A woman crawls around on all fours, her hands covered by mittens, her leash passed from one person to the next.
At a post against the wall a man chains his wife’s wrists above her head and proceeds to paddle and spank her repeatedly.
After a lengthy whipping, a man adds various attachments to his already cross-dressed male partner, making him look like a horse or a backup dancer from Madonna’s last tour.
Chained facedown and spread-eagle on a large vinyl-covered workbench, a lingerie-clad woman is flogged with a cat-o’-nine-tails by her husband, who is wearing a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. (This is Orlando, after all.)
So, how did you spend Valentine’s Day weekend?
While many Orlando couples celebrated with romantic dinners or weekend getaways, those who prefer bondage, discipline and sado-masochism – or BDSM – lucked into the opening of a 2,000-square-foot warehouse on the city’s far north side to engage in their own ritualized acts of love.
“Leather is alternative loving,” says “Master Cecil,” the 44-year-old owner of the Woodshed, Orlando’s newest leather/BDSM public dungeon. (Master Cecil didn’t want his full name used in this story.) “A lot of people believe that you tie someone up, beat the heck out of them, and you’re done. It’s about trust … and `trust is` not an option in an S&M relationship, it’s a prerequisite. And with that trust comes a much deeper relationship and level of responsibility than there is in most vanilla relationships.”
Across town on that weekend, an abandoned theater played host to an annual art show celebrating the human nude. But at the Woodshed, nakedness is a byproduct, not the primary focus. Save for the wooden crosses, the bend-over benches and the mildly erotic art on the walls, the dimly lit room could pass for a suburban den. But the sessions that take place here? It’s performance art like you’ve never seen.
Take, for instance, the couple that took center stage on a recent Saturday night. After meticulously organizing their props – wheeled into the dungeon in a golf-bag luggage case converted into an adult toy chest, complete with interior lighting – the couple proceeded to “scene” at the chains hanging in the middle of the room. The woman was naked, except for a black leather hood over her head, a pair of thigh-high stockings, and clothespins attached to her fingertips, nipples and other body parts.
Located in a nondescript warehouse park near Clarcona Ocoee Road and North Orange Blossom Trail, the Woodshed has taken over what was once a local dominatrix’s private play space. This isn’t the area’s first public dungeon, but Cecil says it is the first to be properly licensed. A Kissimmee dungeon was closed in 1999 after an undercover investigation discovered its owners were operating the location under a janitorial services business license.
The Woodshed is registered with the state as an LLC, and has received an Orange County Business Tax Receipt (formerly known as an occupational license) as a private membership club that “practices social nudism and the S&M arts.” It’s the same tax code that covers gym memberships and some church donations: businesses or organizations that take in money but do not offer tangible goods in return. However, county officials are still investigating whether or not the Woodshed falls into the category of “adult entertainment establishments,” which would require additional licensing.
Prospective members have to complete a lengthy application, as well as a liability waiver. So far there are about 250 members, Cecil says.
Each admission is $20. The charge includes the use of any of the Woodshed’s props and equipment from roughly 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. each Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Cecil is currently selecting a line of play products that will be available for purchase in the Woodshed’s lobby, but for now it’s BYO.
Club rules hinge on “safe, sane and consensual.” Drugs and alcohol are not allowed. And neither is sex. Nudity and genital fondling are OK, but sucking and fucking are no-nos.
“We’re the place for someone who doesn’t have the space to have this type of equipment in their homes,” says Cecil. “BDSM is tremendous foreplay. I don’t think anyone goes home and doesn’t get laid.”
Fridays and Saturdays are pansexual, meaning all sexualities are welcome. But nearly all the action on a recent weekend involves hetero couples who’ve come to the dungeon together.
One notable exception to all of this is a beefy, stocky male-male couple who met online, and who’ve finally come face to face at the Woodshed this evening. After a discussion of expectations, limitations and the selection of a safe word, the shorter and more experienced of the two leads his taller, submissive partner to a whipping post. His shirt is removed, his hands placed above his head and on the wall in front of him, and the dominant begins to flog him – gingerly, at first, then with harder and more calculated strokes. The device used is like the rotating brushes seen in a car wash, except smaller, hand-held and made of leather.
Lesbians typically don’t visit communal dungeons, Cecil says, but he’s encouraged by the female couples who’ve supported his business so far. As for gay men, he recognizes that many of them don’t want to see a woman naked. “So they get their own night on Sundays, as long as it’s supported. It’s been a slow start, but attendance is gradually increasing.”
One distinguishing trait shared by a fair majority of the women in attendance throughout the weekend is their size.
“We have an obese community in general, and America is getting heavier and heavier,” says Ray, 46, a seasoned veteran of the scene visiting from out of town with Devin, his partner of 10 years. “But the women here are able to embrace themselves and move beyond it. How many vanilla or non-BDSM overweight women are traipsing around nude in a room with other people, feeling sexy, beautiful and deserving of physical and romantic attention?”
The participants this weekend are also predominantly white. Over the course of four days, only three African-Americans and three Hispanics visit the Woodshed. Cecil says that’s reflective of the straight BDSM community, which he says is 85 percent white. He adds that BDSM-ers are also generally middle class, “because the stuff we play with ain’t cheap.”
But BDSM-on-a-budget – as well as the lifestyle’s mainstream acceptance – appears to be gaining popularity. Debra Peterson, Fairvilla Megastore’s director of marketing, says adult stores are seeing an increased crossover of BDSM-related items, though demand is highest in what would be considered BDSM-light: handcuffs and bondage gear made of Velcro strips or plastic instead of metal or leather. In the past year Fairvilla’s sales of fetish roleplay goods have risen 20 percent, while sales of fetish fashion are up 50 to 60 percent.
Though the BDSM scene remains largely underground, social groups and communal dungeons are more prolific than one would expect. Cecil says with the rules and regulations he’s established, he believes he’ll be left alone by the authorities.
“As long as we’re not causing trouble, 911 isn’t getting called, and nobody’s complaining, then we’ll be OK. We are well within the parameters of the law,” he says.
The Woodshed is a work of passion for Cecil. He’s also the owner of Dungeon Designs Inc., which builds in-home dungeons across the country, some as large as the 2,000-square-foot Woodshed, and one made of transparent Lexan built for a judge in the Northeast. He says he’ll be happy if his latest venture breaks even. But if the growing number of testimonials already popping up on TheWoodshedOrlando.com is any indication, Orlando is ready for another dungeon. Though known as a family-friendly destination, the area may have to accept vices such as this Disney World of kink. Even the Woodshed has taken a cue from that other tourist-happy town, Las Vegas, with a sign posted in its lobby: “What happens at The Woodshed stays at The Woodshed.”
That is, until the redness goes away.