Maybe it happened when you read 50 Shades of Grey, propping the paperback inside a hardcover at the coffee shop in case you ran into your boss. (At the touch of leather, I quiver and gasp.)
Or maybe it started earlier, when you watched Secretary alone in your basement and realized you wanted to spank, or be spanked, or harness, or be harnessed. (Who’s to say that love needs to be soft and gentle?)
Or maybe even earlier, when you played the “pass-out” game at a middle school slumber party and, as your friend pressed her palms against your throat, you grew dizzy not just from the lack of oxygen, but also from desire.
Maybe it’s always been there, this feeling that what you wanted from sex was different than what you saw enacted around you, what you were supposed to want.
So what to do with that feeling? Well, you could spend decades feeling repressed…or you could try something else. We suggest trying something else.
Step 1: Find a community
For Gwen Thames, a 64-year-old who has known she was a dominant since she was a teenager, coming out in the late ’60s and early ’70s held risk of a lost job, family, or more. Still, when she heard her friends talk about their dating lives, it just didn’t seem right.
“I believe in female-controlled relationships,” Gwen said. “I’m extremely independent and don’t take crap from anybody. So it was really difficult for me [growing up]. I was a teenager, but I felt everything was off and immature and wrong.”
Coming out is easier now, Gwen says. Instead of “carefully coded words in the back of adult magazines,” there’s the Internet, where you can “fall into it.”
But despite the wider social acceptance of BDSM and fetishism that pop culture hits like 50 Shades have brought, most cultural representations of sex remain shockingly tame, anything but “vanilla” sex remains shockingly taboo. In other words: it can still be difficult to come out as interested in kink. So people still find ways to come out slowly, anonymously, and among those who have declared themselves open.
The Internet has birthed many platforms for mindless sexual content, but the best spot for connecting with kink might be FetLife.com. Rather than simply a clearinghouse for quick sex, the site emphasizes community and has a casual, cheeky tone. The signup page says the site is, “Like Facebook, but run by kinksters like you and me. We think it is more fun that way. Don’t you?” The search bar asks, “What’s on your kinky mind?” And the opening page suggests ways to “get this party started,” including “kinksters near you.”
When you create your profile, you choose from a list of more than 60 possible “Sexual Orientation” designations. Everything from the super-specific—“Rope Bunny” (a submissive who enjoys being tied up or otherwise restrained) to the more general and fluid—“evolving,” “exploring,” or “undecided.” Even the plain “vanilla” (people without BDSM/fetish inclinations) are welcome to join.
Step 2: Understand the lifestyle
Gwen, who has been in a committed dominant/submissive relationship for more than 13 years, says the kinks and fetishes that people act out in “play” or “scene” are different from what makes up their core identity. Like a committed Christian who takes up Buddhist meditation or yoga wouldn’t call themselves a Buddhist, Gwen thinks that those who tie their partners up once in a while are probably not actually masters. In other words, fantasy fulfillment is different from “someone who lives with a dominant and submissive partner and that is how they live their life.”
“It’s wonderful if you have kinks and fetishes and you find partners to play them out with,” Gwen said. “But I’m from a generation and a mindset that thinks that’s just one small part of what this life is.”
BDSM, by the way, is a catchall acronym that stands for many things: bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and sadomasochism, and it’s used pretty interchangeably with fetishism and kink. If you’re interested in terminology, it’s all defined in detail on the FetLife glossary pages.
But to really understand kink, Gwen thinks you might be better served by just asking someone. Which brings us to Step 3…
Step 3: Be brave—ask your questions IRL
Gwen, who grew up in Pennsylvania and now lives in Albany, has been involved in the Corvallis/Albany kink scene for nearly a decade and moderates or organizes many of the local online groups and in-person meetings. She recommends that newbies start with one of the local “munches,” informal gatherings to discuss BDSM topics, named so because they typically take place at a restaurant (where people might lunch or munch, get it?).
Both Corvallis and Albany offer monthly munches, and Gwen even created an educational brochure with a list of resources and safety tips.
Most other local meetings are specialized and require some level of experience—there are support groups for dominants submissives, masters and slaves in relationships, and even an Oregon State University group.
The information online can be overwhelming, so Gwen has one piece of advice for those starting out: “Know what you’re looking for.” And if you don’t know already? Come to a munch and ask questions.
By Maggie Anderson
Got questions about BDSM? Ask at your local munch.
Munches are causal gatherings for open discussion of BDSM/kink/fetish culture and lifestyle. They are great for both newbies and veterans, and local munches have both open discussion and guest speakers. Meet times change monthly. More information about the details can be found by signing up for the groups on FetLife.com.
When: Every second Sunday
Where: Tommy’s 4th Street Bar and Grill, 350 SW 4th St.
When: Every fourth Thursday
Where: Pop’s Branding Iron, 901 Pacific Blvd. SE.
By Maggie Anderson