How to play Never Have I Ever (or ‘I Have Never’)

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

For years I’ve been lying to you all about the purpose of this blog – saying it’s about sharing sex stories and helping to tackle some of the weird assumptions society makes about the things we do behind closed doors. In fact, the whole point of the last eight years of my life has been to build up a large enough platform that I can properly school you on the rules of ‘Never Have I Ever’. Or ‘I Have Never’, as it is called where I’m from.

Let me begin by saying that I am not usually prescriptive when it comes to sex. I disapprove of telling people there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to have fun, because (as long as you’re being considerate of those around you) life is way more fun if you make up your own rules.

But ‘I have never’ is a game and in order for games to work they need to be played properly. You wouldn’t kick off a Monopoly session by instigating a ‘pay what you like’ policy on properties, would you? OK. So let’s make sure that before you pour yourself a drink and get stuck into ‘I Have Never’ with friends, you understand something important: when it is your turn, you are only allowed to say something you genuinely have NEVER done.

In this essay (and yes, it IS an essay. All two thousand nine hundred words of it) I shall demonstrate beyond any possible doubt that under no circumstances is it ever acceptable, during Never Have I Ever, to say something you HAVE done and then take a sip of your own drink. That is not how it works. Strap in.

I Have Never vs Never Have I Ever

Let us begin by defining our terms.

Apparently some people are labouring under the misapprehension that ‘I Have Never’ is actually called ‘Never Have I Ever.’ That’s wrong, of course. The editor in me wants to point out that if you’re going to be repeating a phrase over and over again during a game, it makes far more sense to use something that is brief and trips easily off the tongue. Never have I ever uttered the phrase ‘never have I ever’ except when playing this game with people who grew up in different places to me, and were therefore tragically taught the wrong title. Other incorrect titles apparently include:

  • Well I’ve Never (limp, weak: unacceptable)
  • Never Ever (catchy, but would result in ungrammatical ‘never’ expressions and therefore must be banished)
  • I Never (ditto)
  • I Have Never Ever (a slap in the face for the English language)

Abominations to one side, I can tell you conclusively that the game is OFFICIALLY called ‘I have never’ and if you don’t agree with me you are embarrassingly wrong. However. I did a Twitter poll about this and it turns out that – as with so many important political issues of our time – the majority of people are embarrassingly wrong.

So to demonstrate my open mind and willingness to be inclusive of all (as well as for SEO purposes to ensure as many people get to read my Very Important Opinions as possible) throughout this piece I shall use ‘Never Have I Ever’ and ‘I Have Never’ interchangeably.

How do you play Never Have I Ever?

Never Have I Ever is a drinking game built around sordid or embarrassing confessions. Players sit in a circle, each holding with a drink of some description, and they take it in turns to say something they have never done. Other players must take a drink if they have done the thing.

The key things here are these two phrases:

  • drinking game and
  • say something they have never done

When you’re playing Never Have I Ever (or whatever you prefer to call it in the godforsaken wasteland you call home), during your turn you should only ever say things you have not done.

Two scenarios…

Scenario A

Sam: I have never had a threesome in a Tesco car park.

Ashley drinks. Group coos ‘wooo! That sounds awesome/fun/likely to attract the interests of passing customers. Tell us more!’

Scenario B:

Sam: I have never performed oral sex on someone during a rock concert.

Sam drinks. Group coos ‘wooo! That sounds awesome/fun/pretty dangerous if you did so in a mosh pit. Tell us more!’

Scenario A is how you play the game. Scenario B is wrong and bad and must be stopped. Roughly half of you are wrong and bad and must be stopped.

Why can’t you say what you HAVE done?

When you’re playing ‘I have never’, the point – as illustrated pretty perfectly by the title of the game itself – is to say things you have NEVER done. By playing this way, you give the group an interesting insight into the areas of life you may be inexperienced in, and open up the opportunity for others to share their experiences in those regards. It also opens up a wide world of interesting gameplay.

By saying things you HAVE done, at best you’re turning a group game into a solo performance (i.e. your ‘turn’ could literally just consist of you saying a thing you’ve done, having a drink, then passing on to the next person to do the same), and at worst you literally stop it from being a game at all. If everyone played Never Have I Ever the way Sam does in Scenario B, it’s no longer a game it’s just … telling your friends interesting things. Talking to your friends is lovely of course, and I strongly encourage it, but it’s not a fucking game: it’s a conversation.

