This past weekend, I went to a play party for the first time in a while. I was mostly there in a working capacity for the organizers, acting as the presenter liaison for the night.
As it turned out, the presenters were incredibly low maintenance and retired fairly early. So I unexpectedly ended up with a lot of time on my hands. But you know… that time wasn’t difficult to fill at all.
Back in the day, I practically lived at my home dungeon. Basically a constant fixture there. But some years ago, I burnt out on parties and took a bit of a break. And since then, I’ve returned several times, but I’ve never gone back to being there every week. These days I’m significantly more likely to drop in on a random munch or a slosh (kink terms for informal social meetups where people hang out at a restaurant or bar, respectively) than show up for a play party.
And if I am at the dungeon for a play party, I’m either teaching a class, working in some other capacity, or there as someone’s date.
So when I do show up, I invariably run into a bunch of people I haven’t seen for a while. This weekend was no exception.
And like always, there was so. Much. Gossip.
Seriously, every time I turned around, I was face to face with someone else who was excited to give me the dirt on XYZ. What this person said about this other person and how it actually seemed to have gone done, according to this third party. And did I hear about YOU KNOW WHO?
I listened carefully to everything I was told — sorting it mentally into context, weighing it differently based on the source of the information. Their track record for accuracy. Their potential bias in the situation in question.
Over the course of the night, I heard about conflict after conflict. One miscommunication after another. Outbursts. Rumors.
A few stories even abutted my inner circle, people I care about. And in one case, something actually had to do with me. Funny stuff. Small world, and I live in it, too.
One would think the experience would be exhausting.
But to my surprise, I realized I was having fun. This is almost like a sport, I thought at one point.
And I began to wonder as I hashed over yet another bit of gossip offered by yet another person: Why are kinksters such gossips?
The quick answer is that people in general like to gossip. If you get enough people together in a group, some gossip is likely to result. It’s just how humans work. But that explanation doesn’t really cover it. Because when it comes to gossip, kinksters are in a class of their own.
Kink communities are basically the most gossipy places I’ve ever been.
Here are some other forces that I think might be at work.
The Kinksters Who Are Most Active on the Scene Are Extremely Exhibitionist, Voyeuristic, or Both
Exhibitionism and voyeurism are huge forces in the kink scene. Now, not everyone with a kinky streak is highly exhibitionist or voyeuristic… or even very interested in watching other folks participate in kink scenes or having others watch them. But typically the folks who aren’t, play in private. They might come to classes or a munch, but play parties just aren’t their thing.
(However, it’s worth noting that many dungeons do have social areas that you can retire to and just chat with other folks in if you don’t feel like playing, which is nice because it keeps stray conversation away from people’s scenes, where it can be distracting.)
Coming out to a dungeon takes extra effort than just playing in the comfort of your home and it typically costs money to attend parties (in order to help the organizers pay for the space and maintenance of equipment).
Some people do come to shared kink spaces for the education and ability to learn new techniques for play. Others might be looking for social support, to make friends on the scene that understand what they’re doing and don’t judge them. Still others are looking to meet play or romantic partners.
However, for many folks who play actively in public, exhibitionism and/or voyeurism are huge draws. You find it hot that people are watching you. Or you like finding hot things to watch. Or both.
Me, I’m definitely more of a voyeur, someone who finds hot things to watch. I love walking around and observing people in the throes of various kinds of intimacy. Being drawn into someone’s private world for a moment.
Exhibitionism? Not so much of a draw for me. I don’t mind people seeing, but it doesn’t give me any extra pleasure knowing they’re there. The few times I have played in public, I often got so lost in my play partner and the energy that I forgot other people were even there (especially true when I was in a submissive role).
But there are plenty of folks there who find the audience an indispensable boon to their kink experience.
And some that are really into both watching and being watched.
Could Kink Proclivities Translate Over to Conversational Tendencies? Could There Be Gossip Voyeurs and Exhibitionists?
While some people insist that the roles that we play in kink are only confined to those activities, I do often wonder how much of who we are stays truly compartmentalized.
