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Let's Meet Virtually: How the BDSM Community Has Gone Online

by MISTRESS KAY
Published: AUGUST 27, 2021
Presented by LION'S DEN
When in-person events became mostly impossible, kinksters did what kinkster do...got creative! Now, the online BDSM community is flourishing in fun and exciting ways.

Kink and BDSM groups have been very different for the last year and a half. Just like everything about our lives, we've all had to adjust what our lives look like. With many shut-down restrictions in place, most of us could no longer physically "see" one another - and that means we all had to rely on our creativity to still get some of the human interaction we all needed.

Kink and BDSM groups went through that as well. If you've never been to a kink meet-up, you might assume that the sole purpose of a BDSM group is sexual arousal and fulfillment. If you ever choose to attend one, you'll quickly figure out how wrong you are. Most kink and BDSM groups are social support groups - the same way any other type of hobbyist group does.

Just like how your everyday friends and family may not understand or "get" your miniature painting collection - or how excited you are to find a new plant clipping - hobbyist social groups provide a safe, relatable space for a like-minded group of people. In the case of kink and BDSM, though, where people with alternative identities, sexualities, and hidden lifestyles are the norm, many people don't have ANY other outlet once these communities aren't available.

It's why BDSM munches tend to be filled with some of the most benign conversations you'll ever hear. People will catch up about their families and home renovations. People will talk about their health. People will discuss how their slave training is going (okay, well, that one isn't as common at most family meet-ups!).

Read: Everything You Need to Know About Attending Your First BDSM Munch

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BDSM and kink communities offer safe, welcoming places where participants feel safe being their "whole" selves - not just the public-appropriate persona they have to put on during most aspects of their lives. It's not nearly as "sexual" as you might think.

This leads to an entire community where people into kink feel comfortable getting together, getting to know one another, and getting to indulge in their kink. Functionally speaking, most kink communities offer multiple ways to get involved. Social functions are called "munches" or "sloshes" - depending on whether alcohol is involved. Kink classes - about how to do various kinks - happen as well. "Play Parties" are events where people gather to do kinky things with one another in a safe, supervised space. Those double as a play event and social event.

Pre-pandemic, all of those activities took place in physical locations. Munches were always held in private rooms at restaurants - to feel like a safe space for newbies to come in and get to know a group. (Would you rather show up to a breakfast restaurant - or a complete stranger's house?)

Those same restaurants might have held verbal-only kink education discussions or "roundtables". Most likely, though, kink education would take place in someone's home or at a local kink or swinger's club.

Of course, you have the big one most people think of when they think about kink communities too: play parties. Those were exclusively held in private residences or at kink or swinger's clubs.

All of those are very obviously in-person events. The pandemic put a wrench in things, but as anyone knows, kinksters are very DIY people. So when the restrictions fell, we all had to get a bit creative.

Read: Everything You Need to Know About Attending Your First Play Party

It wasn't a sudden thing written in stone by the "Central Kink Group Agency." Such a thing doesn't exist. Instead, it was bootstrapping by various organizations trying to figure out how to keep their friends together - and keep their spaces open. Group A would try something, and Group B saw how successful it was, so they tried it on their own too.

As always, it's just kinksters trying to be friends with other kinksters - and share education and safe spaces in the process. Alicia Dunlap, Lion's Den E-commerce and Digital Brand Manager and Certified Sexual Health Educator, commented on the success of moving their ladies' nights (which is their way to close the pleasure gap and give women a safe space to explore their sexuality in a comfortable environment with friends) to online events. The in-person events generally offer product and sexual health education, hor d’oeuvres, free goodies, games, and prizes.

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"We began our [video conferencing] toy parties in light of covid in April of 2020. Typically, we have ladies’ nights twice a year in the Spring and Fall at all 44 of our store locations...Since we couldn’t do this in person, due to the newly emerging pandemic, we took to [video conferencing]! We weren’t sure what to expect for the first toy party but ended up overwhelmed by the response and turn out. We sold almost 1,000 tickets and more than half of those patrons attended.


So, how did other kink events change because of the pandemic?

Munches Moved Online

The first thing to move were the munches. Since munches were social-only, beginner-friendly events to begin with, they were one of the easiest things to move. Luckily for all of us, munches translate semi-well to video conferencing.

So, instead of heading over to your local restaurant, you just pop onto a video conferencing app to "attend" your local munch. Just like your local in-person munch would have been, it will just be an hour or two of random conversation. Some might be about kink topics, but a lot of it will likely be about video games, pop culture, anime, movies, and other non-kinky topics.

Most munches tend to have a solid core of people (like those who have become good friends) with a few outliers coming in and out as comfort levels and time permits. Some of those casual visitors come around to enough munches to start considering themselves part of the "core" group. Many don't.

