#111 FetLife as a Tool to Explore Your Sexuality with John Baku
So, not all of you today are going to be taking some immediate "take homes". Maybe the kink / BDSM area doesn't interest you as much. However, this is an interesting topic for everyone because there is a part of every woman's mind that is interested in this. Since "Fifty Shades of Grey" came out, there's a lot more women who are exploring this side of their lives and are interested in it. So, potentially your girlfriend, or the next girl that you're going to be with, has this part of her mind and she's interested in this, interested in kink. She has her own little fantasies. If you reject that, if you kind of stick to the norms and you don't feel comfortable with those kinds of desires, or maybe you feel a bit judgmental about them and you may project that judgment on her when she brings them up (or when it comes up at some time), that doesn't help the relationship. It doesn't build trust, and it definitely doesn't help to help you to explore your sexuality, and for her to feel comfortable in her sexuality.
So, this is a great episode and I'd also like to recommend a book to accompany this episode. It's not a book from today's guest, in fact. It's just a book that I think goes well with today's topic that I've read recently. It's called "A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World's Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire". Why this book is really cool is it really goes into the nit-and-gritty of what people's real desires are.
If you think about it, a lot of research is biased. Even when we have academics on here, often they're using surveys. And as we know, people aren't always 100% truthful in all of these surveys because they're embarrassed, even when it's anonymous. This book is about the one source of information we can trust a bit more - that is the internet and what people search for. "A Billion Wicked Thoughts" has captured what people are searching for online and all of the types of communities and websites that have sprung up to serve this demand. So it really looks at the reality of what people's sexual desires are about men and women.
So it's really educational. It's quite detailed, and tough to get through, so maybe you'll just want to stick to this episode instead. But for those of you who would like more detail, and to really explore topics (and this topic in general), I'd really recommend it. It's a bit of an eye-opener.
Today's guest is John Baku. He launched FetLife.com in January 2008. Now FetLife, if you don't know what it is - I mean, not a lot of people do - it is basically the Facebook of BDSM, fetish, and kink, and alternative sexual expression. So it has a home for pretty much any sexual desire on this site. And it's not a dating site. It's not like OKcupid, or Match.com, or anything like that. It's not set up to specifically provide you a dating service. It's a social network for people to talk about these topics, for them to explore their sexuality. And, of course, dating can come as a side effect of that. So Facebook, it really is a good anecdote for what this is. You use it pretty much the same way as you would Facebook groups, and so on.
John talks today about everything that there is in FetLife and how it evolved over time, why it came into being. Perhaps most interesting for you guys, the different demographics and the interests that you'll find inside FetLife. If you feel some of the sexual expression discussed today, the ones that are a bit more on the fringes versus the standard norm, you may find that it's useful to go to FetLife.com and start exploring that, and talking with people there.
Specifically, in this episode you'll learn about:
- John's overview of FetLife (08:40)
- Why John introduced FetLife to the world (10:52)
- How FetLife has evolved and where it is today (19:23)
- The kink community structure, and why people are interested in it (20:35)
- Is FetLife based on personality and interests? (29:54)
- Changing fetishes over time (32:00)
- Discussing different types of fetishes (32:55)
- The journey of sexual exploration and the FetLife lifestyle (37:52)
- Approaching kink style activities and events (43:30)
- FetLife's 2012 "naming abuser" issue and the legal parameters of identifying abuse (46:05)
- What else people should know about FetLife (52:48)
- Typical objections to the kink lifestyle and FetLife (54:10)
- The best place to connect with John and FetLife (57:34)
Items Mentioned in this Episode include:
- FetLife.com: Created by John, FetLife is the largest social network site for the BDSM & fetish community. He relates all the different types of sexual expression you'll find, and how to navigate and use FetLife as a tool to explore your sexuality. To contact John: [email protected]
- ALT.com: John noted this website while discussing his introduction into the BDSM lifesyle. ALT.com offers alternative erotic sex and BDSM, bondage, and fetish in sexual encounters, online and in person.
- A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World's Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire. Angel recommends this book to help understand people's real desires.
- Fifty Shades of Grey: Referenced during the podcast, this internationally known book is about a daring, passionate, physical affair between a literature student and a young entrepreneur.
Full Text Transcript of the Interview
[Angel Donovan]: John, thank you so much for joining the show.
[John Baku]: Thank you for having me.
[Angel Donovan]: Great so, let's just jump straight in here. If you could give a quick overview of what FetLife is from your perspective.
[John Baku]: I mean, the really easiest way to explain it to somebody is Facebook for the kinky community. So, a lot of the features you'll find on Facebook or what Facebook does as social network, it's really just like a niche social network.
[Angel Donovan]: Great, great so, in terms of fetish or the fetish community...we have spoken about this kind of stuff before but, to give it some broad strokes, what are you talking about there?
[John Baku]: I try not to use the word fetish anymore. I've slowly been moving towards using the word kinky or kink. I don't look down on anybody who does use it. It just, sometimes for some people the word fetish invokes like, "Oh, this person must be sick because they have a fetish. So to me, they're more like kinks, things that turn you on.
[Angel Donovan]: You bring up a good point. It's just that I'm as familiar with the language as you in that a fetish isn't the best name for this kind of stuff. When I'm thinking about it, it does kind of have a negative derogatory sense. Like people start to think of I don't know, guys wearing Pampers and more extreme stuff should we say and not the norm. So when you say kink, would you say that's the more acceptable word and that's the more common word used for this kind of stuff today or is kind of the cool word? Like, "That's what the cool. kids call it."
[John Baku]: I wish I knew what the cool kids did. I don't know what the hipsters call it but, I tend to use the word kinky just because it just doesn't bring negative connotations but, it is all encompassing. So, there are...it still includes people who are into ABDL which Adult Baby Diaper Lovers. Oh, I hope I got that one right and I never ever, ever asked anybody if that's what it truly meant but, I'm almost 100% sure that's what it means.
It's just when I think fetish, I think of you know, if you watch TV shows like some of these documentaries like...they're always like, "Oh, this person has a fetish. They make love to their car and they have to do it 16 times a day" and they bring a psychologist in to try to help this person. By using the word kink, we're trying to remove that that the person needs to it as opposed to like, this is something that they really just enjoy doing.
