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Much to do has been made in recent years with the release of a certain film, based on a book, enticing the reading populace into dabbling with the notion of kinky sex, while somehow completely missing the wider picture.
Kinky sex can be very private, very basic, very mild. It can involve a blindfold or a silk scarf. It can involve your partner tickling you with a feather in the bedroom. Yet there is a much wider world that these little dabbling toys are drawn from.
Firstly, let’s establish what kink is. The Urban Dictionary defines it as:
Wait – did it say non-sexual?
That’s right. Kink isn’t always about sex or sexual pleasure. In fact, there are many terms and interests that have some overlap and are generally used interchangeably, but mean different things:
Fetish – a form of sexual desire in which gratification is linked to an abnormal degree to a particular object, item or part of the body
S&M – sadomasochism: the giving or receiving of pleasure from acts involving the receipt or infliction of pain or humiliation. May or may not be linked to sexual gratification.
BDSM -bondage, discipline & submission, sadomasochism: a variety of often (but not always) erotic practices or roleplaying involving the aforementioned and other interrelated personal dynamics.
As you can see, there is a great deal of terminology to learn. This is only the start of it. There are entire online dictionaries devoted to explaining the more common terms, which relate to acts, roles, relationship & sexual styles and typical items and equipment.
It can be a bit baffling and feel exclusionary for a newbie. Why is this?
There is an entire community built around BDSM and kink. Far from just being the odd sex shop with a rather frightening looking shelf ‘round the back, professionals making money from ‘the scene’ and the odd lonely fellow sat in front his laptop rubbing himself in peanut butter (I’m not judging), the BDSM community has flourished as an alternative sexual scene in much the same way that the LGBT scene has. There is often a significant overlap between the two.
There is something more to the kink community than sex. The media likes to sensationalise kink and show it as extreme, frightening and ridiculous. If you take a group of people – any group who have spent their lives being taught to be ashamed and confused by their natural desires, who needed to be secretive around friends, family, work colleagues – and put them together in a place where they will not only be free of negative judgement but find others who like and validate exactly the same things?
They make friends. They find their tribe. They suddenly have a support network.
What happens when an ‘outsider’ tries to enter the group? Much the same as happens when a married heterosexual woman approaches a lifelong lesbian because she wants to ‘try out’ being with a woman. They get insulted. They get defensive. They get resentful of people operating like tourists in a community they are not a real part of, have not suffered through life to discover, and who ultimately don’t understand the emotions and dynamics behind the acts, or take them seriously.
One might feel it isn’t worth trying to enter into such events and communities if you are going to be excluded at every turn, and just toy with kink privately instead, yet there is a serious caveat to this.
If you practice kink or BDSM alone, you are dangerous. This isn’t necessarily physical danger (although depending on what you are doing this is certainly a consideration), but, as they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Like practising martial arts alone, or learning to hypnotise people, you need to have the objective knowledge of a wider base than just yourself to realise where the danger lies.
Let’s have a look at the areas:
Obviously, some acts can be dangerous. Choking, breathplay, physical impact play (whips, floggers, etc) can do more than leaving a mark- inexpertly practised they can be fatal. Even less obvious acts can be dangerous. Bondage, especially with suspension, is an art which requires a great deal of training and practice to perform safely.
I once spoke to a man who had been ‘privately practising BDSM for years’ and liked to penetrate his partner’s cervix with items. My response of, ‘Did you know that with about 1 in 1000 women, that can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure that can be fatal?’ was met with stunned denial.
Rather than being a simple temporary sexual (or non-sexual) roleplay with ‘top’ (the person doing the thing) and ‘bottom’ (the person the thing is done to), some BDSM dynamics are 24/7, and long-term. The relationships may seem ‘unconventional’, be open or polyamorous in nature, be non-sexual but intense or come in a wide array of styles that you can’t even categorise. The acts of dominance and submission are only the surface level that you see. They are the expression of a far deeper bond of trust, safety, relaxation and acts of intimacy, in much the way that some people may consider the act of intercourse an expression of their love and commitment.
