Written by: Stuart Haggas
HAVE FETISHES GONE MAINSTREAM?
An integral part of underground gay culture, the fetish scene has long since thrived on the margins of queer society – finding a home in members-only clubs, in the testosterone-drenched darkrooms of gay venues, and behind closed doors in the privacy of bedrooms (or purpose-built home playrooms).
With the continuing prosperity of gay platforms like Grindr and Recon, combined with the effects of austerity and gentrification, gay venues are finding it harder to survive – and that includes kink-friendly spaces.
London’s iconic leather and fetish club The Hoist has faced uncertainty over the years, with the nearby Eagle stripped off its sex club vibe in favour of a less subversive aesthetic. But despite a decline in the number of fetish venues, the fetish scene is in fact booming.
“The way I see it, there has been a steady rise in interest in the last seven years – you can witness it on social media, which I think is the main driving force behind this rising tide,” says Ox of the London
Wolfpack, a pack of enthusiastic, education-focused kinksters who offer bondage classes and private lessons to students ranging from novices to experienced players. “These methods of online communication have done a lot of good to kinky communities, both in terms of access to information and hot content, and by encouraging people to be more open about their fantasies.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SAVVY KINKSTERS
Digital technology makes it easier to find and meet up with like-minded fetishists.
Of the 1,446 men we surveyed, 53% meet others who share their fetish via specific apps and online via websites. This is compared to just 16% who meet others at fetish events, 22% who meet via bars and clubs, and 28% who meet via mutual friends on the fetish scene.
“The rise of the internet and apps mean, it’s easier than ever to find people into the same thing as you,” says Alex, 33 from Hull. “The realisation that ‘I’m not the only one’ can only lead to these fetishes becoming increasingly more mainstream.”
“Fetishes are personal. Technology just makes it easier to connect now,” agrees Steve, 51 from County Kildare. “Maybe as people and society becomes more sex positive, acceptance of fetishes will be more open and mainstream.”
“Everyone has fetishes,” adds Marco, 42 from London. “The advent of social media has been great at allowing people to share their pleasures without feeling stigmatised. It’s also opened up the concept of experimentation. I meet many guys who just want to try it.”
“Of course, Recon is great, period,” says Ox of the London Wolfpack, “and any mainstream app that allows you to publicly identify yourself and other people as fetishists helps this community.”
Younger generations are known to be early adopters of new technology. Interestingly, this is mirrored by the fact that more young gay and bi men are taking an interest in the fetish scene, as Ox acknowledges: “As for attracting the less experienced or younger crowd, I think you can give Twitter and Tumblr the credit for that!”
So what exactly is a fetish?
“It’s an uncommon sexual practice that has illicit connotations which are the reason for its sexual appeal,” says Aaron, 25 from London.
“Fetish is something that you enjoy that is beyond the so-called normal terms of sex,” says Patrick, 45 from London.
“It’s an act, presentation or look – including physical or wardrobe form – which elicits a positive and fulfilling intellectual, emotional, physical and/or sexual reaction between consenting adults,” adds Steve, 51 from County Kildare.
“A fetish is a kink or attraction to an object or substance either sexual or non sexual. It may also involve transformation or roleplay as someone or something else, such as a puppy or a pony or furry,” explains Roland, 38 from Cork. “This may also be piss, leather, rubber, cigars and smoking, chastity, use of titles such as Sir/Boi/Pup/Handler/Daddy/Son. The list of fetish definitions is far from finite.”
WHAT FETISH WINS?
According to the readers of FS magazine, the top fetishes are:
- Underwear – 60%
- Bondage – 55%
- Masters and Slaves – 42%
- Spanking – 39%
- Leather – 38%
- Watersports – 35%
- Tattoos and piercings – 34%
- Muscle – 34%
- Sports gear – 29%
- Trackies – 28%
- Suits – 28%
- Military – 25%
- Rubber – 23%
- Fisting – 22%
- Feet – 20%
- Hoods and masks – 19%
- Boots – 18%
- Chastity – 17%
- Cock and ball torture – 17%
- Dungeon – 16%
- Pups and handlers – 16%
- Bikers – 15%
- Skinheads – 14%
- Smokers – 13%
- Punks – 11%
- Fighting – 10%
- Gunge – 5%
FIRST TIME FETISHERS
There are various reasons why we might get into fetishes in the first instance.
