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BDSM 101: Vetting Partners for Kinky Play

By CAGE Staff​(staff)     August 10, 2023

Wait, what? "Vetting"? What the heck is that?

If you've read a few introductory articles and threads, you might have heard of the word "vetting" or read tips on how "to vet" someone.

Don't worry; your understanding of the English language is still fully intact. "Vetting" just happens to be some of that kinky jargon that's pretty unique to the BDSM world! 

What is Vetting?

Believe it or not, "vetting" isn't just slang; it's actually a definable, rarely-used word from the dictionary!

That Oxford definition says "vetting" is: "investigate (someone) thoroughly, especially in order to ensure that they are suitable for a job requiring secrecy, loyalty, or trustworthiness."

Essentially, vetting is exactly what any business does for job applicants to ensure they're ready for the job. They ask for references and recommendations from people who know the applicant to ensure that the applicant is a good fit for the position. 

But What Does That Have to Do with Kink?

There is no "official", overarching body of certifications you can receive in the world of kink. You can't head to your local university and get proof of competency in "Flogging 101" like you'd get a motorcycle license or CDL.

However, just like that motorcycle, kink can be pretty dangerous. From nerve damage to falls to long-lasting emotional trauma, there are a lot of ways that kink can mess you up. 

Even without the danger taken into account, kink can require a decent skillset to even be enjoyable! Even if someone doesn't harm you, if they've never given a spanking before, it just may not be much fun to experience. 

All of this comes together to make vetting a part of the vernacular in the world of kink. After all, without any way to ensure someone's "certified" in spanking, how will you know if they're experienced, have acted with safety in mind, and are decently good at what they say they can do? 

Vetting allows kinksters to openly talk about their previous experience with future and past partners to determine if someone is a good fit for playing. 

So, this is one place in the world of sexuality where "kiss and tell" isn't a dirty phrase! 

How to Vet Someone

Vetting someone is as simple as asking your prospective partner to disclose a few people they've played with – then reaching out to have a conversation with those previous partners.

In most cases, just like at a job interview, this may require your prospective partner to get permission from those people before disclosing a relationship (though people who do a lot of casual play tend to have a list of people on stand-by who have already consented to be a reference. Just like if you were actively job searching!)

Once you have that list of people, you simply reach out to those people with your method of choice. That's it!

In the world of kink, where privacy is such a huge deal, don't be surprised if most of your interviewes are open to an online message or two - but uncomfortable with phone calls, video calls, or meeting up in person. When getting "outed" to the wrong person can have drastic consequences on the rest of your life, a lot of people will stay on the side of caution. After all, you're a stranger to them

If there's a local community, I also recommend going outside of your prospective partner's provided list and asking around your local community. Is this person known in the community? See if you have any mutual friends - and reach out to ask a few questions. 

Think of vetting just like a job interview. Most of us would never list the jobs where we were fired for bad behavior as a reference for a future job. Remember: your potential partner will treat your vetting request with the same behavior. This isn't necessarily a red flag: all of us want to put our best foot forward and be seen in the most positive light possible. 

But it does mean that you should go into vetting with open eyes. Think of vetting as another level of safety with a potential partner. Just like you look for red flags when you first meet up at a coffee shop, you should look for any red flags when vetting. Vetting shouldn't be your only line of defense; it should be one layer in a multi-layered approach to staying safe while being kinky.

What Are Good Vetting Questions to Ask?

In general, you want to tailor your vetting questions to things that primarily factual (we're not trying to make your interviewee uncomfortable!) and get at the heart of what you want to know.

Let's take a sample question for a spin. Let's say you ask: "Did you ever end up with marks or injuries that you didn't want?"

Their answer is more likely to be "yes" than you might think, but that isn't necessarily a red flag. After all, being dehydrated could lead to bruises you didn't expect to get, and inexperience can play a large part in not understanding how far you can spank someone before the bruises happen. And honestly, playing with a new person means not understanding their bruise profiles as well as an established partner. I've definitely left bruises that my partner and I didn't intend to do; things just happen sometimes. 

So, a "yes" answer to that question may not be as helpful as we'd like. Instead, we'd be looking for more detail in the explanation. 

How did the prospective partner treat it? Did they brush it off? If the interviewee played with the prospective partner again, did it happen again, or did the prospective partner take steps to hopefully prevent it from happening? 