Taking these roles is not free of responsibility. If you choose to be a dominant for someone, you are taking on power but also the role of safe guide and mentor. If you choose to submit for someone, you are putting them in a position of control over you, often long after a session ends. These kinds of roles affect the way you view the person, and yourself. It can be a kind of closeness and intimacy that regular intercourse never approaches. It is a psychological intimacy.
One cannot be a dominant ‘for a little while’ and then just disappear, get busy with other things or lose interest. In taking an ongoing role as a dominant, whether it is for an hour, a week or a year, you are entering into a trust pact with your submissive. You must be there for them throughout. The intensity of the game can only exist because they can close their eyes and fall completely, being sure you will catch them. If you let them down, deprioritise them or fail them while in the arranged roles, you do them devastating psychological damage. They, however, are free to call it quits at any time. That is the power of the submissive. That is their only power, while in role. If you forget or ignore this, you are a very bad dominant indeed.
Even when people ‘scene’ (enact a pre-arranged demonstration of dominance, submission, impact play or bondage, usually at a public event) and do not have an ongoing relationship in any form, one needs to be aware of the psychological effects it has on both parties. The submissive may enter ‘sub-space’ (in fact, that’s rather the point), in which they slide into a relaxed, almost hypnotic, dream-like state of releasing responsibility, shutting off their higher brain functions and sometimes even regressing to a more childlike state. During and after the session, they may well be highly suggestible, have memory gaps, and feel very vulnerable, needing closeness and reassurance from their dominant, while their mind slowly puts itself back together. It can take hours.
In addition to sub-space, one should be aware of ‘sub-drop’, a common phenomenon that happens a day or two after a good BDSM session, in which the person who felt elated in the state of sub-space then feels empty, alone, used, abandoned, ashamed and highly vulnerable. This is especially the case when they don’t have the continued closeness of the dominant to reassure them and respond to their needs as a human being afterwards. It is an important, common, yet often unknown phenomenon that anyone considering submission should be aware of before they try. It can be mistaken for depression or genuine sadness.
Dominants, too, can experience a drop.
In addition to taking on not just the power, but the responsibility, for another person’s welfare while helping them to explore their own limits of sensation and to release tension and control, they are generally the active party in the ‘scene’ and need to be constantly vigilant and responsive to the needs of their submissive. They need to monitor and adjust the level of intensity, check back constantly for enthusiastic consent and tiptoe around mental triggers or ‘soft limits’ (something the person thinks they probably won’t like but may be willing to explore gently).
Dominants can also experience a drop immediately after, or a few days later, where they feel exhausted, stressed, have a low sense of self-worth or experience other negative emotions. A good dominant has a tough job to do, much more than the submissive. A good dominant is a figure of trust, respect, admiration, mastery and devotion.
Nobody should ever want to be a bad dominant. A bad dominant is an abusive bully who cannot be trusted. The kink community will not look kindly on such individuals. Such individuals generally operate alone and don’t participate in the community to have the moderating feedback they need.
There are a number of websites and apps aimed at the kink, BDSM, fetish and alt sexuality community (let’s make them one community because they generally mix, overlap and attend the same events). Kink community, by and large, is about building a friendship network, finding and giving acceptance and creating ongoing bonds, whether you are into the same kinks or not. Entering into it doesn’t require grandstanding.
If you come in as a newbie, with an open mind, eagerness to learn and build ongoing relationships, people will be much more accepting than if you try to show off to them that you ‘tied someone to the bed once’. There’s no initiation rite or test to pass. Tastes and interests are so varied, can be fixed for life or constantly evolve, and people are so individual that it is only necessary to try and see how things work out for you.
Though there are certainly hardcore fetish events, this may be a bit much for the newbie looking to explore their interests and dip a tentative toe into the waters. Events will generally give you a description of what is and is not permitted in terms of activities, dress and behaviour.
Here’s a quick rundown:
ALL events will emphasise ongoing, informed, enthusiastic consent. This is the ultimate, basic requirement. The kink scene does consent better than anywhere else in life. It’s completely built into the fabric of the philosophy.
SOME events may allow swinging/sex/nudity, others do not. There are a lot of events that are mainly people doing impact play ‘scenes’.
