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Home > Sunday Mid Day News > How sex positive movements are bringing fetishes kinks into the mainstream

How sex-positive movements are bringing fetishes, kinks into the mainstream

Updated on: 04 February,2024 06:55 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Mitali Parekh |

Sunday mid-day is voyeur to a kinky evening, and finds it the most wholesome expression of self-expression in the unlikeliest of places

How sex-positive movements are bringing fetishes, kinks into the mainstream

Representation pic/Getty Images

It is the safest and the most unobjectified we have felt since we turned nine years old.

In the basement of an old mill, a kink event called Vanilla Disrupted is underway. On a mezzanine, a man in a dog mask and a T-Shirt is busy worshipping the feet of a TIC (The Intimacy Curator) Angel. Tonight, he is going by the name Li’l Boy. The Angel is one of the many volunteers who escorts participants, ensuring that Hets (heterosexuals) don’t go into queer-only territory.

Tables are laden with tools to try: Whips, restraints, mouth gags, floggers, all made of leather, thick cotton ropes, your mom’s wooden spatula for spanking…Doms (dominatrix), committed to their role this evening in leather corsets, sheer bodysuits over tight skirts and stilettos, are on the standby for any experience you like. And after they’ve flogged, whipped, spanked you—either in private or with an audience, your preference—they’ll ask you if they can hug you. After care is big here.
As is consent.

Representation pic/Getty ImagesRepresentation pic/Getty Images

That’s an iron-clad rule that TIC sent participants before the event, and quizzed attendees on at entry. There are five slides of these rules on Instagram, most of them spelling out every level and detail of consent—photography, speaking, watching, interaction, that it can be withdrawn, that an inebriated person cannot give consent; the others reminding cisgender heterosexual (Cishets) that queer folk do not have too many dedicated spaces and to please respect this and not go to the queer-only zones.

Kink and fetishes are by no means new to the city. Informal kinky groups have existed since the 1990s, holding activities in hotel rooms and weekend homes. If you are plugged in, you’d know of swinger parties in your areas, and getaways to homes nestled in the orchards of Maharashtra’s coast. A few years ago, this writer had interviewed a Mumbai-based corporate professional who would answer newspaper adverts for manservants and spend the day feeling powerless and disenfranchised—that was his aphrodisiac. He’d dust and clean up homes, and gradually “give up power to the woman of the house” and coerce her into abusing him—pressing her feet (he had a foot fetish), being slapped or hit, and generally being lowly.

Sniggering and hai-tauba! aside, what was heartbreaking about that conversation was that the young gentleman, in his late 20s, had given up on companionship. He could not fathom anyone accepting, even enjoying, his sexual activities. He also kept putting himself in grave danger, going to homes of strangers and at the risk of the men of the house finding out (he was beaten up within an inch of his life once).

Subs line up for auction at Vanilla Disrupted in Mumbai. Pic/SamarthSubs line up for auction at Vanilla Disrupted in Mumbai. Pic/Samarth

However, in the past few years, with the sex positive movement becoming a helpful juggernaut, events such as Vanilla Disrupted are bringing fetishes, kinks and anything other than missionary into the mainstream. And to build it on a foundation of mutual consent, respect and after-care. TIC has for the last two years promoted self-discovery through emotional and sexual well being by offering dating, intimacy and relationship coaching services.  

The epiphany that sexual health is mental health is in no small part due to gargantuan efforts by the LGBTQiA+ community. And sex positive therapists such as Pooja Nair a mental health practitioner at Mariwala Health Initiative. As the faculty member at their Queer Affirmative Counselling Practice course puts it, “Sexual health and mental health are interconnected. If one does not experience well-being in the sexual sphere, it has an adverse impact on one’s mental health, and the reverse can also be true.” Not relegated only to performance, not experiencing your authentic sexual self stops you from being whole, forming authentic companionship bonds and burdens one with shame, repression, self-hate, secrecy or loneliness.

Kink or consensual BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism) refers to a range of sexual activities that rely on psychological, emotional of physical dominance. 

