Video killed the Fetish Star
If you’re in a hurry, here’s the summary: it’s all shit and you’re going to die.
No, seriously, we need to stamp a warning on adult websites. “Do not try this at home.” Someone is going to get hurt. (Those of you who already know this, bear with me — there’s a point here for veterans too).
Some huge proportion of people will explore some element of BDSM or fetish in their lives. I can make up a statistic if you like, but whether it’s spanking your partner’s butt, playing with food, dressing up for the bedroom or full on whips and ropes, most people will have had a few kinky thoughts at one time or another.
So what do we do when these troubling, non-vanilla, weird feelings appear? We search for them on the internet of course!
In the early days of the internet, the fetish community emerged from their underground lairs (seriously, we have lairs, with keys and everything), to answer those searches with information. “Am I the only one to…” — nope, you’re really not. “How do I...” — here are some hints and tips. “Where can I buy…” — this woman makes stuff that you’ll love.
Most importantly, ideas that really had been figured out in dungeons and clubs were shared: Safe, sane and consensual play isn’t just a slogan; aftercare is really important; safewords are a thing; don’t be a asshole and don’t stand just behind someone swinging a whip. Because the majority of encounters were still in clubs, parties and dungeons the focus was on what to do when you were physically in the same room as someone. Safety, both physical and psychological was a regular theme. This came from clubs where respect and good behaviour were expected (more so than vanilla meat markets), and social meets where every element of kink was shared, discussed and even demonstrated.
These days we have vast online communities dedicated to fetish and kink. There are sites dealing with the most specific and obscure fetishes. Seek and ye shall find (yeah, you weren’t expecting bible references, were you?).
Unfortunately, here’s where the trouble begins.
Just as YouTube ushered in the short, sharp, to the point video dealing with a specific subject, video has revolutionised fetish online. Want to know how to change the fan belt on a ’67 Chevvy? Oh sorry, that’s YouTube still. Want see someone being hog tied? Yup, there are hundreds of videos. Spanking? Yup. Toys? By the thousand… there isn’t a kink or fetish that isn’t covered by a video.
As the sites fighting for your attention (and money) have proliferated, the videos have got shorter and more explicit. When you’re trying to grab the biggest audience, you don’t spend minutes, or even seconds building up to the money shot (literally). They searched for something specific, you want their attention, you deliver exactly that thing and straight away. And let’s be honest, once they have seen the payoff, they’re either done themselves or they’ll be searching for the next hit. There’s a term for this endless browsing, ‘gooning’, and now there are even fetish videos dedicated to people who find themselves mindlessly clicking through video lists. Yes, you can be abused for being abused for being abused. Turtles all the way down.
So videos have dropped everything but the action itself. And with it has gone the context, the knowledge and the understanding that goes into safe, sane and consensual play. This was rammed home for me when a professional shared a clip online that featured another domme repeatedly and innaccurately beating a sub across the back with a cane, leaving deep welts. Anyone with experience in BDSM will understand that this is not remotely safe or sane behaviour. Physically, that sort of abuse can do permanent, crippling harm to the victim (and when someone leaves you in a wheelchair, you are a victim). Psychologically, this sends out the message that this is ‘normal’. This is a problem for us all.
For someone exploring fetish for the first time, the clip sites now provide endless examples of context free abuse and harmful behaviour. Lazy producers don’t care if risky activity is normalised, and casually link one fetish to the next to get the largest audience. This is particularly a problem within the Domme/sub area where Dommes instruct submissives to carry out activities to ‘prove’ they are a ‘true submissive’. Crossdressers with no more than a lingerie fetish will find themselves bombarded by women telling them they are pathetic, closeted and should seek out male abuse. Submissives of any stripe will be encouraged to combine drug use with self abuse. The insults and commands come think and fast, reach a crescendo (hoping that their audience is about to do the same) and then the video ends.
There is no point at which the fantasy girlfriend on camera tells the audience that they’re ok really, that this is a fantasy that can only really work between two people who know and understand each other. There is no point where it’s shown how these fantasies can work ‘in real life’. They’re made more extreme, more unreachable and the viewer is left only the impression that they really are ‘beyond help’ unless they seek out further abuse and degredation. We don’t see any negotiation, or attempt to understand the submissive. There is no discussion of limits, or safe play. Instead, there is just the raw fetish, isolated and meaningless, and — in the worse cases — physically dangerous.
There are sites that share positive, kink friendly information. There are many practitioners who will explain safe, sane and consensual play. There are medics who will provide full first aid courses to people running fetish events. Fetish and BDSM can be creative, fun, theraputic and rewarding elements of a relationship. Unfortunately, this information is being drowned by ill-informed sites and content producers chasing money. There is no incentive for them to support or provide kink positive views. Particularly if your fetish is for submission, their focus is purely to hit that button hard, to make you feel helpless, weak and pathetic. Many of them translate that desire into something else — either accidentally, or in the case of the (many) financial domination sites deliberately linking a desire to submit to a desire to hand over your money.
For someone new to fetish, this is confusing, misleading and potentially dangerous. For veterans, the normalisation of showing kink in isolation is turning creative acts into mindless repetition, and reducing a smart, healthy community to lazy manipulation.
This isn’t healthy. This isn’t positive. The most rewarding part of opening yourself up sexually is the warm glow of human connection, of mutual understanding, of intimate sharing. Senseless violence, or psychological abuse with no aftercare or consideration for the submissive’s needs may sell well in an environment where sex is packaged up into five minute video clips, but it is harming us all.