The Seven Days of Swiping, Day 7: Fetlife, a Social Network for Kinksters and Fetishists
The platform and its various apps connect people into BDSM and alternative sexual interests.
FetLife is much different from the other apps we have covered as part of our Seven Days of Swiping series.
Started in 2008 by founder John Kopanas, FetLife is a social media and dating platform with Android and desktop apps that connect people with an interest in BDSM lifestyle.
FetLife is important for both the kink and fetish community, known as “Kinksters,” as people in these groups may find it hard to meet people through other social networks or dating apps.
With regard to sex, a “kink” is considered a non-conventional sexual interest or practice. A sexual fetish, unlike a kink, according to psychological diagnostic criteria, is a sexual fixation of a nonliving object or nongenital body part.
Kinks and fetishes can include practices ranging from BDSM—which stands for bondage, or tying up or restricting the movement of one’s partner; discipline, or simulated punishment; and sadism and masochism, which is giving and receiving pain for pleasure, respectively—to sitting on cakes and Japanese cartoon pornography, known better as hentai.
Entire websites have been created to address specific kinks and fetishes, including one website that archives all pictures of celebrity feet.
For Kinksters, dating may be hard to do with mainstream dating apps because of the fear of kink-shaming. FetLife gives an alternative to dating for Kinksters, where people can search for potential play partners or dates based on sexual compatibility instead of swiping right.
What is FetLife?
FetLife is a social media website for people who either have or want to explore different kinks and fetishes. Unlike other connection apps, there is no matching system and no sending a single message—people just send each other friend requests. However, like Facebook, it isn’t necessary to be “friends” first in order to exchange private messages.
In fact, FetLife operates a lot like Facebook, apart from its full-on embrace of human sexuality and diversity. Users can post status updates and pictures to their feeds and join groups where they share similar interests with other users. Want to share nudity or explicit photos of your latest kink session? Go ahead!
To protect their identities, users can create profiles with usernames instead of their real names, and they can list different characteristics and interests, including height, sexual orientation, relationship status, age, gender, kinks, and fetishes. Users can also create groups for their fetishes if their specific interests are not currently being addressed, and users can create real-life meetups for people who are nearby and interested in the same kinks.
Why should you use FetLife?
FetLife is for Kinksters who are first and foremost seeking community and it also the potential to be a good place to find a relationship, a casual hookup, or just friends.
For more extreme or potentially dangerous fetishes—like suffocation with a plastic bag—it might be challenging to find someone readily available on mainstream dating apps. FetLife takes the guesswork out of finding interested parties and limits the potential for kink-shaming.
Since FetLife is specifically for BDSM-loving folks and kinksters, some parts of its community may be too extreme for so-called vanilla people—people with no experience with BDSM—who want to try dipping their toes into different types of power exchanges or erotic play.
Below we examine the positives and negatives of FetLife.com, which can help you figure out if the social network and its various apps can help you find the right dating or sexual experience for you.
1. Explore yourself in a safe space
FetLife offers the combined experience of exploring your sexuality while meeting others doing the same thing. People who are experienced with a kink or fetish will often talk about their experiences in different kink groups. Here the fetish veterans—feterans, if you will—will give advice to new kinksters for engaging in their own experiences safely.
Not only will you be able to explore your interests with other users, but the website also facilitates a safe environment away from friends, family, or co-workers you might not want to discover your personal tastes. In order to view the full social network (the free section at least) as well as most other people’s profiles, it is necessary to become a member yourself.
While this is not a perfect fix, users can hide their identities in a number of ways. This might include using a special username, having a picture that obscures your face, having no personal picture at all, or by not putting any identifying information, such as your location, on your profile. It may be hard to come out to the world when fetishes and kinks are seen as taboo in society, and the other users understand this.
So, go enjoy FetLife to the degree which you feel comfortable, and you will be accepted as long as you follow the rules.
2. Consent is a cornerstone of Fetlife
FetLife is on the cutting-edge of consent and cultural changes, for better and for worse. In the era of MeToo, a website like FetLife that focuses on exploring your sexuality with others needs to adapt quickly. FetLife has done this with mixed success.
You can report other users if they have violated the consent rules established during sexual activity between partners. If someone is reported, their profile will have a bright yellow banner attached to their profile with text that reads “there are reports that ____________ violated others’ consent in these ways,” and then it lists the reports associated with that individual.
Although there may be some opportunity to abuse this reporting tool, it is better for users to be notified of reports directly instead of waiting for site administrators to take action. With over eight million users ostensibly having sex, it can be hard to keep track of or take action on reports unless you are the violated party, so this is the easiest way of keeping the most people safe.