[Angel Donovan]: Cool, cool, very cool. So, we were just talking a second ago about why this came into being for you and I felt that was very important the point you made. So, why did you bring FetLife into the world? What do you think it's serving in terms of people's needs?
[John Baku]: I couldn't tell you what needs that it serves but, I know why I started it because, for each person it's different. So, why I started it was because I never wanted anybody to feel uncomfortable with who they were sexually. I felt very uncomfortable about who I was sexually my whole life. I still do. I really don't think I'll ever get over it nor to be honest, do I ever want to get over it. I'm afraid if I do get over it that my desire to keep on pushing FetLife forward will disappear.
Not to get too personal but, it's kind of like happiness. I'm not big into happiness for myself because, not being happy drives me more than being happy. As soon as I'm happy, I can sit on the coach on watch TV all day. When I'm not happy, I can work all day. So, too much happiness is not a good thing at least for me. I know what drives me. I know what works for me.
So yes, FetLife was just a culmination of my whole life's story. My father was a famous hair stylist. I grew up in his hair salon. It was the largest hair salon in Montreal at the time and the majority of his friends and co-workers were gay. This was the 80s. I was 10 years old. I was very curious.
I was listening to their stories, listening to them talk and from listening to their stories of not feeling normal from my own stories of feeling alone and feeling like, "Oh my God. Something must be screwed up because, I come from a traditional Greek background where you respect and love the woman." Which I still believe you should do but, why would you ever want to hurt or spank or degrade or do any of these things to somebody that you love.
It didn't make sense in my head even if two consensual people wanted to do it but in my head, I was the only person at the age of 12, 13, 14 years old who ever would want these things. When I was that age, it was even before the internet. I think I had a 300 baud modem and I was connecting to BVSs back in the day to try to download you know asky games.
So, the resources weren't there and then as I got older, I went into IRC and then it's like, "Oh my God, there's other people just like me here." Then, I would ascend into www.Alt.com and I was like, "Ok." You know it brings a bunch of people who were kinky together but, I feel that all they wanted to do was take advantage of us. I was like, "Wow..."
[Angel Donovan]: Who wanted to take advantage?
[John Baku]: I was looking at www.Alt.com. So, they were like the leading alternative dating site on the internet, their own friend finder and I joined the site and I didn't feel better with who I was. I just felt like, "Ah, there's something wrong with me and these people are taking advantage of me. They're taking advantage of people with kinks. They're not making people feel good about who they are.
[Angel Donovan]: It was more like they were exploiting in a niche, a market rather than...
[John Baku]: Right.
[Angel Donovan]: ...helping you guys connect. So, I guess it was a paid service?
[John Baku]: Yeah, it still is a paid service. If there's other people on the site...like basically, it's a dating site but, if you want to contact somebody, if you want to search somebody, if you want to send a message, receive a message...I can't remember exactly the details but basically, communicating between members was not possible unless you were a paid member and like membership was not $5 a month like FetLife. It was like...what was it, $30 a month?
[Angel Donovan]: Alright so, it's always good to hear people's stories which you've just given us because, as for me, I've often commented on the podcast myself, it's like I kind of had to hit bottom in this area before I took action. So, it's also interesting that you said like happiness doesn't often motivate you. It's like the other stuff that motivates you, gets you going, gets you working and I guess that's where FetLife came from. It was obviously your frustration, your loneliness.
How did the vision come to you like one day or was there a particular event where you, you know maybe you had to leave a girlfriend or something that you kind of really hit bottom. I'm not saying this to rub it in but, often people on this podcast, they're listening and sometimes they're not in good places and they don't realize that it's a powerful to hit bottom.
[John Baku]: I have a bunch of stories like that. So non-chronological order or any specific order but, a year after I started FetLife, I almost closed FetLife because, I was dating a girl. I was in love. Her father I guess didn't know what I did or definitely didn't know what I did. He was a very prominent member at a very, very high position and they found out what I did for a living and basically said, "You have 24 hours to kick John out of the house or we'll disown you and never speak to you again."
So, I was like, "This is horrible," and after about 18 hours, I left the house, never spoke to her again. I was living in Nova Scotia at the time, drove back to Montreal. I guess it's 16 hours away and I was like, "What the hell am I doing? Is this going to be like this?"
[Angel Donovan]: So, you never spoke to her again?
[John Baku]: No.
[Angel Donovan]: Wow. So, she never contacted you and you never contacted her?
[John Baku]: I tried contacting her. I tried to make it work but, it was basically, "Don't talk to me." From what I understand, he's disowned another daughter or another son or another family member for another reason. I don't know the full story and this guy was legit and he wasn't like my father saying, "Oh, I'm mad at you," but he's not really mad. It was like, "Yeah, I'm really going to disown you."
And, I almost pulled the plug on FetLife. I went to...I was working at FetLife full time. I came back to Montreal. I got a part time job as a director of user experience at a startup. My boss at the time, he was...he would always ask me questions about FetLife and I was like, "You know what Man? I think I'm just going to close the site. I think that it's going to cause me too much trouble in my life. I think I'll just do something else.
[Angel Donovan]: How many users, members did it have at that time, roughly?
[John Baku]: Probably a 100,000, 200,000.
[Angel Donovan]: Pretty big deal?
[John Baku]: Yeah, I guess. Yeah.
[Angel Donovan]: At that time, what was...sorry, what year?
[John Baku]: No, no it wasn't getting any negative press. It was very, very positive. It was very positive and my boss at the time, he took me out for coffee and he's like, "Let me tell you a story of my father and maybe this will help you." I'm like, "Okay." He's like, "Have you ever heard of the day-after pill." I'm like, "Of course I have." He's like, "My father invented it."
He's like, "When I was a child, my father had seven or eight body guards full time, full time." He's like, "He wasn't allowed in like eight or nine countries and we were getting death threats all the time." I was like, "Did you love your father any less?" He's like, "Absolutely not. My dad was doing the right thing and it's all that matters. He explained to me what he was doing and why he was doing it." Then, I was like, "Oh, wow. People's perceptions change and as long as people know why you're doing it and if you're doing it for all the right reasons, your family will still love you and the people who matter will still stay in your life."
