Jessica Ogilvie from MEL magazine attended Club Awakening and followed up with me in a phone interview. I have included the link to the article and pasted the full article below…
A Night of BDSM for Newbies
L.A.’s Club Awakening is a live-action Kink 101
The orgasmic wailing is coming from my left.
A barefoot woman swathed in a black fishnet body stocking is handcuffed to a St. Andrew’s cross, her back toward me. Her silky brown hair is gathered in a low, loose bun, the stocking exposing her naked body through its cheesecloth-like holes. With every thwack of the flogger’s tentacles across her cream-colored back, she howls in ecstasy.
We’re in a dark room with black walls, gray carpet and several other pieces of kink-themed furniture. Outside, about 100 people mingle, wandering at will into other rooms just like this one. The labyrinth building is called Sanctuary Studios, a space where L.A.’s BDSM community can come to play. But tonight’s event, Club Awakening, is slightly different than other parties held here: It’s geared specifically toward welcoming newbies to the world of fetish.
“I wanted to create someplace where people could come and play, [and] if there’s something you want to try, you can,” says Jenn Masri, an L.A.-based marriage and family therapist who created Club Awakening a year ago. “It provides a little less of a shocking atmosphere.”
Masri got the idea for Club Awakening after teaching BDSM classes for rookies for several years. She instructs students on concepts like consent, safe words and terminology. She says one question that comes up consistently is, “Where can I go for my first party?”
Four newb-friendly booths scattered throughout Sanctuary Studios allow attendees to try hands-on play — e.g., spanking; crops, canes and paddles; flogging; and ropes. A fifth surprise booth has included more extreme offerings such as fire cupping and light knife play. The event has been packed every month since its debut, including the night I attend.
The event is monthly and generally well-attended. This night in mid-February isn’t any different — despite its being at the peak of the worst rainstorm L.A. has seen in years, the type of foul weather that usually renders Angelenos unable to leave their houses at all, let alone drive somewhere in the dark. But once I check my coat and enter the club’s inner sanctum, I find myself amid a throng of dry, happy and, occasionally, nude or nearly nude people.
Masri has linked me up with Pam, a 47-year-old data department manager from Orange County who has been exploring “the scene,” as it’s colloquially known, for about six months. Pam discovered the scene through a friend just as her 18-year marriage was coming to an end. “I was looking for something,” she says, and “the more I read, the more I got interested.”
Her story, I find, isn’t unusual: Leave an unhappy marriage, enter BDSM. Masri herself has a similar history. “I didn’t get involved until I was out of a 17-year, vanilla marriage,” she says. “Someone I dated did a couple kinky things, and I was like, ‘That was fun, I want to do more of it!’”
Pam has been to Club Awakening, she estimates, five or six times. “I love this event,” she says. “You can try something new, and you can meet new people.”
Around 5-foot-6-inches, Pam is dressed for the evening in a blue-gray tunic top, tight black pants and low-heeled mules. Her lips are painted red, as are her toenails; her shoulder-length, dirty blonde hair is collected into a low ponytail, and she wears delicate amethyst earrings that dangle into the shape of flower petals. We were originally going to explore the event as a pair, but last week, Pam met Jeremy, a 48-year-old dominant and her date for the evening. Much taller than Pam, Jeremy has been in the scene for several decades. He wears coke-bottle glasses and sports a scruffy salt-and-pepper beard, gray-blue button-down and black slacks.
For the first hour, the three of us stand around a cocktail table and chat. It’s an alcohol-free event, so the bar is stocked with six different kinds of soda: Cactus Cooler, Cherry Pepsi, 7 Up, Mountain Dew, root beer and — amusingly — Squirt. It’s also a potluck. A folding table is decorated with homemade platters of food, including frosted lemon cake and pink sugar cookies with Hello Kitty emblems at their center; plastic tubs of cookies from Trader Joe’s; and a bowl with single-serving bags of chips: Spicy Cheese Doritos, Chili Cheese Fritos, Cheeto Puffs and Ruffles.
As we mingle, Jeremy explains the scene to me.
“Sex is our common interest,” he says, “but it’s all about consent. We talk about everything; what we like, what we don’t. It’s all about consent.”
Throughout the night, he’ll continually demonstrate to me that he won’t do anything to which Pam hasn’t consented — e.g., “Can I put these handcuffs on you?” And: “Can I make them tighter?” He also makes a point to demonstrate the nature of his relationship to Pam; within moments, he grabs her ponytail and yanks her head back. “Here,” he says, “I’m showing my dominance.”
When the main room is nearly full, Masri takes the stage. Her waist is cinched into a corset, causing her already bountiful breasts and hips to reach cartoonish proportions. After introducing herself, she opens with the rules: “No cell phone use. Even just opening your cell phone; please go back past the bar and open the door, or go out to the smoking patio.”
As she speaks, Jeremy, who is sitting next to Pam as she stands, begins running his fingers up and down her outer left thigh.
“Make sure you got a ticket for the raffle,” Masri continues. “Vendors donate items for it, and tonight we have a flogger and a full set of ankle and constriction collars.”
The crowd cheers.
“We have stickers, which overall mean you’re open to negotiating play,” she says. “Purple means you’re open to top; blue means you’re open to bottom; orange means you’re open to both.”
