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So, a Vanilla Monogamist Walks Into a BDSM Party

So, a Vanilla Monogamist Walks Into a BDSM Party: David McNew / Stringer / Getty

David McNew / Stringer / Getty

With the highly anticipated sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey on its way and a recent study praising BDSM’s psychological benefits, you’re not alone if you’ve recently been thinking about checking out a kinky play party. In fact, it’s proven that the BDSM community comprises people who are no different than you or me, psychologically speaking.

In my personal life, I’m the opposite of what you’d expect of someone who writes about and researches sex for a living. If I could describe myself in two words, it’d be monogamous and vanilla. But, after hearing some of the men in one of my research studies talk openly about a local BDSM play party, my interest was piqued. The parties, they told me, were held once a month in a converted mansion in downtown Toronto. I wasn’t sure about going alone, so I invited my similarly vanilla friend, Nick, to join the adventure. I’ll be honest: I was fully expecting an Eyes Wide Shut experience. To my surprise, it was nothing like that. It was actually more like a house party, full of people seeing their friends and catching up. There just so happened to be the occasional spanking in the background.

BDSM stands for Bondage and Discipline; Dominance and Submission; and Sadism and Masochism. Though you’ve probably heard about pain for pleasure, a big part of BDSM is about the mental dynamic that goes with being dominated or humiliated. Consent and planning are a huge part of the lifestyle, including choosing safe words and making sure your partner is actually enjoying him or herself. But that’s the stuff about BDSM you can read about in a book. I’m here to tell you about an actual experience.

I wore a dress and a massive cocoon of a cardigan. Looking around us, we saw a sea of naked bodies, fishnets and dog collars. We looked like we had gotten lost on the way to a dinner party.

A line-up of people wearing a mix of black latex and street clothes lingered at the door, toting wheeled suitcases. A secret password wasn’t required to get in, but there was an entry fee of $40 for men and $10 for women. We were asked if we wanted a locker for our things and were briefed on the rules about consent, which included asking for permission before touching someone, and only asking once. I thought this was a great rule to make sure that any sex play was enthusiastically consensual.

Aside from the isolated sounds of whipping and slapping coming from different rooms, the mansion was surprisingly quiet. Each doorway was monitored by DMs, or dungeon monitors, who were there to keep an eye out for safety in the playrooms. As we entered one, the DM warned us not to get too close to the action otherwise we’d risk getting accidentally hit by a flogger’s whip. I sat down on a wooden bench that felt strangely similar to a church pew. “I feel overdressed,” Nick whispered to me.

The dress code was “fetish or formal wear,” so when Nick asked me what he should wear, I told him to go with a tuxedo. I wore a dress and a massive cocoon of a cardigan. Looking around us, we saw a sea of naked bodies, fishnets and dog collars. We looked like we had gotten lost on the way to a dinner party, but people were friendly, asking whether we were enjoying what was clearly our first time.

A helpful tip to the frugal spender or recent grad student who is interested in BDSM: BDSM practitioners often use household items like clothespins and kitchen utensils when they play. There’s no point dropping tons of money on fancy tools when you have something that works well laying around at home. Near the doorway, a woman wearing latex knee-high boots spanked a guy in pantyhose using a wooden spatula. After a few minutes, she upgraded to a full-size chopping board.

Across from us, a naked woman laid on a medical examination table. Her arms and legs were bound beneath her in elaborate Japanese Shibari knots while a guy in a heavy leather kilt flogged her. Some spend years perfecting their rope-tying techniques because with bondage, there’s a high risk of bruising and even nerve damage. Watching him manipulate it was like a form of art. Every so often, I’d make eye contact with the woman on the table, who just smiled back at me.

Alcohol was banned from the playrooms out of respect for the performers, who didn’t want buzzed patrons disrupting a scene or possibly hurting themselves or other people. Several people floated in and out as voyeurs, nodding to the doms as a silent way of saying hello.

A few open suitcases packed with ropes, whips, dildos, massage wands and an array of condoms lined our room. Each suitcase was like a portable sex shop. The organizers diligently promoted safe sex, filling each room with condoms, individually packaged lube, rubber gloves and antibacterial wipes. Everyone also made a point to clean the shared furniture as soon as they were done using it.

While any sexpert worth her salt will tell you just how important trust and communication is in kinky sex, seeing partners’ sexual trust play out in front of you is an oddly vulnerable experience. Play partners need to check in with each other often to make sure they’re doing okay, because overall, the dom’s goal is to make the sub feel good. One woman fed her partner water through a straw while he was handcuffed and chained to a wall. After each scene ended, both partners would do aftercare, like cuddling, to help them recover emotionally and physically.

That night, when I got home, I took off my make-up and cocoon and decided to write this column, reflecting on how fun it was to experience something new. Despite the Fifty Shades phenomenon, we don’t see as many realistic portrayals in mainstream media as we should. I was glad to have the chance to see the nuances of sexuality on display in the flesh. With that, I hope that everyone reading this feels inspired in the same way, to go out and do whatever it is that makes you happy—whether that’s attending a BDSM play party, or trying it out for yourself.


Debra W. Soh is a sex writer and sexual neuroscientist, specializing in the fMRI of paraphilias (or unusual sexual interests) at York University in Toronto. She has written for Harper’s, The Wall Street Journal, The Globe and Mail, New York Magazine and many other media outlets. Follow her on Twitter: @debra_soh.

RELATED: THE REAL BDSM: INSIDE A DUNGEON WITH A DOMINATRIX


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