Fetlife: Behind Closed Doors

For these students, nearly all of whom said they found Fetlife through the internet, an open sign up process was a key to not only joining the larger BDSM and kink community but also finding acceptance on campus.

As of July 7, 2016 Fetlife, the popular BDSM and kink networking site, has temporarily closed its doors to new members. After providing no initial explanation, John Baku, the owner and creator of Fetlife, shared some answers on July 22nd in a post in the group “Fetlife Announcements.” In that post he cited concerns about user and community experience as factors in the decision to prevent new sign ups and indicated that Fetlife would be transitioning to an invite-only community.

Fetlife, which functions similarly to Facebook, boasts millions of accounts and allows users to maintain personal profiles, add friends, create groups and organize events — all with a focus on the BDSM lifestyle.

For Fetlife an invite-only policy would be a drastic change as previously new members could create an account without providing a valid email address. While some have lauded the change to invite only as a means of strengthening the existing community, others have voiced their concerns about the longevity of a closed network and the ability for new members to find their way to the community without the ease of an online sign up. The nearly universal sentiment, however, was appreciation for Baku’s work to address community concerns.

Fetlife, which functions similarly to Facebook, boasts millions of accounts and allows users to maintain personal profiles, add friends, create groups and organize events — all with a focus on the BDSM lifestyle. As an online social networking site, Fetlife offers a community for individuals who would otherwise have few sources of advice or opportunities to meet those who share their interests. The homepage, “Kinky and Popular” or K&P for short, offers a daily array of writings, pictures and videos that have received the most amount of “loves” from fellow users. These postings range from explicit pictures to relationship advice and often relate powerful personal experiences.

Even though modern society, especially on college campuses like the University of Michigan, has become more open to alternative lifestyles and expressions of sexuality, many who are attracted to BDSM and kink still experience social stigma and often regard their interests as a shameful secret. Because of this, BDSM and kink are not often topics of conversation and local clubs and meet-ups, when they exist, are typically not openly advertised.

It is these feelings of lack of community and fear of social ostracization that led many current members to Fetlife which can be found with a quick Google search. On the site, BDSM lifestyles are normalized and users go by screen names, offering some degree of anonymity. As an online community,  Fetlife, also offers a private way to build relationships and make friends before associating one’s real identity with taboo interests that could easily have real world repercussions.

For college students, who are unlikely to already know about local kink scenes and who may be reluctant to talk openly about sexual preferences — especially those deemed to be socially unacceptable, Fetlife is an invaluable resource. At U of M, several students explained to the Michigan Review that joining Fetlife was the first time that they did not “feel like a freak” or think that “something was wrong with me.” Clearly, for these students, nearly all of whom said they found Fetlife through the internet, an open sign up process was a key to not only joining the larger BDSM and kink community but also finding acceptance on campus.

One U of M student, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Michigan Review about her experience discovering Fetlife online: “I didn’t know anyone in the kink scene. I didn’t even know my friends were in the kink scene until I found them online!” She continued, explaining the value of an open online community, “If everyone who was in the kink scene already knew each other in person, there would be no need for Fetlife.”

 

Update: As of July 29th, Fetlife is open to new sign ups without an invitation. Baku told Fetlife users in a post that “kinksters will be asked to verify themselves through a one-time anonymous text message if they weren’t invited by another member of the community.”

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About Erin Dunne

Erin Dunne is a senior studying History, French and International Studies. In her free time she is a drug policy reform advocate and a free speech enthusiast. You can reach her by email at eedunne@umich.edu