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Since starting this blog, I’ve had a few experiences in sex/kink-positive spaces which…well, felt awkward and kind of creepy. I think I’ve finally figured out why they felt creepy: the people who I was interacting with didn’t appreciate a fundamental truth about our shared space.
A Surprising Truth About Sex/Kink-Positive Spaces
The truth about sex/kink-positive spaces is that a lot of them are basically public. They may feel kind of private because you’re probably with a group of like-minded individuals who share a lot of common interests. They may feel kind of private…but they aren’t. It’s important to realize this distinction because it affects what counts as polite, acceptable behavior (as opposed to creepy behavior).
What makes a space private? When the only people present are either people who I invited myself or who were invited/vetted by someone I know and trust.
This means that most spaces where I am likely to interact with someone I don’t know are public spaces. This includes places you probably normally think of as public, like a neighborhood park or a grocery store, but also spaces you might not normally think of as public:
- Sex/kink-positive events like Transcending Boundaries Conference or the Fetish Fair Fleamarket because anyone can register or buy a ticket
- Munches and meet-ups because anyone can show up
- FetLife because anyone can join and message anyone else who’s already joined
Understand that I will interact with you, and react to you, largely in the same way that I would with any person walking up to me at, say, my local drug store. I might be willing to have a wider variety of conversation topics with you than I would standing in the drug store — if I just gave a talk on sex toys and you asked me about it, I would be happy to talk with you — but there are a whole slew of things that you probably wouldn’t say to a random person in a drug store that are probably not a good idea to say to me, either.
The truth about most sex/kink-positive spaces is that they are public, and so the normal rules of behavior towards people you don’t know — such as being polite, respectful, and courteous — still apply.
Allow me to illustrate.
Good Idea / Bad Idea
Good Idea: Meeting someone new for the first time.
Bad Idea: Meeting someone new for the first time and telling them they’re hot.
This has happened to me both years I’ve attended Transcending Boundaries. I’ve had a very brief interaction with someone, or just been introduced, and they make some comment about me (or some physical characteristic of mine) being hot. This is awkward, and kind of creepy!
Yes, we’re in a sex/kink-positive space, but it’s a public space. There’s a huge difference between having a polite, respectful conversation about sexuality and sharing thoughts about sexual attraction in a public space with someone I just met. There are perfectly reasonable ways of complimenting a stranger (e.g., “those are nice shoes”)…but if the compliment isn’t something you would say to a coworker, or in front of a parent/close relative, it’s probably not a great compliment to use with a stranger in a public sex/kink-positive space, either.
Good Idea: Messaging someone on FetLife asking about their meetup group.
Bad Idea: Messaging someone on FetLife asking about their meetup group and then propositioning them.
I’ve had this happen, too. For all of their talk about security, FetLife is basically a public space. A message from a person I don’t know very well is like a random person walking up to me in the drug store and starting a conversation. You’d like more information about my (public) meetup group? Awesome. You want me to come over afterwards and help you try out some toy? WTF.
Frankly, it would be unsafe and unwise of me to accept such an invitation. One of the most basic pieces of advice in sex/kink-positive communities is don’t play with a stranger in a private place…so it’s kind of creepy to get an invitation to do just that. I honestly don’t know anyone who plays with people who are total strangers — even the people I know who do casual play do so with people they already know or with people they may have just met but who are already friends with people they trust. Even then, they don’t generally start out playing in private.
If the person making this kind of proposition to me identifies as a man, it gets even more awkward. My own gender is kind of complicated, but I am a person who was assigned female at birth and is generally read as a woman. I am especially sensitive to the fact that for hundreds of years, people with my particular set of genitals have been treated as property. Being propositioned by someone I don’t really know in a public place makes me feel like I’m being objectified, and it feels disrespectful.
Worst Idea: Messaging someone on FetLife asking about their meetup group, propositioning them, realizing their FetLife profile says they’re married, and then asking them to pass on the proposition to any available women at the meetup group.
Analysis of this one is left as an exercise to the reader.
TLDR: Don’t Be Creepy
If I don’t know you well,
…even if we are in a sex/kink-positive space or environment,
…even if you know that I’m a sex/kink-positive person,
please treat me with the same courtesy and respect as you would any stranger in a public place.
Have your own Good Idea / Bad Idea stories, or advice for dealing with similar situations? Please share them!
Edited, 10/23: Clarified that there are ways of complimenting strangers that aren’t problematic.