So you’re curious about kink and you’d like to connect with the larger “BDSM Community”, but don’t know where to start. Well, you’re in the right place. In this post, I will discuss what I did when attempting to enter into the BDSM community and some of the lessons I learned along the way.
I’m the sort of person who doesn’t have a “throw the baby out with the bath water” attitude so this post will be very honest about both the good and the bad aspects of the BDSM community. That said, I do think it’s important for me to preface my thoughts with the fact that I am speaking from the perspective of a person who participates mostly in the heterosexual Los Angeles BDSM scene. From what I’ve gathered, the BDSM community takes on different vibes in different areas so some of the things I say here, might not apply to where you are, but I tried to make it as universal as possible.
The Pros and Cons of the BDSM Community
A lot of people are turned off by the idea of joining a “BDSM Community”. Mostly because they imagine them as being overly involved, up their own ass and full of themselves. Unfortunately, that characterization isn’t necessarily incorrect, but I think the first thing to recognize when attempting to join the BDSM community is that there are often several. In Los Angeles, the vibe between one dungeon can be so vastly different from the vibe at another dungeon. Currently, we have three main Dungeons in the LA Area. Threshold, Sanctuary and 910 WeHo. Each of these dungeons feel very different and often you’ll only see certain people at certain dungeons. So it’s easy for these spaces to have a different feel and if you find yourself not connecting wit one community, you might find connection in another. There are also several smaller, more private networks of kinksters who practice BDSM within a “house” structure away from the public BDSM scene. This tends to be slightly more common in more suburban or small town areas. Quite a few people in the scene will ultimately leave the public BDSM scene for their small network of kinksters. Sometimes it’s formal, like a “house” and a lot of times it’s informal and casual, but communal.
Practicing BDSM doesn’t require that you participate within a community, but there are many reasons why exploring BDSM within the context of a community would be beneficial to you. Here are my personal pros and cons.
One of the main benefits of practicing BDSM within a community is that it generally means that you’re able to practice BDSM in a communal way. Curious kinksters will often go online to find the first person who’s willing to play with them and their excitement often prevents them from considering their own safety and health. I’m a submissive and I remember when I first came into the BDSM community, there were a lot of men who were eager to define what BDSM was for me. Quite often, their way of doing that required isolation away from people who could observe and criticize our dynamic. When you’re new, it’s very hard for you to know what is and isn’t safe and if anything, when you’re in that stage of your kink journey, it helps to get a second opinion.
In the early days of my BDSM exploration, I’d connect with men who wanted things from me that made me incredibly uncomfortable. When I’d tell them it made me uncomfortable, they’d say that if I were a real submissive, I’d do what they wanted. One dominant, for example, wanted me to be sexual with his other female submissive. Aside from the fact that I’m not attracted to women and barely knew either of them, he argued that if I were a “real submissive”, I’d simply agree. When you’re isolated from the community and you don’t have the framework for what a healthy dynamic looks like, things like this might initially sound reasonable to you, but being connected to a community means being able to have other people to ask questions about what is and isn’t okay.
One of the biggest benefits of being part of a BDSM community is that it connects you to a network of kinksters who are consciously and thoughtfully practicing BDSM. When you’re new, having that network can be incredibly valuable. You might want to jump into the scene very quickly, but you might be underestimating that there are people in the community get off on pushing the boundaries of new kinksters. These people are, quite often, abusive and are the kind of people who deeply resent the idea of their BDSM play being monitored. That would be a red flag. So having a community of people to ask “is this normal” or “is this okay” can be incredibly important when you’re first finding your footing.
When you’re new, chances are you won’t understand how to do BDSM play “safely”. Something like rope, for example, seems incredibly simple, but is actually quite dangerous. Probably one of the more dangerous things in BDSM. It’s very easy to hurt someone when you don’t know what you’re doing, but luckily, kinksters often love to teach classes. A lot of people who are in the scene, have been in the scene for decades and they very much enjoy sharing their knowledge. It might be helpful for you to take a hands-on approach when first learning about BDSM so if you’re privileged enough to live in an area that has hands-on classes, take advantage of them! Classes are also a great way to connect with new people who are also into the same things you’re into.
Another huge benefit is “public play”. In this context, I mean play at a dungeon in front of a room full of people. Most dungeons have what are called Dungeon Monitors, or “DMs” as they’re often called. Usually, these are experienced kinksters who are familiar with the rules of the Dungeons. A potential draw back of “public play” is that usually it limits the kind of play you can do. For example, all BDSM dungeons in LA forbid breath play at most of their events. A DM is the sort of person who will kick you out if they see you doing breath play since it violates the rules of the dungeon. They’re also the sort of person that would monitor a breath play scene if it was allowed. Because of the degree of risk involved in certain play, most dungeons will require that your scene be monitored by a DM while it’s going on. A DM will check in on the scene to make sure that everything is okay, and everything is understood. Playing at an event with a DM is a great way to play with partners whom you are still getting to know, who are still getting to know you.
