One of the world’s most popular adult social networks for kinks, FetLife has been around for almost a decade and has attracted over five million members to its pages.
Bringing a community of like minded fetishists together, the history of the site has not been without detraction but exactly what is FetLife? And is it really a safe place for kinks to explore their private life whilst remaining anonymous?
FetLife promotes itself as “Like Facebook, but run by kinksters like you and me.” The goal of the community is to provide an all-inclusive network for anybody interested in BDSM, fetishism and kinky alternative lifestyles. To that end, it has been incredibly successful. But it hasn’t been without criticism. FetLife has come under fire for its open discussion of some very taboo subject matters, leading to some fetishes being removed from the boards altogether.
Contrary to some expectations, FetLife isn’t what you would consider a BDSM dating site like ALT.com. It’s more of a discussion board and social hub.
In this FetLife review, we take a look at the pros and cons of this hugely popular social networking site. And we’ll give you some background to how FetLife came to be so synonymous with the BDSM and kink crowd.
What Is FetLife?
Launched in 2008 by a Canadian software engineer, John Baku, FetLife was the result of Baku’s failed attempts to connect with women who shared his kinks and fetishes. The site originated a year earlier as FriendsWithFetishes but only garnered popular support when version 2.0 was renamed FetLife.
The site is owned and operated by Baku’s private company, BitLove Inc. and is ranked in the top 1000 websites in the USA (currently at 593).
Over half of all users are registered in the USA (57.4%) with the rest of its userbase being of international origin; United Kingdom (7.8%), Canada (5.6%), Germany (2.8%) and Italy (2.7%) being the next most popular member countries.
Styled in a way that is familiar to users of other popular social networking sites, FetLife offers the adult kink community a way to network with other members who share an interest in particular areas.
The company is keen to point out that FetLife is not a dating site but a networking site and describes itself as being ‘like Facebook, but run by kinksters like you and me.’
The site has over 5 million registered user accounts though it is not known how many of these are active.
Since 2016, FetLIfe has altered its membership policies so that users can join the site by invitation only.
Making the community more secular and private has attracted negative attention in the press with some detractors suggesting that FetLife is protecting its members at the cost of harm to vulnerable members of the BDSM community.
In a further step to ensure privacy for its members, FetLife does not index its forum pages on any search engines and its community policy on speaking out about abuse is clear; no allegations can be made about other members on its forums.
This has led to accusations of protecting potential predatory members whilst preventing any mechanism of early warnings from other users.
Despite the bad press, FetLife continues to be a popular asset to the kink community and the balance of privacy and safety is constantly being adapted. In 2017, responding to their citation in several criminal cases, FetLife dropped a couple of hundred categories of its fetish groups.
Now, only preset or existing groups can be joined and no new groups can be created; however, new fetish categories can be.
What Are The Key Features on FetLife?
If you are invited to become a member of FetLife you can set up a user profile though no honesty is required and members can have multiple profiles.
Basic details, such as age, gender and location are invariably made up with members claiming to be in their 90s or living in Antarctica. The important element of establishing a profile is matching your likes and fetishes with the preset categories. In this way you can make connections with users with similar tastes and join appropriate groups.
All users profiles are set to be visible by default (only to other members) but you can block individual members. Remember that the site is an invite only network and no details are indexed on search engines to try and preserve your anonymity.
The preset categories and questions are comprehensive and you should be able to find a match for your circumstances and kinks to be able to aptly describe the kind of scene you are into. Members can choose from a dozen sexual orientation choices and up to 60 choices of role as well as a huge range of fetish categories – if you don’t fit one then you can start your own.
As with other social networking sites, you can ‘Friend’ other users and build your own personalized network of contacts as you see fit. You can send private messages to Friends in your network and post on the pages/walls of other users to comment on their profile, postings or media.
Kinky & Popular
The main ‘Explore’ function is a magazine style front end that promotes popular journals, video and other media postings from users with a strong following. It’s a great place to start when first using the site so you can get a taste of how other people are using FetLife to communicate as well as perv on other people’s profiles to start connecting.
One of the most popular areas of the site is the events section which allows members to post details of upcoming events and meetings. Members can post details including timings and location and invite other members to attend or leave as an open event. Such details make networking and meeting up with other users easier.
If you are looking for fetish hookups and dating, we’d recommend checking out a proper BDSM dating site or app — like ALT.com for example.
By browsing the site from the viewpoint of your local area you can access events, groups and members that are close to you. You can narrow down your search by state or province and thus get connected to a network of users who share your fetish.
Members can post videos that they have made or that feature themselves but only paid members can access these. At the current time, there are around 400,000 videos available to view that have been uploaded by FetLife users.
There are almost 32 milion images uploaded on FetLife and many of these offer hardcore imagery of the fetish to which the poster relates. Whilst some can be viewed on standard membership, many of these are only accessible if you are a financial supporter of FetLife.
The community are a talented bunch (on the whole) and the site offers an opportunity to explore the creative side of other users with the Writings section. A mix of first hand accounts, journals, notes and fantasy fiction, there is some good writing here to sample, comment on or add to.
How Much Does FetLife Cost To Join?
Membership to FetLife is free but the site welcomes ‘supporters’ who pay $5 a month for some exclusive benefits, including:
- Access to other members videos
- Access to all photographs
- Receive an ‘I Love FetLife’ badge for your profile
- Browse further back in your Friend Feed
- Customisation for your page
- Early access to new features
Because the site is primarily a free to use service there are quite a few ads that run alongside the features. It is not known exactly what information these advertisers receive from FetLife.
Is FetLife Safe To Use?
As well as strict privacy control that is designed to provide anonymity to its members, FetLife does take the issue of safety very seriously.
Whilst it does not allow public posting of ‘naming and shaming’ of other members it does respond to private complaints made about the behaviour of other users.
You can block nuisance members quite easily but if you have concerns over the safety of other users or yourself then contacting the customer service team should trigger an adequate response and action.
Users who breach their guidance can receive a time-out, restraining order or be banned from the site whilst serious infringements can also result in details being shared with law enforcement. The company guidance on any serious threat to safety is to ‘call the cops’.
FetLife works with international police forces to provide information in the event of these rare and isolated situations.
FetLife Review: Our Verdict
As with any social networking site, you can get out of FetLife exactly what you put into it.
If you are an active member of the community and take part in groups, post regularly and network with people who share your kinks then it can offer a rewarding experience. However, there are always dangers with online communities and FetLife is no different in this respect.
What is different is that some kinks and fetishes can attract those handful of users who fail to respect the lines. FetLife does try to provide some safety nets in this respect but the onus is still very much on self-policing and community governing. If you see or experience anything whilst using FetLife that causes concern then you should report it to the site’s support team.
However, the vast majority of users do not have any cause for complaint and find their experience of FetLife a fulfilling and useful one. The fact that you don’t have to pay to be a part of this rich network of opportunity is also a big bonus.
If you can get invited to join, then it is well worth the effort of being involved if you want to share your kinks with other like-minded adults.
All images, including features image, are courtesy of FetLife.