Play Partner

Updated: JULY 8, 2024

A play partner is a person with whom someone engages in consensual sexually gratifying activities. The term is commonly used in the kink community to refer to people who fulfill specific kinky urges and explore kinky interests together. However, the term is sometimes used outside the kink community to refer to any friend-with-benefits arrangement.

Someone may have a single play partner or several different play partners. They may choose different play partners if they have several different kinks they want to explore and satisfy. They may also enjoy the variety of different play partners. As every play partner is unique, relationships with different play partners can bring out different sides of a person and their sexuality.

Nature of the relationship

The primary focus of a relationship with a play partner is kink play, rather than romance or emotional intimacy. However, people still build relationships with their play partners on trust and communication, just like with romantic partners. These relationships are also based on a shared passion for a specific fetish or kink, which may not always be the case with romantic partnerships.

“I would distinguish play partners from friends with benefits (FWB) in that there usually isn't a long-standing pre-existing friendship when play partners come together sexually and/or with kinky play,” certified sex therapist Heather Shannon explained to Kinkly. “And the focus is on the play rather than other elements of friendship.”

As these relationships aren’t based on emotional intimacy, people often establish clear boundaries with their play partners to differentiate between kink play activities and their personal lives. For example, some people may not let a play partner sleep over. They may also limit the number of times they see a play partner each week, especially if they are polyamorous, or poly, and have romantic partners.

The nature of a relationship between someone and their play partner may stay the same over time or evolve. If all parties agree, a play partner relationship may become more emotionally intimate or romantic. This kind of relationship may also dissolve if it no longer meets everyone’s needs.

“Certainly what starts as play partners evolves into FWB or a romantic relationship in some cases, but don't go into it assuming that,” Shannon cautioned.

Types of play partners

The most common types of play partners are:

  • One-time: A play partner for a single scene or sexual encounter.
  • Regular: A play partner that someone consistently participates in scenes with over time.
  • Exclusive: A play partner who is someone’s only partner for kink activities.

Roles and dynamics of play partners

With kinks involving power exchange dynamics, play partners take on different roles for satisfying scenes. Their roles may be clearly defined and consistent, or changeable depending on their mood and sexual preferences. The most common roles and dynamics of play partners are:

  • Top/Dom: A play partner who takes the lead and initiates the scene’s activities 
  • Bottom/sub: A play partner who follows the top/Dom’s lead and plays a receiving role 
  • Switch: A play partner who enjoys being a top/Dom and a bottom/sub and alternates between these roles in different scenes, especially in BDSM
  • Vers: A versatile play partner who adapts to different roles and scenarios in BDSM or other kink activities 

How to find a play partner

Shannon says before searching for a play partner people should clarify what they’re looking for. 

“Maybe it's someone super physically attractive, someone who shares a particular kink with you, or someone who is great at making plans and doesn't flake,” she explained. “Decide on a few things that are most important to you. Then take it a step further and imagine how you will feel during playtime with this new person.” 

People can find play partners in many different places. The internet allows people with an interest in kink to explore options from the comfort of their own homes. Kink-specific dating sites, kink forums, and kink-related social media groups are all excellent places to virtually connect with potential play partners. If a connection feels good, users can arrange to meet in person. Meeting in a public place, where a friend can observe the interaction, can make meeting up safer.

There are also plenty of excellent places for kinksters to connect in the real world. Local meetups and gatherings help people with an interest in kink come together and make connections with others who share their interests. For example, a BDSM meet-up at a dungeon can be a good place to meet a BDSM play partner.

Shared interests are vital for a successful play partnership. Whether meeting online or in person, people should openly discuss their kinks and fetishes to see whether they’re compatible with potential play partners. For example, they might discuss an interest in dominance and submission and, if this interest aligns, what role they feel comfortable playing.

A vetting process can help potential play partners determine whether they’re a good match.

Shannon said vetting is important because “There's a lot of creepers out there and people with terrible boundaries, so you have to be careful! For example, if you're safety-minded, you'll need someone who understands the importance of healthy communication, regular STI testing, mature conversations about contraception and consent principles like RACK. It may take time to find out where someone stands on these issues and to suss out their communication styles. For this reason, I love the idea of getting involved in sex-positive communities. You'll get a sense of who is well-liked and well-respected inside of a community and who isn't. Having that additional context with a play partner can help you decide which connections you want to lean into.”

During vetting, the parties can check any references and honestly discuss their boundaries, morals, priorities, desires, wants, and needs. The conversation should feel comfortable and not raise any red flags. The vetting process helps potential play partners gauge their compatibility and build trust before they play.


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