell you about the difficult experiences which helped to shape their kink journey? It’s important that someone share the breadth of their experiences if they want to truly illustrate who they are and what they know. 

Experience doesn’t mean you’re bulletproof 

One of the reasons that people ask about experience in the scene is that it’s considered as indicative of experience as well as safety, which isn’t how risk awareness works. 

Kink, especially edge play will never be completely safe. Good tops and bottoms work to mitigate risks as much as possible, but there are no guarantees. Experience can help someone know how to handle different situations, because the longer you’ve done something, the more likely it is that you’ve had to deal with that issue before.  But no level of experience or acquired skill can ensure that nothing will ever go wrong in a scene. People that have topped scenes for years have things go wrong. Skillful bottoms get injuries from things they’ve done a dozen times before. It simply isn’t accurate to assume that nothing will go wrong when playing with someone who has a lot of experience, because no amount of experience can make every interaction devoid of risk. 

Disasters aside, even really experienced people have scenes that don’t resonate, because not every experience is going to be satisfying, that’s just the nature of things. 

Experience doesn’t mean someone is suitable to play with

Another natural assumption that people make is that experienced or skillful people are also good people. In the kink community that line of thinking has proven to be problematic. 

In the kink community you’ll encounter a lot of people that are intelligent, gifted and have excellent skill sets, who are also deeply flawed at best and dangerous at worst. Sadly, looking at many consent violation issues in the kink community, many of the people responsible are the people with the most experience. The educators, the event organizers and others with enough experience to establish social capital. 

Don’t assume that a set level of experience automatically makes someone ok to play with. It takes more than awesome skills to be good at kink. It also takes communication, a respectful attitude and a genuine commitment to consent culture and healthy boundaries. If someone doesn’t have or exhibit these qualities, they aren’t appropriate to play with, regardless of how many hours they’ve logged in the community or dungeon

The Takeaway

Experience level can be important when deciding to play with someone, but it shouldn’t be the only determining factor. Having a wealth of experience can be invaluable in kink and in life, but that experience is only valuable if an individual is able to manifest that experience in tangible, positive ways. In kink, experience is most valuable when its expressed as highly competent techniques combined with excellent interpersonal skills. 

The next time someone mentions their experience level, dig a little deeper to truly understand what that experience means to them and what it means you and your scenes. 

Are you experienced? If so, remember to keep it kinky. 

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