Because of the ease of access, you'd assume that munches would be overflowing with people compared to pre-pandemic levels. That has yet to be the case. Without a scientific poll (good luck getting science to fund that one!), I'd guess that video conferencing burnout and privacy concerns are high up there as items that keep people from feeling comfortable attending.

That being said, since munches allow zero sexual or kink activity and are focused on bringing socialization to people who are otherwise cut-off from their kink community, they are the best-attended online kink events. It looks just like a friendly conference call between friends - only someone is probably wearing a collar.

Since munches are now available on most devices you own, they're much more accessible to attend. Those with social anxiety only need to log into a chat - and they don't need to worry about gaining the mental energy to go to a foreign restaurant to meet a random group of people. Those who have difficulty traveling have found an entire world of local kinksters at their fingertips.

Best yet, these "online" designs allow those with concerns to get comfortable with people from the privacy of their own home. When in-person munches start happening again, these same, shy people will be more comfortable seeing those familiar faces in person.

Online munches really have made "munches" more accessible to all - even if we sometimes have to tolerate the awkward silences that happen when someone accidentally talks over someone else and the "you first" begins.

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Read: 10 Helpful Tips for Hosting a BDSM Munch

Kink Education - Now Available Worldwide

Of course, kink and BDSM groups don't just provide social havens for people. In fact, most kink groups, (alongside sex-positive retailers,) are the local resource for BDSM education too. While learning your kink from articles (like here on Kinkly!) or online videos can be a great start, there are various, high-risk kinks where online learning just isn't the best way to learn.

Plus, some people just learn better with hands-on classes - especially when there's somebody nearby to provide instant feedback and corrections to ensure the techniques are learned properly. You can definitely DIY your own flogger lessons and eventually end up with a good technique, but you can shortcut hours of incorrect (and potentially dangerous) methods if you have someone standing next to you to point out ways to do things better.

To that end, pre-pandemic, both sex toy retailers and kink communities offered adult sex education - and kink education. There are very few places in the world where you can drop-in and expect to find someone knowledgeable and open enough to discuss kink and sex with you, but sex toy stores and kink groups happen to be a few of them.

When in-person meet-ups and classes weren't viable anymore, many sex toy retailers with physical stores pivoted to online education. Like kink groups, some of those retailers found that online versions of their in-person events just made sense. Lion's Den Alicia Dunlap, shared the evolution of their online events:

For the next two parties, [following ladies' night] we decided to change up our themes; we tried a couple’s night and a men’s night. Again, we had a great response and turn out for both, but we quickly realized after the men’s night, that most attendees were more interested in the educational parts of our program.

For the next event, we started including a segment at the end of the program from a certified sexual health educator; to tie together everything we just learned about. Our first guest educator was Jessica Drake with Wicked Sensual Care, we’ve also partnered with Ducky Doolittle and Sunny Megatron.

Since we began these, our purpose has shifted from just product education, to addressing a wider range of relationship and sexual health and wellness topics. We’re so excited to partner with Kinkly for our first full educational webinar."

It isn't just retailers who are trying to keep the spirit of educational kink alive, though. Small, independent kink groups quickly followed suit. Those same video conferencing platforms became the new home of educational lectures too.

Of course, as we've been taught all online, anybody can say anything on the internet - and that rings just as true for online education as any other online interaction. The ability for any person to become a magical expert - and present their version of kink education as fact - is just as much a concern as it always was.

When kink education was limited to in-person interactions, the hosting venue would generally do cursory checks to ensure the presenter had the experience they were boasting about. Since in-person kink spaces advertised their classes and had their space used for the presentation, these kink spaces wanted to ensure that the information was factual, the person had the experience they claimed, and that their attendees would benefit from the knowledge. This led to a casual weed-out process that left many faux-presenters away from the podium.

That isn't always the case with online "educators". While sex toy retailers (like Lion's Den) and established kink groups are still doing quality checks on presenters, nothing stops an average person from creating a profile, claiming proficiency, and making a ticketed event to charge you to "learn" what they have to offer. It's just like anything else online - whether product or education. Make sure to do a bit of background research, make sure the "product" is legit, and protect yourself when shopping (and learning!) online.

On the flip side, now that kink education is online, it's also much more accessible to the masses! If you live in a small rural area, aren't connected to your local kink community (for any reason), are homebound for any reason, or just aren't able to attend in-person classes or workshops, you can still get great kink education.

This also means that nationally-known presenters aren't location-bound anymore. Just five years ago, you likely needed to attend a national kink conference or fly to a different country to hear some of the best educators in kink. Now, that same educator can stay in the comfort of their living room - and anyone around the world can enjoy that same education. (We apologize in advance for the graininess of the video, though!)

Since many kink educational classes encourage you to leave your video off - and require you to leave your own audio off too - the concerns about recording aren't as large as they would be with munches or play parties.