So, the next day, I call him up and like, "I quit." He's like, "Why?" "I'm going back to work." He's like, "But, I didn't tell you the story to quit!"
[Angel Donovan]: [Laughs]
[John Baku]: Yeah, "I didn't tell you the story to quit," and I was like, "But, I got to do this. It's my life's work and I got to stay with it." I was afraid that like whoever I decided to marry or who I fell in love with would never be able to love me. I felt my kids would hate me.
When all of a sudden, your world's turned upside down, you're just like, "Well, if all those things could quickly happen because of like your life's choices and because not everybody you know...like society is not ready for what you do or part of a society is not ready for what you do. It'll have large consequences on your family. I couldn't live with that and then, once I spoke to this...my old boss, I was like, "No, people who matter will understand why I'm doing it. They might be able to...it might not be for them but, if they love you and they understand why you're doing it, then everything's going to be okay and that the positive outweighs the negative."
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah. I think there are a lot of lessons there for the way people run their lives in general. You're not going to have everyone love everything you do. That's just the way it is. If you want to go and live your life, you're going to have to break a few eggs here and there.
[John Baku]: Yeah but, that's unfortunate because like for me, my happiness comes from making other people happy and I always was the type of person who tried to make everybody happy but, there's always...there's a huge separation between...I'm using the wrong word but, making everybody and doing the right, they're usually not aligned. So, it's a constant struggle.
[Angel Donovan]: That's true and people are made happy by different things, right and sometimes, it's more for their reasons than yours. You doing a certain thing is going to make them happy but, it's really got nothing to do with you a lot of the time. It's more about them. So, I think people have to realize that and you ought to do your thing and just because people are going to have hang ups about it, it's really their issue a lot of the time in a lot of cases.
So, I wanted to talk a bit more about FetLife and how it has grown over the years. Did it start off as a, you know, very small community? How did it spark into life and how has it changed over time?
[John Baku]: Yeah, FetLife has grown 100% word of mouth. We've never advertised. We've never bought an ad. It was purely...you know, when I first launched, I gave myself three months to launch FetLife working part time at night. I launched on January 3, 2008. It would have went up January 1st but, I'm horrible when it comes to servers. So, it took me three days to get the server up and running.
[Angel Donovan]: That's not bad. I've experience server stuff. That's not too bad.
[John Baku]: It probably should been only five minutes but, it wasn't my cup of tea or my road house. So, it took me three days to get it launched. I had 50 people that I messaged saying, "Hey, this is up. Please give me your feedback," and it kind of spawn from there. It was like one member, another member and then, another member. At first, it was very, very, it just trickled. It just trickled.
Then, eventually it took off in one city because, a bunch of people were talking and then, it went to another city. It was slow but, I have no complaints really.
[Angel Donovan]: How many members are there today?
[John Baku]: There's over 4 million?
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, very cool. So, I wanted to explore what really the population is here. In terms of kink, what would say...are there like sub-communities within this thing and some of them are larger than others? Could you give us kind of like your perspective of what it's made up of in terms of people and their interests?
[John Baku]: Oh boy, that's a big question. So yes, FetLife consists of a bunch of sub-communities and even those sub-communities are broken down into other sub-communities. So, it's really like location-based.
So, if you're in Vancouver...well, I'm in Vancouver. So, if I'm in Vancouver like I'm part of like the Vancouver community but, if I'm into ABDL or gorean or traditional Master-slave relationship or spanking or whatever it is, I'm also part of those communities, more global communities. So, you really consist of like your...the things that you're into and your location.
And when it comes to like which one's are the biggest ones, I really can't tell you other than anything that has to do with geek, geekiness, nerdiness always seems to be the most popular thing on FetLife.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, I noticed. I did a little bit of investigation into it. I looked at that category. So, there's a whole bunch of kind of interests, right with different numbers of members attached to them and the geek one was right at the top. I mean, there was "Geek and Nerds" or something and I felt like it was like just kind of everyone joining in there and everyone felt like they were a geek or is that not so? Is it?
[John Baku]: There's a real cross-section between geeks and kink. I'm not exactly sure why it is but, there's a huge cross-section.
[Angel Donovan]: Right, right. So when we're talking about geeks, it's people...I actually don't know what a stereotype a geek is these days even though I used to use this world a lot when I was a teenager. So, is it like people who are into Dungeons and Dragons or into Comic Con like or what else is there?
[John Baku]: Computer programming, arts, you can geek on anything, right? So, it could be like your role playing games. It could be Jedi knight stuff. It could be like sports trivia. It could really be old-school games, video game. It's just people who like really get into things and really understand them deeply.
[Angel Donovan]: That makes sense. That makes sense because, kink is like getting involved you know kind of in your sexuality to a more individual independent level also. It's kind of standing out there. "I'm a fan of this particular thing," rather than just sticking with the traditional model.
So alright, there's so many other categories that I was looking at. So, the biggest one after geeks was submissive women, 108...no it's tied with curvy women and people who love them.
[John Baku]: Yeah, so those are groups. So, it's says a lot less about what people are into and more about the groups and how people get together, like what they get together. Like if we look at the list of fetishes and the most popular fetishes, the number one most popular fetish is bondage.
I'll read off the top 20 most popular fetishes. So bondage, oral, spanking, hair pulling, anal sex, blindfolds, biting, talking dirty, hand cuffs, discipline, lingerie, collar lead lease, ass play, toys, candle wax (this is always weird when you say it out loud; not just candle wax but everything), masturbation, Master/slave, role play, mutual masturbation, sex in public and don't forget, I'm so used to typing everything. So when I hear it out loud, it's...
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, so none of that sounds that crazy to be quite honest. I think...well, there was the lead and leash one. It's like out of middle a bit more. Do you say lead and leash? So, like someone's...
[John Baku]: Yeah, yeah.
[Angel Donovan]: ...wearing a dog kind of...
[John Baku]: Yeah, collar and lead leash.
[Angel Donovan]: That's a little bit more unusual but, since 50 Shades of Grey has come out like BDSM has become relatively kind of popular these days I'd even say. There are so many articles around the internet about it.
