The Cambridge Fetish Scene: “BDSM is like being gay 20 years ago”

OSCAR WILLIAMS-GRUT sits down with “Mr Glove” to talk roleplay, forced orgasm and the Cambridge fetish scene.

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“There will usually be someone tying somebody else up, there’ll be some hitting, somebody will be playing with handcuffs.”

Mr Glove, real name Thomas Clarke, is telling me about ‘munches’, the socials held for Cambridge’s BDSM and kink scene. At these meet-ups people of all ages and from all backgrounds get together to discuss their fetishes and meet potential sexual partners.

We’re sitting in the Cambridge Union, with Pachelbel’s Canon playing in the background, and it all feels a bit odd.

For those who don’t know BDSM means sexual fetishes. The acronym combines bondage and dominance, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism. Fetishes can range from role-play to knife-play, and everything in-between.

Thomas Clarke, aka Mr Glove, explains the scene

Clarke is a 2nd year student in the city, and says he’s “mostly into the S&M. I like to take control in most aspects of my life and it’s sort of filtered into the bedroom.”

The name ‘Mr. Glove’ comes from Clarke’s fondness for ‘vampire gloves’, gloves are covered in small spikes that “create an interesting and enjoyable sensation”, Clarke says, without drawing blood.

He was just 5 years old when he first developed an interest in S&M. He recalls tying up his sister’s Barbie dolls and enjoying the power. But while this may seem odd, manifestations this early are not unusual he says.

“A friend was telling me that when she was the same age she had what could be considered dangerous fantasies, like being drugged and kidnapped, but she loved them.”

Clarke, originally from Essex, began to find out more about BDSM by watching porn as a teenager, but like most he wasn’t able to actually start experimenting until he came to university. Through sites like Fetlife – the “Myspace or Facebook of the kink world” according to Clarke – he was able to discover the Cambridge fetish scene and began going to ‘munches’.

The Tab investigates Cambridge’s fetish scene

What are ‘munches’? “We meet in the pub, have drinks, eat pizza and just chat for a while”, Clarke says. Now in his second year of involvement, Clarke helps to run the under-35s munch, “a starting point for people to get into the scene.”

“I bring along a large array of equipment and the other Tom who runs it brings some stuff as well. People can try rope, they can try cuffs, there are some books there that they can have a flick through. There’s one wonderful item I’ve just ordered called a violet wand, an old, old piece of Victorian quackery.”

The violet wand – your guess is as good as ours

So, a bit more than just a drink and a chat really. But while people are free to try things out, Clarke stresses there is no sexual interaction at munches, “usually because people are uncomfortable doing that in a public place.”

I’m surprised. Can you have BDSM without sexual contact? “I would say yes, definitely”, Clarke replies. “I mean I play with my friends occasionally. We’re not sexual partners we’re just friends, but they’ll say ‘Tom can you tie me up’, and I’ll say ‘yeah sure.'”

Doesn’t this get confusing emotionally? “It varies, this whole thing is just a huge grey area. Some people will absolutely refuse to do anything with anybody if they’re not their partner, some people will just play with anybody.”

Clarke says an emotional connection to your partner isn’t vital when it comes to BDSM, but “it can help. For sadism and masochism, if you’re just being hurt then that’s not always a big turn on. Some people like daddy/daughter roleplay, and they’ll only enjoy it in that specific context. If its just a spanking then it’s no good.

Clarke himself says he’s looking for a ‘regular partner’ but for the moment enjoys pleasuring others.

“I like to force a woman to orgasm several times”, he tells me. “When I was young the girls around me would always complain that they weren’t being satisfied in the bedroom, so I decided I’d put a stop to that and make sure they were satisfied repeatedly, to the point where they don’t like it anymore.”

He adds: “At the same time there’s an awful lot to be said about physical pain, as in caning, spanking and paddling.

Clarke is surprisingly open about what he gets up to in the bedroom. Italian tourists glance oddly at us as Clarke chats about tying people up and forcing orgasms. He doesn’t seem to care.

But, Clarke confesses, he hasn’t told many friends outside of the scene about his preferences because of BDSM’s reputation.

“Its so closely, and wrongly, associated with things like rape, which are horrific activities.

“Being into BDSM nowadays is like being gay 20 years ago. Some people will think you’re like the abominable snowman because you’re into these things, but others don’t care.”

I’m not sure I totally agree with the analogy. Being gay is about an attraction to another person, whereas BDSM seems to be an attraction to power or a lack of power.

In some cases the line between fantasy and reality can also be worryingly blurred. Clarke talks about something called ‘consensual non-consent’, where “a person will say, do whatever you like, I will struggle and say no and that’s what I want.”

“I can’t come to terms to doing that to somebody yet because it’s just too close to an abhorrent activity.”

When I say goodbye I’m more unsure about the whole thing than I was at the start. Clarke was charming, polite and well-spoken; he seemed like he wouldn’t hurt a fly. To hear him talk about ‘daddy/daughter roleplay’ and ‘forcing orgasms’ felt strange and made me a little uncomfortable.

Maybe Clarke’s right, maybe BDSM will become acceptable in 20 years time. People will look back and mock how fetophobic I was. But for the moment I think the whole thing is, as Clarke said, “just a huge grey area.”