Partnered with the fact that kink groups can charge for admission to help cover the costs of the group administration or playspace that isn't getting physically used, kink education has become a popular way to interact with kink groups right now. You pay a little bit, and you get a great kink education. On the flip side, that presenter gets to pocket a bit of the cash (who has lost all of their in-person kink education gigs) while the kink group helps keep the lights on. Win-win all around.

Read: Why We All Need Sex Education (Even Adults!)

Some Kink Parties Have Moved Online - But Only Some

Kink parties have been the hardest to move online. For many spaces, kink play parties are the bread-and-butter of their income - and what helps support the rent to keep the place alive. For that reason, many kink spaces are still hosting play parties in-person - at least in the US.

Over the past year, this has actually become a point of contention in the kink community. Especially in a world where contact tracing requires a play space to pass over attendee information in case of an active infection, some question the wisdom of keeping play spaces open. On the opposing side of things, play parties bring in a large amount of income for the space, and play parties alone usually cover the majority of rent for a space.

During the pandemic, we've seen a good chunk of kink play spaces close permanently shortly after they made the decision not to host play parties. It's hard for anyone to get an accurate total because of the secretive nature of these venues, but considering 17% of US restaurants (as of December 2020) closed permanently due to pandemic-related reasons, you can extrapolate that a lot of these sex-positive spaces were closed as well.

Getting those spaces back will be a long and draining process for those communities. Not only will they need to find another space that's available for social events and loud noises, but they'll need the capital in order to reopen the space - and a team of administrators experienced enough to run an entire kink community while getting "paid" pennies. Getting a play space in the first place is difficult - and for many kinksters, they believe that hosting play parties - with precautions - is worth it to reduce the likelihood that the entire community will be missing a safe play space for the next 5 to 10 years. In my state in the US alone, 2 out of the 5 kink playspace buildings closed permanently during the last year.

On the other hand, some kink groups moved their play parties online. Online play parties are a relatively new phenomenon, so each group is making up their own "rules" as they go. For the most part, online play parties require everyone's audio and video to be on during a video conferencing chat to avoid people attending for malicious reasons, and people can play with their live-in partners, on video, while others watch. Some kink groups have rules against anything sexual or nude (to abide by video conferencing rules) while others don't.

In some other play parties, the play party itself is more of a "meet up" area, and participants are encouraged to socialize and talk in the main room - but are encouraged to pair off and go private for any type of play.

It really is a very different experience from in-person play parties, but when life gives you lemons, you try to make some lemonade out of it.

On the bright side, these online kink parties have given people with limited accessibility an easy way to get involved with their community. Since many people keep their homes in a manner that's safe and comfortable for them, people who have specific needs for play can play on their own furniture - and participate in a party - without many of the hurdles that traditional play parties have like unfamiliar furniture and small hallways.

Some Aspects Are Here to Stay

After everything we've all been through, I'd guess that some of these online aspects are here to stay.

Kink educators can reach far and wide with online classes - further than they otherwise may have been able to. For kink presenters who are looking for another way to fund their in-person travel and some of their niche classes, selling on-demand access to some of their most popular classes will help subsidize the income they need to focus on things they're passionate about presenting. After all, a bondage 101 class is going to be in higher demand than an "advanced needle play" class - but that doesn't mean that the needle play class isn't needed.

All of these workarounds have also shown how viable it can be for a kink community to be online-based - instead of focused on a specific location. Even now, support groups for kinksters are starting to be based on kink or need - instead of location. I think we'll see that continue. A weekly "Pet Play" group might meet online since, worldwide, there's enough demand for that type of group. If it had tried to survive in a local, physical location, it may not have been able to drum up enough participants.

I'd expect adult retailers to keep doing some of their sex ed events online as well. Not only does it allow them to take advantage of sex educator talent that might not be local to their store, but it also allows them to provide education to people who may not be otherwise able to make it to their storefront. Even for a company like Lion's Den who's available all across the Eastern US, there are still people unable to make it to a storefront with ease.

We're All Just Waiting

This isn't to mean that the kink community isn't rarin' to meet in person again. While some kinksters will probably embrace and seek out these online kink opportunities, there are a lot of kinksters who are just using these online interactions as a temporary band-aid over the wound that the pandemic has left. In a time where a supportive community can make a world of difference, even if "online" isn't the same as in-person, these online connections help bridge the gap between no contact - and full, in-person friendships.

We'll all be here, and ready to help return to "normal", when it's time to do so.

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PRESENTED BY

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Mistress Kay

Mistress Kay has a fondness for all things sexual. With a house that's quickly running out of room for all of her reading and vibrating pleasures, she spends her free time reading, writing, and learning about the sexual universe with her partners. She can be reached at Kinky World.


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