I kind of feel like all...most 20 year olds are thinking about experimenting in this area. I don't know if you've seen something like that in FetLife that you think it's got more popular among the younger generations since they've been exposed to 50 Shades of Grey and things like this.
[John Baku]: There is a difference between people who do this in the bedroom and people join a community for this. So, I think that a large percentage of people who are kinky, who experiment with different kinks and there's only a small subset of that that want to join a community for it or specifically want to find somebody who's into these things.
[Angel Donovan]: That kind of goes back to the geek part of it. It might be a better fit for you if you kind of like to geek about it a bit more. Is it because...let's talk about some of the other things people get on to in here, is it because they like to talk about it?
Is it some ways they're participating in this community that's meaningful for them? I mean, what kind of goes on in here? Are they having conversations about it? Are they saying...are they talking about for instance humiliation like and what are good ways to do it? What are the bad ways?
What are good guidelines because, I know when we talk to people like in the polyamory community or in the swinger community, they tend to have these kind of rough guidelines. It's kind of cultural tribal rules that have been set up around them for it to go well, for people to be happy, for it work out well and I'm just wondering if you have those kinds of things floating around in FetLife and maybe there are different areas of the site where they have these different guidelines getting established. Is that how they geek out about it?
[John Baku]: There's different types of people that use FetLife differently. So, kind of the most popular way to use FetLife or most common is to be social, to keep in touch with your friends between events or you know, you really like to have intellectual discussions about things. So, you have intellectual discussions or try to learn new things, see what upcoming events are coming up, see who's going to those events.
There's so many different types of people that join FetLife for different reasons. There are some people who purely, purely want to participate in the intellectual discussions about anything. It could be kink, it could be politics, it could be sports. There's a good amount of people who join the groups on FetLife to discuss things and the groups on FetLife are not just about kink but, they could be about anything.
It could...you know those wonderful remote control cars. There's one for football. There's kinky geeky which is basically like geeky stuff. Like for instance, if I was to go to kinking and geeky and I was talking about like the top ten threads that are happening right now, it's music nerds here?, "What happened to the Vamps? What are you Netflix binge watching now? Turbo Kid opens Friday, anyone excited? (I have no clue what Turbo Kid is).
[Angel Donovan]: Well, it sounds like a Facebook or a forums where people have a common interest and they're bonding on all sorts of topics. Like just everyday topics, it's like, "What are you watching? You're watching like True Blood these days," because they feel this connection through the FetLife community which is more unique than if say they went on Facebook or somewhere a lot more general.
[John Baku]: It's more like you feel comfortable around people who are like-minded people. You feel more comfortable. You can be your true self without being judged. A lot of people come here to feel like home. FetLife is home to many people and I'm very proud of the fact that we can offer a home to people who don't feel like they have a home anywhere or some of these cases have a home at three different places but, need the FetLife home to satisfy one part of themselves.
[Angel Donovan]: So, can we give people a bit of perspective of what kinds of things they should...I mean, so we said in general terms, if you feel like your sexuality is bit more different to what you come across in mainstream society, it's probably worth checking FetLife out, eventually to see if there's stuff you’re interested in.
But some of the stuff, I have to admit like I'm not actually short. I've gotten into this stuff. I've interviewed a few people about it. So, I'm not that aware myself about a lot of it and I think some people if they're just stepping in here for the first time, they're probably see a bunch of stuff that they're not really sure what it is, is my point.
[John Baku]: Sure.
[Angel Donovan]: There's just things like "I gas mask". So, I'm guessing that's sex with gas masks?
[John Baku]: That group video? Isn't that tears, decro...
[Angel Donovan]: Right. So, I guess the point is that people can create anything they want in there. So, you might not even know it because, it's just grown organically.
[John Baku]: Right. You know, yeah we have over 500,000 fetishes, some of them are more serious than others but basically, FetLife is for anybody who wants to be part...wants to come across people like them so that they don't feel alone. So that they can be like, "Wow, you know there's another person like that out there," and get to know them. It's not specifically for dating. I always refer to FetLife as an anti-dating site which makes it the best possible dating site.
I go to a coffee and I might go 20 times but, every time I walk into the coffee shop, I don't go in the door and say, "Okay, is there any women between this age and this age with this breast size who lives within two kilometers from me who likes anal sex every second Tuesday." You'll go into the coffee shop and you'll go do your reading and all of a sudden you're like, "Wait a minute. I'm into blondes but, there's a brunette there. I'm into small breasts but, she has big breasts but, there's something about her smile that just totally catches me. I really want to get to know her," and you strike up a conversation. That's FetLife.
FetLife is modeled after the real world and I believe you'll create more, more meaningful relationships that way and I believe if you have the patience and the energy, you'll more quickly find somebody that you'd like to spend the rest of your life with. I mean, if that's what you want. I say spend the rest of your life because, that's belief system but, you know.
[Angel Donovan]: Is it more based personality and interests? Like, I took a quick look and I felt like there are not a lot of photos in there, right? People aren't putting up their photos up. It's more like, kind of anonymous in that kind of term or do people put a lot of photos and I just...? I wasn't sure if they're real photos or they were just...
People used to put on Myspace. They'd put a bunch of photos, right but, you never know if they're really real or if they're just photos they're putting up.
[John Baku]: I think one of the things that we're very proud of at FetLife is that we have some of the most original content out and we have some of the most strictest copyright rules. So, somebody posts a picture and it's reported to us and we're not convinced that it's a picture of them then, we'll email them. "Is this picture of you or by you and if it's not, please take it down otherwise, we will remove it."
[Angel Donovan]: Oh great, okay so it is pretty real.
[John Baku]: Of course, except for the memes. The memes is kind of that accepted thing on the internet that you know was not a person. It's just a meme that you see everywhere else but, we have pretty strict rules when it comes to that stuff. Now, there's some people who wish it were even stricter but, I'm not even sure how we could possibility do that. But yeah, we're really proud of the quality of the content on FetLife. It's the most unique stuff. You won't find anywhere.
[Angel Donovan]: So, are there alternatives. You mentioned that there's Alt.com which is a different paid site which is kind of similar. Are there other ones that are around similar to FetLife or is there much ground for this?
[John Baku]: There's a couple small sites out there that didn't really take off. Alt is the old stall work. You know, my big goal was to beat them. We beat them a long time ago when it came to traffic and visitors.