Overall, the consent violation system is a step in the right direction, but it can be abused by users reporting others as a joke. For examples of the many types of reports someone may receive, a collection of violations has been archived here [NSFW]: however, readers should be wary of the subject matter contained within.
1. Violating its users consent?
While this website serves its community better than any dating app we have discussed so far, they have also made multiple changes that have gone against their mission.
In 2013, Fetlife asked users to not make public statements about abusers on the website in forums, and instead report users to site administrators.
This caused people to push back against the administrators because they felt they should have the need to report abuse to others who may be victimized. This would later turn into the consent violation reports on user profiles, which acted as a compromise between site administrators and users.
In 2017, a kidnapper used the “abduction” group to learn the best way to kidnap college student Yingying Zhang. He was not explicit about wanting to actually kidnap someone, but instead said he wanted to roleplay a realistic kidnapping with his partner.
During the investigation and arrest, his account was discovered on the site, leading to a sequence of events that would cause the site to take down hundreds of fetishes to remain online.
The site is also not indexed on search engines, meaning that you cannot find it unless you specifically search for FetLife. Users have expressed discontent with this because it makes the site appear taboo when the community is intended and brings together many people interested only in consensual activities, even if the roleplay involved may be a fantasy of non-consent. people.
Stuff you should know
1. An app-etizer
FetLife is mainly a browser-based social network because of its sexual focus and it is not available on either the Google Play or App Store. However, Android users can sideload the app after downloading it directly from the FetLife website. Regardless of your smartphone’s operating system, you can still access the website through your phone’s internet browser.
There are also desktop app versions of Fetlife available for Windows, MacOS, and Linux.
At the time of writing, further development of the app is currently on hold. However, the app in its most recent state is still available on compatible devices.
2. Sex in the age of conservative politics and a changing internet
FetLife’s existence came at the beginning of a left-leaning administration in the United States, which is where many of FetLife's users are located. The year 2008 marked the beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency, which saw leaps in the direction of equal rights and social justice for all.
Despite being a Canadian company, FetLife has adapted to fit the politics of the time, and this came to a head in 2017. As part of the incoming administration, now-former Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised to crack down on sex trafficking online, and FetLife was in the Department of Justice’s crosshairs. This was only exacerbated when, during that same year, Yingying Zhang was kidnapped by a FetLife user.
Similar to what many other adult sites and companies have experienced, especially post SESTA/FOSTA, mainstream payment processors have cut ties with Fetlife vaguely citing “illegal or immoral reasons.” FetLife was unable to process payments from premium users for a time, which put the website’s livelihood and future in jeopardy.
While joining FetLife is free, the social platform accepts donations to keep it running and offers Premium memberships for people who want to upload and view member videos and enjoy other perks.
To address this, FetLife deleted several topics and groups related to certain aspects of BDSM—such as anything related to simulated rape and abduction, or some topics related to tying up one’s partner—to keep future credit processors from leaving. This would cause a massive outcry from its userbase, and would cause many people to search for community elsewhere. While some members of the community have returned, the community’s shrinkage can still be felt in 2020.
FetLife also deleted content focusing on drugs and alcohol, lasting bodily harm, including scarring one's partner, and anything that could be construed as hate speech, such as raceplay, which is activities with people based on race. While some have pushed back on this, many users are comfortable with these changes.
As it is now, people interested in potentially more extreme or dangerous fetishes have been passed to harder-to-reach areas of the Internet.
So, should you use FetLife?
FetLife is a community that allows people to explore their interests among others who share the same interests as them. The site allows for privacy and freedom in discussing sensitive topics with others, and FetLife does its best to protect its users from people who have a history of being abusers.
FetLife has also had a number of run-ins with law enforcement and has changed its identity to keep the site running. So, this begs the question—should you be using FetLife?
Of the options available for kinkier people, FetLife is one of the more popular sites for sexual exploration and community building. While the site does not have as many groups or fetishes as it did before the 2017 controversy, there is a lot of information for newer users to gain from the community and feterans.
Because FetLife is technically not a dating site, you do not need to put a picture of your face unless you plan on going to a real-life meetup. With that said, a face-picture may not hurt. Overall, FetLife allows you to explore your sexuality in a largely non-judgemental space. and although there are places where the site can improve, the users more than make up for it.
Have you ever used FetLife? If so, what were your experiences with it? If not, did you decide to check it out after reading our review? Let us know in the comments below!
Image sources: FetLife