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
  • Chickbabe Davies

    Hi there I’m in the UK. I’m am member of Fetlife and was interested in taking a look at Kinktrest but I seem to be unable to load the registration page. Any ideas? Thanks

  • Right on, thanks for the heads up!

  • Code Monkey

    I recently left Fetlife myself for kinktrest.com for many of the reasons you’ve outlined in your post for a new service that is also free and functions more like Facebook. They are relatively new as a site, but they seem to get it, they provide end to end encryption for users and Two-Factor Authentication for users who wish to have the added security on their accounts. They don’t have millions of users since they are new, but they do provide the ability for members to be as creative as they wish with Images, Video, Multi-Media Blogging, Facebook Style security for their profiles, custom group and personal profile layouts.

    I’m seeing a hastag surfacing called #fetexit for people who are leaving over the current invite only status of Fetlife. The Fetlife community is becoming exclusive instead of inclusive. Kinktrest has the potential to be a site for the novice kinkster to the most experienced ones. Worth a look at least since it’s free.

  • Matt Killingly Black

    I’ve been on fetlife for a few years now and disagree with the decision to move to an invite only platform.
    It’s been a great resource for the BDSM / kink community. Especially for those who need to keep their public social circles seperate from their kink friends. I’m fairly open about myself, but it is still nice to have a social media site to refer my BDSM friends to without having to explain all the dos and don’ts of what’s acceptable to post on my profile comment areas.
    Having to explain my kink persona to Vanilla friends can be exasperating and many times results in not hearing from those people again, or they see me as a unicorn and make sure to mention my kinks when introducing me to their friends or new people instead of just my name. Then I feel forced to explain myself, making things awkward for everyone.
    Now that fetlife has gone invite only, I’ll just go back to referring people interested in the kink / BDSM scene to collarspace.com which is a free, yet slightly seedier sight where there are a lot more Pro-Dom/me’s (or worse…) who prey on the inexperienced individuals who are just dipping their toe’s in “the warm waters of sins of the flesh.”, this can be dangerous for some and I felt much more comfortable referring new people to the slightly safer site of fetlife.com. But now instead of just being able to easily tell someone to check out fetlife.com to find the answers they’re looking for, I would have to go through the trouble of getting their info so I can invite them into the site, which will turn into a debacle that the once open arms of fetlife used to save me from.
    I agree it can make the existing members feel more exclusive, but it could also result in a ghost town like MySpace, or eventually turn into a pay site like alt.com. Nobody who’s just looking for more information about what turns them on / people who are into their particular kinks for the first time wants to give out their credit card information to what is seen as an adult / porn site they might have to explain to someone.
    I hope they change their minds about their invite only policy, but as I said, I’ll be returning to the old-hat of “check out collarspace.com” unless I have the time / comfort, with the new individual knowing that much about me, to go through the trouble of inviting someone.