‘There’s a dopamine rush that can come from taking a bit of pain’: one night at a kink club

‘There’s a dopamine rush that can come from taking a bit of pain’: one night at a kink club
Image: Image: Ann-Marie Calilhanna.

BDSM is many things to many people. Jesse Jones visited a club to check out just one corner of the scene, and to get up to some consensual mischief that most venues don’t offer.


If you think BDSM is all about sex, try visiting a kink club where there’s no sex allowed.

My last night at this particular club was probably a year ago, but I’ve decided to head along to their Mardi Gras party, hoping there might be a few more gay guys than usual.

I leave the leather gear at home in favour of a casual black shirt and jeans.

The club is hidden away in an intimate little dungeon beneath a gay bar where my phone automatically connects to the wifi. Despite its location, the kink club is usually a rather hetero affair.

You wouldn’t really know it’s Mardi Gras night. I see a couple of glittery faces and rainbow socks. The party has only drawn a few more queer folks than usual. I spot one or two gay couples, and a few trios I imagine are polyamorous.

None of my friends are here tonight but I get chatting to a couple at the bar who are clearly regulars. They’re both wearing dresses; the guy’s looks better.

I notice signs reminding patrons that it’s not a sex-on-premises venue. Indeed, on other occasions I’ve seen staff monitoring people’s behaviour and issuing warnings about wandering hands.

Towards midnight the music lowers and one of the club hosts welcomes everyone, reminding us that the evening is to be ‘safe, sane, and consensual’, as the BDSM credo goes. Then the fun stuff starts kicking off.

A crowd forms around the stage as a skinny man is cuffed to a big St Andrew’s cross by one of the house doms—the trained volunteer dominants tasked with administering the pain and pleasure. A sign bearing a legal disclaimer sits prominently nearby.

The man on the cross gets hit across the back with more implements than I can count. Proving that BDSM is not always serious stuff, some of them make me chuckle, like the rubber whips attached to a power drill.

We all watch in fascination or amusement as he is beaten for what seems like a long time. Occasionally an extra-hard blow makes him squirm, and the crowd reacts with a sympathetic groan as though they were watching sports bloopers.

For some observers, this is their first peek into the weird world of kink. For others, it’s almost old hat. In a moment of silence I hear someone asking a friend to add them on LinkedIn.

When the man has had enough, the dom frees him from the cross and sends him out into the club with a hug.

Other kinds of kink are going on in darker corners of the venue. A guy wearing big metal claws is slowly scratching his topless girlfriend. Another woman is tied up in a shibari rope harness. On other nights I’ve seen people playing with candle wax or needles, but the floggings on stage are always the centre of attention.

I worked as a professional dom myself for years, but it’s been a long time since I was on the receiving end of an all-in-good-fun beating.

A guy walks by the bar asking for ‘volunteers’, and I almost say yes until I see he’s carrying a baseball bat. Maybe something a bit less full-on than whatever he’s planning, for now.

As the night enters the small hours I decide to head up to the stage, and then it’s me getting cuffed shirtless to the cross.

The leather flogger is gentle across my shoulders at first, then builds in intensity. After worrying I wouldn’t like it, I realise I’m grinning.

Just as it’s threatening to become too much, the blows stop, replaced by sharpened fingernails dragging across my skin. It’s exquisite.

I’m hit with several more whips and floggers. Each time, just as I’m considering safe wording, the strikes are replaced with scratches that raise the hair on my neck. His timing is perfect.

Eventually I’ve had enough and signal for him to stop. I’m let down from the cross and I put my shirt back on.

It’s getting late, so I say good night to my new friends. I’m light on my feet all the way home.

There might be no sex allowed at the club, but there’s a special dopamine rush that can come from taking a bit of pain.

It’s not for everyone, but if you want to try something different, you could easily discover a weird new hobby.

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