Some readers of FS magazine tell us they wanted to be more experimental and adventurous when it comes to sex, while others indulged out of curiosity. Some say it stems from watching porn, or from being aroused by homoerotic art including the drawings of Tom of Finland and the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe. Some explain how sexual partners introduced them to kink. And some identify a past experience – what some describe as ‘teenage perversions’.
“It started when I was a teen, and would use dirty pants and socks to clean up after wanking,” says Tom, 29 from Hertford.
“My underwear/sportswear fetish definitely comes from my school days and the PE changing rooms,” says Alex, 33 from Hull.
“I always had a thing for guys in suits!” explains Simon, 25 from Leicester. “One day I was in the loo in town and a guy in a suit was at the urinal wanking and checking me out. That made me instantly hard. I then started arranging meets with guys who would be in suits or uniforms.”
“I discovered my cigar fetish as an early teen when my heart would race when I saw a cigar smoking man,” says Roland, 38 from Cork. “As I reached 18, I found a cigar site on the old geocities. Later I joined groups and cigar sites and then Recon and HotCigarMen.”
FETISH SURVEY RESULTS…
WE ASKED: Do you have any fetishes?
- 79% said yes
- 2% said no
- 19% were unsure.
Do you identify with the word fetish?
- 52% said yes
- 19% said no
- 29% were unsure.
Where do you meet people into your fetish?
- 53% said online via websites
- 53% said through apps
- 22% said in bars or clubs
- 16% said at fetish events
- 28% said through friends.
Our introduction to kink can be carefully planned, but equally we may stumble into it by chance or accident.
“I met a couple of guys off Grindr for a threesome. They were both wearing wrestling singlets, and said they thought I’d look good wearing one,” explains Ben, 28 from London. “So I tried one on, and liked how it felt to wear – and that they were more interested in me because I was wearing it.”
“I chatted to a man online who was also into bondage and was willing to tie me up,” says Will, 36 from Belfast. “We met, got to know each other over a beer, then went to his place where I wore his rubber gear and was tied up.”
“My fantasy fetish is blowing my current boyfriend in the gym whilst wearing sports shorts, socks and jockstraps,” says Tom, 20 from Essex.
“I once had group sex with a bunch of guys who were wearing sweatpants and hoodies,” says Sean, 20 from Aberdeen. “It was amazing.”
“Outdoor sex with cyclist guy in full lycra with speedos on underneath,” says Dave, 33 from Leeds.
“I had a regular meet with a guy who loved to have watersports fun,” says Simon, 25 from Leicester. “He would turn up in suits or work gear which turned me on before we even started the piss fun.”
“After licking a younger guy’s sock and naked feet for very long, he spanked me and made me lie on the bed,” says Rudy, 31 from Dublin, “while he sat on top of my head and covered my face with his feet. Pure ecstasy and delight.”
“We introduced a third person. I was tied up while my husband watched me getting fucked by a ‘stranger’ (the stranger was known to us),” says Matt, 33 from Andover. “The stranger was instructed to be rough with me, which I completely love. That’s where I developed my fetish for being spat at.”
“I was tied up by two guys. One fucked me as the other sucked me. After they both came, they switched,” says Andrew, 26 from Cavan. “After getting two loads in me, they pissed on me and one managed to take a shit on my stomach.”
“I got caned all afternoon by two South African policemen,” says Ricky, 55 from Brighton. “My arse bled through my jeans on the train home.”
“I visited a guy last year who gave me my first taste of bondage,” says Tom, 27 from Edinburgh. “I got put in his amazing leather bondage suit and tied down and endlessly teased, then I was put in my biker gear and suspended. I ended the weekend in my rubber and strapped down – unforgettable weekend.”
As with all forms of sex, things don’t always work out the way we hope. But you can avoid a lot of hurt and disappointment by being honest and open about how experienced you are. It’s also essential to discuss limits and agree on a safe word should anyone wish to stop, and then respect those limits.