It’s true that there are high-powered business people in vanilla life that like to unwind in kink spaces by taking a vacation from all the responsibility. And turning into the most submissive masochistic punching bag. Who essentially have work stress beaten out of them.
Indeed, my vanilla friends and lovers expressed surprise when they discovered that my first formal kink relationship on the scene was a submissive. They knew me as an assertive person who was sexually toppy. Take-charge. An extrovert.
So I do believe that kink can be a place where we explore parts of ourselves that we don’t always get to express in our day-to-day life. Because it’s certainly been that for me.
That said, I do think that there could very well be universal personality qualities that exist pretty much one-for-one in kinky and non-kinky contexts. And it’s likely that people are naturally exhibitionist, voyeuristic, or both regardless of where they currently find themselves. These tendencies might not always be expressed (people tend to not share as much of themselves or take an active interest in others if they’re met with punitive retaliation for doing so). But it’s possible that they’re always there and manifest themselves in different ways depending on environment.
Could it be that exhibitionism and voyeurism might be part of a person’s temperament? Could they apply not only to kinky play or sex but also to other taboos? For example, to our secrets and the way we talk about them?
Could there be gossip voyeurs and exhibitionists?
Gossip Voyeurism Is a Kind of Nosiness, a Desire to Know Secrets
While it was an interesting discovery to make the first time I entered a dungeon all those years ago (I honestly had no idea how I’d react to being there), in hindsight it’s not much of a surprise that I’m a voyeur.
After all, a big reason that I’m polyamorous is that I am very interested in other people.
The nice way of saying it: I’ve been fascinated by other people for as long as I can remember, what goes on inside their heads, why they do the things they do.
The other, less nice way: I’m nosy as fuck.
Indeed, the thing that I struggle with the most as a polyamorous person these days is butting in inappropriately. Into joyful situations, stressful ones, the works. I have to actively check myself to consider if I’m about to be a Buttinski. I often have to rein myself in, remind myself, “Hey, that’s not your relationship, cool your jets there, girl.”
And I see those qualities a lot in my fellow kinksters. Especially the voyeurs. They can’t help themselves. They end up in the middle of things.
As a person who is inquisitive and interested in other people’s inner live (a.k.a. freaking nosy), the words, “Okay, this goes no further, but…” makes my pulse quicken.
I know I’m about to hear something interesting, even if I can’t share it with anyone else.
And to someone who enjoys hearing secrets, that’s always exciting.
I am a total gossip voyeur.
Over the years, I’ve served as countless people’s confidants, heard scads of secrets. I think it’s mostly because I’m easy to talk to and I can definitely keep a secret. I’m good at not involuntarily divulging what I’m told. Letting things slip, so to speak.
If I do talk about something told in explicit confidence, I’m doing it on purpose (usually to protect someone’s safety or to clear up a miscommunication) and only reveal as much information as I need to in order to prevent whatever catastrophe was about to happen.
Discretion isn’t just because of selfless reasons, wanting to do the right thing. It’s not just that it’s a questionable moral decision to betray confidences willy-nilly out of pettiness or revenge (although it is). But I have the additional selfish motivation to handle secrets well if I want people to continue telling me them.
Gossip Exhibitionists Love Attention and Sharing — Even Oversharing
On the other side of the coin are the gossip exhibitionists. They can’t wait to share what they know. What they’ve seen. They love attention and connecting who they are with other people.
In the same way that voyeurs are prone to nosiness, exhibitionists can be prone to oversharing. Not only about themselves, but about the people close to them. Heck, even people who aren’t close to them at all. They’re often eager to report what they’ve seen and heard.
As a gossip voyeur, I personally love talking to gossip exhibitionists. They’re usually wildly entertaining. Typically, you do have to be careful and qualify everything they’re telling you, since they’re so eager to share that they may be passing along information that isn’t accurate. But if you listen carefully and pay attention to the entire context and cross-check it against what others have told you, you can usually get a good idea of what’s going on.
And while you certainly can make a gossip exhibitionist your personal confidant (I’m not the boss of you, you do you), you probably should be really careful with that. While they’ll often promise you they won’t tell anyone, I’ve found they often are worse at keeping secrets than they think they are.
