FetLife is a bottomless resource. With just short of 3.5 million members, it is the largest fetish site in the world. On it, one can socialize, join discussion groups, find events local to your area, and more.
Additionally, you can browse through sleazy porn ads, peruse sex toy promotions in your sidebar, and solicit cyber sex. And all on a red-on-black background reminiscent of a dirty chat room from 2001.
While much of the content on FetLife is designed for community building, intellectual stimulation, and sexual education, the website's overall aesthetic is a combination of porn hub and sex forum. It is not a site to leave open with others in the room. And for many, this might make joining FetLife feel like a compromising decision.
As the world's leader in online social connection for the kink community, is it FetLife's responsibility to cater their on-site experience to both novices and experienced players?
I'd say it is. Still, Fetlife CEO and founder John Baku says new members are not their main focus. “We don't focus on gaining new members,” Baku told me via email. “Our primary focus is on creating the best possible community for kinksters. And we believe if we successfully do that, naively or not, that everything else will just fall into place.”
Long-term users and more experienced players have gotten used to this mix and to socializing alongside explicit promotions. But this proximity could potentially disorient newbies still learning to navigate the site.
FetLife is a progressive site that combines what appeals to humans on a basic, primitive level with sexual concepts that are intellectually stimulating. It challenges us to be turned on with our brains and our junk–at the same time. Playing with social norms and our senses, it blurs the line between art and porn, exhibitionism and selfies, inquiry and flirtation.
But humans tend to compartmentalize. As a species, we tend to separate sexuality from intellectual stimuli, work from play, etc. On FetLife, all these stimuli overlap. Members can be aroused, creatively inspired, cerebrally intrigued, or repulsed simultaneously and at any given moment.
Explicit, image-based ads for sex toys and porn dominate FetLife's site real estate. In 7 out of 10* site views, porn and "Support FetLife" ads run in the main right sidebar.
FetLife has never been "thirsty" for ad sales, says Baku. "If we were, we would have had to implement pop-overs, full page ads, animated ads," he tells me via email. "Pretty much all the types of ads that everyone hates."
BitLove Inc. (the team behind FetLife, led by Baku) may have an understanding of what types of ads users find annoying. But do they also consider the kinds of ads users would prefer to see in place of them?
The Fetlife team's primary focus, Baku says, is on how to create the best community possible for kinksters. Yet according to the person who handles the site's advertising, the only information on that community that advertisers on Fetlife are interested in is geographical targeting.
The site has a trove of resources for ideas on what users might appreciate seeing advertised. There's lots of killer erotica. While readers are surely enticed by such writing, many of those same users are also authors themselves.
In fact, the site hosts tons of groups dedicated to writers, the biggest one I've seen holding a total membership of 4,372. Sure, those members might be interested in "Adult Shopping with a Personal Touch". But they might be more susceptible to an ad for say, a writing workshop. Or a self-publishing warehouse. Or even a cool custom made journal.
It's true that the most viewed and liked entries on Kinky & Popular are pornographic. But that doesn't mean that their popularity is the immediate result of users searching for masturbation material.
To conclude, FetLife should know that kinksters are people–complex, often intelligent, and open-minded. People sign into the site to explore a side of themselves that's been repressed by family, friends, and society. It's surely time to recognise this.
*7 out of 10 reflects a recent isolated user tested click through.
Zoë Tersche is a NYC-based writer focusing on fetish sexuality and the freedom of sexual expression. Follow her on Twitter at @ZoeTersche or on her website.
What are your experiences of FetLife? Let us know in the comments below.
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