"There’s something I find particularly sweet and heartwarming about this role and giving back to a community that’s created safe spaces for people to express themselves without fear of judgment," the author writes.
It’s 6 a.m. and I can’t feel my feet anymore after being on them for so long. I pull down the bottom of my shorts in the taxi as I head home, covering my thigh harness that’s now visible. The sun is slowly waking up the city; people are jogging on the streets and I’m exhausted, but my heart is as full as it can be.
Almost without exception, this is how I feel after each shift monitoring a play party or dungeon. It’s the same feeling I have after working a mixology shift: satisfaction from knowing my hard work has created something special. I’m physically exhausted, yet filled up on love and connection from strangers, people I’ve worked with, and, in the queer and kink scene, people who often feel like a chosen family.
I’m a journalist by trade, but by night (or during increasingly popular daytime parties) I’ll turn my attention to the queer, kinky, and non-monogamous communities I’m a part of. At their events, I take on the role of a professional dungeon monitor.
The various spaces I work in opt for different titles, with the crowds, themes, rules and focuses of each event differing too. I might be referred to as a dungeon monitor, DM, welfare monitor, armband wearer, vixen, or something else entirely. The history or where the role came from is unclear, with queer, kink, and sex-positive spaces stemming from underground routes, but with the increased normalization of these spaces, a need to keep guests safe has become a focus.
Being a monitor at parties where play and bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism (or BDSM) take place involves supervising the play space or dungeon to ensure physical safety for those attending and participating. The role always varies: From being stationed in a dedicated playroom all night to roaming the venue or working in a wellness room (a chill-out space where people can catch their breath and be surrounded by calmness if they’re overstimulated), you adapt to the needs of attendees.
I’ve always been drawn to connection, in all its beautiful forms, and a sex playroom is just one of the spaces where I see this beauty. The flinch of a body when a flogger makes contact. The intense gripping of furniture from someone being pegged. The wholesome giggles from a group who have met that night and are now entangled in an orgy. The cuddle puddle in the corner, filled with hugs and hair strokes.
It’s our ability to be so free from shame, and connect in enthusiastic, consensual ways, that makes me feel nourished. I want to help safeguard and protect all of that.
Some parties revolve around music and dance floors, with a “dark room” available for play if people want to explore that, while others prioritize BDSM and play — every event is unique. Over the years, clubs have begun tailoring their events to different niche interests: nights for pet play, femme domme worship, and rock music fans specifically, for example, are all regular occurrences. Most days of the week there’s something going on, whether that’s a full play party, a talk on consent, a kinky clothes swap market, or a day picnic to socialize with other like-minded people.
My shifts usually start in a similar way. I first establish the code of conduct and particular rules that are in place (which those entering the space agree to). While these often vary, a handful of staple rules are usually enforced, such as: No lurking or disrupting scenes, and of course, guests must always be aware of others and respectful of receiving a “no.”
I bundle into a green room with any other monitors and performers at the beginning of the night, where we get changed, grab some snacks, and catch up with people who’ve become familiar teammates, while welcoming any new additions. There’s something I find particularly sweet and heartwarming about this role and giving back to a community that’s created safe spaces for people to express themselves without fear of judgment.
Then, my tasks include making sure the furniture is in working order with enough space for people to engage in play around it, checking there are enough safe sex products available, providing sanitizing wipes for people to clean the space they’ve been in, and ensuring the entire room is visible to monitors, leaving no corners that can’t be supervised.
Monitors do not engage in play while working and are typically very experienced in being around such activities — it doesn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary to us.
I started working as a monitor for London-based parties fresh out of COVID lockdown. I signed up to work a queer-focused kink party where I went through training. I learned what to look out for, how to handle difficult situations, first-aid basics, and ways to be a support for anyone who might need it. This could mean finding a quieter area for someone who is feeling overstimulated, or making sure someone’s play scene isn’t being disturbed by someone else entering it without consent.
A lot of the support provided stems from communication and learning to be compassionate, informative and clear. I’ll keep a lookout for anything that seems untoward and, if needed, get support from members of a security or medical team.
I learned about bystander intervention (recognizing potentially harmful situations and responding in a way that de-escalates what’s happening and inspires a solution) and effective, clear communication ― tools that have since become a part of how I operate in the world on a day-to-day basis, even outside of play spaces.
I choose spaces to work where attendees are quite knowledgeable about consent and how to operate in the space in a positive way, so consent violations don’t arise much for me, but having people there who are trained to handle someone who might be disruptive or abusive is an element of extra safety.
Of course, not all clubs and events are the same, and it’s taken me time to figure out which parties I like working. I’ve monitored events that have felt exhausting and draining, where people don’t know or adhere to the rules. My advice would be if you’re thinking about visiting a kink or play space, go to ones where all guests must read and agree to the house rules before attending. There are larger-scale events that can be a little “touristy,” but the ones I’ve really found my home in are the more queer-centered, smaller venues — places that focus on different niches and creative ways of expression.
I started exploring kink and non-monogamous communities about eight years ago and, as I didn’t know anyone on the scene, I’d turn to Google to find parties and pub meet-ups in my area. It was a big, beautiful world, but it wasn’t until I started finding my feet (and my people) that I really found my place.
Without a doubt, it’s the verbal connections and sense of looking out for one another at these events that brings me true joy. While events have monitors in place for safeguarding purposes, there’s an overall sense of self-governance and self-regulation.
People are given the autonomy and agency to conduct themselves in a way that’s within their limits without being harmful to other people sharing the space. It’s like a little insight into how society could work with self-expression, consent and care. Honestly, these events could teach us all something about our lives and how we operate in this world.
Tamsin Wressell is an award-winning writer, journalist, and editor working with JOYclub, a sex-positive online community. Based in London, they campaign for sex workers’ rights, work as an armband wearer/dungeon monitor for some of London’s queer kink parties, and co-run their own private play parties for femme-identifying people.