Consider the two scenarios above. In scenario A, Sam is throwing the ball for other members of the group to catch and run with. In scenario B, Sam is just tossing a ball up into the air and then catching it for themselves. Sure, the group can engage and ask for more info, but see above: that’s just a conversation.

Scenario C

Sam: Never have I ever eaten dijon mustard out of the butt crack of a Z-list celebrity.

Sam drinks. Ashley also drinks. Group asks both of them to name the celebrities and specify brand of mustard. 

Sam’s play here is more engaging than their previous one, so I shall give them credit for that. But it’s only accidentally more interesting, because Ashley happens to have a penchant for butt mustard too. One could achieve the same outcome by Sam simply saying ‘hey! I’ve got a cool story to share about mustard and buttcracks – anyone else got similar experience?’ You’re no more ‘playing’ I Have Never than you’d be playing Monopoly by reading the Chance cards aloud and asking people to cheer for the ones that they like.

It’s also worth pointing out here that what Sam has done is essentially removed the option ‘Celebrity Butt Crack Mustard’ from everyone else in the group besides them and Ashley. In their Scenario C version of the game (which, to reiterate, is entirely warped and indicative of the worst follies of humanity) perverted slags like me can greedily hoover up every single ‘easy’ option on the table. By merrily declaring “I Have Never had a threesome” and then glugging my wine, I prevent anyone else from using the “I Have Never had a threesome” option later. Part of the fun of the game, surely, is that you have to come up with interesting things to say when it’s your ‘turn’ rather than just run through a standard checklist of Sex Things.

If you still aren’t with me on this, please read on so I can eventually bludgeon you into agreement.

What is the aim of the game?

As with all games, the primary aim is to have fun, of course. But as we all know fun is much easier if people follow the fucking rules and don’t just start making paper aeroplanes out of the playing cards.

We can discern the aim of ‘Never Have I Ever’ by zooming in on the key detail that it’s a drinking game. Now. It’s 2019, and lots of people don’t drink. We should never shame people for not drinking, or exclude them from our games, because that would be a twatty thing to do. So I hereby declare that it’s perfectly acceptable to drink soft drinks during I Have Never, as long as you remember the principle of all good drinking games: drinking is meant to be a forfeit. 

I know drinking isn’t actually a forfeit: if you hated drinking completely you probably wouldn’t be playing a drinking game. But all the best drinking games, from King’s Cup to Buzz, rely on the principle that it’s the loser who drinks. The game should get more difficult to play the drunker you get. Take Beer Pong, for example: if your opponent gets their ball in your cup, you drink. When you have lost enough times, you are utterly wankered and not only can everyone have a good laugh, it’s also even harder for you to claw victory from the jaws of defeat.

Given this, saying something you HAVE done during a game of I Have Never is the equivalent of beginning your Monopoly turn by giving £100 to each of your opponents. Not only does it make no rational sense, it also robs your opponents of their well-earned joy when they screw you over and make you bankrupt.

The role of skill in I Have Never

My next point (though alas it is not yet my final one, I did warn you that I have very strong opinions on this) is that in allowing people to state things they have done during their turn, you remove any element of skill from the game. This dovetails neatly into my ‘it’s just a fucking conversation’ point, but it’s worth highlighting here in the context of how easy or difficult it should be to take your turn.

You don’t want it to be impossible, of course, that’s why we’re talking about I Have Never and not, you know, unicycle polo (terrible as a drinking game, I do not recommend it). But in order to achieve satisfaction, one must overcome at least a bit of challenge. Having to think of something that you have never done but someone else in the group conceivably might have? That’s a challenge. Whether a small or a large one will depend on your own experiences and the group you’re playing with – it’s part of what makes the game fun as a getting-to-know-you exercise, and what makes it progressively less fun the better you know the people in the circle.

