Fuck 50 Shades: A Look Inside The Real BDSM Scene

By Ida Kinky

Walking down Eddy from Market Street in downtown San Francisco, you wouldn’t notice the Citadel sandwiched between a karaoke joint and a parking lot. It’s an unassuming building with blacked-out windows and no signage to announce its presence. Even if you did note a beefy bouncer policing the unmarked door, you’d have to be some kind of freak to imagine a naked twink bent over a spanking bench squealing in ecstatic pain. Or to visualize the smokin’ hot blonde in red heels and nipple clamps above her underbust corset, bound at the wrists and holding a stress position while her partner slowly teases her with a riding crop.

But really, you’d just need to be one of the thousands of Bay Areans who delight in getting freaky. And there is no dearth of opportunities to go out and get off in a public setting – be it at a dungeon, converted dance studio, or sexual play space.

Sex Advice Sage Dan Savage says there are two types of kinky people: those who have always known they have a freak flag to fly, and those who found out after dating someone kinky. I’m in the former category, having been caught with a succession of BDSM-inspired Barbie tableaus by my (likely equally embarrassed) parents. As I got older, I fantasized about submitting to my partner and letting them control our sexual situation — about being bound or otherwise incapacitated, teased, roughed up, made to beg to come.

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Suffice it to say, I’ve always been a pretty horny kid with a bent. But despite a few semi-dangerous and one-off experiences beginning in high school, I never dated anyone who also identified as kinky until I was 22. We met online; he was into rope and humiliation; I was beyond pleased to be bound, hit, bit, and made to submit to his whims. After nine months of super-hot sex and play, the relationship petered out – we were more sexually than emotionally compatible. Beyond the normal sad feels of a relationship lost, I also felt something spiritually lacking. By having defined sexual roles that required me to submit to another person, I was able to let go of a lot of my daily insecurities that make me feel as if I’m walking a tightrope to keep myself together. The emotional freedom coupled with the physical pleasure I got from feeling bruises on my ass and thighs and crawling on my knees to suck dick just felt right- like a void that hadn’t been filled before. I felt more sexually fulfilled by having a regular D/s (Dominant/submissive) dynamic in my relationship than I had in a long, long time – and that’s the reason I dated an emotionally manipulative guy longer than I should have.

Tired of waiting around for the Domly Dom of My Dreams to walk up with a glint in his eye and a flogger in his hand, I decided to seek out this dynamic on my own. San Francisco is a notoriously uninhibited city, and I figured I wouldn’t have much trouble getting mine (spoiler alert: I was right!). Never one to skimp on research, I found a few websites for submissive women who wanted to engage in BDSM play. Many websites suggested joining FetLife, a social networking site for kinky folks, to find events and groups, and to attend a munch. A munch is a gathering of kinky people, usually in a vanilla (aka not kinky) setting such as a coffee shop or bar, where you can meet likeminded folks to play with, swap information on techniques, or just get yourself riled up for your next sexy session.

Going to a munch – and there are a lot of them – was an enormous relief. I’m pretty social and don’t have a problem talking to strangers, so I was pleased to find about 15 kinksters in a variety of age, lifestyle, experience, and attractiveness brackets milling about a Berkeley coffee shop willing to chat. Even though I’m generally open with strangers – perhaps too open – it did feel weird approaching an older woman or younger man to talk about their sexual proclivities. After a few botched attempts I found my footing and approached conversation like I would a date: talk about movies, the weather, maybe politics first, then work my way around to sex. My strategy worked like a charm, and I patted myself on the back for being such a smooth operator, or at least not a total jerk-off.

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The second munch I attended was strictly for people under 40, and most of the people were in their 20s and a little shy — a lot of UC Berkeley kids I imagined I might’ve been friends with in high school and watched The Crow with. I did my best to be energetic and engage with the people who seemed nervous and had a good time, even made some friends. I also broadened my tastes a bit and exchanged numbers with a guy I wouldn’t normally be attracted to. We played (the scene term for having a BDSM-related interaction that may or may not involve traditional sexual contact) for a few months with steamy results.

Moreover, people at the munch pointed me in the direction of a few dungeons and play spaces where I could finally dip my toes in the vast pool of kink possibilities. I didn’t have anyone else to explore with, so I decided volunteering at a play party (a sex party, or space with dungeon equipment) would be the best way to both scope out the scene, get in for free, and give me something to do if I felt lonely or uncomfortable. At my first party, I was scheduled to work the BYOB bar – other jobs include clean up and monitoring rooms for safety.