When I was working in a digital agency, I was told by my boss at the time that you always pick a fight. So when I started this site, I picked a fight against Alt because, they were the biggest and we beat them with respect to traffic.
Now, the only sites that I really look up to is the Facebook and Twitter. I think both of those sites are amazing site. I think they do a great job. They have some very smart people that work at those companies and I aspire to being as good as them so you can bring the quality of a top of vanilla site for the kinky community.
[Angel Donovan]: This kind of goes back to one of the questions I asked before. Are the fetishes that are popular changed over time? Is there a fashion in fetishes that you've seen?
[John Baku]: [Laughs] Well, I don't know if there's...sure there's certain things that come in and out of fashion. I think G-strings were really popular back in the 2000s and I think [inaudible] are popular now but, I think that's more just general. I don't think those are fetishes.
I'm sure that there's certain fetishes that people are more excited and they go in and out but, it's not like all of a sudden you know, nobody wants anal sex anymore. It's just maybe a couple years ago anal sex was like the thing that everybody wanted to try and now, it's like not the big thing that everybody's shooting. It might be something else.
I couldn't tell you the trends. I think we'd probably have to use Google Trends to see what the trends are.
[Angel Donovan]: That would be interesting, yeah. Well, that's very general. That's kind of like mass curiosity rather than what...
[John Baku]: Right.
[Angel Donovan]: ...the people are actually doing in FetLife or at home for that matter. Okay, I'd like focus on more of these fetishes just to point them because like, there might be people in the audience who are like, "Ah, that sounds like me." So, it's fun if you don't what some of these are. Objectification?
[John Baku]: Oh, I will botch that one. I know what it is but, I don't know how to explain it.
[Angel Donovan]: Okay, alright cool. Is it a little bit like...I mean is it like humiliation which is another one here?
[John Baku]: Okay, degrade to the status of a mere object. I always open my Apple dictionary. It's like my number one app I use every day but, yes. So, "Degrade to the status of a mere object. A deeply sexist attitude that objectifies..." Okay no, that's not it but, degrade to the status of a mere object.
So like you're just like, "Yeah, I don't look at you as a human. I just look at you as someone who satisfies. I just look at you as a 'hole'."
[Angel Donovan]: Right and to be clear, there's people on both sides of this equation, right? There are some people who like to be objectified and there are the other ones who get off on that?
[John Baku]: That's right.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah so also like, what one of the groups is called "sluts, cunts and whores."
[John Baku]: [Laughs]
[Angel Donovan]: Right and these are [Laughs]...we have cool group names. Who designed those?
[John Baku]: It's not us. Every single group, the members when I first started FetLife were all like, "Oh, we want forums. We want forums." I'm like, "Hell's no are we going to have forums because, my full time job will become moderation." And then after a bunch of weeks of being constantly being harassed I was like, "You know what? Maybe we can do groups where each person creates their own forum and moderate your own forum the way that you like to and this way we don't have...I don't have to deal with it."
[Angel Donovan]: Right, and whatever becomes popular becomes popular and "sluts, cunts and whores" is one of the more popular. It might be just because it sounds cool but again, there are women or guys who like to be sluts and the opposite way around right, people who like to get with sluts. Then, the next one up is "submissive men and women who love them."
[John Baku]: Yes.
[Angel Donovan]: So, that's interesting in that it's like submissive men obviously and submissive women. That seems like a kind of big interest areas to meet up. You said groups are usually used as ways to branch out to meeting people more than the interests or is...?
[John Baku]: The groups are more to have conversations about a subject. In these groups you know like for instance, the groups that you mentioned have over 100,000 members if I remember correctly and yes, there can be some people in your area. But, it's more of like just to discuss this subject with people who are also into the same things as you, not necessarily who are near you.
[Angel Donovan]: Great. I'd also like...I mean submissive is kind of a subtle word. Is it pretty general because, we talked about like say BDSM and domination but, is submission a little subtle there because, I would some of my ex-girlfriends were relatively submissive, for instance?
[John Baku]: What do you mean by subtle. You mean like it's a...?
[Angel Donovan]: Well because, like okay, so they let you...they always let you do what you want to do. They kind of...you're the leader. There are lots of couples in the world like this, I think. You know, there are lots of couples where one side is kind of the leader and the other one's the submissive side or is it a bit...
[John Baku]: Yeah.
[Angel Donovan]: ...more extreme than that you would say?
[John Baku]: It's a shades of grey so...and not 50 shades, oh boy!
[Angel Donovan]: [Laughs]
[John Baku]: It's really shades of grey. There are some people who are just like, "Yeah, I'm very strong. I'm a very strong man. I'm a CEO." I'm not talking about me but, I'm talking about just a hypothetical. "I'm a director, a CEO. All day every day, I lead people and then when I get into the bedroom, I just want to be submissive" and it can be very, very subtle to just like, "Hey, just take a little bit of control in the bedroom and I like making you happy," to much more elaborate scenes.
There's no right and there's no wrong and it's just whatever's right for you and finding somebody you can enjoy that who can get into the same thing that you're into and respect your boundaries who just wants to make you happy. At the end of the day, both partners have to be submissive or dominant, you still need to care about the other person to make them happy.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, it's just the boundaries are set in different places, not on different things.
[John Baku]: Yeah, even the most extreme people in the community who will say, "I'll do some of the things that will really shock people." I truly believe deep down inside that they really do care about the other person...
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah.
[John Baku]: ...and if they truly care whatsoever and have not one care in the world, there might be some medical...[Laughs]...there might be some medical issue there but, I think everybody cares about or has some level of empathy for other people and wants to make them happy.
[Angel Donovan]: Okay cool, a couple of others, "age play"?
[John Baku]: Playing different ages. So like, "I like to be a 70 year old grandfather" or "I like to be a 10 years old, reminding myself what it was to be 10 years old."
[Angel Donovan]: Cool yeah, that sounds very much like what it is. It's interesting. I mean, there's some kind of fantasies stuff. I'd say like, "kidnapping role play." That seems really popular which kind of surprised me because, I mean it seems like a specific fantasy there.
