"People play with kink because they like it, because it makes them hot, because it makes them feel good, because it turns them on," notes sex and lifestyle educator Shanna. "We are just people, trying to figure out what turns us on, how to get our needs met, and how to have relationships that are the best for us. I might not understand folks who get drunk every weekend or who go four-wheeling, but I validate that it makes them happy. All I ask is that even if you don't understand us, you validate us."

Here is our Field Guide to Denver's Wild Life. Pseudonyms are being used to protect the innocent, the guilty, and everyone in between.

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Dominants

Description: Dominants are people of any gender or sexual orientation who exercise control in a power-exchange situation or relationship in either a scene/session dynamic or a relationship/lifestyle dynamic. Sexy, huh? Mistress Saskia, a professional Denver dominatrix and headmistress of Pavlovia Denver, and thirty-year-old "Daddy" are both dominants — but Daddy is referred to as a dom, in the masculine form, whereas Mistress Saskia is known as a dominatrix or the truncated feminine, domme. These titles are similar to the less specific terms "top" and "bottom," which denote a physical and situational title rather than an emotional or psychological dynamic." The terms "master" and "mistress" are dominant titles of respect and should be earned, as is the term "slave."

As Daddy explains: "We are in charge. Input is allowed and valued, but at the end of the day, we make the decision of which path to take. The dynamic has been discussed, evaluated and negotiated, where the submissive or slave wishes to not need to think about certain things and wishes to turn over full responsibility to the person they have chosen to have lead their life."

"I geek out on people. I find people fascinating, and I love to be part of somebody's exploration," Mistress Saskia says. "When people engage in something they are afraid of, they get through it feeling stronger and freer. That sounds counterintuitive when someone is submitting or bottoming, but when people are making themselves vulnerable, that takes an enormous amount of bravery. We love catharsis!"

Habitat Range: Inside the Sanctuary, the ones who have not yet mated gravitate toward the social area at the front of the club. Once mated, they migrate to the play area, where they and their submissive(s) proceed to make use of the indigenous equipment, such as racks, cages, crosses, spanking tables and padded benches.

Field Notes: The dominants are the rulers of the terrain, trusted to keep their packs in line and to protect their territory and sub-species counterparts. They can be monogamous or polyamorous, but tend not to play or roam together.

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Slide show: The Denver Kink Field Guide

Submissives

Description: A submissive of any gender or orientation gives up control to a dominant in a power exchange or relationship dynamic; the term is sometimes shortened to sub or subbie. A desire to serve and be punished for disobedience are superb qualities in submissives, as exemplified by Crow, a 23-year-old male sub, and Strawberry, a 34-year-old female subbie.

"The sensations like pain, textures, heat and pleasure during scenes are like nothing I have ever experienced. Imagine the best runner's high you have ever had and multiply by five. No drug can compare to it," says Crow.

"Letting go of yourself and surrendering every vestige of control into someone else's hands is exhilarating, liberating and almost primal," says Strawberry. "I love to be degraded, humiliated, whipped, flogged, fucked stupid. Then the scene ends, and my dominant and I have a sandwich and laugh."

Habitat Range: Unmated subs will roam near unmated dominants, and courtship rituals will ensue. At the Sanctuary, mated submissives will accompany their dominants to the play area to utilize the indigenous equipment, and can later be found at the medical station receiving aftercare for their tender parts.

Field Notes: Submissives serve their dominant counterparts and in return are protected from the elements. They can be monogamous or polyamorous, but they usually do not roam alone.

Switches

Description: Switches alternate between dominant and submissive or top and bottom roles in a scene or a relationship dynamic. As ThatOneGirl, a 28-year-old female switch, explains, "Essentially it's about enjoying the role of a top or a bottom in different scenarios. I'm not a dom or a sub, but for me it's about the role of who is experiencing what at what time, and essentially who is running the scene versus who is in their control. It can be sadism or masochism — giving and receiving."

Habitat Range: After entering the Sanctuary, switches usually share the equipment area with the dominants and submissives.

Field Notes: Versatile creatures that can hunt or be hunted, switches keep the herd diverse. They can be monogamous or polyamorous, and they value communication to keep the other mammals aware of which role they assume at what time. Switches are often harder to spot in crowds.

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24-7 Lifestylers

Description: These are people who choose to enter into long-term, consensual, BDSM-based relationships with one or more persons. The relationships can be contractual, polyamorous, encompass a shared living situation and involve "collaring," or the formal acceptance of a slave's service by his or her dominant.

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