Gabrielle Fernie is no stranger to dating, but what happened when she challenged herself to push her boundaries by trying out the latest app for S&M hook-ups?
I had, until recently, led what you might consider a pretty vanilla sex life. I’d never been handcuffed, I’d never been choked. I ‘made love’ with the lights off and owned not one piece of ‘kinky’ clothing. True story: when an actor friend once flirtatiously asked me if I was ‘into BDSM’, I honestly mistook this for the British Drama Society of Musicals and replied, ‘No, when are the auditions?’ I was absolutely clueless. So, when my seemingly straight (and by this I mean conventional) friend Millie told me that she had joined the app Whiplr – the new Tinder, aimed at the ever-growing kink and fetish community – I was pretty curious.
‘I loved being told what to do’
Whiplr has over 1 million users worldwide and boasts a range of appealing features, including private and public group chats, an event calendar and ‘easy blocking’, where any media you’ve shared with a user will vanish from their inbox. ‘The whole thing was mind-blowing,’ confided Millie one evening, describing her first hook-up with a ‘dominant’ man, in which she was slapped and caned. ‘I didn’t think I would, but I loved being told what to do. OK, it’s a cliche, but I’m constantly having to take so much control in every aspect of my life that when someone took that away from me, it was strangely liberating, empowering even.’
Could Millie be on to something with Whiplr, I wonder. I’ve always been jealous of the upfront way that my male gay friends chat on the app Grindr. Both parties are clear and honest about what they want from the other, be it a proper date or no-strings sex. Everyone knows where they stand and feelings don’t get hurt. My own dating life has been a pretty sad and sordid affair. Since becoming single six years ago, I have been on a succession of disastrous dates and one-night stands with men found through mainstream apps, such as Tinder and Bumble. Each encounter has left me empty, regretful and certainly not empowered. My ‘type’ has gone from a highly specific list: ‘Over 6ft, good body, steady income, makes a good mojito, loves his mum’, to a rather desperate two requirements: ‘Treats me nicely. Calls me back’. It’s proved surprisingly hard to find. Deciding to reach out to all the other Bridget Joneses out there, I started to turn my toe-curling stories into a blog, loveisa4letterturd.com. The responses I received from women of all ages with similar experiences to me was both relieving and heart-warming. So much so that I wrote a book about it called Lush: A True Story, Soaked In Gin.
‘One asks me if I’m looking for an online daddy.’
Feeling quietly inspired by my conversation with Millie, I went home that night and downloaded Whiplr myself. After choosing a username, I was invited to ‘select my kinks’. These ranged from ones I had heard of, such as discipline and handcuffing, to the slightly more extreme – interrogation, bootlicking and, dear God, ‘inflatables’. ‘Just curious’, I click nervously. Instantly, I am inundated with a stream of messages from other ‘Whipsters’. One asks me if I’m looking for an online daddy. Another sends me a long and eye-watering description of what he will do to me when we meet and how I will thank him for it like ‘the good whore’ that I am. It’s one in particular, however, who catches my eye. Calling himself ‘Experienced Teacher’, his profile description is clear: ‘Seeking a sub/slave for regular training to challenge limits and progressively discover hard kinks. Initial meeting mandatory.’
Encouraged by the safety of an ‘initial meeting’, I start chatting to him online and we arrange to meet for a drink that night. I’m relieved to discover that the ‘Experienced Teacher’ is fairly attractive – tall, dark, about 30 years old, and dressed in a black shirt and blue jeans, making him indistinguishable from any other guy in the bar. He introduces himself as Peter, buys me a drink and we sit down to chat. There isn’t much small talk. ‘I’m in a long-term relationship,’ he informs me. ‘And looking for a female slave. My girlfriend already has a male one.’ Right. Blimey. ‘Have you had a slave before?’ I ask. ‘Yes, but she started developing feelings for me,’ he explains. ‘As soon as that happened, I had to end it. I won’t inflict emotional pain on someone when there are feelings involved. That’s a very different thing.’
‘I felt like a schoolgirl having a meeting with her headmaster’
We move on to talk about sex and any hard limits that we both have. Peter is insistent on no blood, no pure violence and no scat (sex involving faeces). However, his strong kinks are ‘all things anal’ (striking me as somewhat ironic), objectification and dirty talk. ‘Are you into water sports?’ he asks me. I’m slightly taken aback. ‘I tried surfing once, but not really,’ I laugh nervously. ‘It can get messy,’ he informs me. ‘I lay down some plastic sheeting to protect the mattress so it’s OK.’