[John Baku]: Oh, it's very popular, kidnapping, role play, rape role plays are very, very popular fetishes or kinks, sorry.
[Angel Donovan]: Great okay so, kind of taking a step back here. I'm sure people kind of go through a journey when they start. Like when they're at home, they probably have a few ideas about ways in which they enjoy sex or they have sexual interests that are kind of different.
Once they get involved in the FetLife community, do they change? Do they kind of evolve? Do they mature? Do they spread out and explore different...is there a typical journey or things that you've seen over time that you could say, "Ah that's"...like if someone joins this community, this might be the outcome? Like they might be getting more like this over the years or they might get this out of it in the long term?
[John Baku]: There's no right and wrong and there's no...what I suggest for every single person who joins the site is trust your gut and only do what you're comfortable doing. So if somebody else turn around to you and says, "Yeah but, now you're part of this community. You need to do this," if your gut tells you no, don't do it.
Yes, there's a lot of people who join the community, even myself when I joined the community where I'm like, "Yeah, I like this," and as I was introduced to more and more things, I became more comfortable with it and I pushed it harder. It's no different than from sports where I first started lifting like a five-pound dumbbell and then like, "Ooo, I can lift five pounds!"
I go to 10 pounds and 15 pounds and 20 pounds and there's some people who stop at 20 and they're like, "You know what? I like these 20 pounds. It makes me feel good. I feel comfortable with it. It gives me what I need in my life and there are some people who become like par-lifters and every single time try to beat their max and I think that exits in kink too.
[Angel Donovan]: That's a good analogy. Yeah and you're right. It happens in every area of life. Like people keep exploring, looking for different exercises, different weights and so on.
[John Baku]: As with here.
[Angel Donovan]: For men and women, are there differences in their community? Do you see like anything interesting there in terms of the typical journey of the guy versus a woman there?
[John Baku]: I mean, first thing is, is there's a lot of different genders.
[Angel Donovan]: Right. Okay, you can explain that.
[John Baku]: I wish I could. I like to tell people, "I'm just some white straight guy. Like what do I know?" There's a...the majority of people who work at FetLife who don't typically associate as a white straight male and there are multiple genders.
There's what you associate with, that you have more feminine tendencies or more masculine tendencies even if you're born as a male or a female. I'm scared to say anything because, I feel like I'm going get in trouble for whatever I say but, yeah there are many different genders. This is no different than your sexuality, being it Dominant/submissive, male/female, gender queer, gender fluid, transsexual, cross-dresser, whatever. It's being who you feel most comfortable and the other people accepting you for who you are.
[Angel Donovan]: Great, great thank you. Okay so, I wanted to get into some practical stuff. If some people at home are thinking, "Hmm, there's some stuff here that speaks to me or this might help me out some way, make me feel more comfortable with myself. How should someone take the first steps?
Our audience is mostly guys. I know there are girls also that listen in but, how would you suggest they take the first steps in FetLife? What's a good way to get involved?
[John Baku]: Don't join FetLife...I like the ratio of men to female...the females to males on FetLife.
[Angel Donovan]: So, what is the ratio? Do you know that? Is it like 50/50 or...?
[John Baku]: The ratio of active, active people it's almost 50/50.
[Angel Donovan]: That's pretty incredible because, most sites are male dominated.
[John Baku]: Yeah, no FetLife was designed for women in mind. We make it very difficult for men and there's just like...
[Angel Donovan]: How do you do that?
[John Baku]: You know, you can only message certain amount of people that you're not friends with in a certain period of time. So if you want to write a form letter and perfect your form letter and blast it out to 1000 people, you could pay me whatever to be able to do that. That's not how you meet people.
You go into a bar, the most amount of people that you can speak to in a night or the amount of women that you can pick or people of any gender, max eight. People are going start making fun of you at the eight anyways. So, that's one thing.
Not being able to search specifically about a person and you have to work for it. Men don't like to work for it. I think they're lazy in general. I know that's a generalization but, FetLife is made more with women in mind.
So yeah, to answer your question though, men or women, there's no right and there's no wrong. It's more about being consensual and respecting people. So when you do join this site, if you're more of the apprehensive type and you're like, "Oh, I don't know what I'm into. I really don't know if I want to try these things out or just want to keep them in my head," don't push it.
Just try things when you're ready. If there's somebody who's interesting that wants to meet you but you're not ready, don't meet them. Take your time. People's guts are usually dead on and go at your own pace. Everything's about respect, consensual and no matter how crazy these certain things might appear to you, the most likely are a consensual and if they're not, then we prefer that they're reported to us. We're going to do something about it. So come in, read a lot, be a lurker and then when it's time for you to feel comfortable, then participate.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah and so then you just start posting in groups and you can message people individually?
[John Baku]: Hey, you can start by commenting on pictures and if you're not even comfortable doing that, you can start loving pictures that you like and then start commenting on them. You can join some groups that peak your interest and when you see something that's of interest that you have a point on, you can comment on the group post.
If there's like...you want to get out and you're more of a social person and you prefer meeting people face-to-face, go to your first munch, go to your first event. Munches are usually the best ways to meet people.
[Angel Donovan]: So, do you coordinate munches? We've spoken about munches before in terms of polyamory and other things. So, do people coordinate for your site munches and events like off line?
[John Baku]: Yeah no, we don't do that. We...a lot of the communities, a lot of the cities already have tons of munches. We didn't feel like we could add much value by just doing one more munch. So, we recommend that people just look at their...the events section, look at the groups in their city, see what the upcoming munches are, see what the coming events are, see who's going and get out.
The first one might not be for you. My might...don't be discouraged. If you go to a munch and you're like, "Ah, you know what? Nobody was...The type of people who would tend to go to this munch are not of the persuasion or same kink as me," or maybe it just wasn't the right munch for you. There's other munches. There are other events. Don't give up.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, don't give up the first time, good point.
[John Baku]: You know and a lot...and that's what a lot of people do. They have...the first experience is a bad experience, they go away.
I was that kid who loved pink and white and couldn't stand black. I don't like black now because, I'm fat. I would look in front of these like kink or fetish...I'd line up in front of these fetish events and I'd be like, "I don't fit in." There's no way I'm going to get through the door let alone...you know, people are going to stare at me and laugh. So, I never went to the events because, I was just like...it just wasn't me.