Consider the scenario in which it becomes My Turn and I can’t think of something I’ve actually never done. We’ve already been round the group, and have covered some stuff that I have drunk for (“I have never had a threesome”, “I have never been DPd with a strap on and a cock“, “I have never put butt plugs between the joints of each of the fingers on my right hand and yelled BUTT PLUG WOLVERINE!”), so I’m running out of interesting things to suggest when my turn comes round. I have a few different options here:

  • Rack my brain for something sexual, yet plausible, which I think others might have tried (“I have never joined the mile high club” or “I have never masturbated to a daytime TV show”).
  • Say something really specific that I know a friend has definitely done and would probably quite enjoy having a brag about (“I have never been chatted up by two people of two different generations of the same family in one night”).
  • Say something entirely non-sexual, but boastworthy and interesting, to try and draw in members of the group who may be less promiscuous or a little shyer about discussing sexual exploits (“I have never been on stage in front of a crowd of thousands”).
  • There is also the option here of deliberately screwing someone over by offering a really specific story that a friend has shared in confidence with me (“I have never carved a pumpkin for the sole purpose of fucking it but accidentally ended up in A&E because I foolishly thought it’d be a good idea to warm it in the microwave first”). I don’t recommend this, because deliberately choosing to share other people’s otherwise-harmless secrets is an incredibly twatty move. It’s technically still within the rules of the game, but so is running round the Monopoly board yelling ‘IN YOUR FACE, FUCKWIT’ when someone lands on your Mayfair hotel. Let’s face it: Never Have I Ever is a borderline game at the best of times, with ample opportunity for people to show themselves up as smug/snide/judgmental pricks, so if you can avoid becoming one of them you’ve ‘won’ the game on the most important axis there is.

PHEW! Long blog post, this, isn’t it? I did warn you. Also if I’m completely honest it’s been a weird couple of weeks for me, and although I’m absolutely FINE I think perhaps the erratic state of my mental health combined with an increasing number of migraines is making it more and more difficult for me to write. So when I stumbled upon this topic and realised – to my delight – that it was one I could write about with passion and excitement, I may have gone overboard and treated myself to far too many words and way too little editing.

Let’s press on.

What is the aim of Never Have I Ever?

When I put this question to Twitter, I got some great answers. Some think the aim of Never Have I Ever is to get the sluttiest person drunk (and as one who is regularly the sluttiest drunk at social gatherings, I assure you I’m using that term in its most positive sense). Others think the aim is to uncover deliciously scandalous revelations about your friends, bond over shared experiences or get a party started by reminding you of all the cool shit you’ve done in your life.

My favourite answer, incidentally, was this one:

Beautiful. I have also in the past found the game brilliant for learning if one’s crush has a thing for BDSM, or (via the judicious use of statements such as “Never Have I Ever wanted to get head from someone who is sitting in this circle”) ascertaining whether my crush might potentially want me to suck their dick. Incidentally, that statement is 100% accurate and well within my I Have Never rules because I don’t tend to fantasise about getting head from people (a fact I will ideally have planted earlier in the conversation so that when I glance coquettishly at my crush to see if they drink they don’t feel hurt that I’m not dreaming of them wetly nuzzling at my clit, instead understanding that I’m hoping to suck their cock until they weep with ecstatic joy).

But I digress.

Some people – understandably – believe the aim of Never Have I Ever is ‘shallow boasting.’ That it’s just an excuse for people to brag about the stuff they’ve done. I firmly believe that this final point is avoided if you apply my core I Have Never rule properly i.e. if you only say things you ACTUALLY have never done. Shallow boasting can be fun, and among friends it’s an excellent way to pass the time, but I refer my honourable friends to the point above re: it’s literally just a conversation.

By recognising the importance of truth, and only saying ‘I Have Never Blown A Donkey’ if not a single inch of donkey dick has passed your lips, you ensure that the game remains challenging, allow others to make ‘plays’ that are genuinely true for them, and above all maintain the integrity of the game as a game. And not just a fucking conversation.



I’m sure I’ll get letters about this, because I know that Never Have I Ever is a very controversial game, seeing as it is often played in ways that are snide, smug, judgy, non-consensual, or horrible in other ways too. I’d argue that it’s still light years less appalling than Cards Against Humanity, but whatever. Some of you will hate this game, and you won’t find me arguing with you on that. Feel free to take feisty and foul-mouthed exception to any of my arguments in the comments box below, but I won’t engage if all you’re doing is questioning the value of the game itself. I’m not here to encourage/pressure anyone to play I Have Never, merely to ensure that if you do decide to dabble in a round or two, you at least have the decency to play it fucking properly.

