5 things I learnt on a sex dungeon tour

A vanilla girl’s journey into the sex-positive kink scene, discovering the lingo and nuance from the experts

A person wearing a black bodysuit with orange straps
A person wearing a black bodysuit with orange straps

A vanilla girl’s journey into the sex-positive kink scene, discovering the lingo and nuance from the experts

By Elli Weir08 Mar 2024
4 mins read time
4 mins read time

It was Jack Harlow who sang ‘I don't like no whips and chains, and you can't tie me down.’ From the outside looking in, there can certainly be a lot of preconceptions about the kink and fetish scene – and sometimes these aren’t particularly kind or open-minded. Many of these ideas stem from a lack of education, awareness and straight-up prejudices, and it’s fair to say they might hold back the ‘kink curious’ from exploring and experimenting with their sexuality, which can be healing and affirming.

As a vanilla girlie in a long-term relationship, there are a lot of things I’ve never explored or experienced. Being totally content in my heteronormative twosome, the kink and fetish community isn’t something I’ve dipped my toe into, or really known much about, beyond basic ideas of ‘subs’ and ‘doms’. Following a silly little existential crisis, I’m in an era of trying new things, from microdosing shrooms at fashion week parties – to sex dungeons, apparently.

So I spent a crisp, sunny Spring morning underground in an East London sex dungeon to find out more about these communities. It was hosted by JOYclub, which describes itself as “one of the largest erotic portals in Europe”. It’s a moderated online forum where members can chat, flirt and lust with others online, or find communities IRL). A panel of experts – including sex educator April Maria (aka Venus Libido on IG), Mistress Stone, a queer, polyamorous professional dominatrix and Miss Jayne, part of the Centaur Studios family and a kink educator – helped to demystify some of the lingo, terminology and common hesitations. Here’s everything I learnt while underground.

1. Ignore your kinkposter syndrome

From the terminology to parties, positions, tools and props, the kink scene is as diverse as the whole human experience. Which means there’s a lot to learn, and – understandably – that knowledge gap can be a big barrier to exploring the scene.

Unfortunately there isn’t a Duolingo for this one, and the first step is to spend some time online. Social media can be a hugely valuable resource for kink and fetish education: Shrimp Teeth, Venus Libido, and Eva Oh and her TeaKink Podcast are great starting points.

Find creators and educators that resonate with you, then check out their recommendations for books, links and collaborators to cultivate your interests and tastes – wherever they may lead. The scene is incredibly nuanced and filled with rabbit holes (no pun intended), so take your time and enjoy!

With that in mind, Miss Jayne says “you don’t need to know all the answers before you walk through the door”. Even professionals with over ten years experience in the community are still learning new terminology and experimenting. Mistress Stone shared a story of quickly googling phrases such as “feet joi” during their sessions (‘feet jerk-off instructions’, if you were wondering…)

Lack of knowledge may give you a feeling of being naive or imposter (kinkposter?) syndrome, that you’re not kinky enough to be there. But don’t worry – even the kinkiest among us are always learning, so don’t let an info gap hold you back from discovery. And don’t be afraid to ask – everyone has to learn once!

2. The importance of safety and consent

There are a lot of fear-based assumptions in the outside (above-ground) world when it comes to the kink and fetish scene. Take a moment to think about any hesitancy you have around exploring this side of your sexuality and it may very well come back to ideas of ‘What if something happens that I’m not ready for, or that I don’t want?’, or ‘What am I consenting to if I enter these spaces?’

But actually, the kink and fetish scene could be among the safest sexual environments you’ll encounter. There is obviously an inherent risk in being vulnerable with others, but that being said, the pros and experienced attendees make it a priority to understand not just verbal consent, but non-verbal consent too, such as body language.

House rules at events and spaces play a large part in everything being consensual and safe. These can range from an explicit dress code like at Torture Garden, to no photography, not interrupting scenes, and even who you can come with – for example, at Seeking Venus which centres female/femme pleasure, so male or non-female attendees must be accompanied. Make sure to check them out and see how they line up with your expectations and adjust accordingly.

The best advice for feeling safe? “Go slow, and pay attention to how you feel. There are lots of tools [emotional and communicative] but your biggest guide is yourself,” says Miss Jayne. We all carry a lot with us and, when going into vulnerable spaces, it can bring up things we didn’t even know were there. So take your time, and listen to your body.

3. Why setting boundaries is crucial

Beyond safety, setting personal, professional and social boundaries is incredibly important, too. While setting boundaries around privacy may seem to be ‘duplicitous’ or ‘hiding’ that part of yourself, boundaries and privacy shouldn’t be at odds with sex-positivity.

There might be obvious reasons people might need to set boundaries – someone could have kids, or work around vulnerable people. But there are other more subtle barriers that could mean they can’t follow your kinky Insta, for example.

Do you need to share everything with everyone to show up authentically? Well, not always. Boundaries also means being mindful of other people’s privacy and lived experiences. We all live with different triggers and traumas, so talking about your weekend of knife play might not fly on a Monday morning around the water cooler.

Stephan Strehlow, JOYclub's Chief Marketing Officer, says that the platform is about empowering the kink community and taking away stigma, while aligning with people’s boundaries through a wide range of flexible privacy settings. Think: nifty shortcuts to hide browser activity, among others.

4. Kink can help you explore new relationship dynamics

We’ve seen a rise in different ways of loving and shifting relationship dynamics over the last two years, with the rise of apps like Feeld – a progressive dating app with over 20 sexuality and gender options – alongside greater polyamory visibility in popular culture, including season four of Netflix’s Sex Education.

In the world of kink, you can opt out of relationship disclaimers when you enter a space. You don’t have to disclaim your relationship status upon entry, as you do in other spaces, and this sensation can be super freeing.

Some of the panellists found that the kink scene was their first exposure to polyamory, which then led them to explore different dynamics in their own relationships.

Loving relationships – with open and honest communication, of course – can benefit hugely from exploring the kink and fetish world. With that in mind, consider looking outside monogamy and, instead of unloading all your expectations onto one partner, consider how new dynamics could fulfil all your needs.

“I would love people to know [that] you can come here and be yourself. Come as you are and you will be accepted here”
Mistress Stone, dominatrix

5. You can find joy and community

As you get into the scene, start to feel more comfortable, what will be overwhelming to you is a sense of ease, joy and community, the panellists said. Most of them, when asked what they appreciated most about the scene, talked about acceptance. “I would love people to know [that] you can come here and be yourself. Come as you are and you will be accepted here,” says Mistress Stone.

Despite the whips, chains and general pain stereotypes, dominatrix Mistress Stone adds that this “new type of intimacy, nurture and the softness is incredibly, overwhelming loving”. It’s not a replacement for therapy, exactly – but it can be very healing.