[Angel Donovan]: I think what happens a lot is if someone's going to join in this for the first time and it's something that they can relate to, the first time they go to a munch or whatever it is, it's probably going to feel uncomfortable. I think some people the problem is that they associate that discomfort with, "I don't like and I'm not going to do it again," instead of pushing through it a little bit.
So, I think it's good advice that you give. Like…it's just like, try two or three of them just to get a bit more comfortable because, you might just be reacting to your own comfort level and you just got to push through it a little bit and you'll find out this is great.
A lot of people react that way. They tend to kind of back away from it rather than put up with the discomfort.
[John Baku]: You will find yourself a community. You will find your niche. You just have to, like any smaller community, it just takes a little bit longer. It's not like you know looking for a book while you just go to the local book store. It's not hard.
These are one of those, I'm going to use the word hobbies but, it's not a hobby. Well yeah, maybe some cases it's a hobby but, it's one of the more niche things. So, it takes a little longer to find exactly the right group that you fit in with.
[Angel Donovan]: I think a hobby sounds like good way to put it. It sounds like it takes a little bit of time investment.
[John Baku]: Yeah.
[Angel Donovan]: You start going to meetings. I mean, it's no different from any other interest you take up in your life. It takes up a bit of time and that's what it sounds like to me.
[John Baku]: Yeah, I wouldn't say it is a hobby but, I'd say it's a great analogy.
[Angel Donovan]: Cool. Alright so, I wanted to bring up something in case people see this in the press. In 2012, there was some concern about BDSM crossing boundaries into unwanted sexually and FetLife got involved somehow. I know you spoke in the press and stuff. Can you just like talk about what happened there and why FetLife was brought up?
[John Baku]: To be honest, I'm not sure what the 2012 was? Can you give me a little bit more help?
[Angel Donovan]: Sure like, there was some group...oh, well so, you had this democratic system where people can vote for site changes and stuff, right and then, you take the most wanted site upgrades and things like it seems into account. So, they voted for a change in the policy about being able to communicate people's names attached individual experiences.
[John Baku]: I think the general name for this was "name the abusers", "name our abusers", "name the abusers". I couldn't exactly what it was but, along those line. So yeah,, we do have a voting system but, the problem with the voting system is there's only voting up. There's no voting down. So, the most requested feature on FetLife is to offer ASL search but, if you look at the comments in the ASL search...
[Angel Donovan]: There's a lot of people who hate that but, they're not allowed to down vote it.
[John Baku]: 99% of votes...of the comments are against it. So it's unfortunately, those votes are not completely telling.
[Angel Donovan]: Okay, so just say ASL because, I know some people may not know, age, sex, location?
[John Baku]: Yeah, yeah, yeah. ASL back in the day is age, sex, location. You go into IRC, you're like [inaudible].
[Angel Donovan]: I don't remember that. I used to stop talking to someone when they did that to me.
[John Baku]: Oh, I'm sorry. [Laughs]
[Angel Donovan]: [Laughs] It was just because it was always [inaudible].
[John Baku]: Was I hating on you?
[Angel Donovan]: [Laughs]
[John Baku]: "Name the abusers" it's...again it's one of things that it's not an easy answer. It's one of those situations that we're in that I spent a ton of time thinking about it and to this day, I still think about it because, I don't know what the right answer is and nor do the large majority of people know.
So basically what the community wanted to do was to be able to publicly name people who abuse them. Initially when this started happening, we were just like, "Okay, people can come out and name people. Like, we don't know what's true. We don't know what's false. We don't know...we don't know anything."
[Angel Donovan]: You don't what's slander. You don't know if someone's just spreading that kind of thing.
[John Baku]: So, we decided that after dealing with a lot of these cases that what was best is that we were not in the right position. We're not in the best position to be able to police and say, "Okay, your case [inaudible], your case is not and you're slandering this person. So, we're going to remove these comments because, you're off your rocker." And we were just like, "You know what? The best place for this is in the court system."
So, you could talk about your situation, you can vent about your situation but, you can't name the person. So, if you want to talk about in private, you can talk about it in private and name the person. If you want to write in your journal about something that happened to you and not name names, you're more than welcome to.
But, just posting and say, "This person did this." You know, my thing is like, "Yes, I understand that the legal system...it really sucks. I've never been a woman. I've never been raped. I don't know how it is. (Sorry about my phone.) I'm never...I've never had to go through these things but, the truth to be told, the only way to prevent this person from ever hurting another person is go through the court system."
All we can do is say, "Okay, you go off FetLife," but it doesn't mean they're not going to go to Facebook. It doesn't mean they're not going go to Twitter. It doesn't mean they're going to create an alternate profile on FetLife where it takes us 6 months to figure who that person is or even two weeks. We didn't notice who they were and they stayed there, they've met somebody else and they hurt that other person.
[Angel Donovan]: Well so the point, I mean...the point is this happens everywhere. It's not like it's...and in fact it sounds like in FetLife, at least it gets some discussion if something does happen. Someone can post up in their journal like you said or even in the group.
"This happened to me. I just recently with someone I met in FetLife. It's not cool." At least there are some grounds for discussion there whereas, if you go to a normal on line dating site, none of that happens.
But, I just wanted to bring it up because, it just seemed like it had got a fair amount of press. I thought people might come across like I had.
[John Baku]: Yeah and a lot of people hate FetLife for it, a lot of people hate me for it but, at the end of the day, as difficult as it might be to go to the police...you know, I'm Canadian. I live in Canada. I know it's very different. I know our system's great. From what I understand, it's a little bit more accepting. If you go to the police...
I mean, I've had my own situations with my own partner where we've been to the police and they were super, super accepting, non-judgmental and they were a super help. You know, I don't know if that would have happened in the States but, at the end of the day, the only way is that we all as community take the energy from naming names on FetLife to let's report these things, let's get these people arrested, let's say even if...
I heard a very low number that only 10% of those people truly go to jail or it might even be a lower number, it doesn't matter. If it's still 10%, let's fight to get the number higher and the more people we report, the more people that go to jail. Sure, it's 1 in 10 but, maybe we're going to put another person in jail and another person's life...I'm not going say ruined but, one less person is going to be violated, attacked, sexually abused. That's my take currently.
