Contrary to what movies like 50 Shades of Grey would have you believe BDSM is perhaps one of the most liberating forms of sex. Well, at least that’s what an experienced friend tells me. Something like this requires mutual trust and consent, more than anything, as well as an inquisitive mind. Though it may be hard to express and indulge in these curiosities in a country where the three letter word still remains a taboo. Here, what happens behind closed doors must stay behind closed doors. The repression of not just healthy conversations but even sexual experiences is a commonly occurring societal phenomenon. So, dialogues on exploring the kinky side of things and embracing the ‘fet life’ may still be a far-fetched thing in the country, right?
Not so much! According to the India Today Sex Survey 2016, 41.8 percent of Indians practice some form of domination, submission or role-playing. India is definitely getting much kinkier and its beginnings in the digital age can be traced to online chat rooms where these hushed conversations first found a voice. But just like most things on the internet, these voices then evolved to social networking sites, one being completely dedicated to kinksters. Welcome to FetLife.
“With a vision to help people feel comfortable with who they are sexually by connecting and educating kinksters in a safe, open and supportive environment,” states the website. Fet Life, a Canadian social networking site came to India about 8 years ago, distinguishing itself from competitors by emphasizing itself as a social network rather than a dating site, describing the space as: “Like Facebook, but run by kinksters like you and me.”
The user interface is quite simple, the content quite sassy. All members need to do is simply sign up using their email id and create a username and password. Thereafter kinksters are directed to a separate ‘directory’ of fetishes where they may indicate their interests or create new ones. Members can add friends or playmates based on common kinks or fetish, upload pictures or videos and express their thoughts or ask questions with no specific word limit. All members must specify age and location, though most tend to fake it. If not then the kinky 93-year-olds in Antarctica seem to be having the most amount of fun.
There are 12 sexual orientation choices, over 60 role choices and almost a 100 fetishes that range from the conventional ‘schoolgirl’ to the more bizarre or even disturbing (for this writer) ‘the human toilet’. The groups the member belongs to and the fetishes the member is into or ‘curious about’ are displayed as part of the profile. You can connect with members based on your location and kink/role preferences and send them personal messages as well.
Fet Life India has a network of almost 53,000 registered kinksters across the country, with around 9000 users from Maharashtra alone. These conversations also transform offline through Munches ( social gathering of kinksters/BDSM practitioners. No sex involved), events and private dates that Fet Life members organise at their own discretion. Not just metros but even tier 2 and tier 3 cities have active BDSM and kink groups that meet behind closed doors.
29-year-old Allen*, a successful businessman from a nondescript small town in South India says that FetLife enabled him to nurture casual sexual relationships with many like-minded women across India. Identifying himself as ‘Dominant’ with 10 years of experience in the complicated realm of BDSM, he also mentors people and couples through the FetLife platform.
“People who have a more vanilla sexual relationship or are sexually unsatisfied often get in touch with me through FetLife and I mentor them about the art of dominance and submission, either online or offline....wherever they feel more comfortable,” he says, narrating incidents of the kind of people he has encountered. “My experience tells me that people in Delhi are perhaps the kinkiest in the country followed by Bangalore where people have a variety of fetishes. Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai aren’t too far behind as well.” Though Allen feels that FetLife is definitely a good platform for Indians to embrace the kink within themselves, he also believes that it is corrupted by many desperate Indians who are only using it to get laid. “They know nothing and do not care about this community,” he mentions.
Another member, 31-year-old Sameer* from Delhi mentions how India may not be ready for a platform like this, narrating tales of a close friend who got exploited. “There are rotten apples everywhere. The need of the hour is not to criticize such sites but educate Indians who hold a negative perception of it,” he says. Allen agrees. “Most people think that BDSM is about violence and hurting your partner. That is how media has always portrayed it. But that’s hardly the case. There’s a safe word that participants agree upon if it gets too much for anyone. Consent is at the heart of BDSM, no matter what platform you use to explore it,” he explains.
Allen and Sameer’s thoughts resonate amongst almost everyone who is genuinely part of India’s rising kink community. GQ, quoting a BDSM practitioner, reports that “For everyone wondering what is okay in a sexual relationship, our community can teach a thing or two to ‘Vanillas’…. consent is the foundation of BDSM which makes us the best group of people to teach young boys and girls the importance of consent.With the rise of sexual assaults in India and rape culture across the world… people need to stop looking at us like abominations because contrary to what everyone thinks of us, BDSM practitioners have the healthiest sexual encounters and relationships… relationships that are based on trust, negotiation and consent.”
However, that being said, using FetLife in India may be a tricky territory to navigate especially with the rise of cyber abuse and sexual harassment in the country that is motivated by constant moral and legal policing. But those indulging in this dialogue online with hidden identities and utter discretion may have to be smart as unlike other social networking sites, privacy settings in FetLife may not be as prudent or concrete. All profiles are by default visible to all members, though a member can block another member. Moreover, any member may comment on another member’s piece of writing, photograph, or video. Comments are public, and cannot be changed or deleted after posting.
But FetLife is constantly trying to innovate its system to make it more secure and friendly for the user. It has deliberately limited its search engine to prevent members from finding users with specific characteristics, such as age or gender. Moreover, it prohibited almost 100 fetishes from its directory after it came under a controversy where a kidnapper searched for terms like ‘Abduction 101’ and ‘Perfect abduction fantasy’, and so on.
A wise way to play it safe on Fet Life is to be associated with one of its many groups who function on a set of rules, organise Munches, meetups and hold regular discussions, workshops and playshops with a focus on skill building. One of the largest and the most popular and genuine is the Indian Kink Collective that aims to discuss and share how our kinkiness relates to the rest of our lives and much more.
“It is just like another dating site that lets you explore your own wants while you understand those of others. You will like some, dislike some, have meaningful as well as hilarious experiences and may even find love,” states Allen, who wants to marry someone open to exploring the kinky side of things. He feels that it is certainly difficult, if not impossible to go back to being vanilla once you find the right person to explore this side of your sexuality with.
With the growing number of registered users, what has become clear though is that Indians have become more open to exploring their sexuality, and all the kinks and fetishes that come along with it. For a society that rarely discusses such topics in the open, people are at least finding solace and opportunities through the internet to have these conversations, to know that it is completely normal and moreover, just a fun experience for those that are interested in it, for you and your partner.
But until you find that special someone, keep asking yourself the question that FetLife asks as soon as one logs in. “What’s on your kinky mind today?”
*Names have been changed to protect identity upon contributors’ request.
To sign up on FetLife, click here.
Featured Illustration by Anjul Dandekar for Homegrown.
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