Jenn Wohletz is the author of this week's Westword cover story, "Field Guide to Denver Wild Life." Here's her first-person account of how she got involved in the the kink scene.
I used to tie up my Barbie dolls.
I'd strip them, smother their smiling little mouths with duct tape smuggled from the garage, bind their delicate, sun-tanned limbs (this was the 1980s) with lengths of twine, twist ties or snippets of yarn, and then put each doll on her knees, waiting for Ken to come and do...something.
Since I was eight years old, I wasn't exactly sure what Ken was supposed to do. So my well-executed but thwarted fantasies stayed in abeyance until I was fourteen, and discovered porn in my friend's dad's sock drawer. The figurative light bulb burned bright above my head at last, and I retroactively regretted that the Barbie Dream House had no basement.
Anyone who is into BDSM or the kink lifestyle can usually recall at least a few incidents from childhood and/or their teen years that served as harbingers of their adult fetishes. The lucky ones found their kink interests, eased into self-acceptance, located their niche in their local kink communities or within their private social groups, and went on to lead happy, well-adjusted lives with their very own, life-sized Barbie dream basements.
Unfortunately, I have never met anyone in my kink life who was this sort of lucky.
Most of us had to spend many of our formative years and move well into adulthood still trying to figure out what our proclivities are and why we have them, while simultaneously hiding those parts of ourselves -- or dealing with the social fallout from having all-too-often misunderstood and controversial desires and needs.
I remember the daytime soaps my mother used to have on in the living room, and I watched the romanticized depictions of the female characters being wooed with roses, candlelight and those shiver-inducing kisses that the male characters always seemed to know exactly how to give them. These couples would frolic into the bedroom, undress with languorous grace and then meld into each other's arms with saxophone music in the background, and then....
Nothing -- and blech. I was either repulsed or bored every time I saw this sort of coupling on television or in a movie. I really didn't understand why people were turned on by this, when I was getting my teenaged jollies fantasizing about being ravaged by Barbarian warlords -- I would always be bound and gagged, with an ornamental dagger held against my throat.
I spent high school -- the typical American milestone time of sexual exploration -- as a fortunate latchkey kid surrounded by other fortunate latchkey kids, with access to pilfered porno tapes, parents' unguarded booze stashes and plenty of empty bedrooms to entertain stilted, awkward attempts at getting kinky.
I witnessed my first guy-on-guy action, and it was pretty fantastic. I participated in my first girl-on-girl-action, and it was even more magnificent. Because I enjoyed these scenarios a little too much, I came to the ultimate conclusion: Since I didn't care for "normal" sexual encounters, then, oh fuck...I must be a lesbian.
As it turned out, I was half-correct, but since bisexuality hadn't progressed to the point where it was socially chic yet, this insight bought me several months of therapy, which was socially chic in the 1990s. Confessing inclinations toward whips, chains, being forced to suck cock and eat pussy got me no brownie points with the succession of ill-equipped therapists I confided in, however. There were only so many times I could repeat that no one had ever sexually abused me before I would become hostile and uncooperative -- and I was getting seriously tired of being told I needed pharmaceuticals to keep in check what I thought were desires that came naturally to me.
In my early twenties, I was the bee girl from the Blind Melon video, desperately seeking other weirdos and freaks who would understand what I wanted...even if I didn't yet.
I was waiting tables when I met my first swinger couple. They were my regulars -- overgenerous with both tipping and compliments, so I had no problem enjoying their company, and that of the other sexually exploitative adults I came into contact with at their many nude, poolside parties. One particular night I watched in awe as a domineering man made his wife bend over the back of a padded chair while he removed his belt and punished her for being a very, very bad girl by not bringing him a cocktail fast enough. I was intrigued, I was and, most of all, I wanted a taste of that belt on my ass.
No one called the cops. Nobody even commented on the violent but titillating scene going on right in front of them.
"They're into the BDSM thing," the hostess told me.
I approached the couple, we exchanged pager numbers, and I met them at their house the next weekend for an intimate gathering.
These two had a purposely semi-finished basement that rivaled any dark cellar fantasy I'd ever had: violet chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, plush red carpet on the floor, and a bare concrete area toward the back with a shower stall set up with shackles. There was a St. Andrew's cross in one corner, a custom bondage table in another, and lining the walls were wooden paddles, leather crops, strange gloves with spikes on them, and enough rope to cocoon a 5' 3," 120 pound girl who was eager to submit to their machinations.
I was in a Barbie dream dungeon.
"Definitely a subbie," the wife said as her husband cuffed me to the table, face-down, and started to command me with his voice, which was sounding further and further away as I felt the soft smacks of a suede flogger against my bare skin for the first time. My safe word at the time was "cantaloupe," but I didn't have to use it, as these two were adept at reading my body language and taking me just to the point of discomfort without breaking the spell.
I was un-cuffed, my superficial welts were tended to, and I was still on an unabated endorphin high that lasted well into the wee hours of the morning when the wife handed me a worn copy of A. N. Roquelaure's The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty. I agreed to meet them again the next weekend.
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I read that book cover-to-cover, re-read it, and finally I had my head-smack moment. I was naturally inclined to serve a dominating figure, male or female, and I wanted to please. I craved being hurt, humiliated, degraded and tortured for someone else's amusement and pleasure, and it made me happy. It gave me pleasure.
Just the idea of this was enough to fuel my spank-bank for months to come, and I was ready to find my own dark, corrupted Barbie dream. Now all I needed was my own Ken-Dom, but that's a story for another time...