When You Call Someone a “Play Partner,” What Does That Mean?

a sign that says "Playing"
Image by Pat Guiney / CC BY

I can remember the first time I ever heard the term “play partner.” I had just started seeing a new girlfriend, a doctor with a decidedly kinky streak.

She used it to refer to her husband’s best friend. She called this guy her play partner.

In a lot of ways, this kinky doctor was my entry point into BDSM. She was the one who got me on FetLife in the first place (a kinky social media site). And we did experiment with some light kink, stuff that was mindblowing to me at the time but many years later, after extensive experience in the formal kink scene, seems really quaint.

Cozy BDSM.

Anyway, the way that she used the term “play partner” was different than how I’d discover that people used it on the kink scene. In her case, it was basically a term for a close friend with benefits. Someone she had sex with whenever he was in town but didn’t have a romantic relationship with per se. And really no kink relationship in a standard sense. No scenes, pain play, or bondage.

Just plain old vanilla (i.e., non-kinky) sex outside of their marriages once in a blue moon, when they were physically in the same location.

I’ve noticed that this is how people who don’t have much knowledge of kink tend to understand the term, too, when it’s said. That play partner is a euphemistic term for “friend with benefits.” Or even “hookup” or “booty call.”

Occasionally, I’ll even see them frame it more derogatorily, equating the term “play partner” with “plaything.”

Play Partner Like Scene Partner, Play Partner Like Sex Partner

Within the kink community, “play partner” usually has a different meaning. It simply means someone you play with. And by play, it’s typically meant that you’re engaging in some kind of scene with them.

A big mind-blower for a lot of new kinksters is that while some kink scenes do involve sex, not all of them do. Some people never mix sex and kink. And there are asexual kinksters.

Just because someone’s your play partner, it doesn’t mean you have any sexual contact with them. I mean, sometimes you do. But a person who you meet once and do a scene with where they simply tie you up and flog you (and no form of traditional sex happens) can be called your play partner in that scene.

Some people have ongoing play partner situations, where that person is a regular play partner. But you can also simply be play partners just once and for only the duration of a single scene — a bit like you can dance with someone once, and for that dance, they are your dance partner.

The “play” in “play partner” isn’t necessarily sex.

But I’ve definitely found that a lot of people outside the kink scene use and understand the term that way (with “play” as a euphemism for sex).

(As a side note, it’s worth noting that I’ve spoken to people who think of non-sexual kink as being equivalent sex to them. And for some of them, the distinction doesn’t matter that much. And there are still others who insist that kink must include sex, otherwise it’s an elaborate massage/LARP-ing. I expect I might hear from some of you in response to this article.)

When You Call Someone a “Play Partner,” What Does That Mean?

Anyway, I thought I’d turn the question to you all. I’m interested to see how Poly Land’s readership uses and understands this term.

When you call someone a “play partner,” what does that mean?

When someone says they have a “play partner,” what do you first think they mean?


Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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  1. To me, a play partner is anyone who I engage in any for of “play” with. Play covering sex, any BDSM or other kink activity, or, to a lesser extent, someone who I engage in vigorous sexual or kink related conversation, verbal role play if you will. I’ve even had a play partner where we only ever communicated via text and still both got off regularly from it. The word “Play” is a lot like silly putty, it bends and flexes and takes on the shape you need it to when you need it to and can be something completely different moment to moment. It’s not some hard and fast thing that fits into a nice neat box. It changes with each person and situation I come into contact with.

  2. We do not do bdsm type stuff. Play partner to us would be someone that one of us or both of us have sex with. Play implies that it is just about the sex. If emotions are involved we would call them a boyfriend or girlfriend. A play partner is someone we do not see as boyfriend or girlfriend material, but the sex is good and would probably go back for more. If it is just a one time thing they would not be considered a play “partner”.

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