“It’s always bad when guys are not honest before starting. They can get all weird,” says Marco, 42 from London. “I also hate it when guys don’t admit to being novices. It’s so much easier when you know that you need to take your time.”
“A guy tied me up and hooded me, he then started doing things that I had said I did not want to do,” says Simon, 25 from Leicester, “and wouldn’t stop straight away when I said stop.”
“I had a panic attack in the middle of a session as the guy went too far,” says Andy, 35 from Bristol.
“Communicating my limitations and expectations properly, then having him treat me like a fleshjack and abandoning me in his spare room for the night,” describes Ronald, 38 from Cork. “We never spoke again and I blocked him.”
“It was with a mismatched and inexperienced dominant, who did not properly respect boundaries,” says Kite, 23 from London. “Due to a lack of discussion, the scene was not set up well, and neither of us had the experience to realise it was doomed to failure. It left me feeling concerned, upset and nervous.”
“When it comes to fetishes such as being tied up or dominated it’s all about trust”, says Ian Howley, Chief Executive of HERO – Health Equality and Rights Organisation. “Trust is very important as you are giving someone a lot of power. If someone abuses that trust it can lead to a lot of underling emotional issues that can damage how people sexually connect with one another in the future. If you are given power over someone, don’t abuse that position. Listen to your partner and if they tell you to stop, then you stop.”
Developing an interest in fetish can affect the way we have sex, because half (50%) of the men we surveyed say they’d rather indulge in their fetish than have regular fucking/ sucking-type sessions.
“Traditional sex acts are fun,” says Sam, 19 from Dublin,” but I enjoy the excitement of a bondage/ pup play/S&M session more.”
“Fucking is a means to an end,” says Will, 36 from Belfast. “Fetish is stimulating the mind and senses.”
“I find sex boring without fetish play,” admits Roland, 38 from Cork. “Some of the best play has been fetish.
“I still enjoy vanilla,” says Nick, 29 from Cardiff.
“Fetish sex is more of a special occasion activity.”
FETISH SURVEY RESULTS cont..
WE ASKED: Did your fetish change the way you have sex? E.g. Do you tend to indulge in your fetish rather than traditional fucking/sucking etc?
- 50% said yes
- 34% said no
- 16% were unsure.
Have you ever got an STI from your fetish?
- 11% said yes
- 82% said no
- 7% were unsure.
Have you made relationships through your particular fetish?
- 44% have met friends
- 20% have met partners
- 19% feel part of a community
- 41% say no
- 6% are unsure.
LIVING THE FETISH LIFESTYLE
Scrappy is 27 and lives in London.
“I have plenty of fetishes; i.e. things that turn me on,” he says. “And I have absolutely no shame about it. I love the fact that I have so much that excites me, and works with my brain. I live with and I am engaged to my Sir. I live my life as a submissive pup. So it has become my way of life, my pup name has become the name most people know me by. Accepting and discovering my fetishes has allowed me to become stronger and more confident.
“I have always had curiosity for all kinds of fetishes, but never acted upon that. So when I broke up with my ex two and a half years ago, I finally decided to go and explore things as it felt like the right time.
“The second time I met my current Sir, I came wearing lycra shorts and harness underneath my clothing, and we just had a perfect time. He was turned on by the lycra, and just did everything perfectly. Bondage, serious throat fucking, and a bit of abusing me. He even drank alcohol from my asshole. Because we clicked so well together, we eventually ended up together and engaged.
“I have made some of my best friends through fetish, due to the ability to be completely open and comfortable around them,” Scrappy continues. “It’s great as well to be able to have sexual contact with them, as there is no judgement and only complete understanding of each other’s needs. Same with my Sir, because we have reached a level of mutual understanding and comfort that I have never shared with anyone. It allowed me to be confident in myself, being able to be in an open relationship and play with mutual friends for example. It’s something I have never been able to do before I have met my Sir.”
FETISH FRIENDS AND PARTNERS
44% of the men we surveyed say they’ve made friends on the fetish scene, and 20% have met a partner. 19% also feel a part of a community.
“Fetish communities are, for the most part, very friendly and welcoming,” says Chris, 29 from Glasgow. “I’ve met loads of friends through them with similar interests.”
