10:15 A.M
I had no idea what I was getting myself into, so I masturbated out of fear of getting a boner later in the day. I didn’t want anyone at “The World’s Premier Professional and Lifestyle Domination Convention” AKA DomCon 2015 thinking I was a creeper. Not that I thought I was going to get a boner or anything, but you never know what you’re into until it’s too late.

10:30 A.M.
I stopped for a coffee at my local coffee shop, and the barista attempted to make small talk by asking what I was doing with my Saturday. I tried to be all casual about saying I was on my way to a dominatrix convention, but I said it too softly, not once, but twice, and I ended up yelling “I’m going to a dominatrix convention!” loud enough to cause the rest of the patrons to turn their heads. My barista shrugged and asked what happens at a dominatrix convention.

To be honest, I had no clue. I said I assumed it was going to be like Comic-Con but with only a few more whips and dildos (this joke was far more accurate than I expected it to be). I had seen a few pictures of guys whipping girls, girls whipping guys, some people in furry suits and whatnot, but I wouldn’t really understand until I saw it for myself.

11 A.M.
I masturbated one more time. Like I said, you never know. This time it took a little longer. I was extremely dedicated to not setting up a pants tent at any point in the day.

The line to get my press badge was one floor below the lobby of Los Angeles’s second most glamorous Hilton, the Los Angeles International Hilton. It is located just five minutes from LAX and ten minutes from some of the scarier parts of LA.

Walking through the gleaming lobby, I found myself staring at regular-looking hotel guests trying to figure out what their kinks were, regardless of whether they were going to DomCon, or not.

The Parisian couple arguing by the elevator, I surmised, was clearly into pouring cat urine on each other during sex. The awkward comb-over guy standing by the lobby bar, you just know he’s into looking through strangers’ windows and yelling his mother’s name until they notice him.

I know some of you in the lifestyle might be saying to yourselves, “Screw this guy. He doesn’t know anything about who we are or what we do.” You have every right to say that. Why? Because at this point in the day I had absolutely no idea about the BDSM community.

Before DomCon my experience and understanding with BDSM and the lifestyle was the four to five poorly written paragraphs of Fifty Shades of Grey I’d read, some entry-level toys such as whips and handcuffs used in vanilla sex and the Gimp scene in Pulp Fiction.

I honestly thought BDSM was just a bunch of sex fiends getting off in weird ways, and I say that not as some prude but as a guy who’s not afraid to get naked and have sex in front of strangers and then write about it.

12:15 P.M.
On the escalator down to the convention I stood behind a guy with a towel over his shoulder who was wearing a tank top and running shorts. All I could think about was what the name for his fetish is and how it works. Would he be a Sportsinatrix? Does a girl stand naked in font of him as he runs on a treadmill, always running towards her but never able to reach her?

Turns out he was just going to the hotel gym that happened to be on the same level as the convention. While waiting in line I saw about ten people from the hotel enter or leave the gym and stare, laugh, or sometimes do both as they passed by, and I got mad at them, even though before deciding to attend this event I would have done the same thing.

I was 30th in line for my pass, so I had a bit of a wait before I got to the good stuff. I looked around the room, which was a pretty boring room. More business than business, if you get my drift. Most everyone in line was dressed like a normal human, something I didn’t expect. Every once in a while a girl in a corset with tape over her nipples would walk by or a guy with a beard wearing a dress would briskly walk past. (I’m only using “guy” for descriptive purposes – we didn’t talk, and I don’t know how they identify.)

As I signed the legal disclaimer everyone has to sign before entering the convention, I saw a beautiful blonde woman in a tight black skirt suit walk by (think the classic sexy secretary look) holding a whip that would make Indiana Jones jealous. I wanted to talk to her, but as my bureaucratic father always said, “Paperwork first.” Once I was finished filling out the form, another woman in a tight, well-fitting skirt suit walked into the room, only her skirt suit was gray, and she didn’t have a whip.

She looked exactly how I imagined a business casual dominatrix would dress—the kind of lady who shows up at an office during lunch to whip the CEO raw in his office before the big meeting. I wanted to ask her all the questions, but as soon as she was close enough, I noticed her nametag and realized she was a Hilton employee and not a dominatrix at all.

