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Going underground: BDSM in Hong Kong

Louise Choi slips on a kinky collar, enters a dungeon and discovers a thriving fetish community in Hong Kong. Photography by Calvin Sit

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Louise Choi slips on a kinky collar, enters a dungeon and discovers a thriving fetish community in Hong Kong. Photography by Calvin Sit

So there I was. Strung up to the ceiling in just my bra and knickers, hands restrained, unable to move an inch. I surveyed the ‘dungeon’ around me, packed with onlookers – an unfamiliar mixture of latex-clad, mask-wearing, strangely shaped revellers hell-bent on seeing how readily I would take my initiation into the world of whips and chains. For anyone who hasn’t experienced a BDSM party, this must seem like a scene conjured up by the most depraved mind in history – think Marquis de Sade or the writer of a porn-horror flick.


However, terrifying it wasn’t. It was anything but. This surreal experience soon became an exciting, entirely pleasurable few moments of my life. And it felt comfortable and safe too, despite the stinging of the whip. My initiation into Hong Kong’s underground world of BDSM was nothing like you’d expect. I was game to try anything – nay, everything barring sexual activity itself – just so I could understand what makes the people at these parties tick. I offered up my poor little body to the whim of the devilish group – and to the pieces of kit they brought with them, including the most painful of them all, the ‘single tail whip’. They heard my cries of pain when that weapon struck home – but they also heard my tales of delight when I later thanked them for a memorable, if surreal, experience.

Welcome to Hong Kong’s BDSM scene. Many wouldn’t believe there to be an underground party community like this in our city. The attitudes here are considered way too conservative when it comes to extracurricular sexual activities. Anything other than hanky panky between two lovers in their own bed seems off the menu. But, despite – or maybe because of – this misapprehension, there is, in fact, a positively thriving scene. A community you would never know about unless you delved deep below the surface. Populated mostly by local Chinese and Westerners, there’s hook-up meetings, parties, ‘subs’, ‘doms’, dungeons and, well, much fun to be whipped up. And there’s a myth to be busted about this subculture. To those who take part in BDSM, it’s not weird and certainly doesn’t have to be painful. It’s a lifestyle choice – and, for them, it’s a positive one at that.

“People think that BDSM is all about pain and is only reserved for the mad, the bad and the extremely weird,” Brad, a Hong Kong BDSM practicer of more than 10 years, tells me. “But it’s not. It’s a lifestyle. In Hong Kong we have teachers, journalists, students, accountants, architects and those who are unemployed who practice BDSM. They are from all walks of life and most are very, very normal. They have helped the local BDSM community to be very safe and enjoyable. It’s only weird when you know nothing about it.”

Brad’s got it right, I’ve found. The world of BDSM is, to the uninitiated, an incredibly surreal and pretty frightening one. The masks, the chains, the whips, the howls of pain. Of course it seems extreme and bizarre. But, following my ‘initiation’ at the party, as I graduated from ‘newbie sub’ to someone who understands how to play the game, I learned a lot about this underground community which I had been invited into. A play party is an occasion where the BDSM-inclined can indulge their fantasies with other kinky types in a safe space – often, in Hong Kong, in someone’s purpose-built dungeon. People get to play with their inner desires, which can include working with pain – but not always. It’s not a full-blown, sweaty sex orgy as you may think. People go as far, or do as little, as they want.

I was invited into this world after making enquiries on fetlife.com, the go-to place for many newcomers to BDSM. I made my contacts and soon I was meeting the guests at my debut party, filled with trepidation. No denying that. I was expecting demons from the deep to pounce on me at the house where we all met. But everyone was welcoming. Some men wore tight white latex g-strings, some girls were being led around in rope harnesses and others were dressed in elegant floor-length gowns. In my case, I was a ‘sub’ for the night and spent most of the time on my paunches (yes, pretty sore elbows and knees next day…).

I was soon led from the ‘conversation area’ to the dungeon below for the real play. Here, the heat was instantly turned up. Dark and gloomy, chains hanging from the ceiling, hooks on the walls, drawers full of clamps and toys, erotic literature in bookcases, closets packed with all manner of items to hit people with. There were guys and girls in masks being pulled on leads. Cracks of whips and yelps of pain. A surreal fantasy world. But the guests were careful and considerate too, always welcoming.