Unlike most of the guys I know, Peter has never had sex without a condom. He also sterilises all his equipment after each use and orders in a special lube, which is kindest to female skin. It strikes me just how well planned and well thought out it is compared to the average hook-up. Our meeting ends after just one drink, in a friendly and business-like fashion. I’m told to ‘shop around’ a bit more and get back to him with my decision. I have mixed feelings on the Tube ride home. The idea of being somebody’s ‘slave’ is not appealing. For me, being hit and urinated on is both upsetting and demeaning, and I struggle to understand how women can find this a turn-on. However, I have to admit that a part of me feels excited. There was something so poised and direct in his manner, and he was so absolutely clear about what was expected from me. I felt like a schoolgirl having a meeting with her headmaster. And that I find incredibly sexy.
Feeling exhilarated and emboldened, a few days later I head to a weekend fetish ‘meet-up’, taking place in a club in Camden. Girls in latex dresses chat to men with waist-length hair. A man dressed in a ‘pup’ suit is led in by his mistress on a dog lead and drinks his pint from a bowl on the floor. Everyone seems happy, relaxed and welcoming. I get chatting to a woman who teaches rope bondage. ‘I often feel a hell of a lot safer when engaging in the kink world than I do in the “vanilla” one,’ she tells me. ‘People are far more accepting of other people’s boundaries and limits, as all our practices involve being clear about our needs and desires.’ It strikes me that in some ways it’s a far more open, honest exchange than many of the other apps out there.
‘She then loudly orgasms in front of us’
Via Whiplr, which is a treasure trove of social gatherings and meet-up groups, I hear about a Fetish Hypnosis Demonstration happening the next night. So, I decide to go along and make a weekend of my new-found obsession. Expecting some sexy, candlelit basement, I find myself in a brightly lit side room in a pub in King’s Cross – the only decor being several wooden stools and a sandwich board advertising a pint and a pie for £10. The session is led by hypnotist Rick, a self-confessed ‘lazy dom’ and his play partner Sarah. We start with the basics – a talk on the importance of safety and pre-negotiation. ‘I tend to do what I say I’m going to do,’ says Rick. ‘But hypnosis doesn’t stop your free will. If there’s a problem, Sarah is always able to communicate that with me. The same as any other BDSM style activity.’
He begins the demonstration, lightly pressing Sarah on different points of her body, which he calls her ‘touch buttons’. These trigger different responses – rubbing Sarah’s right earlobe relaxes her to the point where she’s yawning with tiredness. Another immobilises her so she’s frozen like a statue. Then, the inevitable happens. Rick presses a ‘touch button’ just above her knee – one that brings her to the brink of climax. ‘Sarah, come,’ whispers Rick, kissing her behind the neck. She then loudly orgasms in front of us, while I sit open mouthed in shock. I leave the demonstration unsure of how much to believe. Did I witness true hypnotism? Or two people putting on a very good performance? Either way, it didn’t really matter.
The BDSM Whiplr scene feels more like a community than I could ever have imagined – a place where people are able to escape the stresses of the real world and fulfil their fantasies in a non-judgmental and safe environment. No one has treated me as an outsider; no one has questioned why I was there. Unlike most social events I go to, I haven’t felt the need to make an impression on anyone, to flirt with the men or make people laugh. Me being myself is enough.
‘Finally, I think, “This is a bit more bloody like it”
The following evening, I attend another event – a Dominant Female And Submissive Male speed-dating night. Like any other speed-dating event, the men work their way around the room, having an allocated three minutes with each woman. One of my dates, Josh, attracts me immediately. With blond hair, striking blue eyes and a wicked smile, he tells me he’s been using Whiplr for about a year and is looking for another woman to ‘serve’ in the bedroom. Finally, I think, ‘This is a bit more bloody like it,’ and take his number, promising to text. However, as I lay in bed that night, I’m struck by a thought. Is Josh looking for a relationship? Or just another ‘play partner’? Could I ever be happy with someone knowing they were also ‘playing’ with someone else? I ring Millie. ‘If you want to be with someone, then you strive to make them happy,’ she says. ‘Letting someone you love go off and fulfil their needs elsewhere – that is the ultimate trust. And it comes from being secure within yourself.’
We hang up and I mull over the past few days. Behind all the whips and chains, there’s a lot of good to be learned from the Whiplr world – consent, communication, openness and, ultimately, the acceptance of the true self, which sounds pretty damn appealing to me.
I pick up my phone and dial Josh’s number…