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Thursday 18 September 2014

BDSM newbies must get to grips with safety issues

As Ireland's community of kinksters expands, Joanna Kiernan investigates the ties that bind

Published 06/10/2013 | 05:00

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Safety is a growing concern among the fetish and BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, and Sadomasochism) scene in Ireland, with many enthusiasts keeping their activities secret out of fears they could lose their job if their adult interests are exposed.

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According to the organiser of the Dublin BDSM scene's largest monthly club night, Nimhneach, safety was one of the main reasons the event was originally set up. Yet some people, particularly those in caring professions, are shying away from these safe community environments and instead choosing more risky methods of connecting with others, via fetish websites.

"Critically, some kinksters could still lose their jobs if they were discovered to be part of the BDSM community," organiser 'Fig' explained. "However, not attending events for fear of [losing] one's job is counterproductive for safety, as conventional wisdom is that attending events is likely to be safer than meeting in hotel rooms. This was one of the original guiding principles for starting Nimhneach. For example, teachers and social care workers are especially vulnerable for job security."

Over the past few years, what was once quite a small faction of BDSM and fetish enthusiasts in Ireland has flourished into a vast subculture of like-minded individuals who explore and celebrate their sexuality.

In the eight weeks that followed the publication of the Fifty Shades series in Ireland, the Ann Summers store in central Dublin experienced a 40 per cent increase in the sales of 'sexcessories', including blindfolds, handcuffs and bondage equipment.

Serious BDSM fans, however, like Fig and those who attend the Nimhneach club nights, are hesitant to advocate the Fifty Shades approach to sexuality. "To experienced kinksters, Christian Grey was a controlling creep, and raised red flags for his stalking capabilities," said Fig. "It's not a good example of responsible BDSM, but a great Mills & Boon style of plot."

Irish erotica author Eileen Gormley agrees that the fetish and BDSM scene in Ireland needs to be explored in a very safe environment, as it can often appear more glamorous in fiction than it is in reality.

"A lot of women have questions about their sexuality and then they read Fifty Shades of Grey and think, 'This is how I meet a kinky, sexy millionaire and indulge my spanking fetish,' and they're not thinking," she says. "It is very mainstream now – the whole spanking, bondage and sadomasochism thing – and it is a huge fantasy for an awful lot of women.

"I think the recent upsurge in erotica has given women permission to explore that, but if you are going to explore it, doing it via events and public workshops is the way to do it, rather than going on to a website and meeting someone who is undoubtedly not going to tell you the full truth about themselves and where you are very likely not telling anyone too because your friends aren't kinky and you don't know who you can tell without shocking them. I suspect there are a lot of people who would like to explore and they don't know the safe ways of doing it."

According to Beth Wallace, the organiser of Bliss Ireland, which offers a range of sex and BDSM workshops and hosts Ireland's only annual sex festival, Ireland's appetite for sexual exploration has never been so strong.

"It's certainly become a lot more acceptable in terms of the younger generation for people to say, 'yes we tried this at the weekend and it was great' or 'it was a disaster!'" she said. "There's much more openness to exploration than there was a few years ago."

Bliss Ireland runs educational courses for beginners in BDSM to promote 'safe, sane and consensual' practices.

"It's ideal for people, who maybe don't have any experience, but they've bought handcuffs maybe in Ann Summers for example and they've played around with them, but they're not really sure what's next," Beth explained. "So we'll talk about things like boundaries, consent, power-play and 'safe words' – that there's one word that you use and once you say it, everything stops.

"For some people their attraction might not be just the pleasure or pain thing, for some people it is being physically or mentally or emotionally dominant or submissive to another person. There might be pain involved, there might be restraint involved, there might be what's called impact play – things like spanking, paddling, whipping."

She added, "Our courses are about giving people an opportunity to be guided through exploring and experiencing those edges that they might otherwise not be able to, with a trained professional in a safe environment."

Sunday Independent

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