FetLife is a social networking website that serves people interested in BDSM, leather, and other kink. On its homepage, FetLife describes itself as, “Like Facebook, but run by kinksters like you and me.” FetLife distinguishes itself from competitors by emphasizing itself as a social network rather than a dating site. FetLife is not dedicated to any particular sexual orientation or gender; everyone is welcome. It has over 5 million user accounts.
During the summer of 2016, Fetlife altered its membership policies. While it was mistakenly thought the website would become invite-only, Fetlife administrators added an option to verify an account with an anonymous text message as an alternative to getting an invitation from an existing member.
FetLife was launched in January 2008 by John Baku, a software engineer in Montreal, Quebec. Frustrated by attempts to find women who had the same sexual interests as he did, Baku created a website in 2007 called “FriendsWithFetishes”. While working on release 2.0 of FriendsWithFetishes, Baku decided to launch it as a separate site and named it FetLife. James Golick served as Chief Technology Officer from 2008-2012.
In July 2016, the website was made invite-only. The new system is currently in transition and while that is ongoing, the site administrators gave invites to Fetlife Supporters first. Supporters are members who paid for premium features; the bulk of the website itself is free and paying money is not required. The site administration says they will extend invite privileges to unpaid members, in good standing, once they figure out the formulas and code them.
A couple of weeks after Fetlife made the invite-only system there was a new system added. The new system works as stated by the founder John Baku,
“Very similar to what many of the larger email and messaging platforms are currently doing. Sites and services that include GMail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, WhatsApp, and many more.
“Will everyone feel comfortable verifying themselves via a one-time anonymous text message. Definitely not… just like not everyone feels comfortable sharing their email address with us.”
In the past any member could create a group devoted to whatever fetish they choose. However as of January 2017, Fetlife has shut down the ability to create new groups. At the same time they deleted hundreds of existing groups, including anything with the words blood, needles, rape and incest.
There are thousands of groups, on almost any legal topic. (Due to restrictions from credit card processors, some topics are not permitted.) Any user may join any group, although the group owner can ban problematic users. Group membership is required to post or reply to posts. Members can enable email notification of posts in groups they are members of.
All new members are by default enrolled in the group Fetlife Announcements, which has (as of 2016) over 4,500,000 members. There are many groups devoted to answering thematic questions, such as “Ask a Dominant“, “Ask a Stripper”, and so on. Groups can be searched for by words in the group title.
In addition, there is a separate “directory” of fetishes which a member may indicate his or her interest in. Any member can create a new fetish.
Any member can post an event with date, location, cost, dress code, and other information. Location can be concealed and only revealed individually by the Event owner to participants. Users, on an Event’s page, can indicate that they “will attend” or “might attend”. Events often posted include (but are not limited to) “play parties” where BDSM occurs, classes to learn how to do certain kinks, and munches.
All members have a personal profile. A member may have multiple profiles. An age and location must be posted, but honesty is not required; there are many users who specify they are in “Antarctica”, and many who give their age as 93. There are 12 possible “sexual orientation” choices, plus “Not Applicable” and over 60 “role” choices. The groups the member belongs to and the fetishes the member is “into” or “curious about” are displayed as part of the profile. Beyond this, the member may write text that is automatically posted on his or her profile, with no limitation on length. All profiles are by default visible to all members, though a member can block another member.
Members can indicate that they are “Friends” with another member, and thus receive notification of the Friend’s activity (for example, which groups the Friend joins and what posts they make). Confirmation from the proposed Friend is required; friendship is always reciprocal.
Members can also indicate that they are in one or more relationships. A separate menu allows a member to indicate more specifically any D/s (Dominant/submissive) relationships they may be in. Both optionally allow the member to specify someone on their friends list.
Members can exchange private messages with any other member. A limited chat function has recently (2013) been implemented. One can only chat with Friends. However, as of 2016 the chat function has been removed for the foreseeable future.
Each member can post writings (journal entries, erotica, and notes), photographs, and videos. Posting of photographs or videos not taken by the member him- or herself is not permitted, unless they are photos or videos of the member. While membership is free, videos can only be viewed by those who are financial supporters. Those who make a financial contribution receive an “I Support FetLife” badge on their Profile.
Any member may comment on another member’s piece of writing, photo, or video. Comments are public, and cannot be changed or deleted after posting.
The search feature is deliberately limited to prevent members from finding users with specific characteristics, such as age or gender. Also, writings cannot be searched by topic or keyword; they are only available via the author’s profile page.