Sexuality in Conversation

Send in the Clowns: The Rise of Coulrophilia and the "Feargasm"

It’s the middle of the night. The doors are locked, windows secured. You haven’t checked for monsters since you were a child. In your town, there’s nothing to fear. Or so you thought. Suddenly, you’re awoken by a maniacal giggle. Terrified, you turn on the light and find a naked woman in a Pennywise mask hovering over you with a vibrator, laughing as she insults and taunts you. There’s no escape now. You’ll obey her every command.

For many, this scenario would be an outlandish nightmare, but for Miss Quin, a Florida fetish performer and self-proclaimed coulrophile (someone who is sexually attracted to clowns), it’s a total turn-on and a viable way of making an income. A quick scroll through her Clips4Sale page yields a number of these Pennywise-inspired videos, where she puts on a mask and dominates women until they have what she calls a “feargasm.” It’s terrifying, and she admitted in an email that “there’s a reason why I’m always wearing the mask.”

In other videos, she adorns full-face clown makeup and shames viewers for having “a little prick” or assumes the role of a sadistic ringmaster. Miss Quin stands at five-feet, two-inches tall with neon pink hair and a darling smile, but something changes when she puts on the white face paint or a mask—she assumes a more powerful, intimidating persona. What is it about this simple transformation that makes her such a menacing force?

“Coulrophobia, which is the number one fear in the world, is the fear of clowns,” says Ken Melvoin-Berg, a 20-year clown fetishist and sex educator. “It usually sprouts from a person’s inability to read the emotions by looking at the facial expression that someone makes when they have a face on. So, you have this person who might be doing something evil, but they have a clown smiley face and that doesn’t go well with what our lizard brains expect.”

Melvoin-Berg and his wife Sunny Megatron, who’s also an educator, would know. Together, they’ve traveled the country teaching about sexuality, produced and starred in the Showtime series Sex with Sunny Megatron, organized BDSM parties and hosted the American Sex Podcast, which features interviews with everyone from death fetishists to former Surgeon General of the United States Joceyln Elders. He also runs the largest clown play group on the fetish website, FetLife, which has attracted millions of subscribers. Though they explore all kinds of kinks, clown play will always hold a special place in their hearts, as they bonded over, well, balloon bondage. (It’s just as silly and sadistic as you might imagine.)

Clowning has also been a way for them to cater to people with coulrophilia and coulrophobia. Melvoin-Berg says that he’s actually helped people deal with their fear of clowns by “putting them in front of a mirror and turning them into a clown so they can see what they look like themselves.” Of course, there are always those, like Miss Quin’s submissives, who get off on being scared.
Pornhub’s most recent data confirms that creepiness is desirable. Following the clown sightings in 2016, the site saw a 213 percent increase in clown-related searches.
Megatron mentions that she’s met a lot of “people who like fear play.” Though she recognized some people might find it odd, she compared the act to someone who likes to ride rollercoasters or traipse through haunted houses. “It’s a very creative way to get inside someone’s head,” she says. “I can get them to break a sweat and get their hearts pumping harder than if I hit them as hard as I could and really put myself out there physically. I can just slowly creep over and stare them in the eye and whisper three words, and they’re trembling on the floor.”

Pornhub’s most recent data confirms that creepiness is desirable. Following the clown sightings in 2016, the site saw a 213 percent increase in clown-related searches. Perhaps even more surprising was that women were 33 percent more likely to express an interest in clown play than men. Part of the reason people may be so drawn to clowning and kinks in general, Megatron suggests, is the community is very inclusive, showcasing people of varying genders, sizes, abilities and races.

For Miss Quin, this interest has helped her grow her online presence. In addition to her daily webcam sessions, she sells clips and custom clown porn videos  through her Streamate store—and she certainly knows her worth. A 50-minute Skype session will cost you $200, and if you want her to wear clown makeup, you better be prepared to shell out an extra $60. Though these clips and sessions can be personalized, ultimately Miss Quin does them for herself.

“I kept the fetish to myself for several years until about a year after I started making fetish videos,” she writes in an email. “I saw it as a wonderful and safe outlet to enjoy something I had kept to myself for so long.”

Popular culture, both she and Melvoin-Berg tell me, have definitely played into their success. “It’s actually been very cyclical,” Melvoin-Berg says. “Pennywise was very popular last year. But it goes a little deeper than that because I think that every time there’s something popular in clown culture, it gets a revival…American Horror Story has been a huge blessing to me.”

In Seattle, genderfluid “femme dominant” Luna Masters juggles parenting with online clown play, showing “cheeky clown clips” on NiteFlirt. In the past, Masters ran a dungeon where they emphasize in “imaginative role play.”

“I’ve tried a few models of clown play, from open-ended role play to birthday party appearances with spankings for the birthday person,” Masters writes in an email. Later, they add: “People are curious. It’s still a pretty niche kink, but it makes you stand out, especially for those that commit to more elaborate costumes. I have noticed that more BDSM and cam folk seem to be experimenting with clown kink. It can be a great way to stand out and get the curiosity views, as well as explore another way to play with ‘masked’ role-playing archetypes.”

Now Masters focuses more on online, written and phone play, appearing on NiteFlirt, Phrendly, OnlyFans, I Want Clips, Indie Bill and Chaturbate. People can also pay for written role-play correspondences, either á la carte ($25-$100) or monthly ($300), where they can serve as a submissive through immersive storylines.
Pennywise was very popular last year. But it goes a little deeper than that because I think that every time there’s something popular in clown culture, it gets a revival…American Horror Story has been a huge blessing to me.
While clowning is important to Miss Quin, Megatron, Melvoin-Berg and Masters, all of them explore other kinks as well. For example, Miss Quin says she specializes in variety of arenas, including female domination, cuckolding, vore, foot fetishes and “girlfriend experiences.”

But for Los Angeles-based clown Richie the Barber, clowning isn’t simply a fetish—it’s his entire way of life. Though Richie says he has wanted to be a clown since he went to the circus the first time as a child, it wasn’t until five years ago that he made the full transition, which included tattooing his entire face blue, splitting his tongue, getting surgical implants at his eyebrows and dying his hair cherry red—all of which will be depicted in his upcoming documentary. He juggles, rides a unicycle, throws confetti and, most importantly, he says, makes people smile. Soon after his transformation, he says opportunities started to flood in, both financially and sexually.

“Obviously, if you saw me, you’d be like, ‘Oh, that guy’s fucking scary,’” he says. “But once I open my mouth and start talking and saying jokes [that fear goes away]…I’m not afraid to say what I want to say, go where I want to go, so I think that women see freedom when they hang out with me, and they want freedom.”

His distinctive appearance has opened other doors as well, helping him attract customers at Bolt Barbers and securing him gigs around the globe as a judge for tattoo, beard and mustache, and barber competitions. He’s appeared on America’s Got Talent and Jerry Springer and has an entire merchandise store where clown fetishists and general fans can buy shirts and underwear with his face plastered all over.

Like everyone else interviewed, Richie firmly believes that clowning allows him to be more playful in everyday life. His motto, “love, light, energy” is something that he tries to impart on everyone he meets. “Fun is life,” he says. “Fun’s everything.”

Megatron, Melvoin-Berg and Miss Quin all agree that bringing a level of silliness to the bedroom—be it through using props like over-sized fly swatters and rubber chickens or by simply allowing yourself and your partner to get wild sans judgment—is paramount for a healthy sex life since we’re often too serious.

“It makes things more honest. It makes things more authentic and transparent. It just makes things better overall,” Megatron says. “The element of BDSM of any kind of sex play allows me or whoever it is to try on different roles, to grow as a person.”

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