I first held a knife to a girl’s throat in a sexual/BDSM context in 2001. I was 16 and I cut myself pretty bad during that experience. This would not be the last time I cut myself during knife play, but I have never drawn blood from a partner unless I meant to.
A few years later, in spring of 2005, I started playing with the girl who is now my wife. We were 19 at the time.
We were not allowed into play parties, our local convention, or most other other types of events in the area. Because everything was 21+. This meant that we took most of our cues and early BDSM ideas from internet porn (which, it turns out, is not a reliable source of accurate information about responsible play). There were mistakes, some of them resulting in injury.
When I was finally turned 21, in 2006, it was a mere few weeks before Thunder In The Mountains (TITM).
Now, if you have never been to TITM, I will simply describe it this way: Hundreds of people, sometimes as many as a thousand, the largest dungeon you will probably ever see (at nearly 50,000 square feet) and some of the most famous or notorious names in Kink from around the world.
I walked into this event having never been to so much as a munch, and the first thing I saw was a heavy scene. OK, heavy scene doesn’t quite cover it. It was FemCar, who is fond of saying things like “The more I dread it, the more I NEED it, and the more I know it is what I eventually have to do.” FemCar is famous for doing things other people don’t even fantasize about. To the point where she was later shunned by our Denver community for allegedly (I wasn’t there) performing a cannibalism scene in the middle of a crowded dungeon which involved her flesh being cooked on a mini-grill and set out with the rest of the party snacks.
OK, you get the idea. She plays “hard”.
And as a fresh-faced 21-year-old entering my very first public play party, hers was the first scene I saw.
Did it scar me for life, drive me away from the lifestyle, make me swear off kink? Of course not. And for the record, it’s not because I like what she does. I don’t. But I can appreciate it for what it is, or walk away.
And that’s what I did that first time, albeit at the urging of a couple I had just met earlier who had been around for a few years at that point. They saw my face and the reaction to what she was doing and correctly interpreted that as “I am not sure that I am ready for this.” And after they steered me toward some light spanking scenes that were closer to my experience level at the time, they said to me what I think needs to be said to everyone, new or old, as they walk into a dungeon:
“She is a very extreme player. You will see a lot of things this weekend that you never imagined, some of which may disturb you. No one expects you to do things like that. And if seeing something like that makes you uncomfortable, it is your right and responsibility to walk away. But if you can, you should try to observe some things that are outside your comfort zone. That’s how you learn new things.”
But oddly enough, for most of that weekend, I didn’t walk away. I was fascinated by this whole new world of kinks that I never imagined could exist. Did some of them frighten, concern, or disturb me? Absolutely. But I value that.
Information is power. And in that single weekend, I learned more than I had in years of the only other source of information I had, the internet. I watched these people do these frightening and terrible things to each other, but what I also saw was that there was love behind it. There were spotters watching for loose flames during fire play. There were loving caresses in between cracks of a whip. There was aftercare and tears and embraces that I can still remember clearly to this day.
If I had stayed with those playful spankings and fingernail scratches that I was familiar with, I would have missed out on most of that. If the event had limited heavy play to a special area, or stopped people from screaming loudly, or limited how “edgy” scenes could be, than I would have been deprived of one of the most valuable and formative experiences of my kinky-life.
But at the same time, if I hadn’t had that person to come up to me and whisper in my ear that what I was seeing was not typical, how might the weekend have affected me differently? I asked someone else who went through a very similar experience at a different event, but without someone to provide the disclaimer. They told me that it scared them, and as a result, they didn’t attend anything else after that for a long time. But eventually, they found their way back out and they met people, and they learned what they hadn’t that first day. I asked him if he regrets what happened. “No,” he said. “The things I saw then provided a necessary context to me to understand that there is a significant element of danger in what it is that we do. Before that, it was all fantasies without the necessary fear that engenders appropriate cautions.”
As others have said many times, we are all adults here. By the time people arrive at our dungeons, they have lived at least a couple of decades and should be able to make responsible choices for themselves. Preventing them from being exposed to some of the fringe elements of kink only serves to keep them ignorant of the things that can happen. Once you have seen something that truly freaks you out, I think you instantly become a better negotiator. Because you know what could happen if you don’t. Hiding the extremes in a special room with a closed door is like teaching abstinence only sex-ed. Everything that we know tells us that even teenagers make better choices if they are given more information. So why would we work to withhold information from new kinksters, simply because it might frighten them?
I believe people should know what is out there. I believe that people should be empowered and expected to make their own grown-up decisions. And that includes the right and responsibility to walk away from anything that they don’t like or can’t handle.