Some people who’ve been in the BDSM scene a long time observe an escalation in the extremity of the things we do. It can certainly look that way in online communities. Safe, Sane and Consensual has given way to Risk Aware Consensual Kink, and there has certainly been a rise in popularity of identifiers like Primal (rough sex) and Consensual Non-Consent (blanket consent, which is perhaps used by some people in some cases to signify how they’re more “slave” because of the control they have given away). There are “Fetlebrities” whose popularity has risen on blood play and other “extreme” activities.
On appearances, it can look like this: In order to garner accolades and community status, people who enter into BDSM at a relatively benign level, say power exchange, are driven to repeatedly “prove” themselves by engaging in riskier and riskier activities as if to say “look how kinky I can be”.
It could be one-upmanship, driving some of what can be seen as escalation in kink. Or, it could certainly be equally likely that some people have always been interested in “extreme” kinks and as technologies improve and communication flows more freely amongst an online community, they’re more open about it. They may have found validation for their interests by seeing others in the community who share those interests. Increased communication and ease of finding your tribe is a good thing, and can really only be seen as a generally positive change.
BLENDING AND STANDING APART
In our daily real-world life, there’s a great pressure to not stand out too far. Perhaps you’ll get a flashy colour for your car, or make a statement on the strength of your convictions by having a mini pride flag in the pencil cup on your desk at work, but in evolution it has always been dangerous to stray too far from the pack. We know that our life is easier and more socially fulfilling if we fit in.
In our local (real world) kink community, there is some value in standing out, but only to a degree. It’s a smaller pack, and there are informal hierarchies and group norms to navigate. Distinguishing yourself from others helps you do that, but within fairly tight limits. You don’t want to be the weird member, you don’t want to go so far that you are ostracised.
On the internet, you’re almost anonymous. It’s not a small pool, it’s an ocean, and you’re one drop much like all the other drops. So, the real world playbook gets reversed. There is value in standing out. But there is very limited means to do that. If you’re a great wordsmith perhaps you can do it with stories, if you’re a great thinker then perhaps you have ideas that will resonate. Or, perhaps you could do it with showmanship – a display of feats of daring-do, a fantastic plume of brightly coloured feathers.
Perhaps, as Marshall McLuhan said, the medium is the message. A funhouse mirror that distorts reality.
WHY BE DIFFERENT?
Why go out of your way to attract attention? Most notably because there are rewards to be reaped by standing out online.
In addition to ego-bolstering praise, one can turn online popularity into income through Patreon, pay-per-view websites or YouTube channels, book sales through Amazon, etc. If you attain enough celebrity, you might be invited to do presentations, be a guest of honour, etc., etc.. There may be offers of friendship, play, sex, or more.
The audience online is always going to be larger and more diverse than those you meet in person, and that audience can be more easily controlled online (e.g. blocking people, deleting comments, etc.). There’s less cost to creating a more outrageous or extreme brand and more likelihood that you’ll be able to attract the kind of attention you want.
But, even if you don’t want to be a celebrity, there is social validation. You are noticed, and that means you’re you’re not invisible. It’s the same reward that addicts us to likes on Instagram and Facebook. We all want reassurance that we’re special.