Monday, February 11, 2013

The BDSM Scene Is Not Everyone's Kink

I'm sitting in a packed auditorium, in the conference wing of a Silicon Valley hotel. Representatives of BDSM clubs from the northern half of the West Coast parade across the stage, displaying their colors—designs printed on the backs of leather vests—to enthusiastic cheers from the assembled kinksters. The crowd is dressed for the occasion: leather pants, gothic dresses, snug tops and bare abs, corsets, stilettos, knee-high boots. This is the Northwest Leather Celebration conference, with seminars, a bazaar of gear vendors, play parties, and a contest to anoint a master/slave couple to represent the region at the next International Master/slave Contest in Dallas. I've been here all day, attending seminars and taking a tour of the bazaar, and I'm emotionally exhausted. I'm not one of these folks, although I'm at least as kinky as the great majority of them.

It was a great disappointment to me to discover that the "BDSM scene"—or publicly accessible BDSM community—is not representative of the average kinky person. In addition to celebrating the kinks of consensual bondage, sadomasochism, and dominance & submission, the scene also emphasizes polyamory (maintaining multiple kinky relationships) and public play (exhibiting your kinks in a semi-public venue). While there's nothing all that strange about the latter two, they have nothing to do with BDSM per se. And the portion of the population which is inspired by BDSM and polyamory and exhibitionism is, well, vanishingly small.

Some scene members will insist that the scene is the best way, or the only safe way, to get involved in BDSM. This isn't the case at all. Indeed, the vast majority of folks who experiment with or adopt kinky sexuality do so in private and one-on-one.

The scene has many gems and kink savants, and I've met a few of them. (And from friends, I understand that the gay "leather" scene draws a more cohesive crowd than its heterosexual counterpart.) But subcultures tend to attract a disproportionate share of people who feel ill at ease in mainstream society, and so attach themselves to a group which confers an identity and encourages acting different. Such people come in many flavors: insufferable, unstable, manipulative, etc. If you explore the scene, don't put up with any behavior towards you that you wouldn't tolerate in a vanilla social setting. In other words, maintain solid boundaries!

As you've gathered by this point, I'm not active in the BDSM scene. It's not my cup of tea. But here, from an outsider's perspective, is a summary of scene activities:

The central events of the scene are "dungeon" play parties, where people practice their preferred perversions at a venue offering a plethora of stations equipped with SM-oriented furniture. The stations are typically in full view of whomever happens to be there, friends and strangers alike. Attending simply to watch, fully dressed, is totally acceptable. Photography is strictly forbidden, however. Dungeons usually designate a staff member as monitor, and place a few restrictions on players. (Even so, a top performing in an unsafe manner will not necessarily prompt intervention by others, it's up to the bottom to safeword or otherwise flag the problem.) Dungeon parties are the kinky exhibitionist's garden of earthly delights. But they may not be as delightful to the kinky voyeur, as most do not attract a cast of models and fitness buffs!

An aspect of the scene that's accessible to more—ahem—conservative kinksters is the classes which are taught in most dungeon spaces. There, one can learn the basics of rope bondage, flogging, caning, suspension, and numerous other skills. Some teachers are much better than others, so do a little research before picking a class. I attended a BDSM 101 class in the Boston area years ago, and concluded that I'd have done a better job than the instructor, as all he did was go through his S&M toy bag, describing each item.

Local scene groups organize kink-free meetups called "munches" which gather at restaurants or bars. Attire is street clothing—no exhibitionism is asked or offered! Munches are hit or miss affairs; you can't tell if you'll have anything in common with those attending other than BDSM. The first few times you go, try to recruit a friend to accompany you, especially if you're female.

Structured or facilitated BDSM discussion groups such as MAST (Masters and Slaves Together) enable both meeting other kinky people and raising issues that arise from kinky relationships. Some are by invitation, though meeting a facilitator for coffee is often all you need to be invited. Others advertise the time and place they meet and allow drop-in attendance.