“Vetting” is a huge bonus when joining a BDSM community. Most of these communities have history, and that allows you to figure out which players are safe or have a history of repeated violations. BDSM communities tend to be insular and generally speaking, the people within them are invested in maintaining them. So what that means is there are people who will work hard to ensure that abusers don’t find their way into certain spaces, but this also brings me to my list of Cons about the BDSM Community.
Speaking very bluntly, there are a lot of reasons why I would heavily discourage anyone from joining the BDSM community. Like most things, I cannot fully write off the good aspects, but the bad aspects have, in many ways, shifted my feelings about the BDSM Community. I always try to be honest, and would I’d feel dishonest presenting the pros without extensively covering the cons.
I would say my favorite time in the BDSM Community was when everything was new to me and I knew very little about the history of the space or the people within it. Especially when you’re a woman, and especially when you’re a submissive, you are very much embraced when you are new and people are often incredibly nice and welcoming to you. My first few years, I learned a lot and played with a lot of people and grew to understand so much more about myself. But my impression of the community has indeed shifted the longer i’m in it.
Here’s the thing: the BDSM community is not unlike a lot of spaces where people politicize, politic and ego quite frequently gets in the way of doing good work. When I first came into the BDSM community, I bottomed for a man for about a year. He was very eager to connect with me when we first met and enjoyed the fact that I was new. He spent a lot of time discouraging me from connecting with any dominant man who expressed a vague interest in me, often saying that these men had a history of abuse. I took his word for it because, after all, he was more established and experienced than I was, but it would take me a while to understand that some of those stories he told me weren’t true or were simply misunderstandings.
As you enter the BDSM community and try to find out who is and isn’t a good player, you will very quickly realize that sometimes people transform miscommunication into abuse. Sometimes minor infractions become massive once they’ve been processed through the telephone game-esc communication that often happens within BDSM circles. In the community, you’ll find a lot of people who believe that they have the one objective truth about how BDSM and consent should and shouldn’t be and you’ll discover that some people claim abuse because of their own personal philosophy, and not necessarily because someone is actually a dangerous person. Then once you start to cast doubt on that, you’ll learn that there are people who actually are abusive, but because of how they present themselves or maybe even the cult of personality they’ve cultivated, they will be presented to you as safe.
As mentioned earlier, quite often different dungeons and spaces have a different vibe and community. That’s great in one way, but because things are that way, it’s not terribly uncommon for abusers to move from one dungeon to the next and only get called out when one of the few cross over patrons brings it to the attention of the venue owners. And even then, the he-said she-said stuff nature of some of these conversations means that people have their biases and don’t often always believe every story of abuse. Unfortunately because I’ve observed how sometimes people transform small incidents into massive ones, I can understand why that’s often the response. But that said, one of the biggest things that turned me off from the BDSM community was just how many people I’ve heard abuse allegations about that are in positions of power. Of all of the stories I’ve heard, I cannot think of many of these abusers who are outright banned from all BDSM clubs in Los Angeles, and sometimes these people have enough money to throw their own events…
If you’re a marginalized minority of any sort, I would regret not warning you that while the BDSM community may seem slightly more progressive than most vanilla spaces, you might still run into the same issues, with a liberal facade. As a black trans woman, I’ve very frequently found that these spaces tend to be very white and that when an event says “pansexual”, what they really mean is straight.
I’m a straight, submissive woman so for the most part, the heterosexual BDSM scene doesn’t really alienate me at all, but it took me a while to realize that if you’re a person who identifies as queer, you really do have to seek out queer specific events. You might often see an event listed as “pansexual” and what they mean by that is that it is an event where everyone, regardless of sexuality is welcomed. However, what these events turn out to be more often than not, is heterosexual. What I mean by that is those events almost always end up being mostly dominant men and submissive women. In all of the years I’ve been to dungeons, I’ve only once seen two cis men play with each other once. On top of that quite frequently scenes between two cis women are often done for the male gaze. It’s very easy to walk away with the impression that this is what the BDSM community is, but what I’ve learned is that there is a completely separated world of queer BDSM that I am not personally tied to. Like most subcultures, it’s just a matter of finding the right people who can point you in the right direction. So if that’s important to you, make connecting with other queer folks one of your main priorities when joining the community.
The community has the same issue with race. At least out here, the BDSM community is very white. This means that as a person of color, you will quite frequently be in the position where you are seen as novel and you will likely be fetishized. I am constantly navigating around white people’s race play fetishism and how frequently dominance is projected onto me because I’m a black woman who isn’t self loathing and that can, indeed, become exhausting. There are usually several smaller groups within larger BDSM community dedicated to cultivating community among people of color in BDSM. It’s worth investigating organizations like A Tribe Called Kink, which are all about creating spaces for people of color in kink.
