A man volunteers to be tied to a large wheel and be whipped by a woman in a tight leather skirt. “Don’t worry about it,” says our guide for the evening, Buki Nae, “we have a reporter here from The Jerusalem Post – when you can’t take it anymore use that as your safe word.”
“Safe word” is the expression people involved in the bondage, domination, sadism and masochism (BDSM) culture decide on ahead of time to end a scene. “Just shout ‘Jerusalem Post’ and he will rush in to save you!” As the woman begins to lightly whip the man’s rear and lower back, another woman gently rubs his neck and shoulders. Nae– a former crime reporter for Yediot Aharonot, boasting a black shirt that signals he is a member of the subculture – rapidly begins his introduction lecture to the reporters in attendance to cover the reopening of the Dungeon club, now celebrating 16 years in business.
“When I go to a gym and work out my body releases endorphins, a self-produced morphine-like substance, and after the workout I feel good, I feel high. The same is true if I take nipple clamps and squeeze my nipples and scream! For me and others here pain is the way we produce endorphins and experience pleasure.”
Nae then goes on to describe how he spends his time online in the Dungeon forums seeking a partner who’d be willing to pour hot wax on his body, then fires off a list of lurid tales. They include an Israeli diplomat found bound and lifeless in a Paris apartment, a manager at a hi-tech company who was in the habit of stealing shoes worn by his female employees, and a bizarre case in which Nae’s cameraman returned home to find his expensive cameras untouched but his wife’s bras and underpants missing (his wife was model Galit Gutman).
As attractive as this tour of kinky Israeli life might be, and Nae does offer guided tours in sex clubs and strip joints based on his extensive knowledge in that field, it’s about as serious as suggesting obese people just really can’t get enough sugar. The obese, as noted by Lost Connections author Johann Ha, usually eat to fill an emotional need. For example, prison wardens sometimes feel safer from dangerous inmates if they enjoy the bulk and size being very overweight allows.
In the same way, kinksters are not simply people who seek pain. It’s a very specialized sort of pain that must be administered by a very special person in a specific manner. Which is why people who are into the scene often say that while it might look like the Dom (the one who is dominating) is in control, it is in reality the Sub (submissive) who is dictating every detail of the scene enacted.
The brick-layered underground space of the dungeon – with iron chandeliers, a massive church chair, two bars and a 65-square-meter underground labyrinth, complete with peepholes and a couple of sofas for people who relish public sex – offers the unique blend of security and confidence required for people to explore their desires and identity with as little risk as possible.
It is forbidden to take pictures. The only visual materials online about the Dungeon are taken by the house photographer, who is aware of who does and doesn’t mind being photographed. Consent, a key term in the scene, is always asked for.
In addition, the club is not exactly easy to get into.
There’s a dress code; black shirts, no blue jeans.
Also, the Dungeon does not allow single men into the party, with the exception of gay couples (“Don’t try to fool us,” a security guard says with a chuckle, “we can tell.”). Only male and female couples or single women are allowed. All the effort to make the place safe, especially for women, does not mean it’s without humor.
The famous expression loved by US President Donald Trump during his time on television – “You’re fired!” – madly gleams in big neon letters above the rest area.
While enjoying a beer poured by a barwoman sporting a black shirt with a BDSM pun (the Hebrew word “malka” can mean “queen” or “a woman who whips” based on the spelling), club owner Amos Levi shared with me how he came to the scene.
“I had a web café and all the weirdos of Tel Aviv hung out there,” he recounts. “One of them, can’t remember who, said, ‘Why not open a BDSM club?’ “At the time I had some business in London so I went to a few events there to learn more about it. The event that really opened my eyes was organized by Torture Garden.”
That famous fetish club, established in the 1990s by Alan Pelling and David Wood, “was what turned me on to the scene,” says Levi.
Nisan, a tall, impressive man with fake vampire teeth, contact lenses that make his eyes glow, and a surprisingly sweet demeanor, shares with us how he completed his service in the IDF as a special forces ranger and ended up whipping women and pole-dancing.
“First of all,” he explains, “what I am is a pervert, not sick.” He goes to explain that adults who enjoy sexual relations with children, who are unable to consent to such things or understand them, are sick and need to be stopped, but that adults who give and seek consent to tie each other up are perhaps kinky or perverted, but not sick. A former male stripper steps in to say that, in his view, it’s a sexual orientation or identity and not a perversion. “Rape,” he says, “is a perversion.” The barwoman jumps in and says that as a graduate student of criminology she agrees that it is perverted, but not criminal-like, as for example rape is, as it doesn’t hurt anybody if done with full consent. A lively debate follows.
Beyond consent, it takes skill and practice, not to mention proper gear, to tie someone up and suspend them from the ceiling or whip them without also landing them in the emergency room.
“The more tails there are on a whip, the less pain it causes,” explains Nae as Nisan takes a bullwhip, which has a single tail, and produces a loud SNAP. “I’m able to do that because the tip of the whip actually breaks the sound barrier,” he says. “This takes time and practice.”
However, the Dungeon does not offer a training program for people seeking mastery of the whip, or of Kinkbaku, a Japanese style of rope bondage explored in the art of Nobuyoshi Araki.
“People have to come to us with the knowledge, or as adults and seek the knowledge elsewhere,” says Dungeon PR person Yifat Lader.
The adult emphasis is important. Whereas LGBT teenagers are offered aid and assistance in cases when they are kicked out of their homes or suffer abuse, teenage kinksters must find some other place to explore their interests. The Dungeon is an adults-only establishment.
The Dungeon, Israel’s only BDSM club, is located at 10 Ha’arbaa Street, Tel Aviv. Open Thursday and Friday from 11:30 p.m. NIS 70 entry fee, black shirts and formal dress required, no photographs, no single men.