“I’ve made some of the very best friends I’ve ever had in my life from the fetish community,” adds Roland, 38 from Cork. “I’m beginning to find people to connect with on a sexual and emotional level.”
“My last boyfriend of seven years, met through Recon,” says Barry, 36 from Aberdeen.
“Gunge leads to loads of friends. It is a close community,” says Steve, 44 from Nottingham. “I met one boyfriend after our first meeting at a gunge session.”
Unfortunately, we can’t all find someone who shares our sexual kinks. Some partners don’t understand, and some don’t even know. In fact, 28% admit to having a partner and/or a close friend who had an issue with their fetish.
“My boyfriend doesn’t know the full extent of what I’m into,” says Tom, 29 from Hertford. “He’s very vanilla, and any time I’ve attempted to draw him out or hint at trying anything on the dirtier or kinky side he does shy away.”
“They don’t like what I am into,” says Simon, 25 from Leicester. “They frown upon it and say that it’s dirty. I have to arrange meets without them for this sort of fun.”
Some couples choose to have open relationships, allowing for a partner to look elsewhere to indulge their kink.
“My partner isn’t into my fetish, but he accepts that I’m into it,” explains Matt, 42 from London, “and lets me off the metaphorical leash to socialise and attend fetish events.”
Some relationships can become strained, and ultimately end because of one partner’s fetish interests.“My current partner really isn’t into it and doesn’t like the idea,” admits Martyn, 25 from Manchester. “He’s not open to it and it puts strain on our relationship at times.”
“My first long-term boyfriend was strictly vanilla. He also insisted on a closed relationship. I loved him but I found the sex so unadventurous and boring,” explains Chris, 29 from Glasgow.
“That, along with his stubborn refusal to try anything new, were some of the main reasons I broke up with him.”
“We’re no longer in a relationship,” says Roland, 38 from Cork. “I’ve been kink shamed a lot but I have grown intolerant of it. I’ve gotten more conviction in my defence of my fetish.”
KINKS AND STIS
82% of the gay and bi men we surveyed say they’ve never got an STI from practicing their fetishes. However, 11% have, and 7% were unsure.
“I’ve had gonorrhoea and chlamydia before,” says Chris, 29 from Glasgow. “The usual ways, but I would’ve probably still got them through vanilla sex.”
“I got gonorrhoea from sucking one dom during a session, because he simply plays with loads of people, and caught it,” says Scrappy, 27 from London. “It cannot be helped really.”
“At London Fetish Week 2016, I fooled around in a group,” says Nick, 29 from Cardiff. “I got suspected chlamydia afterwards.”
“A lot of fetishes are more sensual than sexual which means the risk of STIs are low but sex can be a big part of some fetishes”, says Ian Howley of HERO. “No matter what your fetish, if you engage in any sexual practice you should test for STIs and HIV on a regular basis. We recommend every six months. It roughly takes about 10 days for STIs to show up on test and about four weeks for HIV.”
86% of the men we surveyed think some fetishes are more acceptable or mainstream now than they used to be. The majority say this is a good thing.
“Education and openness have definitely led to the mainstream being aware and more comfortable with kinksters being around,” says Scrappy. “Pride has helped us to promote ourselves and our groups, and become part of the mainstream. It is definitely more common in the gay community to be into fisting or watersports for example, and people do not frown upon them as before.”
“Yes, underwear/bondage/CP are much more discussed now, due to magazines and people not thinking they are so taboo, so everyone can discuss them more openly,” says Sam, 43 from London. “It’s a good thing as now you don’t feel as if it’s a bad thing to have a fetish.”
“Light BDSM is practically vanilla. Gear-based fetishes (leather, rubber etc) are extremely normalised amongst gay men,” adds Samir, 36 from London. “Also watersports seems pretty normal now. It’s fine, and I’m glad more people can get off in the ways they want to.”
“Fetishes shouldn’t involve shame – unless that’s your kink,” adds Nathan, 33 from London.
50 SHADES SOFTER
Some people are concerned that, by becoming more acceptable and mainstream, the fetish scene risks loosing its edge and identity.
