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"People change. People will always change. As each of us changes we need to be conscious of our need to redefine our relationships in appropriate terms. I would like to emphasize that those changes can be for the better."

Rules for Metting Strangers
by Jack Rinella

If we'd only practice the common sense rules that our grandmothers should have taught us before we crossed the street by ourselves for the first time, I might not have to be writing this column, but the sad fact is that either grandma was absent or derelict or we weren't listening or are senile.

Just because it's sex doesn't mean that one can dispense with reason or with manners, even if there are a number of unscrupulous would-be tops and bottoms out there. In any case, here's what you should have learned before they let you leave kindergarten.

1. You're peers until you make a commitment. I don't care how much of a slave you want to be, you and your prospective partners are equals in every sense of the word. He or she has no control over your actions until you have made a rational decision to give him or her control. If they insist on an action you have every right to say "No." If they assert authority, either from the top or the bottom, you have every right to reject it. Prior to commitment, neither of you is top or bottom. Top and bottom has to do with sex, not with negotiation.

2. Ask for references. I mean it. Tell your prospect you want names and phone numbers of people whom you can call to verify his or her play-worthiness. If a stranger has no references, he's too strange to play with.

3. Safe, sane and consensual is a mutual obligation. I once went home from a scene with a left wrist that was numb and it stayed numb for several days. In a macho moment I failed to tell the top that the handcuffs he had put on me were constricting the flow of blood to my hands. One might say that he should have checked but I was just as much at fault for not making him aware of the situation.

If one partner attempts to have unsafe sex, for instance, the other, even if he is as slavish as they come, has the right, even the responsibility, to refuse to participate. This idea will be found several rules lower as well.

4. You have a right to know some things. You're going to be spending time with this person and, if things work out, entering into a long term relationship, even if it is only as friends. The amount of information allowed is based on the level of negotiations. Early on, you need less information. Later, as you come closer to meeting, more is appropriate. Sometime before moving in, a lot of information, and I mean a lot, is perfectly acceptable.

So early on, you ought to know the person's name and phone number. If they withhold such details, end the conversation, or at least make it clear that you will never meet. People who hide their identities are doing it for reasons that make meeting them un-wise.

I know there are lots of folks out there cheating on their significant others or so far in the closet that they're behind the back wall. I'm not for outing others but I am for honesty. Face it, those who can't even tell you their name and give you a phone number where you can reach them have some very serious issues that ought to be resolved before you meet.

Once you get past the name, topics such as health and limits become important, especially if you ever want to get into a sexual encounter.

Really though, limits are limits and as such aren't anywhere near as important as the trust factor. After all, setting limits has no meaning whatsoever if you can't trust that the person will stay within those limits. Just because a person says they're "safe, sane, and consensual" (SSC) is no reason to think that they are. Getting to know them as person is a much better indication of how trustworthy they are.

If they say they're SSC, ask them what it means. How well they explain themselves will tell you a great deal.

If, after you get past the easy questions, you think that the conversation is going someplace, you ought to begin thinking about the hard questions. Information about family ties, income, career, and the future, both long-term and near, is important if this is going to be more than just a one night or weekend encounter.

I will agree that you don't need to see a person's personal balance sheet before you have sex with them, but you certainly should have some idea of what it looks like before you, as a slave, turn your assets over to them or, as a master, you take responsibility for their livelihood. I Hope my point is made.

5. No commitment is immutable. This is the hard one. Once upon a time (or so we think) people made commitments "until death do we part." Any genealogist will tell you, though, that those commitments were ended much more often and a lot sooner than any preacher on the far Right is about to admit. Sure there were fewer divorces 100 years ago, but there were a great many more marriages ended by early death or straight out desertion.

People change. People will always change. As each of us changes we need to be conscious of our need to redefine our relationships in appropriate terms. I would like to emphasize that those changes can be for the better.

I'm writing this "rule" mostly for those who think that what they promised in the blush of early infatuation will hold forever. It won't, since it may no longer be appropriate two or three years later. Slaves who think they have no choice once they become a "slave" are sadly mistaken. Every morning each of us decides how we will live that day. A slave isn't a slave in the strict sense of the term. He or she is in a condition of voluntary servitude. No amount of will exercised by either party in such a relationship can ever eliminate the voluntary part of the relationship.

6. You have a right to equality of information. What that stranger asks you, you have every right to ask him. It's the power freaks of the world who want to control you by keeping you in the dark. I'll grant you that there are many people and institutions that are run by the mushroom model of management (Keep them in the dark and feed them horse shit.) but that is no way to conduct a relationship.

7. You cannot abrogate your personal responsibilities. I don't care how submissive you are. The preceding sentence is always true and it applies to both tops and bottoms. Just because a top or bottom says it's all right doesn't make it so.

8. Neutral spaces are always acceptable. Let that first meeting with a stranger be well protected by a public venue. Meet for coffee at Starbucks. Buy him or her a drink at a local bar. Parks, libraries, and shopping malls are all places to meet, greet, and size each other up.

You know, if this relationship is going to go anywhere, you don't have to rush into it. Take your time, go easy, and have fun. After all, it's OK to talk to strangers, even to take candy from them. Just use some common sense when you do.

Copyright 1999 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay, contact


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