Representation pic/Getty ImagesRepresentation pic/Getty Images

Joy Willingly, one of the founder members of the Kinky Collective, who has been a part of its activities since the 2000s, explains, “If the sexual desires of a person are repressed that would definitely affect their mental health. The sexual self is part of your being. In the event that one part is suppressed, a person can never be whole. When a person cannot express their desire, they suffer from guilt and repression. The repressed desire can manifest in ways that could be dangerous for the person as well as society.”

“I have been in and out of this lifestyle for many years,” says the fit middle-aged man beside me. “But now I feel like I need to be into it completely or I will go mad. It’s too suffocating.” He came in clothes best described as too norm core to register, and changed into black leather chaddis, with a leather harness around his torso and neck, with a large D ring on it. He wears sleek specs, and the Apple watch is ready to capture his activity for the evening. He sidles up to me, perhaps because we are the closest in age at the gathering. I’m wearing a strappy red dress with a neckline to my navel, and no restrain.

And ever since I’ve entered this room, not one man has broken eye-contact to sneak a look. In the middle of a darkened room, with men and women who like to give and receive pain, humiliate and be humiliated, and will bid on Subs (Submissives) with fake money later in the evening, this is the least objectified I have ever been in my life. Through the evening, I don’t bother pulling the hem of my dress over my knees, like a friend is teaching a toddler to do; or bother pulling up my straps when they slip down my shoulders. Safety is palpable; not lascivity. And not only to me. Many-a-bosom is exposed and X marks the spot. Nudity here is empowering, not exploitative. And desirability is not pinned to a body type. The venue staff have been told what to expect, and what to do if things get out of hand. It’s the freest I have seen women move outside a beauty parlour or changing rooms in school gyms.

Akshay Jha and Aili Seghetti, founders of The Intimacy Curator. Pic/SamarthAkshay Jha and Aili Seghetti, founders of The Intimacy Curator. Pic/Samarth

A large part of this assurance is because the apex predator has been barred entry. Cishet men are not allowed without a partner. In this room, there are only three of them, linked by arm to their women. One (Akshay Jha) of them is co-founder of TIC. The other co-founder (Aili Seghetti) wears pink leatherite hotshots over fishnet stocking and a shiny sling bag that announces: They/Them.

So much of the communication and consent is non-verbal: As you enter, a TIC Angel hands you a consent form to read and sign, receive a goody bag, and then you choose from baskets of wristbands and stickers to convey: Queer Only, Shhh (that’s don’t-talk-to-me and we would like this in daily life), No photography, Exhibitionist, Dom, Sub, Switch, Masochist, Sadist. What a wonderful way to go through life.

As soon as a group of 10 gathers, a TIC Angel in bondage clothing (participants have been encouraged to dress the part) and a halo headband gives you the tour of the play area. In the central marketplace, a handful of vendors sell candles for wax play, sex chocolates, leather fetish wear, sex toys, whips and other tools and gear. The seasoned try them on enthusiastically.

Pooja Nair, a mental health practitioner at Mariwala Health InitiativePooja Nair, a mental health practitioner at Mariwala Health Initiative

On the mezzanine is the play area, and Lil’ Boy is hard at it. Aarya, a petite buxom Dom, along with others—all women—runs candidates through sensory experiences with feathers, floggers, spatulas, whips, her nails and other points in her body as you prefer: In the open, or behind a curtain.

Li’l Boy, on all floors, asks you before every move: May I kiss your shoe? May I lick the sole of your shoe? May I take off your shoe? May I kiss your feet?
His eyes have not wandered above my ankle.  

“Kink works on the principle of temporary and limited consent,” informs Nair, “It is a consensual dynamic. If a person has to experience it safely, they have to consent to it, as do the other individuals involved. In terms of safety, rule of confidentiality and rule of consent are key. And within those, consent is non-negotiable. The kinkiness is a result of this consent.”

Which is why every step is so well thought out. In our goodie bag is fake money. Subs can approach a Dom they like, and offer them their money to bid on them. But the organisers repeatedly remind you that you are under no obligation to do so: You can bid on whomever you like.

