The first thing I noticed when I jumped into her SUV was the stainless steel suitcase flanking the right side of the backseat. Her boy, Joseph, sat in the front seat with a chained collar leading down under his shirt. An hour earlier, I’d spoken to Mistress D, proprietress and lead Domme of a venue used to host BDSM events across the city of Detroit.

We’d just chatted on a website known for its ability to connect people in the "lifestyle" a few hours prior. She asked me a number of questions about my experience in the BDSM lifestyle that I hadn't expected. She asked things like "What do you read?" and "Who have you played with in the past?" I later learned that people in BDSM rarely educate themselves. They simply jumped into it. It seemed she was testing my openness and ability to learn. Soon, I would find myself pulling up in front of an inconspicuous building with a bookshop jutting out of the side.

The Venue

I would later learn that there were a number of words she would forbid in her presence. Her least favorite was the word "need." As we pulled in front of the rather ordinary building, she said it was the most disempowering word in the English language. The venue had no bright sign in neon lights; no windows that a curious onlooker would be able to peer into in order to see the activities within.

It would take me a while to realize that these were all the hallmarks of a good and careful Domme; someone who advocated safety and education within the lifestyle and someone who cared enough to do things right. Privacy, as we’ll see, is a key component of safety, especially when new people are involved.

During parties, members of the Venue and guests participating in the various parties would line up at what appeared to be a nightclub. When outside, they would be decked out in normal clothing. Inside, clothes would be shed in favor of ball gags, leather jock straps, and collars put on willing slaves. The beauty of the whole thing was, no one outside (that didn’t need to know) knew what was happening inside. Everyone seemed to feel safe.

For many people just venturing into the world of kink, taking in the entire lifestyle could be daunting. There’s just so much to learn. Are you a Dominant or a submissive? Would you like to join a House? A House is a group of BDSM enthusiasts that form a group based on a core theme. Would you like to begin a relationship with a Dominant or submissive?

In the midst of all this exploration, the last thing that you usually want is for your close friends, co-workers, or family to come across your Fetlife account, you entering a BDSM venue, or them stumbling across a sex swing in your living room. (Hint: If you install hooks in the ceiling you could always just hang flowers on them when you’re done using the swing.) Below are five ways to secure your anonymity- both within the dungeon, online, and in the real world.

But First, a Small Reassurance

In the age of social media, a lot of beginners in the lifestyle might fear that their activities in the dungeon might end up going viral on YouTube or Vine. Fortunately, both public and private dungeons have a no cell phone and no camera policy to protect the identities of everyone involved. While I’ve never seen a dungeon without this policy (it’s pretty standard across the board), I would check out the rules before you go to ensure that it’s officially established. Don’t attend if you don’t EXPLICITLY see this rule present. Don’t go if there seems to be no rules either. That’s terrifying and unsafe. Trust me.

Create a Pseudonym

This is the most common practice I’ve seen in all the play parties I’ve attended. By creating a pseudonym, you can ensure that no one can look you up online, unless you want them to, or be able to search details about your life on various public search engines. Not everyone you meet at a play party is innocent. This is why it’s always wise to create an alter ego for your own protection.

Wear a Mask

I’ve also seen this in various venues. This may look a little strange outside the venue, but who’s going to know it’s you? Within the dungeon, this won’t be particularly strange. Honestly, a group of people wearing leather jock straps and collars would probably feel a Phantom of the Opera mask is completely normal and even a little cool given the context.

Be Selective About Disclosure

So, what do you do when you’re ready to "come out" to your family or friends? What if one of your friends stumbles on one of your floggers or begins to questions the nature of your relationship with your significant other? Obviously, Joe in Accounting doesn’t need to know about your after hours activities (unless you accidently caught him at a public play party; then maybe you would want to get a little closer). However, what about your parents? Your siblings? Any close friends?

I would suggest telling them as much information as you feel comfortable with them knowing. If your sister comes across the Domme/submissive contract you forgot to put in your desk, you could tell her that you just wanted to spice things up in the bedroom. That might just illicit a laugh and you two can move on with your lives. This may seem self explanatory, but you’ll be surprised by how many people have estranged themselves from their families or even lost their jobs by not following this principal. Finally…

Watch Out for Predators

Anyone who threatens or blackmails you (against your will; there are niches for that in the community) is a predator. You don’t need that or want that in your life. If you find someone attempting to gain control over you without your permission or someone that seems to push your boundaries, even in the smallest of ways, than you need to get away. Because of the nature of the lifestyle, these sociopaths are attracted to BDSM.

A Dominant that doesn’t respect the boundaries of their submissive will undoubtedly use any tactic in the book to regain and keep control; that includes isolation. One of the best ways to isolate an individual is to exploit their secrets and either tell others about their lifestyle (their boss, fundamentalist parents, whatever) that wouldn’t approve or abuse and break them down. Most predators usually use both.

With these precautions in mind, I would say go out there, find a mentor, and have fun. This lifestyle is amazing. I’m sure you’ll gain fulfillment no matter how deeply you involve yourself in it.