Soon I was tied up and flogged, the pain increasing in intensity with each thump from that ‘single tail whip’ (forget the ‘cat o’ nine tails’ – this is the real minx). Staring out at the scene of onlookers, the adrenaline kicked in, the blood pumped and the heart raced – but, oddly, my fear subsided, being replaced by a strange sort of pleasure. I really didn’t know I could enjoy pain in this way. Still sounds bizarre? Of course it does – but it didn’t to me by that point. I was playing the game; the essence of BDSM.

The party ended a few hours later when I was tied to another girl, stuffed inside a cage and had wax thrown on my body. ‘Play’ wax, rather than the real stuff. And then I was ‘play pierced’, with 1.5-inch-long needles embedded in my back. My ‘dom’ did the piercing, cold metal sliding through my flesh. Twenty needles were fed into my body, crisscrossing over my skin before I could feel the blood oozing down my sides. But the pain was only slight and felt fairly good.

The experience has now become a hazy dream. An exhausting event for me, physically and emotionally, with a few sore days that followed. And since then I’ve got to know my kinky new friends pretty well – and they’ve filled me in on this little community. There’s Subrug, a teacher who loves feet. He gave me a foot massage in a bar once while telling me his fantasies about being trampled on by girls. He says: “In some ways BDSM is like climbing Mount Everest. It seems crazy, it hurts and it’s taxing on your body. But everybody is fine with some crazy person climbing up a mountain...”

Then there’s Jannus, a regular BDSM practicer, who says: “If you do find the scene here, then you will find that you are not alone. We have a small but passionate crowd.” And there’s Brad and his partner Janet, as well as Katie, who goes by ‘Breast2Breast’, Huge, who collects bondage figurines, and Wilhelma, who has an amusing anecdote about a pink, sparkly dildo. These are colourful, playful people who want others to know that if they are into BDSM – or are curious about it – there is a community here which is open to them. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. To them, it’s a crucial part of their lives.

Two of the biggest players are Lord Red and Lady Katia – not their real names of course. The married couple are in their 30s, hailing from France originally. They are both ‘dominant’, says Red, which is ‘really rare on the BDSM scene’. “I discovered BDSM at 17-years-old,” he says, “with a 38-year-old sexual partner and teacher who was married. She taught me many things and I discovered that BDSM was my world. I’ve had many sexual partners and been in many BDSM scenes – but now I’m in Hong Kong and the scene here is really interesting.”
Lord Red (an ‘important symbolic colour’ to him) and Lady Katia (a fetishist nickname after she was a fetish model in Europe) met when she was 17. Red says he ‘showed her my universe’ and she was his ‘sub’ until about five years ago when she became a ‘mistress’ and more dominant. The couple organise a ‘munch’ on one Tuesday every month, open to anyone, where the community meets, swaps ‘rules and codes’, exchanges ideas, makes sure safety is paramount and shares contacts. “There are two monthly munches in Hong Kong,” says Katia. “Our one and another on a weekend. They are really important for the scene here. Munch events have been going here for a lot longer than people would believe.”

“The scene here is special,” says Red, “mainly because Hong Kong society is so conservative. No BDSM clubs exist or places for play like in Europe or the USA. Far more of our members want to be discreet here. The scene is mainly composed of Westerners and Chinese people. There really aren’t many other people involved – so far! Some say it’s a very small scene but, for me, it’s not. Many small groups exist who play in private places and don’t know the other groups. Everything I’ve seen since I was here is safe, serious and has a really good atmosphere.”

There’s a swinger community in Hong Kong but it’s different to the BDSM scene, according to the couple. During a BDSM party you can have sex, they say – but that’s mainly between the dom and the sub. “The rules are really serious,” says Red. “You can’t touch a sub if the dom says so. And parties are mainly in a private dungeon or a private place – or sometimes in a hotel room. They can be anywhere. There are some private dungeons here, where organisers only invite people they know to the party. That way they know it’s safe and there are never any problems.”

Some would say BDSM is a strange practice. Some would be downright scared. But Lord Red blames the media and our conservative society for turning people off. “I answer those who ask if being into BDSM is weird with this – what is normality? What does being normal actually mean?” he says. “They usually get their information from the media and that doesn’t represent reality. Many people think BDSM is only sadistic, hard and very painful – torture acts done by mad people. But it’s not. There can be bad masters, which can be dangerous for the sub. But take your time before you play and meet several people. There can be cerebral games and you can play without touching anyone. It’s all about fetishes and fantasies – and I think 90 percent of everyone in the world has BDSM fantasies. It’s a game – and many BDSM games are without pain.”