1 P.M.
I finally got my press pass and went straight to the convention floor. It was a decent-sized room with about 30 vendors selling everything from handmade whips to strap-on dildos in every shape, size and color. I weaved my way through all the vendors to the back of the convention floor where a small stage had been set up and this was happening:

The guy on stage choked this woman, whipped her, slapped her and even pulled a knife on her, all to the beat of industrial techno (industrial noise metal was popular at DomCon). Not once did she seem afraid, nor did I fear for her safety whatsoever. After about 10 minutes I got bored and headed back for a second look at the vendors.

1:30 P.M.
By this point the novelty of leather-clad individuals being led by the chains around their necks, as well as nearly-nude humans getting whipped or slapped started wearing off, and everything seemed, well, kind of normal.

These were just people either enjoying their lifestyle or trying to make a living with their passion. Everyone can identify with that. The atmosphere felt so mundane and normal that I was kind of disappointed. I thought it would be sexier and more glamorous. (I don’t know why.) Instead, I felt like I was walking around a farmers’ market, only instead of venders peddling fruits and veggies they were hawking whips, dildos and electrical devices that you shock your ball sack with.

Seriously there’s a device you can use to shock your balls, I tried it on my back. The lady said I couldn’t put the electrodes on my balls unless I was going to buy the $170 device that I’ve come to call the WhyPod. It’s about the size of the ill-fated iPod video player, except instead of headphones there are two sticky pads that attach to your body and make your muscles twitch at six different speeds and intensities. My balls can’t afford such luxury.

My shockingly good time (get it?) was cut short because I wanted to get a good seat for what the schedule called, “The Pet Show”… whatever that was.

2 P.M.
The Pet Show was supposed to take place in the main showroom, but once I got to the main showroom an unknown dominatrix had laid claim to the room, and we had to walk back to the convention hall and into a much smaller room.

The room was tiny, and the air conditioning was either broken or turned off by someone who was into “heat play,” if that’s a thing. The room also happened to smell like a leather factory burped (in a good way). There were about twenty or thirty chairs set facing what would be the stage and judges table.

Eventually a woman dressed like a 1920s circus ringleader, complete with a riding crop, introduced herself as Ringmaster Miss Ann, announced the judges and asked the pets and their owners to come to the front of the room.

I’m not going to waste your time by describing each and every one of the pets. This picture will say more than I ever could:

First up on the left is “pig dog.” He acted like a dog but had a little pigtail on his pants. Next up is Pepper, the mixed breed, pasty-wearing terrier dog. The pet next to her that looks a lot like Lana Wachowski was a Siamese/calico cat known as “the kitty from hell.” Then there was the ring-tailed lemur, followed by the teddy bear. Not pictured is the “slutty unicorn who loves prancing.”

I found myself riveted by the pet show. The second I realized it was a competition, I was 100 percent invested. I have three older brothers, so to me, everything is a competition I must win, and dammit, I was going to pick the winning pet.

The most exciting part of the show was the tricks segment. Each owner and pet was given the chance to show off their tricks. Pig dog started strong by fetching a dildo with its mouth (on all fours mind you), then returning the dildo to its owner, at which point she opened a condom, tossed it in his mouth, raised the dildo to her vagina, and let him put the condom on it. Most impressive.

Next was Pepper, the pasty-wearing terrier. Her owner handed the judges four red velvet bags and asked them to wait until he and Pepper walked to the back of the room and then throw the bags anywhere in the room the wanted. He and Pepper stood facing the door while the judges tossed the bags. Her owner then unleashed Pepper and asked her to “find the otter” at which point she began sniffing the bags and started barking at the second bag.

Her owner opened the bag and, damn it, there was an otter toy in it! They did this three more times with a bear, dog, and beaver, with Pepper getting them all right, except for the beaver, when she smelled an audience member’s vagina before finding the bag. Showmanship at its finest.

Imagine having to follow that? The ring-tailed lemur went up next. She was fun, energetic as hell and all over the place. People seemed to like her, but I’d already chosen Pepper, so I was hoping they were just being nice. She mostly just launched around the room and made cute sounds, but she really did put on a solid performance. For some reason I kept imagining the neighbor in the apartment below the lemur’s always going, “What the hell is going on up there? It sounds like they let a goddamn lemur loose.”

The slutty unicorn and the calico cat were fun but didn’t put a lot of work into their performances. I don’t want to say that they gave up because of Pepper, but they gave up because of Pepper.

Then it was the fucking teddy bear’s turn. Keep in mind that at this point I’m really invested in this. I want Pepper to win, and I’m a little worried the lemur’s incredible energy is going to outshine Pepper’s pure talent.