And, as described above, there are conferences all over the U.S. throughout the year. Most of these offer workshops, vendor exhibits, and play parties. These events are great places to learn from talented teachers on a broader range of topics than is available in your local scene. A master/slave couple, the master of which is a friend of mine, presented at two workshops during the conference I attended, and I'm glad I made the effort to go for their sessions alone.

So given that the BDSM scene caters to a small fraction of doms and subs, tops and bottoms, where do the rest of us go for knowing friends and partner prospects? Online. Fetlife has a healthy contingent of closeted kinksters among its members. I've recently discovered that the blogging service Tumblr has a thriving BDSM community. OKCupid, a mainstream dating site, is notably kink-friendly, and has a large number of dominant and submissive peeps, many of whom omit mention of it in their profile text, but are identifiable by their questionnaire answers. Just because the local "BDSM community" doesn't hold a place for you doesn't mean your type of kinkster isn't out there looking for you. Indeed, there may be dozens of them within a short ride.

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26 Comments:

At March 24, 2013 12:11 PM, Anonymous Sharptextures said...

Interesting, but I think not totally accurate.

You mention that most practice their kink in private and that seemingly this is a good indicator that safety can be achieved outside of the scene.Now of course it can, however I would point out that there is a vast number of people that discovered BDSM after they had an established relationship rather than through online platforms. The scene sterilizes itself by way of references, by vetting the people that go events and by allowing people to observe others.

You completely missed mentioning private parties which btw are one of the most important functions in our community. Private parties are in homes, people know each other and protect each other and most of the interaction is actually going to be talking about kinky and vanilla and life. Someone who only attends dungeon events indeed would not know about these, because most of the people that attend know each other.

Online is a wonderful tool to meet and network with people, however unfortunately the same aspects of BDSM that make it exciting for people also make it a good target for predators, for users and liars and all sorts of unsavory people that are not welcome in the community.

I myself went out and originally got involved online however by getting involved in the community--- I now organize events, munches, parties and I meet with other leaders--- I have learned more. I get to see regularly what a BDSM relationship looks like...and it's not much different from vanilla. When it comes to online, and educating yourself there is a tendency to over-fantasize, to imagine yourself as highmasterdomlypants or as ubermegaawesomeslave who spends her life devoted to her masters domly domly cock. Real life doesn't look like that.

While some people may not be into being involved in the community I encourage people to try. At the very least you can go to a munch, in many cases you can get to know some of the people there beforehand through online. It's also important to ask if someone isn't involved in the community, has never been and has a bad opinion of it, why is that? As I said, the community sanitizes itself and if someone has something against meeting with a group of people for lunch then I have some sincere questions about what kind of person they are.

 
At March 24, 2013 12:48 PM, Blogger Will said...

Sharptextures, thanks for your thoughtful commentary.

I haven't heard my scene-involved friends assert that the scene consistently "sterilizes itself". Perhaps it both attracts unsafe players, and tries to deal with them. I imagine this varies tremendously with locale.

I will revise the article to mention private play parties. However, playing at a private event/dungeon still qualifies as exhibitionist :-)

I certainly agree that it's easy to encounter unsafe or insincere doms/tops online. But it's also a more likely source for monogamous and non-exhibitionist ones. So, tradeoffs...

From what I've seen, people who define themselves by their own imaginations, versus their life realities, are not that uncommon in the scene.

I wouldn't disagree that dipping one's toes into the waters of the public scene is worth a try. And certainly having friendships with other kinky folks is important. But a kink community which emphasizes polyamory and exhibitionism is simply never going to appeal to the quiet majority of BDSM enthusiasts.

 
At June 02, 2013 5:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very new to this blog and just researching about bdsm.

I am definitely not into an exhibitionist. I feel quite uncomfortable but I don't mind talking about it with open-minded folks.

I wish they have a bdsm that I can trust at Manhattan, NYC that I can go alone and learn more about BDSM.

I enjoyed reading your blog and learning about bdsm. thanks for the information.

Ann (NJ)

 
At July 25, 2013 5:23 PM, Anonymous AnonymousBDSM said...

