Bound Together
One couple’s insights into BDSM

Why Is Monogamy Rare in the BDSM Scene?

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Close-up of two hands wrapped together in chains

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When Vagabond and I met, neither of us realized just how lucky we were to stumble across each other—two monogamous BDSM practitioners in a sea of nonmonogamous kinksters. At the time, I was still fairly new to BDSM, and though Vagabond was not, he didn’t realize how overwhelmingly nonmonogamous the BDSM scene is. It wasn’t until we started attending BDSM events together that we noticed what a rarity we are as a monogamous couple. But why? 

Private BDSM and Monogamy

To be clear, there’s a distinction between BDSM practitioners who aren’t involved in the public BDSM scene vs. those who are. It’s difficult to know for sure how many people partake in BDSM privately because it’s hard to collect data on that scale, and many people who engage in BDSM activities don’t call it that. This is why most BDSM studies tend to focus on people involved in the scene. That said, one 2021 study showed that about 44 percent of college students had experience with BDSM; other studies have estimated that anywhere from 15 to 34 percent of adults have engaged in some kind of BDSM. It’s reasonable to assume that the majority of these people are also monogamous given that monogamy is the most common relationship style in the U.S. and many other countries.

Public BDSM and Monogamy

The public BDSM scene is another story, however. In her book Please Scream Quietly, sociologist and kinkster Julie Fennell explores the fact that monogamy is the exception, not the rule, in the scene. In fact, in her decade of research, Fennell met only one monogamous couple who were heavily involved in the scene. And in a 2017 survey she conducted with more than 1,600 kinksters, only 2 percent of respondents who had high scene involvement were in a sexual and kink monogamous relationship (meaning they didn’t have sex or play with other people), and only 4 percent wanted to be in such a relationship. Of respondents who were highly involved in the scene, 15 percent said they were in a sexually monogamous relationship (not kink monogamous), and 12 percent said this was the relationship style they wanted. Even among people who were married or living with their significant other in a self-described monogamous relationship, 35 and 29 percent of respondents, respectively, said they’d had at least two sex partners in the past year. As Fennell points out, “these numbers strongly suggest that even by their own definitions of ‘sex,’ kinksters tend to get a bit creative with the idea of monogamy.”

Why the Scene Favors Nonmonagamy

Fennell attributes the lack of monogamy in the scene to several factors. For one thing, the scene revolves around parties and events that are designed to foster meeting and playing with lots of people. Polyamorous and other nonmonogamous people are far more likely to organize and attend such events than monogamous people, who have little incentive to do so. Another reason the scene skews so nonmonogamous is because a large minority of kinksters identify as pagan (22 percent)—another community that tends to attract poly people. Further, polyamorous people value open communication and believe that multiple people may be needed to fulfill one’s sexual and relationship needs. Likewise, the BDSM scene emphasizes the importance of communication and validates the notion that having a lot of kink and sexual experiences is desirable. This is especially true for people with less common kinks, who may have trouble finding only one partner to meet their needs. 

During her years in the scene, Fennell heard people complain that monogamous kinksters didn’t stick around because they would leave after finding partners, but this ran counter to her own observations of the scene pressuring people to become nonmonogamous. She notes that “polynormativity in the scene is so strong that people are often uncomfortable expressing doubts about the value of poly and frame their preference for monogamy as a personal failing.” This feeling is exacerbated by many poly kinksters’ negative attitudes toward monogamy and the idea that “monogamous people (especially monogamous kinky people) were giving up something deep and fundamental—greater opportunities for pleasure, excitement, and exploration—in exchange for social approbation.”

Fennell’s observations largely align with our own experiences in the scene. Event organizers and other heavily involved kinksters tend to be poly or nonmonogamous on some level. BDSM conferences frequently host classes and mixers geared toward poly people; we’ve never seen any sort of event for monogamous folks. Even some of the kinky people we know who have no scene involvement are poly or prefer nonmonogamous relationship styles. The fact that we’re a sex and kink monogamous couple that’s been involved in the scene makes us a rarity, though truthfully we didn’t realize exactly how rare until reading Fennell’s book!

What the Scene Offers Monogamous Kinksters

Given that the public BDSM scene selects for nonmonogamous people, why would monogamous people want to get involved in it? For single monogamous people who are looking for a kinky partner, the scene is likely not the best place to find one for all the reasons mentioned above. For that, regular dating apps and the like are probably way more effective because there are a lot of monogamous people on them (we met on Bumble). 

If you’re already in a monogamous BDSM relationship, however, the scene may have something to offer. Perhaps most obviously, the scene is a great place to explore voyeurism and exhibitionism, as public play is the cornerstone of BDSM events. These aren’t the only reasons, though. We aren’t into either of those kinks in any traditional sense. In fact, we’ve only played in public maybe once, and I had to be blindfolded to get through it. And for us, the voyeurism aspect of the scene isn’t erotic at all.

We enjoy watching scenes because good ones move us on an emotional level, and all of them serve as research and development for this blog and BDSM education more generally. The scene also offers access to classes, which are the best way to learn about many kinks and how to do them safely. If attending in-person classes isn’t feasible, there are a lot of virtual options. Finally, if you’re a monogamous kinkster and are looking for like-minded people, this blog is a great resource! 

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Bound Together
One couple’s insights into BDSM