Just looking at it, you wouldn’t suspect the house to be anything but normal. It’s large and white, it’s a home dedicated to “clean and sober living” and is located in a rural area of Eugene. Yet there’s a room in the basement of the house where activities take place that many people probably don’t know about: blood is shed intentionally, whips are flicked on soft skin and ropes decorate women’s bodies, which are then suspended from the ceiling.
It’s called the “dungeon,” a place where pleasure is synonymous with pain.
The dungeon belongs to “Mech,” a self-proclaimed “fireplay instructor,” rope rigger and artist and an “old submissive with a sadist streak.” Like many in the BDSM community, pain is Mech’s aphrodisiac, and he enjoys giving it just as much as receiving it.
“To a true sadist, hurting someone is erotic,” Mech said. “I can very often bring girls to orgasm without even touching them.”
Wearing all black with pierced ears (two earrings in each) and a goatee, you’d never guess Mech has worked as a mechanic before, then a firefighter EMT, then a firefighter chief. All you see is his passion for pain and pleasure: In the dungeon, his eyes light up as he gives a tour. On one corner is the “St. Andrew’s Cross,” an x-shaped wooden piece onto which he ties women up. In another are the fire torches, colored ropes and a scrapbook of various tattoo patterns he uses to cut “tattoos” in to the skin of others using outlines in the shape of butterflies or Hello Kitty.
Needless to say, the 70-year-old is no rookie to BDSM. He has been doing this for 12 years, first meeting his ex-mistress through a BDSM chat room after he ended his 30-year marriage. Today, he hosts weekly open houses and private sessions. Some of the lessons include teaching others the proper way to hit one another (“Just stay away from the kidneys”) and how to play with fire safely.
Mech also performs at Diablo’s Downtown Lounge, a nightclub in Eugene that hosts semiannual fetish balls and quarterly fetish nights. Though the club is soon closing down (its last fetish ball is Oct. 26), it has been a public space for much of the fetish community in Eugene for the last 14 years. On fetish nights, there’s everything from spanking and piercing to fire play and cutting.
“People often refer to us as ‘that’ fetish bar” said Diablo’s owner Troy Slavkovsky. “Diablo’s has introduced it more to the masses.”
Rob Reynolds, a performer at Diablo’s for the past four years, would agree. “Diablo’s has always given others the ability to check out the scene in a setting that isn’t intimidating,” he said.
When he performs, Reynolds uses “impact play,” a practice in which one person is struck repeatedly by another. Most of his subjects are naked and he hits them with instruments that are visually stunning and effective: like floggers, crops and paddles. He will use anything, he says, that can get them to “where they need to go.”
“I’m just the bus driver,” Reynolds said. “And they love it. Which means I do, too. Sometimes, I can’t even get them to get off the stage.”
So what is it about pain that some find so erotic? What makes people want to hit someone with a paddle repeatedly? What makes others want to be hit by a paddle, repeatedly?
The thrill of sadomasochism, this giving and/or receiving of pleasure involving pain, is what Reynolds believes is a product of two kinds of releases: sexual and emotional. Some do it for one or the other, some for both. Reynolds says that most people come to him yearn for the latter.
“It’s a catharsis of letting go,” Reynolds said. “Whether it’s a bad relationship, bad family or a burden of stress, they can just forget about it when I’m hitting them. By the time we’re done, they’re skipping out the door.”
“It’s a safe way to get high,” Mech said. “It’s like a drug, without the negative effects.”
And he might be right. According to MedicineNet.com, secretion of endorphins leads to decreased feelings of pain and sadness, and stress and pain are the two most common reasons for the release of endorphins in the first place.
The fetish community isn’t only about physical or emotional release. It’s about relationships, too. In many sadomasochist relationships, power dynamics are at play. There’s a dominant, or “top,” who is the one inflicting pain on another, while the submissive, or “bottom,” is the one upon which pain is inflicted. Though the limits vary from relationship to relationship, the premise is the same: one person dominates while another person behaves.
A woman who goes by the name of “Suki,” is one of these people. In the bedroom, she likes what many people in the kink community do: the hair pulling and cocking and restraining. But she also enjoys this obedient, submissive behavior outside the bedroom, as well. Her husband, who is dominant, can (most of the time) tell her what to do or not to do and what to wear or not to wear. And she likes it.
“It’s a relief to me to be able to surrender sometimes,” Suki said over the phone. “It takes me outside of everything. I have a full-time job. I have children. It’s nice to surrender.”
Mech has two women who are “bottoms” to him as well. One of them, who preferred not to share her name, will be going to the University of Oregon next year and wears a black collar around her neck — one she isn’t allowed to take off without Mech’s permission.
People who aren’t familiar with the community might see this kind of relationship — one filled with pain, dominance and obedience, as an abusive one. But Suki, and many other people in the community, think definitely not. There is mutual trust, respect, limits that are discussed between the two parties before anything takes place.
“It’s actually the submissive who has the power,” Reynolds said. “It’s he or she who can say when to stop using safe words or hand signals. Safety and consent is important to us.”
Preconceptions like this one are something that people like Mech, Slavkovsky, Reynolds and Suki wish would evaporate. But they, like the rest of the fetish community in Eugene, know it’s not that simple. But that doesn’t mean they don’t try.
“What it takes is education,” Reynolds said. “The kinky community is much like the homosexual community was in 1985, it is still hidden, but is slowly breaking out. There are Republicans, Democrats, young and old that are a part of it. We realize that we’re all freaks and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m kinky and proud of it.”