Thanks for this blog post. It really spoke to me.

My wife and I have a pretty kinky sex life, but we've never really understood BDSM as a movement. We're perfectly happy having kinky sex in the privacy of our own home. We don't feel any need to meet other "kinksters". We have enough friends as it is.

When it comes to the technical aspects (i.e. knot tying,) there are plenty of books and web sites. We are well fed and have no need for munches :)

Incidentally, I have a bunch of gay friends who feel the same way about homosexuality. They hate the words "gay culture" and "gay identity". To quote a friend of mind, "I like other men. It's not like a joined the French Foreign Legion!"

I wonder how many couples there are like my wife and myself who enjoy kinky sex, but don't have any need to turn into an identity or movement.

 
At July 25, 2013 7:18 PM, Blogger Will said...

AnonymousBDSM, thanks for your perspective... I'm curious to know whether you and your wife found each other before you found kink? Or were one or both of you seeking a kinky lover/spouse?

While I don't participate in the BDSM scene, I do identify as a "dom", because I can't be fulfilled romantically without S&M and D/s. I'd love to meet someone dancing, discover we're crazy about each other, and then wave a wand and make her submissive. Unfortunately none of the wands I've tried have worked yet!

I'll be writing more on the problems of dating "vanilla" people shortly...

 
At July 26, 2013 4:27 AM, Anonymous AnonymousBDSM said...

We weren't looking for a BDSM partner. We were both sexually inexperienced. Our sex life just developed the way it did.

I suppose we both influenced each other. Like most people, we both enjoy pleasing the other. One of us likes being dominated, so the other one likes dominating. That created a cycle of each of us wanting to please the other, and led us to where we are today.

I'm honestly not sure which of brought up domination first. We just let it grow organically, not trying to push anything.

Also, I have a question. People who do BDSM seem really keen on safewords. I hear again and again,"you have to have a safeword".

My wife and I don't have a safeword. We just use natural speech (i.e. "stop" means stop). Using coded speech, where we say one thing but mean another, seems really extreme to us. Is this dangerous? I can't see how it could be. But it seems to violate BDSM orthodoxy.

 
At July 26, 2013 10:03 AM, Blogger Will said...

AnonymousBDSM, count yourselves lucky! Developing kink organically with a beloved is a wonderful thing, and you've escaped the trials of kinky dating.

On safewords, it's perfectly reasonable to use normal language to communicate during BDSM play. In fact, I've written about Why Safewords Are Not Safe.

 
At October 20, 2013 4:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, thank you, yes.

I found your blog because, after recently discovering there is no place in my local kink scene for those who do not wish to play publicly, I started to wonder if my partner and I were the *outliers*. But I just couldn't really believe that all other practitioners of bdsm are into public play (exhibitionism) and partner sharing--although that was certainly the message I was given when I dipped my toe into the local community. Google led me here.

I think the bdsm community does itself a huge disservice by excluding those who aren't interested in those two particular kinks because, as you pointed out, there is no component of bdsm which requires either of those two activities.

While I respect your choice to avoid the scene altogether, my partner and I would enjoy socializing with others with similar proclivities to share information, experiences, support, etc. But those doors--in this metro area--are largely closed to us if we don't want to perform activities which, for us, are extremely intimate (and only involve the two of us) in front of others.

 
At October 20, 2013 4:42 PM, Blogger Will said...

Hi. I emphatically agree that having platonic friends who are kinky is a great asset! However the local BDSM scene is not the only place to seek such friends. I've found sites like OKCupid and Fetlife to work for meeting local non-scene kinksters. Also some of my local friends do participate in the scene, but have no expectation that I do. One of them is into partner dancing, so we go to dance events together.

 
At May 13, 2014 11:03 PM, Blogger melissa h said...

I've never gone to any social gatherings but I have a profile on fetlife. I dont think my bf would go for some of the things mentioned here. But im not very social personally and have a tendency to be shy. But I wouldn't mind meeting new ppl at the same time.