Do I know in 6 months from now if it's going to change? No. Is it something that I'm constantly thinking about to try to see if we can find a better way? Yes.
[Angel Donovan]: Does this still come up?
[John Baku]: Does it...it doesn't come up as much as it used to.
[Angel Donovan]: Wait, it's not as important as ASL?
[John Baku]: It's not about being important. It's a huge, huge...[Laughs] It's impossible not to laugh just the way you said that.
[Angel Donovan]: [Laughs]
[John Baku]: It's not I'm not supposed to. It's not funny. It's not that. It's I think it just very well known what are our stance is on the subject. If you get somebody arrested, well look at the paper and we'll temporarily band the person until the case goes through. We're constantly reading over our guidelines to help people out but, at the end of the day, as much as I'd love to go beat up everybody and jump on to this FetLife plane and knock somebody so they'd never heard another woman, that's just not the way it goes.
[Angel Donovan]: It sounds like a reasonable strategy. They can go and file a complaint with the police, they send that to you and you'll take the user off until it's settled and it's dealt with but, at least it goes through the system that way.
[John Baku]: We'll lock them out of their account.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah. Alright cool. Thank you the discussion today. Is there anything we haven't covered about FetLife that you think people should know.
[John Baku]: This could be a twenty-part series but, just not with me because, I'm not really good at this stuff. FetLife is not for everybody. Kink is not for everybody but, if you currently don't feel like you have a home and you feel like an outsider, I think you should try FetLife out. I think you should give FetLife a try.
Don't judge it within five seconds but, give FetLife a try and maybe it will be that home you always looked for. I've always said, "If we could just make one person feel comfortable with who they are sexually and give some people a home, I'll feel like I've achieved my goal." We've definitely did that for more people than one but, if there's anybody in your community who...
Don't be scared. Not everybody wears black. Not everybody listens to death metal. You know, I'm a perfect example. I love pink. You know, I listen to rap.
[Angel Donovan]: It's a diverse community.
[John Baku]: There's a general stereotype of what a kinky person looks like but, it's not true.
[Angel Donovan]: Right.
[John Baku]: It's...there are kinky people who come in all shapes, forms and sizes, beliefs. There are very religious kinky people. There are atheists who are kinky people and FetLife might be for you and you might think that your kinks are not as extreme as other people's kinks, it's not the case. You're thing might just be balloons. You might just love balloons. There's a community for you on FetLife.
[Angel Donovan]: I didn't want us to forget this because, I guess people are interested in kink and they're going to come across this is what are the typical objections of people when you talk about FetLife or you talk about kink? What are the biggest objections you meet in your life and they might?
So, it might be an obstacle they have to overcome, especially if they become a bit more sort of outgoing and talkative and expressive about their kink and their participation in FetLife. Just the kind of situations like either through your own experience of through what kind of tends to happen with people when they get involved, like some of their circles of friends or other people they know or they talk about this and you know people react negatively to them.
So, they were raised some kind of objections or you know just the kind of things, the social push back and other things like which are typical which people may experience just to make them kind of aware of that. I find that when you know about something before it comes, it doesn't affect you so much.
[John Baku]: I think it's the opposite. I think that you'll find FetLife very welcoming and very warm and that it's probably nothing like you expect.
[Angel Donovan]: I actually meant for people outside of FetLife. Like so, if you tell someone, "Oh yeah, I'm playing around with this site called FetLife or..."
[John Baku]: Yeah, it's...not everybody in my family knows what I do. Of course, my parents do and the most important people in my family do but, I didn't tell my grandmother whose now pasted away. So yeah, you always just have to...each person's life is different and you have to understand the consequences that opening up about certain things to certain people might cause in your life.
The large majority of people that have a...I personally interacted with were perfectly cool and thought it was really interesting even though it wasn't for them what I was doing at FetLife. 1% of the people never spoke to me again and it sad, it sucks, they weren't meant to be in my life but, I'm lucky I guess with only 1% maybe.
Some people may be 5%. Some people in the religious bible belts...there's very open religious people. Not everybody's like that but, it's a stereotype that some religious people are not open but, there are certain areas and certain people that you might not be able to open. So, only go as open as you feel comfortable and you think is the proper amount of risk in your life.
There's some people who are 100% open, it will have absolutely no effect on your life and there are some people that cannot be open ever and it's okay. There's nothing right or wrong about it. If you want to be the President of the United States or of Canada, you probably don't want to put your face on FetLife but, it's very cool to listen to this podcast though.
You probably don't want to put your face on FetLife because, it's probably not a good PR move for you. So, if you want to be a judge or you are a judge depending on what city and what country, you might not at this point and time in your career be open. And this is no different than you know, maybe this right or wrong but, there's some people who can be 100% openly gay with everybody and there's some people who can't. There's some people who can openly bi-sexual and some people who can't or you can be with some of your friends and not all your friends. You can be with part of your family but, not all of your family.
You just got to do what is right for you because, at the end of the day, you live with your decision. I don't live with your decisions. I only know what's best for me based on the information that I have. Always trust your gut. Try to get really connected to your gut and do what's right.
[Angel Donovan]: Thank you so much for that John. Just want to make sure we tick the box there. Where is the best place for people to connect with you and FetLife?
[John Baku]: Don't ever contact me! Ah, no. FetLife.com. It's kind of like MetLife with an F. When I chose the name FetLife, I turned around to my best friend, I'm like, "That MetLife insurance company like, isn't this too close to it?" He's like, "Ah, don't worry the company went bankrupt or something like that. I haven't heard about that Snoopy company in a long time." I said, "Oh, no problem."
I think it just wasn't very common in Canada or whatever TV shows we were watching at the time but yes. So, it's MetLife with an F. Just don't let them hear me say that and you can contact me at [email protected]. I am horrible with emails. I declare email bankruptcy often but, there is a good chance that...there's over a 50% chance that I will get back to you. So, if you really want to connect send me an email, the shorter the better.
[Angel Donovan]: Great, thanks so much for everything John. It's great talking to you and hearing all about FetLife.
[John Baku]: Hey no, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. Keep up the good work.
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