When I arrived on Fetlife as a new sub, what I saw often terrified me. I saw dominance substituted with abuse and became only too aware of the dangers of submersing myself in the lifestyle I saw portrayed in some of the writing. The more I read, the less I knew. I was left spinning like a top not knowing which way was up. BDSM is beautiful when it’s consensual, but there are cultish “masters” among us who use kink to mask their abuse. What follows is a list of elements common to cults.
Unquestioned trust in the leadership.
Fetlebrities are merely people who are lithe or wordsmithy enough to show up regularly on K&P. They’re not special, exalted, or more right than you are. Even as a newbie, your common sense is trustworthy. Even as a beginner, you’re allowed to question those who seem to have starring roles in the BDSM community.
“My dynamic is the only true way.”
I don’t want to be punished and brainwashed if I don’t obey. I find the idea of coercion pathological. I have never diverted from my submission unless the core of my life was going to be affected, and I expect to be trusted with that. That doesn’t mean I’m a brat, a switch, or vanilla. It means I am an individual who has a right to choose the relationships I participate in. This attitude doesn’t fall in with The One True Way, which is just as well because there is no textbook that tells us how to do BDSM.
Disagreements are seen as persecution.
Clinging tightly to my desires and values was imperative during my last D/s relationship, purely because the “dominant” I was with saw my differing beliefs about power exchange as persecution. To survive, I needed to be unwavering about my values, but he was manipulative enough to erase those entirely. I wanted to submit, but I needed a safe environment. The fact that he was unwilling to provide that spoke to his toxicity.
Actions and thoughts are controlled through threats.
The first dom I met on Fetlife told me that if fingers were snapped, I had to be available or be punished; that the right to consent didn’t belong to a sub. The one who followed punished me with rage attacks and silence. I was to accept his treatment no matter how risky, even after multiple doctors’ visits stacked up on the back of his inexperience. That which is not freely given is not submission orconsent. For that reason, dominants don’t get to tell me what kind of submissive I should be, and you deserve the same.
Rules and beliefs are drilled into members and function around “Special Knowledge.”
There’s a sense of terrible weight and extreme seriousness in a few core M/s dynamics, as though everyone is stuck in an Orwell novel. D/s doesn’t have to be dark and scary. Lightness and happiness belong in romance, and nobody needs to exist without such beauty just because they prefer power exchange dynamics. There are no authoritative texts about BDSM, and nobody who has special knowledge. Some have more experience, and many can be learned from, but a sub’s ideals about their own relationships matter.
Submissives are often shamed for not being submissive enough. How you submit, why, and how much is your choice, and you have the right to as much autonomy as you need. Every one of us will meet a lot of community members who disagree with our philosophies on D/s. We are all individuals. Our way of life is unique to each of us, and that’s more than okay—it’s sane. Those who can’t tolerate that kind of dissent are likely toxic.
Critical thinking is discouraged.
As a beginner, I was encouraged to hold tightly to my values no matter what I read or saw, and so should you. I needed to have a clear understanding of what I wanted and needed. D/s is merely a framework. It is not the totality of the relationship, which must function around the same things vanilla relationships revolve around: Trust, respect, intimacy, and honesty. Dominance and submission are merely roles partners choose to take. How they play those roles is entirely up to the individuals involved. It’s okay to want a relationship that fits your needs like a pair of skinny jeans, even if you’re a slave.
Elitism, Us-versus-them mentality.
When bottoms and subs speak out about their consent violations, community members close ranks around predators, saying, “She was nice to me”, or, “I know him to be trustworthy.” Every abuser grooms flying monkeys for exactly this purpose. It isn’t a sign of trustworthiness or expertise.
No accountability to authorities
That much in BDSM is illegal does not mean we do not subscribe to the laws that apply to us. We have the rationality required to tell the difference between ethical and immoral. It’s right and healthy to report predators to the police if you want to. It is right and healthy to pay attention to the fact that a ‘yes’ is not consent when the sub in question is being manipulated and gaslighted.
Those who don’t comply are shunned.
Some of the dynamics in this community look more like narcissistic manipulation and control than authentic domination. A dominant who wants to feed their fragile ego by destroying their subs is not participating in BDSM at all. It’s right and acceptable to want a person who wants a relationship with you, who stays because they love you. If your noncompliance will result in shunning, something is very wrong.
“That’s vanilla” is a common accusation on Fetlife, but every relationship is its own creature, chosen only by the two or more individuals participating in it. It’s okay to want a relationship that is 50% D/s and 50% vanilla. It’s okay to want one that is 10% D/s and 90% vanilla. That doesn’t make you irrelevant, nor does it negate the role you choose, whether submissive, switch, bottom, or brat.