 
At July 24, 2014 5:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was refreshing to read such text. I'm very new to the BDSM and it kind of seems like the only way you can be involved in BDSM-world is to go to kinky parties. I, however, don't really feel like I fit in. Maybe it's because even thought I am kinky I don't really care to share it with the "rest of the world", so to speak. Now I have never been at any BDSM-parties but really they don't seem like my thing. Also in my mind it would be so much more nicer to meet BDSM-minded people accidentally than seeing them at kinky parties wearing leather vests:)

So thank you! Nice to know I am not the only one.

P.s Sorry for any misspelling. English isn't my native language so:)

 
At September 12, 2014 9:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. I often wondered if there was really no space for those of us who are both kinky AND private people/ or monogamous. I regard my kinks as intensely intimate and I'm just not interested in being on display while I cycle through my "depths" so to speak.That's between me and my partner.

 
At September 23, 2014 9:08 PM, Blogger KStina said...

If you find a wand that works, toss it my way when you're done so I can procure my dream dom :)

 
At December 20, 2014 5:39 PM, Blogger Liza Marie said...

I'm old school gen X. I'm not a cyber sub. All my experiences are real world. That didn't begin to get me ready for being on OKC. I deal with a lot of on-line creepers and I'm sure they exist at places like BaGG too.

I'm not interested in party play. I would truly like an opportunity to feel connected to a group of like minded people.

I'm not on fetlife cause in all honesty it feels to much like cyberworld and just don't have time.

Whats a girl to do?

 
At January 28, 2015 7:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a member of the polyamorous community I see a similar connection pop up where people assume I am into BDSM because I'm polyamorous. They are not wrong, I am a sub but only in one of my relationships and only during some set play sessions. I think that people kind of see "mainstream" and then they see "other" and tend to group together alternative lifestyles despite them having nothing to do with eachother...

 
At February 05, 2015 10:57 AM, Blogger Charlie Rose said...

i need your help! im only a tennager and so is my boyfriend(both legal) im extremely kinky and i know what i want. but my boyfriend is not. yeah he is into some things but he include sex toys, think about dressing up and certainly wont even bring in gags and collars, which i all want. i can not break up with him, i truely love him and he is my first love. what should i do? i get bored very quickly...thanks in advance.

 
At February 05, 2015 11:35 AM, Blogger Will said...

Sadly, it's often impossible to make vanilla people behave like kinky ones. See Why Doms & Subs Should Not Date Vanilla People.

 
At March 19, 2015 5:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently met a guy on an online site and he offered this new world of D/s to me and answered every question i had at the time so i would feel comfortable. I did feel comfortable. I even felt as if his offer was something i have been waiting for. after a bit of online flirting he asked me to send him pictures of his new possesion. I did. He said they were amazing and led me to believe i would give him great pleasure as a sub. I've been spellbound and excited i have found this wonderful man online of all places. Since then he hasn't tried to meet up with me in person. I am starting to feel as if i have been duped for a couple of cute pictures and some online company. Is this normal? Where is the kink in a few fun pics. I am feeling let down and i haven't even experienced any real kink. Should i stop talking to this seemingly dominant amazing man or is this normal D/s behavior making me wait just to meet him? I don't know how to identify if he is true friend or foe. Do i need to let reality sink in and believe i have been duped?????? Begging for answers!

 
At March 20, 2015 6:06 PM, Blogger Will said...

It's not uncommon for a new sub to feel "spellbound and excited" by a first contact with a dom. However, it is wise never to judge anyone as "amazing" until you've gotten to know them well in person. As for what to do, you seem to know what your needs are—feel free to express them to him. If he can't meet them, then it's time to move on.

Sadly, a lot of the doms you'll encounter online are players uninterested in relationships, who will toy with a hopeful sub at a distance or lure her into a sexual encounter before disappearing. For some tips on avoiding these types, see Online BDSM Dating Tips and How to Interview a Dom/Master Prospect.