SOME events hold educational workshops about different things as part of their programme. This may be anything from giving advice on caring for your latex-wear to simple knot tying for shibari, to the best way to do impact play safely. Events that run workshops will generally be quite mellow and sociable in nature and include a mix of skill levels and experience, right down to people just beginning.
SOME events sell kink items. ‘Alternative’ markets are quite popular and exist in many towns. They will usually have an array of interesting things for you to look at, get advice on and buy, as well as being a great opportunity to mix with likeminded people, learn things and find out what other events are happening in your area.
SOME events allow more ‘extreme’ acts than others. They will usually make this clear on their website and promotional material. Typical ‘hard limits’ for events organisers include acts that draw blood, involve fire, infection risk from sharps or body fluids, or create a lot of mess or unpleasant smells. You are NEVER required to participate in anything you don’t want to. That’s consent. If anything, you are much more likely to find something that looks really interesting to try and have to wait a long time for the expert practitioner to be free, or be too shy to ask.
If you aren’t comfortable with something you see, move away and don’t watch, don’t try to make an issue of it. People come to events to be themselves without having to worry about offending anyone.
NEVER interrupt a scene. Scenes have been thought through, discussed, limits established and everything planned between those involved. Joining a scene without prior consent is a massive no-no. Stopping the people to ask to join is also a massive no-no. Walking through a scene, especially one involving impact play, is both a no-no and a very daft idea.
NEVER pick up and use someone’s equipment without asking. As well as generally being very expensive, it is very personal to them. In some places you may find there is an array of equipment laid out for general use. If you think this is the case, be sure to check before you touch anything. That is a sign of respect.
NEVER assume that because someone identifies as a submissive (or sissy, or slut, or whatever) that that means they are YOUR submissive. You speak to them respectfully, in a friendly way, just as you would to anyone else. Their submission is an earned, informed act of trust and devotion. They are not a disposable object for you to play with as you wish.
NEVER violate someone’s right to consent or decline by inappropriate touching. Even if you just want to get a feel of that shiny rubber/leather/animal fur as they walk past? It is not ok. Respect their personal space, express admiration and politely ask if you wish, but be aware that they may say no. That is their right.
SOME events have no scene/play/activity component. These are known as ‘munches’. They are social gatherings of people who are interested in kink, and a great way to make new friends. They often take place at a pub or picnic.
ALL events are better if you show an interest in people. Some people on the kink scene are naturally very quiet. Some are very outgoing. Some are very normal-seeming, some are extremely eccentric. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Try striking up a chat with lots of different types of people, including those who seem to be by themselves, a little shy or nervous. You may find they are waiting for friends and you’ll suddenly meet a load of people through them who are just your speed.
Good starting topics, as with most situations, are:
-Have you been to this before?
-How do you find it?
-Who would be good people to get to know?
-I’m new. Do you have any advice for me?
-Which things do you think I should try/buy/attend?
-Which other events have you tried?
-What kind of things are you mainly into? (many longstanding kinksters will have a real passion for their niche, make their own items, light up talking about it and generally geek out delightedly at the chance to tell someone).
So, are you kinky? That’s hard to say. I’ve known someone claim they had a ‘kink for lingerie’. I’ve also known people who have no interest in sex whatsoever (and identify as asexual) to be active in the kink community. There really isn’t a set standard of deviance one has to match up to to be part of things – more a standard of respect and behaviour. If you are seeking a place of acceptance, it’s a great place to look. Be prepared to give out just as much as you hope for in return.
Enjoy your explorations, my darling deviant* ducklings. There are far more dangerous places to be!
*Deviant is an in-group term of affection that has been reclaimed by some parts of the kink community.
Footnote: There will certainly be people, many with a great deal of experience, who will claim that something I’ve said is wrong, that they’ve experienced differently or that I’ve missed something important. This is unavoidable in such a huge topic, and I’d encourage everyone to research the whole topic a lot further. There is a huge number of books, magazines, websites, online videos, etc. that are hugely educational. This is not a world I could hope to compress into a little blog post.