Updated: Aug 22
In a most predictable move, once BDSM became a topic most American’s had heard about, abusers co-opted its language to justify their behavior. Celebrities like Marilyn Manson and Armie Hammer have defended allegations of abuse and violence as simply consensual BDSM.
Its not just celebrities claiming abusive behavior is really consensual kink. Fetlife has been inundated with people who are seeking their next abuse victim and housing their search in the language of kink. The aspects of control, power exchange, and impact play which attract many of us to the kink world also allow abusers to pretend their actions are consensual.
How can you tell if the person messaging you on Fetlife or other dating apps is legitimately interested in kink and power exchange or if they are an abuser in disguise? While there is no method which offers 100 percent effectiveness, here are several key ways to help weed out abusers.
Add Specific Instructions for Contacting You to Your Profile
Fetlife and kink dating apps require you create a profile. This may be as extensive or as minimal as you make it. Adding specific instructions as to how to contact you can help screen out creeps, abusers, and people messaging dozens of people at once in hope for a bite.
I am a strong advocate of stating the requirements for an introductory message. Something along the lines of, “If you wish to connect with me, please send me a message including your favorite BDSM book and why its your favorite,” or some such request. Some people will include formatting instructions such as, “Please include you real first name, the city your live in, and how long you have been in BDSM in the first paragraph.” Messages without an answer to your question or following formatting instructions can be immediately screened out as shams. If the person hasn’t even read your basic bio enough to include the proper information in their initial contact, you can bet they don’t care about your needs or boundaries.
The great thing about the BDSM community is we talk. The members who have been around longer know the local players. If someone wants to connect for a hook up or dating, ask for references. If they cannot provide names of other kinky folks you can ask about them, it is a red flag.
You can also attend local munches and ask around about a person. If they are unknown to the local community it is not a great sign. If they have a history of bad behavior, there will be folks who know and will warn you about them.
They Object to a First Meeting in Public
If you are looking to date, meeting for a coffee date or drink in a public location is an appropriate first meet. If there is a local munch, this would also be an appropriate first meet. Meeting someone in a public space allows for safety from numbers. It is less likely they will try to harm you if others are around. This also allows you to get a “vibe” from them.
If you just want to meet up for casual sex and play, meet at a local play space. It is dangerous to meet and play for the first time if no one else is there to monitor the situation. If you are going to their place, you are on unknown territory and this makes it more dangerous still.
If the person insists on a private first meeting or tries to shame you about the need to meet in public/be safe, this is a giant red flag.
They Know the Lingo But Can’t Talk About Kink/BDSM Personally
There are plenty of self-proclaimed “Doms” out there who have read a lot about kink, they may have listened to podcasts, but they have very little expereince with kink relationships and play themselves. These individuals are unlikely to admit that they have have limited experience. This means you need to dig a bit.
Whether you meet in person first or exchange a lot of texts/messages, ask direct questions about their kink understanding and experience. Asking about how they ensure consent is met and respected, about how they deal with partners with alternative views on kink behavior, and how they have handled past relationship issues can be very helpful in gaining an understanding of their behavior. If the person insists on answering in platitudes and without specific examples, the chances they have the lingo but not the hours of practice can be a red flag.
It is totally okay to date an inexperienced player. That can be rewarding and fun! However, an inexperienced player should be able to admit their experience level and not hide behind “stock” answers.
They Believe in “One True Way”
Most experienced players understand that there are many approaches to kink and that there is no one “right” approach. People often seek out partners who approach kink in the same way they do. This is great! However, people who believe all other ways of enjoying BDSM is “wrong” are likely to be abusive.
If someone uses language about “real” dominants or submissives or shames you for not “doing kink right” this is an immediate red flag.
They Don’t Negotiate About Play
Anyone who is seeking play on their terms without any room for negotiation is highly likely to be an abuser. They are in this for themselves. Your needs, your boundaries, you experience and practice don’t matter. Negotiation and discussion about consent must be a part of the conversation.
Your Gut Sends a Signal
Our bodies are often better at picking up on signals that someone will be a dangerous or inappropriate partner than our brains are. If you have been in a previously abusive relationship (romantic or otherwise) this is especially true. Listen to your body.
If you meet or interact with someone and get that feeling that something is “off” or “not quite right” listen to that message! Your body is sending you a warning. This is not time to second-guess or doubt your intuition. If the body is wary, you should be too.
Not a Perfect System
The above tips are great for screening out most abusive play partners. However, nothing is 100 percent. Some people don’t send off the “bad juju” vibes at the beginning. Some have a lot of experience luring in potential partners. There are other ways to tell if someone is abusive or becoming abusive in a kink relationship. For more on that check out the post: Relationship Red Flags.