But then again, you may be fine with that. Some folks are open books or don’t believe in secrets (for themselves or others). And I’ve seen people using gossip exhibitionists as “confidants” knowing that they’ll actually tell others, to start up a whisper campaign.
The Role of Secrecy
In spite of dramatically increased public acceptance and popularity over the last decade, there’s still an atmosphere of secrecy around the kink scene. For a lot of folks, it’s still considered an odd way to spend your time and something you really shouldn’t be talking about openly. And to some, it’s still considered completely unacceptable and a sign of immorality or low character.
Because of these attitudes, some kinksters aren’t out at all. And those who are, typically are out to certain people and not others.
Discretion creates a lot of shadowy places where people in the community can hide. Now, the shadows aren’t moral or immoral. They’re amoral (completely unconcerned with morality, one way or the other). The shadows hide everyone. They don’t care what you’re going to do with that invisibility.
And in fact, numerous psychological studies have demonstrated that people behave better when they feel like they’re being watched. You’ll no doubt note that people say things and do online that they wouldn’t have the gall to do in person, as they feel insulated by the distance and anonymity.
Throw a community into relative darkness, take away that sense that anyone outside of it is watching, and you’re going to have more people acting up. Which in and itself creates a lot of stuff to gossip about. And also creates the need to have communication networks that allow the community to police itself without alerting the broader world (and subjecting the community to unwanted exposure and scrutiny).
A quiet, whisper-y warning system. Well, until someone works up the fire to give a warning online that they wouldn’t necessarily do in person. Y’know, a big ole rant on FetLife or something.
But even FetLife is a shadowy place, relatively speaking.
Everything About the Scene Is Dramatic, Expressive, Seductive to Performers and Storytellers
Honestly, just about everything about the scene is dramatic. I mean, let’s just look at the surface. We call it the scene. We talk about play partners. It’s a bunch of theater terms. Maybe that’s for a reason.
I don’t know of any formal studies on the subject — but anecdotally speaking, I’ve known a ton of people on the kink scene who had a history of being artists or performers of some kind of another. Particularly, a ton of musicians or people who were involved in theater (both of those apply to me personally).
But the scene is positively overflowing with dramatic, expressive individuals. Performers. People who incidentally are also fantastic storytellers.
Conflict and Increased Pain Tolerance
Oftentimes, people will shy away from conflict. This is an understandable reaction. Times of conflict can be deeply stressful. It doesn’t help that many conflicts aren’t simple. Some can be very complex problems with unclear solutions, and when folks are too stressed, their problem-solving skills tend to suffer.
One of the easiest methods to deal with conflict is to simply avoid them altogether. To sidestep the mental or emotional anguish entirely.
One trouble with this is that avoidance isn’t always the best long-term strategy. Some untended conflicts can actual spiral and get quite a bit worse.
And the other big problem is that conflict isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, many conflicts can actually lead to positive outcomes if handled in an optimal way. There are conflicts that ultimately turn out to be productive ones. And in the right hands and with the right mindset, a clash can serve as a much-needed crisis point that prompts positive change.
But untangling a conflict can be quite painful.
While it’s not the case for everyone, finding the kink scene was a transformative experience for me. And one of the lessons I learned was that pain isn’t always a bad thing or a sign that you’re on the wrong track. It could be, but not necessarily. Just because something hurts for a moment doesn’t mean that it’ll hurt forever. And in the long run, pain can lead to better things. In fact, a lot of positive outcomes involve enduring pain or stress on the way to your goal. People understand this when they’re talking about going to the gym, but they forget about it when we’re talking about personal challenge and emotional growth.
Or addressing conflict head on.
While some may find emotional and physical pain to be quite different experiences, others don’t (and it’s worth noting that the existing research has found that emotional and physical pain have been mapped to similar areas of the brain).
So I could see how increased pain tolerance could greatly increase one’s capacity for addressing painful conflicts, even at first that looks rather indirect. You know, like gossip.
Note to Readers: Not all polyamorous people are kinky, and conversely, not all kinky people are polyamorous, but the author of this piece is both, and there is a significant overlap between those two demographics.