It's a jungle in there. The lighting is dim, but you can still spy the wild life scattered across the landscape. Writhing, naked slaves are shackled to crosses, their desperate wails punctuated by the "thud...thud...THUD" of leather floggers meeting tender skin. A dispassionate domme watches her collared subbie boy struggle to free himself from the ropes that bind him and the saliva-dripping ball gag forced into his mouth. Audible moans pierce the collective consciousness (and the synth-pop soundtrack) as needles prick flesh, and the room is permeated by the heady aroma of glass electrodes hitting flesh.
It's Saturday night at the Denver Sanctuary, the only public dungeon club in Denver. Although many kinksters own and operate private dungeons in their homes and offices for events and play parties, those are strictly invitation-only. But the Sanctuary, located in a 3,200-square-foot industrial warehouse near I-25 and Sixth Avenue, is open to all who want to answer the call of the wild — and are willing to sign a disclaimer.
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When she took over the Sanctuary five years ago, Love Slave's goal was to provide a safe, non-discriminatory place where everyone could express their kinks without being judged or experiencing negative reactions from the vanilla community, people whose only exposure to BDSM (bondage/discipline/sadomasochism), dominance and submission (D/s), and all the other sexual shenanigans that fall into the catch-all term of "kink" might be the movie Secretary or the occasional episode of CSI. In essence, she wanted to create a wild-life sanctuary.
Much like endangered wildlife, many kinksters hide themselves, their habits and their habitats from public view to protect their privacy — but they aren't just the girls with the blue bangs and lip rings or the guys with the bondage pants and the vampire contact lenses. Kinksters are everyone and everywhere, hiding in plain sight. They shop at King Soopers, sit next to you at the dentist's office and might be your boss, your landlord or the person in line behind you at the coffee shop. "Some people are so far in the closet they may as well be in Narnia having tea with Mr. Tumnus," says local kinkster Skylar.
"None of us are normal, but we hide it very well," says Nyx, an organizer with SKALES (Safe Kink Adult Lifestyle Education and Support, at www.skales.org). "A study was done that estimates 20 percent of the population is at least a little kinky. Whether you know it or not, we're all around you: at the grocery store, the gas station, on the bus, at the hospital — everywhere."
Even so, the mating rituals of Denver's kinksters are widely misunderstood by 'nillas, Love Slave notes. The scene at the Sanctuary is not a free-for-all sex orgy, and dungeons are not to be confused with swingers' clubs. There are both universal and location/event-specific rules to be aware of and followed — or else the leather boot will be used, and not in a good way. While this world might look dangerous to the uninitiated, the difference between kink play and actual abuse is simple: Play is done with safety, respect and consent; abuse is not, and abuse is anathema to the kink scene. The herd must be protected.
Slide show: The Denver Kink Field Guide
And Denver's wild-life scene has its share of predators. The occasional well-meaning but vanilla individual showing up at events, trying to mate with anyone he or she can, is annoying, but the pack will quickly bring the accidental tourist in line. The non-consensually abusive, disrespectful, opportunistic creepers who prey on the protected sub-species will be chased off less gently.
Locations of private play spaces are not freely advertised. Information used to be scattered around bars and clubs or disseminated by word of mouth, but now the key to the wild-life kingdom is Fetlife.com. A Facebook for kinksters, it's the best beaten path for putting up profiles, adding friends and gaining access to the active groups in the area. There are as many groups as there are fetishes — something for every titillating taste and primal proclivity.
Mistress Saskia, Denver's premier dominatrix, says the first step for exploring the Denver wild-life scene is research, learning what BDSM is (and what it isn't) by reading, Googling, networking on Fetlife and attending local "munches" or informal gatherings, demonstrations, workshops and ongoing lifestyle education classes such as SKALES. The second step might be attending one of the Sanctuary's "Gateway" events for newcomers 21 and up that it holds on the last Saturday of every month (find more information at www.denversanctuary.com).
And there's no reason to be shy. "The majority of the folks who participate in this lifestyle are very accepting of others regardless of if they have the same kinks or not," says Love Slave.