So, you’ve been reading a lot of good books and looking at a lot of great sites (ahem). Maybe you’ve even tried some kinky play on your own, but you know that there’s more out there: an entire world of clubs, classes, events, and - best of all - lots of potential playmates.

So how do you go from here, where you are, to there, where all those kinky people are? In other words, how do you actually join the BDSM community? The good news is that it’s a lot easier than you think - though there are still some valuable lessons to be learned before, during and after you put on your fetish gear and join in.

Understanding What’s Real and What Isn’t

One of the biggest hurdles many people face when they begin their search for their place in the kink scene is letting go of the what they think the community is. You can’t really blame them: when it comes to BDSM, the mainstream media gets more wrong than it does right.

That book - "Fifty Shades of Grey," if you have to ask - is also partially to blame, painting as it does a lifestyle that is closer to emotional and physical abuse than to the reality of being a member of the BDSM community. Not that other fiction authors have done a much better job. They, too, often ditch crucial things like negotiation and gloss over consent for the sake or erotic intensity.

I wish I could say that I’ve avoided these kinds of mistakes in my own books and stories but … well, I can’t. In my defense, and weirdly in defense of "Fifty Shades," they’re fiction: which gets us to the crux of it all.

While we might enjoy the illusions of what the kink world is, it’s crucial to remember that these books, movies, and such are not reality; just the way we can’t expect Wakanda to be real - and to out myself not just as kinky, but as a Marvel nerd.

When you make that decision to find your place in the BDSM world, try not to bring expectations along with you. Instead, take it slow, take it steady, and do your best to walk into it with your eyes open.

A Real World Full of Real People

Another common hurdle is that people sometimes expect the BDSM community to be the solution to all of their kinky troubles. They expect it to be a black leather utopia free of conflict and mistakes. When something does go wrong, they don’t just run for the door. They also slam it shut behind them.

Like the term BDSM itself, the kink community is vast and almost infinitely variable. There are subsets within subsets of interests and activities. If there’s one consistent thing through the entirely of the community, it's that it’s made up of people. People can be caring, loving, tender, infuriating, rude, intolerant and everything between.

That being said, the BDSM community really does try to be inclusive and welcoming. In fact, I seriously recommend that when you do go to your first meeting or event be upfront and clear about your experiences, as little as they might be.

Again, it’s hard to be universal. Yet, in my experience, people new to the kink world have pretty much always been treated with kindness and care, especially as the scene 1) tries to make a good impression and 2) knows that by doing so they might add a new member to the community.

The only times I’ve personally experienced someone who isn’t treated well is when they’ve arrived weighed down with either bigotry or arrogance. Perhaps even worse is when they come thinking the BDSM world is going to be some kind of free flowing orgy where sex is there for asking - or grabbing.

So Where Is This Community Located?

So how to you find the BDSM community? While there are several ways to connect online, I’m going to focus on meeting people in the real world. Not to dismiss the online part of the community, but the quality of connections - not to mention the amount of invaluable hands-on experiences that can be gained by getting out there - really can’t be matched.

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

I especially suggest this as a matter of emotional and physical safety. Reading about BDSM techniques, even from great and well-written sources, still pales in comparison to taking a class or getting personalized instruction from an expert.

One of the best resources to find your local part of the BDSM community is through sites site like Fetlife (which is free and anonymous) as well as doing a simple search for “BDSM Events” in your area.

I do not, and I can’t say this strongly enough, recommend looking on social media sites like Facebook. It is far too easy to accidently out yourself to everyone on your network. It is much better to use closed systems like Fetlife.

How to Behave

I suggest BDSM newbies begin by dipping their toes - and perhaps other body parts - into more social activities like kink-friendly classes, community orientations, and especially munches. The latter is a get-together of BDSM folks, usually held at a public restaurant or coffee joint.

None of these are places to play, so don’t dress like you’re going to do so. The idea of going is to meet people in the community, to make friends and contacts, and be seen. Unfortunately, the BDSM lifestyle is still a risky one for many people. Because of this, these first steps should always be done carefully, both for your safety and for the safety of those you meet.

A fairly standard rule is that whatever happens at a BDSM event, social, or otherwise, stays there. If you see someone you recognize away from a munch or anywhere else don’t run up and scream, “I SAW YOU AT THAT FLOGGING CLASS!!”

Congratulations, you just said this in front of their parents, their boss, their children - and you have now done irreparable damage to their life. A nod is OK, but otherwise keep your mouth shut until you get a very clear signal to do otherwise.

It’s also worth noting that even though the BDSM scene does try to do the same, you should also be prepared for if the same thing should happen to you. As with anything involving BDSM play, you should hope for the best but plan for the worst.

Similarly, do not EVER touch anyone or anything, like BDSM toys, without clear consent to do so. This is not just a major no-no in the kink scene, but in the world at large. If you make a mistake, and it will happen, apologize immediately and sincerely.

Read: A Step-by-Step Guide to Negotiating Consent

The Big Events

The BDSM community also puts on a remarkably large number of events. These can be anything from small, local gatherings to massive conventions bringing in thousands of kinky people. While what they offer can vary wildly, they often will have a dealer’s room for kinky toys and equipment, classes, social opportunities, a dungeon for public play, as well as contests and awards.

Picking these can be a little tricky, but a little research on what part of the community they are serving will solve most areas of confusion. For the most part, a lot of the events will be welcoming to new people, which makes them really recommended if you happen to live somewhere far removed from any local BDSM events. While they can be pricey, especially what with airfare and paying for a hotel plus an entrance fee, they can still be a great way to have all kinds of fun and, most of all, educational experiences.

A World of Trust

One of the truly special things about the BDSM scene is how it works on trust. When you first step into this world, you might feel pretty lost and alone, scared you might do or say the wrong thing. Keep your head on your shoulders, treat everyone with respect and politeness, take classes, go to social events, perhaps even volunteer (a great way to get into things, by the way), and before long you’ll get known and, even better, seen as someone who is trustworthy.

This is also why it’s a great idea to make real friends and not just look at everyone you meet as only a potential playmate. If you come off as someone who is just cruising for play instead of actually trying to join the community you’ll get a lot more cold shoulders than warm hugs.

After what could be a short time, the doors will really start to open: that friend of a friend of a friend invites you to a private party, then perhaps a private event, then maybe … who knows?

Welcome to a New World

The BDSM community is not perfect. It’s not a black leather dreamland, but for those who come into it with their eyes open, their minds willing to learn, and their hearts welcoming to friendship, it can be much more than a place for sex; it can also be a new world to explore … and even a place that will often feel like home.