By now, Jeremy’s fingers have traveled up to the left side of Pam’s ass, lifting her shirt slightly and slipping his hand underneath it.
Masri goes on: “Consent is key. If you’re going to utilize our practice bottoms” — volunteers who’ve agreed to be submissive for attendees’ learning purposes — “talk to them about it first.”
“No edge play,” Masri continues, “including breath play, fire, needles, cutting, electric, medical, food, blood, anything involving bodily fluid or wax. Sexually: No genital-to-genital, no oral-to-genital, no penetration. On the outside of the body, sexual touch is to be negotiated — and you can get naked!”
Masri then provides the crowd with the evening’s safe words — red and yellow — before introducing the volunteers who will be manning the booths and providing one last line of instruction: “Be kind, ask people if you’re not sure, be respectful, don’t touch other people’s things or peoples — and have fun! We’re gonna open up the rooms and booths. Have a good time!”
Pam and Jeremy’s first stop is the vendor room. A small, brightly lit chamber with “Gin & Juice” playing softly in the background, the room features several tables overflowing with fetish toys for sale: Floggers in a rainbow of colors; handcuffs, collars, leashes and canes.
Jeremy has come here to buy, and he asks Pam her opinion on a pair of heavy-duty leather handcuffs lined with soft red fabric.
Already, Pam has been discreetly carrying around Jeremy’s briefcase, an agreement that seemed to go without saying from the moment the event began. It’s a hard black number that looks like it should hold stacks of ransom money, but in fact it contains toys he brought for the evening. Now, Jeremy ups the stakes: He buys the cuffs, straps them onto Pam’s wrists and instructs her that this doesn’t preclude her from hauling the kitbag.
“This is all part of the play,” he tells me.
Next, the duo heads toward the evening’s surprise booth — a sadistic massage and skin-rolling table run by a man named Dan. Pam lies down on her back, and Dan immediately goes to work.
It’s subtle at first: Taking her right hand in his, he presses his thumb down into her palm. “What I’m doing is pressure points,” he explains, “and I’m doing a little manipulation on her with her thumb.”
He asks Pam — if she wants — to bend her thumb. She does.
“Oh God,” she says, laughing.
“Now, turn your palm up.”
Pam’s face twists into a grimace.
This, Dan explains, is called a “predicament situation.” Pam can move at any time, but moving will cause her more pain. He repeats these moves on her shoulder, her elbow and her shin — all of which are cringe-inducing to watch — before Pam decides to move on.
“Did you like it?” says Jeremy as she gets up.
“Yes, thank you,” Pam responds, before leaving for the flogging room.
Once inside, Jeremy begins to push Pam’s boundaries further.
“Are you comfortable removing your top?” he asks.
She is. He places the blindfold over her eyes and instructs her to kneel over the spanking horse. Handcuffs unlocked, Jeremy begins rolling a Wartenberg wheel — a metal wheel on a handle with small metal spikes, typically used by doctors to check reflexes — up her back.
As he does, three people enter the doorway, but quickly stop. It’s poor etiquette to approach anyone involved in a scene. Jeremy ignores them and continues rolling the wheel.
“Harder?” he asks Pam.
He rubs her ass with an open palm, then smacks it.
“What do you say when I spank you?”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Good. Now, how was that?”
“That was good.”
He spanks her three more times. Then: “Stand up.”
Pam stands and faces Jeremy. He rolls the wheel over her stomach, across her breasts and sternum. Turning to me, he explains, “The front is always more sensitive than the back.”
They continue this way for about 20 more minutes before wrapping up. Handcuffs back on and briefcase lifted, Pam is getting weary physically. That, however, doesn’t stop Jeremy from having her trail him outside to smoke, insisting that she leave the cuffs on and the briefcase in her hands as she tries to smoke a cigarette herself.
We stay at the event until 1 a.m., for a total of four hours that go by surprisingly quickly. Pam and Jeremy have tried everything they want to try, and are ready to wrap up the evening. We say our goodbyes, and they head to their car together.
When I speak to Pam a few days later, she explains that finding the scene was “an epiphany” after 18 years of marriage to a man for whom she felt she had to do everything. Prior to that, she was a rule-follower; a good girl.
“The way I grew up, I don’t know if I’d call it sheltered — I had a very good family life — but you’re always doing the right thing,” she says. “When I decided I didn’t want to be married anymore, I was making that decision for myself. I learned in the scene that that’s okay; nobody judges you. In fact, it gave me a lot of self-confidence I’d never had before.”
This change in herself, she acknowledges, has all happened in just the past six months. She’s been involved with a different dom for much of that time, and her relationship with Jeremy is moving in a positive direction as well. (Many BDSM relationships are open, although they aren’t typically considered dating relationships to begin with.) Meanwhile, Pam — like many people who open themselves up to the scene — is enjoying the freedom that comes with no longer caring about what other people think.
After all, she says, her divorce wasn’t about finding someone else to marry: “It was about me finding out what I wanted.”
Jessica Ogilvie is an L.A.-based writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, VICE and BuzzFeed. She last wrote about the Trump phenomenon as explained by the filmmaker who got there first.