Everyone “ooooed” and “awwwed” at the teddy bear, but not me. The costume was half-assed and uninspired. He barely stayed in character, which by the way isn’t even a living creature to begin with (at least the unicorn could be reasoned away by calling it a “special horse.”) His “trick” was cuddling. That’s not a trick. Everyone else put time, effort and thought into their animal embodiment/costume, and this person just bought a teddy bear onesie at Target. Look, I was as surprised as you are at how strongly I felt.

The room voted for the winner by applause, and Pepper was far an away the fan favorite. With Pepper’s (and by proxy my) win, I was pumped for the Pony Show.

3 P.M.
Back in the big conference room we were previously kicked out of stood a giant hulking mass of a man adjusting the straps on his costume. I couldn’t see his face through his handcrafted felt and leather horse mask, but I could clearly see his ass because he was only wearing a leather thong, a few leather straps, a tail and homemade hoofs that looked like tiny boxing gloves.

Left: Clovis / Right: Speckles

Left: Clovis / Right: Speckles

That’s Clovis, one of six ponies entering the Pony Show. He was my second favorite pony. Who was my favorite? Why Speckles, of course. Just look at him. He’s majestic.

The setup for this show was pretty much exactly the same as the pet show. Miss Ann was once again the ringmaster of ceremonies, but you could tell her passion was for the ponies, not the pets. There were six ponies in total, and they were all vastly different.

There were some technical difficulties before the show started, and while we waited in silence the ponies randomly ground their hoofs in the ground and whinnied, just like real ponies.

It was much more awkward in this big conference room. There were mirrors all the way around the room, making it feel as though it was decorated by a professional ballerina, and the AC was on, which took away that sauna-esque bonding experience of the previous room.

3:25 P.M.
I don’t know if was the fact that I hadn’t eaten since before my first masturbation session, or if the pet show had taken it out of me, but I was much less impressed with the pony show than I thought I was going to be. (Yeah, I’m just realizing now that I literally went to a dog and pony show at DomCon).

To start, the ponies all did their best whinny, then each one, accompanied by their owner trotted around the room, to, I shit you not, [Aaron Copeland’s cowboy classic, “Hoe-down”. Basically, they trotted to the “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” song!

Apparently I have a trotting threshold, because there’s only so many times I can see someone trot before I think, “OK, I get it. You’re trotting.”

The most exciting thing to happen in the pony show wasn’t even part of the show. At some point, one of the ponies’ went lame mid-trot. At first I thought it was part of the show, but then his trainer was yelling at the pony for being a wimp and embarrassing her.

He cried in the front row while the medical staff, which consisted of two confused and frightened young staffers, awkwardly wrapped his ankle. Personally, I don’t know why they even bothered wrapping his ankle when he was just going to be turned into glue anyway.

In the end, this girl won:

I had my money on Speckles, but she was about as inspired as the teddy bear, so justice was served.

7 P.M.
The convention was done for the day, so I hit the hotel bar. I watched as the attendees spilled into the Hilton lobby, mixing with a large group of Chinese tourists who had just arrived. It was like a sexual estuary.

I sat at the bar in the hotel lobby sipping on a scotch, making notes and thinking about the day. I made an important discovery: As far as the ponies go, I don’t want to seem like I’m knocking their culture and lifestyle or anything, but technically they’re not ponies, they’re centaurs. Just saying.

Now I just had to wait until 9 for the “Play Party” to start.

Waiting gave me time to reflect on going to DomCon. I had talked to a lot of people throughout the day, and I came to realize that BDSM isn’t really about sex. I mean, sure, some of it is, but it really is a lifestyle. I would liken what I saw and heard more to a religion or a high than anything sexual. It’s all about being comfortable with who you are and getting to new and better places.

So as it turned out, people who participate in the BDSM lifestyle weren’t the creepers. I was the creeper. I was the one making BDSM weird, not the other way around. I saw some pictures on the Internet and drew the conclusions and assumptions I wanted to. These aren’t weird sex fiends, but maybe I am.

1 A.M.
By this point I was beyond exhausted, but I decided to attend the after-party anyway. The “play party" was filled with men and women “torturing” each other on what looked like slightly improved medieval devices. At some point I think I saw a man in lingerie bang a woman who was tied up, but I could be just making that up, because all I could think about was laying in my soft, non-leather bed. So, in the end, it really was a lot like Comic-Con.

For those of you who just came here for the pictures, here you go, you little voyeurs, you.


Alex Sargeant is a writer/producer for Playboy.com.