Fetishists Defend The Pursuit Of Pain

The Boston Herald
NEWS; Pg. 001
July 16, 2000 Sunday

Fetishists defend the pursuit of pain
By Dave Wedge

They meet for informal “munches” in malls, coffee shops and restaurants all over New England.

Dressed casually, they sit at tables next to oblivious shoppers and diners and lay down the groundwork for how they plan to inflict pain upon each other at upcoming parties.

They are fetishists – into leather, latex, bondage, discipline or sadomasochism. There are an estimated 20 million Americans engaged in the lascivious lifestyle and, regardless of what some may think, they say they are not sick, perverted or deviant. “We are the people next door, the people in the office next to you,” says Stephen, a 35-year-old computer systems administrator, who is a member of the Boston Dungeon Society. “It’s just a form of sexual orientation. It’s part of my sexuality.”

Members of the local underground sex scene are peeling off their leather masks and speaking out after two people were arrested during a police raid of a racy bondage bash in an old Attleboro factory last weekend.The party’s host, 23-year-old Benjamin Davis of Hudson, N.H., is charged with running a house of prostitution and assaulting a police officer, while 38-year-old New York City businesswoman, Stefany Reed, faces assault charges for allegedly spanking a woman’s bare bottom until it bled, using a wooden paddle.

The arrests have sparked outcry from the BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadomasochism) community and from the American Civil Liberties Union and the 10,000-member National Coalition for Sexual Freedom.”These people were at a private party and the cops stumbled upon it and didn’t like what they saw,” said 42-year-old Kim Airs, who owns Grand Openings!, a sex shop in Coolidge Corner, which sells S & M gear and hosts classes in everything from rope bondage to “Basic Flogging for Urbanites.”

Airs, who is into S & M and enjoys being whipped, says pain is a powerful sexual enhancer.

“It’s an endorphin rush,” she explained. “Your nerves become so stimulated that your body starts to crank out adrenaline.”

Her classes focus on proper S & M etiquette, such as using “safe words” like “red” to signal when to stop. The basic theory behind the scene, she says, is to make sure the “play” is “safe, sane and consensual.”

“There’s a big difference between consensual and non-consensual. What I do consensually is no one’s business,” she said.While the NCSF estimates that as much as 10 percent of the U.S. population participates in S & M, the subculture is still largely clandestine.Those in the scene usually make contacts through the Internet and gather at “munches” – informal, non-sexual socials – to make plans for upcoming spank fests.While some may cringe at the thought of being beaten for sexual pleasure, millions apparently don’t, as evidenced by the hundreds of S & M Web sites and the scores of fetish balls and expos held all over the country.One of the biggest is the annual Las Vegas Fetish and Fantasy Halloween Ball, which attracted more than 4,000 people last year and is sponsored by such mainstream companies as Boston brewer Sam Adams. Locally, there is a massive fetish flea market, organized by the New England Leather Association, which is scheduled for July 29 at the Bayside Expo Center.Also, there are no less than four shops in Boston which cater to the BDSM community and at least one public club – Cambridge’s Man-Ray.

At “Hell Night” this past Friday, Man-Ray was packed with blackleather-clad club-goers of varying ages, many of whom were seeking out like-minded people living out their sexual fantasies. A DJ pumped heavy-techno, industrial music, while the crowd moved erotically behind a black iron cage that runs along a side wall of the darkened club.

“If you have a sexual fantasy, there’s someone here that probably, well, you know,” said one 28-year-old man dressed in a black t-shirt and black pants, one of the more conservative outifts at the Cambridge nightspot.A feast of fruit and bread was served in one of the club’s three rooms, right next to sex shop Hubba Hubba’s table, where guests eyed and bought tickle-feathers, sex toys and spiked collars.

“You can come here, be yourself and not be judged,” said another 28-year-old man who wore a pirate’s jacket and fanged teeth.”It’s outrageous and totally unique. You can express yourself,” said Valerie, a 25-year-old receptionist wearing leather pants who has frequented the club for the past five years.

Those who move beyond the club scene and engage in painful play say the attraction is mental for some but purely physical for others.

Noted Los Angeles sex therapist and psychologist Dr. Ava Cadell says many of her clients – which include celebrities, politicians and high-powered business magnates – get into the scene for its anonymity and the thrill of being dominated.”They want to be degraded and beaten. They want the opposite of their daily life,” Cadell said.

Cadell said she believes S & M is healthy, as long as people are in it for sexual enhancement and “don’t take it too far.” She admitted, however, that some of her clients become involved because they were abused as children or have other serious emotional problems.

“Why people get into it is important,” she said. “If you’re into it because you were spanked as a child, then it can be unhealthy. It’s not natural.”

Another problem Cadell sees is with people who get so hooked on fetish play that they can no longer enjoy traditional sex.”A little spanking never hurt anybody, but if it’s the only way they can reach climax, then it’s unhealthy,” she said. “If it becomes obsessive and the person becomes anti-social, then it is a problem.”

Regardless of why people are in the scene, Airs says fetishists shouldn’t be looked down upon as sexual freaks.”We’re extremely normal people,” she said. “People you walk by on the street or stand next to in line at the store, are some of kinkiest people you’d ever know.”

Jessica Heslam contributed to this report.