No Pain, No Gain

The gray-haired professor cracks his whip in mid-air. "Wake up back there!" he commands the two dozen folks lounging around on plush cream couches.

It's time for class.

"It is particularly important to understand the physics of the paddle," says the professor, who is wearing tight, black leather pants. "The secret ingredient in flogging is rhythm. You don't have to hit people with much force to have a big impact. Not to take anything away from you sadists," he adds, with a nod to those who look slightly put out.

As his students munch on sandwiches, he proceeds to describe proper paddling. How to swing from the shoulder, not the wrist. How to avoid possible "emotional landmines," such as hitting the tailbone. How to apply soothing lotions when the scene is complete -- "basic skin care, people."

BDSM -- bondage, domination, sadism and masochism -- isn't all about whips and paddles. It's about skin care, birthday cakes and the community that gathers here at the Enclave, an alcohol-free, 9,500-square-foot facility decorated with Persian rugs and framed artwork and complete with a smoking lounge, handicap-accessible bathrooms, high-speed computer terminals and a game room. The two play spaces are equipped with only the finest bondage tables, steel cages, spanking benches and suspension racks available.

This is the Cadillac of dungeons. And that's just what the Enclave's owners, Michael R. and Deb O'Keefe, set out to create. The husband-and-wife team has spent the past five years building a place that's never existed in Colorado, they say, a place where the BDSM community can gather, interact and play without fear of police raids or neighborhood protests.

As the event calendar at www.enclavewest.com attests, this converted warehouse is kept hopping most nights of the week by folks into alternative lifestyles. On Wednesday, there's a beginners' discussion for those trying to understand the differences between bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism. In another room that same night, there's a Narcotics Anonymous meeting for BDSM practitioners. There are monthly groups for lifestyle dominants, those into controlling their partners, and other sessions for lifestyle submissives, those into physically or emotionally surrendering to others. Saturday nights are almost always reserved for dues-paying members to have their play parties -- when the clothes come off and the whips come out.

Tonight's $15 social event is open to members of the 21-and-up general public; all nudity and sexual activity is strictly limited. It's a time when the professor can instruct newbies on paddling, and when Michael, who's sitting with Deb in the back of the room, can holler out, as the professor bends his volunteer over a bench, "Whack her!"

The professor, paddle in hand, does so, building in intensity to the beat of the Alice in Chains songs blaring from the sound system.

Sitting on an angry chair...


Angry walls that steal the air...


Stomach hurts and I don't care...

Whack! Whack!

The scene ends, and the professor lovingly hugs his volunteer. "That's all for tonight," he says. "Of all the things we do, I think paddling is the hardest to master."

But the professor could be wrong about that. Michael and Deb are now locked in a legal battle with Commerce City over whether their club should be allowed to operate. And they're discovering that it could take more than a whip to beat this image-conscious town into submission.

When Michael and Deb aren't at the Enclave, they're perfectly happy sitting in their suburban Parker home, chain-smoking Winstons and finishing each other's sentences -- "Some people would find us..." "...boring" -- as they explain how they ended up at the center of Denver's BDSM community.

Being a gentleman, Michael lets Deb tell her story first -- though if he wanted to, he could force her to stop at any time. That's how their carefully negotiated 24/7 dominant/submissive relationship works: He always has that veto in his pocket -- whether over what she makes for dinner or what they do in bed -- though he hardly ever uses it, and he doesn't use it now.

So Deb begins, explaining how seven years ago, at age 46, newly divorced with a grown son and a grandchild, she decided to explore why she got turned on when guys told her they were going to own her.

A petite native New Yorker with a spark-plug personality, she was unsure how her career-woman background -- former restaurant manager, real-estate business owner and substance-abuse counselor -- fit with her submissive tendencies. "I was very feminist, and I still am. So the thought of a man flogging me -- what, are you nuts?" she says with a cackling laugh. "How do I, as a very powerful, self-actualized woman, give my power away?" But she decided that true self-confidence came with allowing her partner to meet her needs, even if that meant giving her power away in order to do so. "It's fed my sexual needs, but believe it or not, it's also fed my spiritual needs," she says. "If I'm tied up, it's like being swaddled. I don't have to be a wife, a mom or Deb. I can simply be."

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner