Sophie Moeller
Sophie Moeller

My journey into pleasure and pain

MY GRANDMOTHER would roll in her grave if she knew "Nanna" was my "safe" word. The fact I was in the sex fetish shop at all shows how far things have shifted.

The Mardi Gras consciousness has done a lot to desensitise the general public to the once nefarious world of sexual fetishism, so when I walked past the Oxford Street window dressing of Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten in S&M gear acting out submissive and dominant positions, I laughed.

S&M was taking up prime retail frontage. Who are these people who wear black leather and brandish medieval torture equipment? They've obviously got a sense of humour.

When I was frequenting the Taylor Square nightclubs of Kinselas, The Burdekin and Rogues back in my teens and 20s, "The Tool Shed" was about it, for this kind of stuff; the only portal to the street was a black door, behind which was a scary place where people did unspeakable things to each other.

Now I was curious. But that didn't make it easy. It's only a shop, I told myself hovering outside looking weird.

Before losing my nerve, I entered through Scott and Bill's vassalage; a passing lady with child took a second glance. I imagined her bemusement as this middle-aged woman in her chinos, panama hat and red rolling travel case stepped in amongst the black latex and metal spikes.

I'd been thinking a lot about our current mores around sex because of my teenage son. It frightens me what the young are exposed to on the internet: a far more insidious portal than this one in Darlinghurst.

"Going all the way" these days is a lot further than it used to be but, then again, maybe having less taboos makes it easier for us to talk to our kids?

I had sought to understand by reading Alain de Botton's School Of Life book on sex and watching Cindy Gallop's talk at TEDx Ubud in Bali about "porn world versus real world."

But as I moved to the counter, where three gimp masks stared down from above, it was Susan Sontag's views about modern sexual ideology in her 1978 interview with Rolling Stone that surfaced. This era had definitely shattered any assumption love and sex necessarily went together. Maybe, the motivation behind this subset of society wasn't even about sex?

Two young guys (looking slightly sheepish) were making a purchase as I approached the less seedy of the two shop assistants. I could tell my presence was dampening their mojo but to apologise would have made it worse.

Faltering slightly, I weighed in: "you're going to think this a strange question but I've been married to my husband for 25 years, I've got four children and I've never even read Fifty Shades Of Grey. I am SO straight. I just really want to know: what is the essence of this experience you're selling?"

I was taken through the rows of restraints and collars, hoods and muzzles, dildos, floggers and whips to the back of the shop.

"This stuff is scary," I said.

"It can kill," he replied, "but there are rules of engagement. It's all about role play and strictly consensual."

"That's why we use safe words like 'Nanna' or, some people prefer to use codes like 'red and green,'" he continued, "so the dominator knows when to pull back."

"What's the endgame?" I replied becoming aware of how proper my voice was sounding. "It just looks so painful."

"What are we all after," he replied pointing to his head, "endorphins."

So it turns out these guys are good old-fashioned adrenalin junkies. He actually agreed when I compared his world to a club of hang-gliders and bungy jumpers.

I couldn't deny that my 10 minutes in the S&M shop had added a certain frisson to the afternoon. Thankfully, I hadn't had to call on Nanna.

Sophie Moeller is the writer of the column, The Long Game - a big picture perspective in an age of digital instant gratification