Even if the answers to those follow-up questions aren't perfect, that still isn't necessarily a red flag. You may just choose not to do impact play with this person - or you might choose to keep your impact play to areas that can be easily hidden by clothing. They might be still learning impact play. 

But what you learn might also mean you choose not to play with them. It's entirely up to you and your risk profile. 

Remember: we're looking at more than the base yes/no questions your interviewee provides. You want to see what the prospective partner's behavior was when a mistake was made or an emergency came up.

Other example questions could include:

  • What did pre-scene negotiation look like for the two of you?
  • Did you feel like your limits and boundaries were respected?
  • Was there a time that you both had to pivot mid-scene, and how did it go?
  • If you went to parties, did people there seem to know them? How did others treat them?
  • What is one thing you'd warn me about them?
  • Would you play with them again?

You also want to lead with a comfort-first mentality for your interviewee. You are, essentially, a complete stranger asking about parts of their sex life. Especially if the interviewee is new to vetting, this can be a really odd experience! I recommend prefacing your conversation with something like "Please tell me if any of my questions make you uncomfortable. Please don't feel like you need to answer anything that doesn't feel comfortable for you."

How Does BDSM Vetting Online Work?

So far, we've mostly focused on in-person interactions; this is partially because in-person interactions are where the most dangers lie. Without the in-person component, you still risk the trauma and emotional damage of kink, but some (not all!) of the physical risks have been removed.

You can (and should, especially for risky play like hypnosis!) vet someone for online play, though.

Simply use the same steps we've already talked about - but for online interactions. 

However, because of the nature of the internet, you'll want to approach your online vetting with a hint of skepticism. That "past partner" who wasn't comfortable doing anything more than sending you a Cage message? It's very possible that the person you're trying to vet may be running that same account and trying to deceive you. 

Automatically approach any "recommendation" with eyes wide open if your interviewee only has glowing praise. Most of us can usually offer a few critiques of the people we absolutely love, and it doesn't make us love them any less. People just happen to have faults along with the things that impress us about them. 

Feel free to ask pointed questions to try to get to any "less than stellar" information you might be seeking. Questions like:

  • Are there things I should know about them?
  • If you went out for lunch, how did they treat the wait staff?
  • What was their negotiation like ahead of your scene? 
  • If you're comfortable telling me, did you ever have to use a safe word, and how did it go? 
  • What areas could they improve in, as a kinkster?

Be on the look out for anything that seems like the "right" answer, but brushes off on the details. For example, if your interviewee answers "Oh yeah, I had to safe word once but it went great", you might want to look at things a bit closer. Yes, someone could be uncomfortable providing details (and it happens!), but it could also be your prospective partner aware trying to reassure you without providing anything negative about themselves. 

You can avoid most of this by requiring a video call or phone chat, but even if someone is comfortable with that level of exposure to a stranger, there are still ways to "cheat" those systems if someone was dedicated. 

Red Flags in Vetting

We already talked about a few red flags in vetting, but let's talk about a few more. 

You should approach your potential play partner with a bit more caution if any of these things come up during your vetting process:

  • Interviewees only have glowing, amazing things to say that almost seem detached from reality.
  • Your potential play partner gets upset or agitated that you even asked them for references.
  • Your potential play partner insists on being present for any discussion you have with the interviewee.
  • Your potential play partner has zero references to provide (this is a yellow flag; some people genuinely haven't played with a lot of people in the past!).
  • Your potential play partner gets upset if you ask to meet in public or take extra precautions because of your inability to vet them. 

Get What You Need

Essentially, vetting boils down to doing a bit of research to ensure that anyone you want to play with is safe and a good fit for you.

Exactly how far (and how seriously!) you want to take vetting is up to you. Some kinksters request a 3-person vetting list and go in with a "job interview" mentality. Others simply send out an online message to one person and say "Hey, is this person real and did they ever violate your consent?". Others choose to ask for references to ensure their potential play partner doesn't react in a poor manner - and never bother to contact the references at all. 

As always, it's up to you and what fits into your risk profile and time. As always, keep your eyes wide open when meeting a new partner, and follow all of the safety precautions you can to keep yourself safe when you play. 

Mistress Kay lives in the world of sexuality and kink. With a house that's quickly running out of space for things that aren't sex books and sex toys, she spends what free time she has writing femdom help articles (, trying the latest and greatest in sex toys, and exploring the sexual universe with her partners. She can be reached at Kinky World (