I am totally new to BDSM [bondage and discipline/sadism and maso- chism]. Someone told me about a “munch” happening locally tomorrow night. They found it through the FetLife website and suggested I go. Do you know anything about these “munch” meetups? How safe are they? I am Northampton based, looking to connect with other BDSM folks. Do you have any suggestions on how else I can do this?
— Curious Munchkin
A “munch” is a public, non-sexual gathering of folks interested in kink and/or BDSM. It’s typically held at a restaurant or cafe where attendees can casually talk. If the munch happens in a private section of the restaurant, topics of conversation may be directed towards matters of kink and BDSM, but if the munch is, say, at the big communal table in the middle of The Roost, topics of conversation will generally be PG-rated.
Most munches have a dress code to protect the group from unwanted attention or accidental outings of members, including no overt fetish wear. (Some munches allow obvious fetish collars for submissives and others don’t — check in with the host.) Despite the no-fetish-wear rule, some munch-goers dress up in what might look like sexy clubwear. In other words, save the latex bodysuit for a play party, and opt for something you might wear to a casual dinner party.
Other common munch protocols include no touching (beyond the socially acceptable handshakes), and that the munch is not a place to pick up a date (take that to FetLife).
This brings us to your question about safety, Munchkin. Something I know about the kink and BDSM communities is that they really value consent. Like, a lot. I myself just attended the Northampton Munch to teach a consent workshop and they taught me more about the topic than any other group of participants I’ve presented to before.
So, if a member of the munch is coming onto you, trying to low-key Top or Bottom to you, or certainly if they are touching you, they are violating both your boundaries and the boundaries of the munch itself.
Common consent language, or “safe words,” in the kink community are “Green” meaning “yes, go!,” “Yellow” meaning “you’re approaching my limit or a place where I want you to stop,” and “Red” meaning “stop!” If a member of the munch is making you uncomfortable you can draw on this language as a tool, and you can and should report the unacceptable behavior to the host of the munch.
Most munches, and certainly our local munches, are well facilitated and structured by their hosts and regular members. So more often than not, no one will be trying to push or violate these boundaries.
Extra safety measures to take for yourself include reaching out to the hosts before the munch to go over any concerns you may have or to simply highlight yourself as a new person looking for support. Bringing a similarly kinky or open-minded friend can be helpful, too.
Before the munch, consider how “out” you’d like to be as a kinkster in your local community. You can opt to use a fake name or alias if you’d like, depending on the balance of anonymity and intimacy you decide you’d like to achieve from the group (though in our small community, total anonymity can be near-impossible).
Don’t out others in the group unless you have their explicit permission to do so. That means: don’t go from the munch to your knitting group all “OMG, you’ll never guess who I saw at this local kink event.”
You can find a munch by searching events near you on FetLife, or you can hit up one of the popular local munches: The Northampton Munch is the second Thursday of the month, and the Chicopee Munch is on the first Wednesday of the month. Check FetLife for time and location details.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a pleasure-positive sex educator and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. She has a website bursting with sex advice, resources, and workshops at yanatallonhicks.com.