In all, the atmosphere is charged with extroversion and lightness. ‘Play’ is the word used freely, and information comes through it. The first game of the night is Kinky Bingo: 20 sex acts are announced and the person to cross them all out gets a prize—after she shares her story about the Roman Shower and Coprophilia. Her advice is to use a bathtub in a hotel for the former to reduce clean-up. The host points out to plastic cups at entry and the direction to the bathroom for anyone interested in golden showers. Many others are explained, and there is no wincing from the crowd.

Two rounds of speed dating ensue where Subs are given 20 seconds to secure a Dom, with sex act prompts written behind the bingo card to start the conversation. Then comes bidding for Subs. They line up near the stage, on their knees. “Please applaud for them,” says our host, “it takes great courage to show your behinds to a room full of strangers.” A panel of Doms, all women but for one man, sits on stage. Each sub is presented with the list of services they offer, and then the Doms test a skill. Some desire humiliation, and the Doms hint at the size of his penis. When the bidding starts, they ask if anyone has change to start with. Subs want to be stomped on: 10 pairs of heels skilfully teeter on a man, with a platformed block heel on his jaw. “So hot,” says the Rubenesque beauty with curly hair and a “Queer Only” sticker on her chest. An elfin girl in a cat mask is bent over a Dom’s knee, bottom to the audience, and being spanked while another Dom berates her in sexual terms.

Another Sub is carrying a bottle of water, a shallow plastic tub and a funnel in his backpack. He washes a Dom’s feet and drinks the water, declaring it the most intoxicating drink in the city that night. The highest bid, but one is for Max, the man in a complete leather dog suit who performs tricks, begs for belly rubs and demonstrates how pleased he is at every, “Good boy.” The highest is for the sub who was put on auction by his Dom as “my most precious belonging”, but bought back by her.

“Aren’t you going to bid,” asks a young man next to me. “Don’t see anything I like,” I reply with nonchalance I don’t feel. “Will you bid if I go?” he asks. Li’l Boy hands me his money and requests me to bid on him. I’m wearing tangerine court shoes with block heels. I decline and he is visibly disappointed. My friend in leather hotshots is by my side and making small talk again. “Would you rather not talk,” he asks after a few monosyllabic answers from me. His eyes have not wandered to my clavicle where the sticker that says ‘Shh’ rests. He politely leaves me alone for the rest of the evening.

“Given the kind of silence and shame that exists around kink,” Nair explains, “People have had to create or be part of communities that organise events or workshops or play, etc. Today, because of social media platforms and a certain openness on dating sites and apps, people can express their kink and meet others who feel the same way.”

Joy is on the same page: “Being part of the community and finding like-minded people goes a long way in providing a safe space for individuals with non-normative desires. As a member of the community, one gets the space to talk about their desires unabashedly and can find out ways of channelising their erotic needs in a safe and consensual manner.”

An acquaintance and I catch sight of each other across the room, and politely look away. We don’t talk at all. At the end of the evening, I give my money to the girl next to me. We have been chatting away happily like two women in the Ladies compartment in the last local. “Do you want me to bid on you,” she asks pleasantly. Games over, people are encouraged to go up to the play areas with their new partners. A middle-aged man in the most elaborate leather fetish wear talks about how he has been a part of this lifestyle all of his life, but as a gay man, would only play abroad. His early experiences in India had led to gang rape. He shrugs it off. Many here are familiar with sexual violence.

“Kink is an important part of sexualness, expression of desire or connection with an individual,” says Nair. “An individual deserves the chance to explore that part of themselves to feel a connection to it, and a connection to others. Joining all of these dots is important for this person to experience all parts of themselves. We are having to discuss kink and fetish because that desire is covered in shame and stigma. Sometimes it is also unarticulated, you know you can’t explore it, but don’t know why. These become two barriers to experiencing that part of yourself.”

She gives the best analogy: Literally and metaphorically, imagine yourself as your home. Your kinky side could be a room that is locked up; that nobody goes to. And not only does no one go there or talk about it, people are ashamed the room exists. That is bound to change your relationship with that home. The impact can be different for different individuals. Sex, sexuality, desire, sexual connection are core parts of the human experience and also influence how we relate to other people. Unsafe exploration can lead to difficulties in how intimacy is experienced; how relationships are experienced. How one experiences one’s own sexual nature.

And now, there’s a key.

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