Also quick plug: if you enjoy hearing other people’s fun sex stories, you should totally subscribe to the Sexpots podcast which I am on, alongside Katy and Bitsy who are funny, awesome women with fabulous stories to share. We pick sexy topics out of a pot each week and share our lascivious, adorable, cringey, exciting tales, as well as reading out awesome stories from listeners. It’s like a giant game of I Have Never, but with the core aim of being welcoming and sex-positive and joyful.


  • Amy says:

    You are COMPLETELY RIGHT, GOTN- and I have also played it under both names with different groups of people. I like Never Have I Ever better though simply because it’s not a normal phrase!

  • Golden Hare says:

    Bloody love this post!

  • fuzzy says:

    What’s wrong with CAH? I own the basic set, the 6 primary expansions and several of the more potentially offensive small pack expansions and am famous for coming up with:

    I never understood *blank* until I found *blank* and having “fisting” and “a vagina that leads to an alternative dimension” show up — and I didn’t win the round.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Ah damn, I hate this question. Especially because I like you and I feel like my answer may be upsetting, so apologies in advance. The link I included goes to a long essay about CAH and why it’s dodgy, which covers a lot of the points I’d make myself. I’d also add that I think it’s wildly unfunny, as well as often racist/fatphobic/trying-to-be-edgy-but-actually-just-being-bigoted, and I find it excruciating to sit through rounds with people I otherwise like trying to make jokes that fall flat or make me want to sink into a hole in the floor. I have genuinely never sat through an entire game of CAH and had MORE fun than I’d have just chatting to/making jokes with my friends. It feels like a funny conversation for people who don’t know how to have funny conversations. And the worst thing about it? If I opt out and say I don’t want to play, I usually get someone asking me why, then I explain because they’ve asked and I’d feel bad just ignoring the question, and they get upset and think I am personally accusing them of being A Terrible Unfunny Human, and that is yet another awkward conversation kicked off by CAH.

      So yeah, sorry, I absolutely do not mean it personally against you – some of my best friends enjoy playing CAH. I just really really really hate it, and for some reason when people ask me why I hate it I feel compelled to tell them. Don’t let me stop you from enjoying it, but you did ask =) For the record, that sounds like a decent card pairing and you would probably have got my vote.

  • DissemblingCub says:

    So, I agree in principle but I would state one, major exception: you can state something you have done to keep gameplay moving. Been at way too many parties where someone sits for half an hour with a total mindblank trying to think of something they haven’t done, and all the fun gradually leeches out of the room.

    (There is also the classic, “I’ve never [thing]” and the person sitting next to you turns around and goes, “… yeah you have.”)

    • Girl on the net says:

      Ahhh see I think you’ve identified a core problem, but I cannot possibly agree with your solution. The solution to people being bad at a game is never to trash the RULES of the game, but rather to encourage them to build their skills up gradually. So for instance, if someone can’t think of a thing, give them a few easy options:
      – “I have never been to [name of country]” – there are LOADS of countries and this one should be easy
      – “I have never eaten [name of food]”
      – “I have never had sex with someone whose name begins with [LETTER]”

      OK, they’re boring, but they are still within the rules, and they enable the game to move swiftly on and for the Person Who Is Bad At Game to have a few solid examples of simple ‘I have never’ statements that they can broaden as their imagination grows.

      Also – YES ‘yeah you have’ is often incredibly fun. Especially if you’re being reminded of something especially badass you’ve done, and subsequently forgotten. =D

      • Dissembling Cub says:

        I mean, yeah. Personally I try not to do it (my fall back is always, “I have never broken my nose” – partly because my partner has…) But I still think it’s okay to bend rules as an occasional thing to keep the spirit of the game remains intact. Like, it can’t be a boast, and it can’t be a constant thing.

        Honestly, I reckon the real bane of the game is people asking for endless clarification to weasel their way out of taking a drink – to combat which I’ve occasionally added the rule where if you ask for clarification, you have to take off an item of clothing. That makes for fun.