“For me, a BDSM master,” Lord Red continues, “it’s like a martial arts master or a teacher – helping the sub go their way. Some subs need humiliation because, in real life, they may be dominant in their job and the BDSM games are relaxing, so they can fantasise they are being controlled for a change. The BDSM world is complex, interesting and intense. But if you’re surrounded by good people and you play safe, it’s amazing. It’s no different here.”

I’ve found that too. The community here really does make it clear that this is a safe activity. But, nevertheless, it’s still an underground community. BDSM doesn’t come up in the mainstream. However it has surfaced on occasions, particularly in 2001 when ‘Decima’ – in reality, grandmother Brenda Scofield – ran Fetish Fashion, a shop which used to cater for BDSM types in the city. She found unlikely fame when the store was raided by police. As they burst in they found a dungeon party taking place and everyone was arrested. Then there was a trial (the police claimed Fetish Fashion was keeping a ‘disorderly house’) which lasted a year and generated headlines galore before the police lost and everyone arrested was released without conviction.


The case was a victory for BDSM rights in Hong Kong. But it had a downside too as some people who enjoyed the practice lost their jobs and others were scared, so it pushed it back underground. It’s still a hot topic in the community. “Things have been getting more liberal,” explains Jannus, “but I don’t see there being more change. In fact it used to be more open back then.”
Brad and Janet own a house with a private dungeon in Hong Kong. He’s the ‘dom’, she’s the ‘sub’ – in effect, he ‘owns’ her. Every day he tells her what clothes to wear and she always dons a collar as a symbol of ownership (much like a wedding ring). “The scene here is very limited,” says Brad. “We’re dealing with just a handful of people. When you go to London or San Francisco or LA every night there are dungeons and people hanging out. Not so here.”

“I find it very peculiar,” he continues. “There’s a huge admission of prostitution here and people are okay with that – but, on the whole, they’re not okay with BDSM, despite the fact that BDSM, in our community, is not about sexuality and is very safe.” Brad, like so many who have been in the city’s scene for years, looks back at the Fetish case as a major turning point. “It was going really well,” he says, “until the police decided to get involved. So that really stopped everything for at least five years because we got very frightened. But now people are growing more confident again.”

Janet, who is Chinese, adds: “It improves my lifestyle. But not many people here are supportive or open about BDSM. On the other hand, I don’t feel that many people would judge or criticise it either.”

Katie goes to parties once or twice a month. “The values that society teaches us,” she says, “tell us this is wrong. And with Hong Kong… it’s closed. People aren’t that open minded. They think that if you are a gweilo you can do it – but if you’re Chinese you can’t. There’s a bit of discrimination.”

Brad says China has a ‘lot of liberation to do’ but he notes Hong Kong has ‘relaxed over the years’. “But,” he adds, “when you look at Europe and America, BDSM is becoming part of society there. Which is good. Maybe it could happen here one day.”

Maybe indeed. Despite the 2001 raid, the naysayers and the fearful, BDSM culture is surfacing once again – and these people in our Hong Kong BDSM community certainly want more people to join in the fun. So if it tickles your fancy, give it a try like I did. It won’t hurt. Too much…

How to get involved

There are a few ways to get involved in BDSM in Hong Kong. The most popular way is to join in at one of the regular ‘munch’ events. These Sunday meetings, usually in Central, are posted on hkbdsmevents.org and updated regularly. You can email the organisers from there.
Another good starting point is fetlife.com – commonly described by users as ‘the Facebook of kink’. It’s an online community of fetishists (largely consisting of, but not limited to, BDSM practitioners). FetLife specifically defines itself as a social network, not a dating site, though members can upload sexually explicit photos and videos, as well as organise meet-ups. It has nearly 1.5million members and there are groups which come under the moniker of ‘Hong Kong Kinksters’. There’s also a group you can join which covers the Tuesday ‘munch’ events.

It may be a good idea, if you’re a newbie, to look for information about practices and BDSM in general on the internet before you embark on a fetlife or hkbdsm journey. But never forget that the people in this community want to stay discreet generally, for obvious reasons. Always respect the rules and, you never know, soon you could be invited to a party somewhere in Hong Kong. If you’re lucky.

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