 
At April 27, 2015 10:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW reading this blog and these comments make me feel really safe and confident that BDSM exists in a REAL way. I've recently discovered that oral descriptions of pain are the only way I get off. But being kind of new to understanding this, how do I go about finding someone with the same desire to speak like that to me? -where does one start??

 
At May 05, 2015 12:29 AM, Blogger Will said...

The last paragraph of this article mentions some websites where kinksters congregate and/or date, and see also Online BDSM Dating Tips.

 
At September 16, 2015 7:39 PM, Blogger Jackie Ross said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At September 16, 2015 7:40 PM, Blogger Jackie Ross said...

Thank you for this article. I've new to the scene and see myself as a sub. I've researched and chatted with a few Doms. Most immediately start issuing commands. I was never sure if that was normal until now. This article has helped me see the difference between real doms and men pretending.

 
At December 23, 2015 2:34 AM, Blogger Heather W said...

I am 26 married been I have been with my husband for five years but married 7 months. Now my husband never heard of this life style before he met me. I have suggested to him to be trained my a experienced dom. He said no even though I found one to train him.Now I am a starving sub in which my husband won't feed.Well this Dom calls himself a alpha Dom and says he wants to take me under his wing. My question is could he just be mind fucking me or could he be truthful

 
At May 27, 2016 10:51 AM, OpenID singlewritermomrants said...

I realize this post is old, but I had to leave a comment. I just wrote a blog post last night about how disillusioned I am with the BDSM community, esp. those who have "fan" pages on Facebook. All I see are these Doms who have a gaggle of female fans gushing over how amazing they are, and "Oh, I wish I could find a man like you," etc. They all address these men as Sir. Why, if he's not your Sir? You wouldn't call a "Daddy" by that title. It all strikes me as almost cult-like.

They also seem to all be in to having multiple subs, most of them emotionally broken young girls in their 20s or early 30s. And playing in public--esp. dungeons--having their sub up on a St. Andrew's cross, over a spanking bench, and things of that nature.

All of this turns me off to the community because I'm a middle-aged, monogamous, non-exhibitionist. Just because one enjoys whipping in public does not make one more "edgy" or kinky, any more than tattoos and piercings do. So, thank you for this post. And also for the few others who chimed in about not feeling the need to share their kink with the world. At least I know I'm not the only one who feels this way.

 
At December 24, 2016 4:15 AM, Anonymous reiverscott said...

@SingleWriterMomRants I'm really sorry Mr Will no longer seems to be maintaining this really excellent blog, I still refer friends to it all the time and feel there's so much more that could be said here. However, yes, as with any community you get your fair share of narcissists. A key feature of narcissism is their need for supply—their groupies. "Doms" like this share much in common with the personality profiles of cult leaders, including some Evangelical pastors I know. This sort of trouble is by no means confined to kink communities, but anywhere where the currency of power is transferred. I also could go on for years that D/S is a sexual orientation, not something that you do. You can be a dominant or a sumbmissive and never gone near a play party or a dungeon in your life. My sexuality is not a lifestyle choice. My hope is there will be a broader recognition of the needs of sexually conservative kinky people. We DO need the community though.

Like you, I'm in my late thirties, monogamous, and not into public play at all. I have zero interest in exhibitionism and polyamory and am far too experienced to play some broken little Harley to a Joker. Dating sites do not work for me, and are singularly depressing places anyway. OKCupid is a cesspit. However what's interesting about FL is that for those of us who maintain a more writing-focused profile, who prefer discussion on everything from politics through to poetry, there are little spaces where one can carve out a kinky corner, and people who will connect and find you. It does require some skill—an amusing, engaging profile, clever writing, etc, and networking skills, (I send a personal thank you to everyone who likes or loves a story or post, for example, and do reach out to people). While my interests down there are literary, there is no reason why someone could not network in the same way for friends. . .and you draw your romantic relationships from your friends. FL can also help you connect with your local scene. In other words, if you have normal social skills, then there is no reason why these cannot be employed within a wider and more inclusive kinky community that doesn't prescribe leather and chains and poly and exhibitionism as the One True Way.

 

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