  • Pangolin Girl says:

    Fab article. But it’s actually called ‘I Have Never Ever’ 😊.

  • US Fanboy says:

    Love this. Like (I suspect) many of your readers, I don’t have a friend group with whom I will ever play this game. But it’s fun to read about, and I can definitely relate to your passion for doing it correctly! Also thumbs up to the Sexpots podcast — nice to hear your voice and personality in that context.

  • Oxyfromsg says:

    This is a great article. I have started arguments before over how to play this and totally agree with you.
    Also, I thought i was the only person that thought CAH sucked.

  • Purple Muppet says:

    I love this! Cheered me up after a bit of a crap day!

    I remember playing it during my first week at uni with a group of twenty or so people; I came out with “I have never had sex” (true story) to which everyone in the room drank. I’m still not sure if I made a fool out of myself or if people loved the power move. For some reason it’s still one of my favourite uni memories even 8 years on.

  • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

    This was a fun post.

    Another tip, from experience: don’t play ‘I Have Never’ with exes who hate each other and have a lot of unresolved emotional pain. It’s not going to go well.

    • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

      Actual example:
      ‘I have never had an orgasm with another person.’
      ‘Yes, you have! I was there!’
      ‘Actually, I was faking. So there.’

      • Girl on the net says:

        OH MY GOD. I have never experienced this, but I am cringing myself into a tiny ball at the very thought of it. Massive awkwardness, horrible =(

  • Artemis says:

    I love all of your excellent essay, but you missed out a crucial part of the game: never, but never, say “I have never had sexual contact with an animal/committed bestiality” unless you are absolutely sure you want to know the answer, because someone in the group will always drink, they will always be asked about it, and you will always know that about it. This has happened in every single game I have played. And we played it a lot, because we were those kinds of students.

    • Jul says:

      Never Will I Ever attend agricultural school.

    • Phillip says:

      Artemis makes an excellent point that can be applied to pursuits other than bestiaity. I am quite comfortable in my belief, which I hope is correct, that bestiality is truly rare. Let’s try incest. Best lay in more cheap sparkling wine! Also, tissues for the tears.

  • Tabitha says:

    Oh I absolutely LOVE this post GTON, I’ll be smiling all weekend :D
    Now, please can you start a series explaining the rules of all the other games now… I think it’s the only way I will be able to actually take note :)
    And I’ve always’ squirmed when folks want to play CAH, I haven’t been able to put my finger on why I hate it so much – apart from knowing my friends have funnier, dirtier chat without it… but… you articulated it in a comment, it is basically just mean.

  • This game is called “I Have Never” and that’s a hill I’m willing to die on.

    I’ve had problems with this game (even though I love playing it) because I don’t drink alcohol and, as it turns out, there are very few things I don’t appear to have done (I don’t drink for “I have never had a threesome”… there are a few more, but they rarely get said…). Fellow teetotallers often substitute the alcoholic drink with something like Red Bull, so they will still be able to act erratically when they have had too many, but I don’t drink that either, ’cause it’s not vegetarian friendly.

    So I play this game with Coca-Cola and end up so full of sugar I get quite giggly.

    I’ve mostly played this game with people from Woodcraft, and they are quite a liberal bunch, so plenty of things came out during our sessions that I’d never considered, and plenty more about myself than I thought I’d ever admit to.

    I have never had anal sex? Drink!
    I have never had sex with a stranger? Drink!
    I have never had sex in a hot tub? Drink!
    I have never masturbated in a…? (Drink, because I’ve masturbated just about everywhere)
    I have never been to Africa? Drink!
    I have never been on stage in front of thousands of people? (Thanks, GOTN!) Drink!
    I have never had sex outside? *morose look around that everyone else appears to be drinking*

    In a modern-day, sex-positive climate, I’m sure the answers to this game are a lot less scandalous and more joyous that they would have been, say, thirty years ago… but then people are people. Perceptions change; people don’t. And neither does this game. That’s why I like it so much… it never changes.

    I’m still up for a few rounds of I Have Never with a bunch of sex bloggers and the inevitable inclusive, sex-positive conversation that happens afterwards. While is a lie, of course. It’s just fun being the only sober one when all your friends are a little less so.

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