Tag Archives: fetish history

The History of the Fetish Scene and Power Dynamic Relationships, Part One

The History of the Fetish Scene and Power Dynamic Relationships, Part One

Since the fetish scene in various guises has a much longer history, and therefore much of the information about the early origins is vague at best, I’ll do what I can to get across my understanding both of it and of the power dynamic relationship subculture within it.

BDSM itself as a sexual activity (as opposed to a punishment-based activity), the adoption of “fetishisistic” dress, and the beginnings of consensual power dynamic relationships in the west arose at approximately the same time, shortly after the Renaissance in 16th Century Europe. Within the upper and upper-middle classes, dissatisfaction with the sexuality involved in arranged marriages, together with a more restrictive societal outlook on extramarital sexuality, led to the notion of “courtly love” as a higher (but socially deviant) form of sexuality than marriage. A small subculture that self-identified by dressing in a more outrageous manner than the society around them began holding social events where those involved in sexual relationships that were not socially acceptable could socialize with their chosen partners rather than their official partners. The infliction of pain as a sexual act became common at some of these gatherings. Partly due to the danger of being involved in unsanctioned sexuality “courtly love” adopted as part of its definition a loyalty and obedience requirement that went far beyond the marriage requirements at the time.

These types of gatherings continued through the 1700’s, with the dress adopted becoming more individualistic in line with the increasing notion of individualism in general society. The religious turmoil of the 1700’s, with the combination of a new puritanism on the one side (Calvinism) and atheism on the other led to greater extremes of behavior which was reflected in the sexual behavior at these underground gatherings. This continued into the 1800’s, when the extremes of BDSM itself were codified by various authors including de Sade and Sacher-Masoch. The term “pervert” was itself defined by 19th century psychologists, referring to those who insisted on actualizing fantasies proscribed by “decent” society. Fantasies such as vampirism became common themes within the scene, as the scene both influenced and was then influenced by the Romantic movement in the arts. The late 19th Century “decadent” scene exemplified by figures such as Aubrey Beardsley was the public’s main “look in” to the largely private and still largely illegal scene.

By the early 1900’s there were permanently established (although member’s only) BDSM/fetish clubs in the world’s major urban centers, such as London and Paris. The outbreak of the first world war, the subsequent mess in the 1920’s and 1930’s, followed by the second world war forced most of this activity back underground. It reemerged publicly in the 1950’s in London, Paris and Berlin with private activity occurring elsewhere. It’s association with the “mod” style in the late 50’s and 60’s and their loose association to the beatnik scene in the US helped to fuel a similar scene in North America.

By the 1980’s the fetish scene, at that point strongly affiliated with the goth scene (itself heavily influenced by the more outrageous dress from the 19th Century back to the Renaissance) was extremely influential in terms of the dress style of musicians from Bauhaus and the Sisters of Mercy to Propaganda and even, eventually, Madonna.

Throughout this history the original framework of courtly love had itself adopted more and more extreme forms which would be seen today as D/s or M/s relationships.


The History of the Fetish Scene and Power Dynamic Relationships, Part Two

During the 1980’s the combination of the large numbers of non-leather gays in the fetish scene and the adoption of leather dress as one type of fetish look, together with the shared practice of BDSM and the slow emergence of leather groups themselves from secrecy created an intermingling of the two scenes. This was furthered by the greater acceptance of women and straight members in the leather groups themselves. Since, out of necessity, the leather groups were generally better organized the resulting mixture became known as the “leather community”. The public clubs that arose (the largest currently being the Antichrist club in London) still generally enforce a strong fetish dress code that ironically is more latex and rubber oriented than leather oriented, although both permanent clubs and special club nights at other locations often combine the terms as fetish/leather.

During the same period Renaissance Fairs and Festivals began to provide a “fetish-light” experience for a larger audience, and there remains a fair amount of crossover.

As a result of both the public clubs / club nights and the presence of fetish paraphernalia at Renaissance festivals there is more of a public awareness of the scene than in the past. The public “caricature” of the fetish/leather scene is still largely goth oriented in terms of style, and within the public’s perception of straight fetish people the dominatrix is a much more acceptable figure than the dominant male, who raises too many associations with spousal abuse with the general public.

The dominatrix as a character has been known since the publication of Sacher-Masoch’s work in the 19th Century, however the male dominated power dynamic became more common during the 20th Century, mainly because male dominated relationships ceased to be the norm with the rise of feminism, and as deviant were forced into the “alternative lifestyle” space.

The growth of the internet, of course, spread knowledge of this scene from the major centers to smaller locales, and simultaneously changed much of the terminology used differently in different places. For instance, until the 1990’s M/s was generally a term for a play-oriented relationship in Europe, while D/s referred to relationships that realized the fantasy in a more permanent and consistent way. The influence of North Americans via the internet switched this terminology around, such that D/s now meant a less extreme relationship than M/s. Knowledge of BDSM as a whole spread initially via Usenet and later via more user friendly boards, and the skills involved in pain play became coveted skills far from the major centers in which they originated.