“It’s good that people with alternative interests don’t feel the need to hide it as much and can meet like-minded people,” says Chris, 29 from Glasgow. “However some of the appeal of fetish for me is that it isn’t mainstream and is a bit freakish.”
“On one hand it’s good, because people change their attitudes, for example leather or rubber is much more accepted than it was 10 years ago,” says Lukas, 40 from Dublin. “On the other hand by going mainstream, the fetish scene is losing part of its identity.”
“Films like 50 Shades of Grey has made certain things acceptable but have glamorised it and softened what actually happens,” says Will, 36 from Belfast.
“I feel they are accepted but misunderstood. I blame 50 Shades for this,” adds Roland, 38 from Cork.
THE FUTURE IS…
Some of the men we surveyed worry about the future of the fetish scene.
“Leather feels very much on the decline… the old school leather men are being replaced by the young pups and sports fetish guys,” says Matt, 42 from London. “Leather cost is part of it, but also the leather scene in London has dwindled.”
“I think it will be going bigger and losing its identity,” says Lukas, 40 from Dublin. “The future looks bleak. I’m even taking a break from the fetish scene.”
The majority however welcome these changes.
“I see more people coming to events and new blood. The new generation are more expressive,” says Roland.
“I believe that bondage is becoming more mainstream every year,” adds Will, 29 from Ashford. “You see more bondage events advertised, there are leather prides all over the world and more and more people are opening up about being interested in fetish scenes.”
We asked Ox of London Wolfpack whether any particular fetish is showing a noticeable rise in popularity. “Trend forecasting is not a Wolfpack talent on paper,” he explains, “but you can sniff it on social media yourself; ABDL (Adult Baby/Diaper Lover) is on a surprising rise amongst gay males in the UK as of late, for example. With that being said, is this the next foot fetish, the most common fetish in the world? It’s all relative.”
A new generation are being drawn to the fetish scene for a range of reasons.
“I feel, well I know from having conversations, that a lot of people have joined fetish movements (such as pups) just to have a sense of community, rather than for the sex, in 21st century gay life,” says Tom, 32 from London.
“I found my main fetish (pup play) when I was younger and started looking at pornographic images online,” explains Sam, 19 from Dublin. “I was intrigued and wanted to find out about what it was. When I had just turned 19 I found the Irish Pup Group and was blown away by the sense of community and acceptance. I tested the water a bit but before I knew it I was on all fours acting like a dog. Although it is silly and frankly hilarious, I just took to it. It was so much fun and becoming my pup self was actually quite liberating.”
“Pup play has been ‘trending’ for a while now,” says Johnny, 19 from London. “Fetish has started growing more and more. I think the events are going to get bigger and bigger.”
What advice is there for someone curious to embrace his inner sexual kinks?
“Read a lot, and when you’re ready, get out there and experience. Socialise. Be open,” suggests Ox for London Wolfpack. “Get to know your community, and be a part of it – you’ll make friends for life, learn new things, and yeah you’ll probably pull too.”
Although fetishes may be thriving thanks to digital, it remains important to also have kink-friendly venues plus regular fetish events and parties – otherwise rather than being a thriving community, fetish risks becoming just a sexual activity.
“We all live and enjoy the digital world and know how it helped us find each other – but this horse can only take you to a certain point,” says Ox of the London Wolfpack. “My pack brethren and I believe in local communities and their power – and to create them, physical presence is needed. Our mission is to do our part by delivering hands-on passing of knowledge, exchange of ideas in real time, a safe space to experiment, and comradery.”
SENSUAL NOT SEXUAL
In a modern era where fetishes are becoming more mainstream what should we take away from this issue? We asked Ian Howley of HERO for his thoughts.
Ian says, “While a lot of fetishes involves sex acts it’s important to understand that most fetishes are about sensual feelings rather than sexual feelings.
“It’s important to understand this so we can break down the stigma associated with a lot of fetishes that men are into. Once you understand that it’s about feelings and not about cumming then we as a community can be more informed about all things fetish.”
Ian adds, “If you are someone thinking about getting into a major fetish scene, make sure you read up on it first. Start off softly and ease your way in. Learn what you like and don’t like. Listen to your body but take care of your mind. Fetishes are supposed to be fun… so have fun.”