Additionally, while the BDSM community may indeed talk about how “safe” it is, very few things we do are truly, completely “safe”. Be very wary of anyone who says otherwise. We can find safer ways to do what we do, but most of these things have some degree of risk and this risk is constantly downplayed in the interest of making BDSM seem accessible to everyone. Personally, I am a very risk aware person, which is why this article is blatantly speaking about the negative aspects of the community. However, these are the issues I have mostly with the “public” scene, and it’s still very possible for you to build a BDSM community outside of that.
My biggest bit of advice for anyone joining the BDSM community or exploring BDSM privately is to GO SLOW and get to really know your play partners. The biggest mistake I see people doing is rushing into the scene, doing things they don’t understand and harming themselves, harming others ,or being harmed by others. You will not lose anything by entering into the community slowly with an acute awareness of the risks. There are too many people out there banking on you not quite knowing your own limitations; for that reason, long before you go to a dungeon, I’d tell you to go to a munch.
Finding Play Partners and Entering The Community
My first dungeon was a small, clean little club in an industrial area called DragonsGate. I had just gotten out of my monogamous, vanilla relationship and I was very eager to explore. I found the event online and decided to show up to the dungeon alone, without knowing anyone. Perhaps it’s because I’m a woman, but people were very friendly to me. I got a tour from the owner and it was truly a beautiful little dungeon. These were my first, conscious, informed steps into the BDSM community… but I was alone.
I remember standing awkwardly in the corner with my hand gripping the inside of my other arm. I was far less confident back then, so I definitely looked like a newbie. Back then, I was still figuring out if BDSM was for me. I’d been through a lot and I was trying to explore myself in a newer, more self sufficient place in my life. I hungered for community and friends whom I could speak openly with. I spoke to a few attendees that night and they told me that i should go to a “munch”.
What are Munches?
A Munch, or a Slosh, depending on where you are, is a casual meet up at a restaurant or a bar. The idea is that if you get a bunch of kinky people in the same place at the same time, there’s a high chance that they’ll make some sort of connection. I first started going to munches before I moved to Los Angeles, when I was living in the middle of nowhere, Orange County. We’d meet at a Fuddruckers and very informally string a bunch of tables together and talk; not just about BDSM, but our interests, what TV shows we were watching and what we did when we weren’t at the Dungeons. It was a really great way to meet new people and make new friends. You just eat, or drink and get to know the people around you. There’s no pressure to play and since we’re in public, there’s absolutely no BDSM. If you were talking to someone online about BDSM, a munch would be a great place to meet them in public, in a mutual space full of affirming people.
For me, munches, not the Dungeons, are the true soul of the BDSM community. I cannot overstate how valuable they were to me when I was desperately sorting through my own kinkiness and polyamory. I truly struggled with figuring out if BDSM was for me and I just needed to see that there were other kinksters out there. These days, you’re way more likely to run into me at a munch than a dungeon; and a lot of the people I know who no longer go to dungeons, still make sure to make it to every single munch.
You’ll find munches mostly on websites like Fetlife, or sometimes even websites like EventBrite. You might very well think that there aren’t any munches in your local area, but you much be surprised, as I was, to discover that they’ve been happening in your community for years. One of the best part of going to munches is that you’ll usually meet people who are connected to other gatherings and events and that will be a good way to figure out where exactly you should go to find information about other events. BDSM events become more hush-hush the smaller the communities are. Sometimes it’s just a matter of meeting the right people who can steer you in the right direction.
Munches tend to happen monthly and depending on where you are, there’s often a flow of new people each month. When I was living in Orange County, our munches felt like small family gatherings because it was, for the most part, the same small group of people. In the city, there’s a similar feeling, but there’s often a large flow of new people or sometimes out of state visitors. If you’re new in town or you’re the sort of person who struggles making friends, munches are a really great place to meet people. So many of the friends i’ve made at munches are life long friends. I even managed to find some people to help me move apartments from the various munches I’ve attended. And if you’ve ever helped someone move, you know that’s pretty deep.
I will probably never explicitly speak about this on here, but I do some community building in the Los Angeles area for the BDSM community and I currently organize one of the largest munches in the city. I started my munch because I felt there was a void in my particular part of the city and I was surprised when it became so popular. Some people reading through this post might not currently have munches or BDSM Dungeons or really even much of a BDSM community in their area. If you’re in that situation, my biggest advice to you is build it and the people will come. Starting your own munch is, in my opinion, the first thing to do when starting your own BDSM community, but that’s a subject for a future entry.
Until then, I hope what I’ve said here has been helpful in your quest of making an informed decision about whether or not you want to participate in the BDSM community.