When I arrived at Mission Control – nervous as hell and freezing in a skimpy black dress below a long coat – I was greeted by a friendly woman who read me the space’s charter and made sure I was aware of how to “play safe.” It’s ok to watch, but don’t cruise aggressively; always ask before you touch; don’t interrupt a scene unless someone uses the house safeword. Above all, be respectful. The group’s old space occupied a typical San Francisco apartment, with a living room area converted into a dance floor and multiple-bed bedrooms stocked with condoms, lube, and cleaning supplies. A backroom had more traditional dungeon equipment – wooden chairs with screwed-in rings for tying down wiggly bottoms, and a cross or X with more tie points. Events are usually bring-your-own-toys, but occasionally a party host will have some to loan.

I was pleasantly surprised by the low-key atmosphere at Mission Control – people were friendly (and flirtatious), open to discussing their kinks (and yours, if you want to play), and no one seemed to mind if I watched them kiss, lick, or hit each other. Did I mention I’m a bit of a voyeur? Needless to say, I was super turned on and itching to try some of the things I was seeing. One of the party hosts encouraged me to try playing with electricity, and busted out a violet wand (warning to the ticklish: do not try this at home). Feeling fingers, metal instruments, and claws move up and down my arms and legs was intense and incredibly hot – something I never would have known about if I hadn’t gone to play.

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Mission Control, the Citadel, Power Exchange, and other dungeon/play spaces each host several parties targeted toward different kinks, but the culture is typically the same when it comes to meeting someone to play with. Some people arrive as a couple and just play with each other using the space’s equipment (though, typically, other people will watch). Others come with groups of friends to socialize and maybe play. Others yet arrive alone or with partners, then meet people at the party to play around with. There’s no time limit on play, just a general “be nice and respectful or we’ll kick you the fuck out” rule. There’s also no requirement that you play at all.

If you do attend a party, you should be comfortable with the idea of a pair (or several pairs) of eyes occasionally glancing your way while you do your thing. If you’re hot, doing an interesting or particularly sexy scene, or are pretty loud, those eyes will likely linger for longer. I haven’t seen anyone masturbating openly while watching another scene, and getting up close to do is definitely considered aggressive cruising – and grounds for removal from the party. This is where communication becomes key: if you’re made uncomfortable by someone else’s behavior tell them, or notify a dungeon monitor/party host. Just because you’re at a sex party doesn’t mean that you have to tolerate creepers, but it does mean you should be open to redefining (at least a bit) what creepy means to you.

At an open party, you’ll find people in their 20s, 40s – hell, I even saw a 70-something couple whip each other then fuck on one of the beds – tops, bottoms, switches, those that identify as gender fluid, and furries. I’m not much for casual sex (which I define as P-in-V intercourse), but I was pleased to find plenty of people who were happy to paddle me or do some kind of energy/power exchange. Sometimes, I find the energy exchange that happens in D/s to be more powerful than an orgasm, and I don’t come easily anyway. Bondage, role-play, and masochism are intense enough to involve my body and mind – which I often find hard to turn off during “regular” sex. Getting to play in public is even hotter, probably because it’s taboo.

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Once I got involved in San Francisco’s not-so-scary sex scene, I felt more confident and stopped dating men who were bad for me (my theory? I just needed to get that aggressive energy from a proper top). Although some would balk at the idea of masochism being empowering, I would challenge them to have the will, patience, trust, and strength to bottom. Engaging in consensual – and I cannot stress the importance of consent enough – power exchange shouldn’t be used in place of therapy for issues, but it can definitely be therapeutic. I don’t go to parties as much anymore, but the beauty of dungeons is that you can slip back in without worrying about judgment or without trying very hard.

The accessibility and welcoming atmosphere (for respectful, non-assholes) of San Francisco’s sex scene has led to a bit of a culture clash between – what else! – techies and those already involved in alternative lifestyles. There have been several articles about scene “tourists” trying their hands at some freaky shit and, true to the dominate paradigm of thought here, these narratives have been railed against by those who consider their subcultures sacred. I totally understand that, and feel protective of the various scenes I’m involved in as well. But talk to someone running Mission Control and they’ll adamantly say that you are just as likely to run into a developer or plumber at one of their events as you are anywhere else in San Francisco. Like many of the city’s great subcultures/events/bars/neighborhoods, no one has really figured out how to welcome newcomers while discouraging people who just want to take advantage of something unique. My advice is don’t be That Guy. If you’re a burgeoning kinkster (or a long-time freaky fuck) who’s never been to a play party, don your flyest fetish wear and head over to a dungeon – you won’t regret it. But if you’re reading this and think a play party may be a fun one-off way to pass a Friday night, ogling sluts and weirdos with your friends, be sex positive and stay at home.

The moral of the story, kids, is go out there and be a (safe! polite! sex positive!) slut – there are plenty of places to get your rocks off if you’re willing to be a respectful observer or participant of this awesome scene.

 

Images: Scott Beale/Flickr; GIFwrapped; Mission Control; Franco Folini/Flickr; Donna Flagellason/Flickr

 

 

Ida Kinky is a Bay Area reporter in love with nitty gritty freaky shit and soul music.

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