Even though kink has been alluded to in books, magazines and films for God knows how long, it was still very difficult to find people willing to openly discuss their unusual sexual preferences outside of the club. Or at least it used to be, until the internet took over.
Oh, the internet – A magical place where everyone and anyone can talk about absolutely anything, and find people who agree with them – be it about bicycles, politics, or public sex.
Thanks to the anonymity of public forums, kinksters have been able to build communities where they’re able to share fantasies with other users, away from the prying eyes and faux-outrage usually afforded to the lifestyle by much of the mainstream. On these websites, they’re are able to explore their sexuality freely, and meet likeminded people.
Joshua T. Gibbons’ introduction to the kink community came through a couple of friends in Brighton, on the English south coast. After hearing about their experiences, his interest in the subject was piqued. Despite coming from a very “vanilla” perspective, the photographer pulled together his intrigue for subcultures with a strong dose of determination, and started sending off thousands of messages to anyone and everyone in the community to scope out potential collaborators for his work.
Focusing on the websites Fabswingers, Fetlife and Swapscene, he had conversations with people of all ages, expressing his interest in learning more about the fetish scene and how different people navigate it. Although he initially assumed no one would want to meet, he was quickly proven wrong.
That’s how Sex Site took shape; a two-year long series of 120mm portraits of 18-35 year olds who are part of the kink scene in London, Brighton, Poole, and Bournemouth, paired with messages Joshua received from users who aren’t captured in the work.
“Quite a lot people actually did want to be involved in the project, to allow them an opportunity to tell their story – but also to have an opportunity to challenge the perceptions people have of the kink community,” Joshua tells me over the phone. His subjects had a diverse range of kinks, from swinging, BDSM, daddy/little girl, cross-dressing (for the purpose of sexual enjoyment), and dogging.
“The media’s portrayal of kink is just so black and white and judgemental, and it’s exactly that which causes the kink community to remain this quite isolated and very well hidden subculture, although that is changing.”
“The fact of the matter is: We all have a sexuality, we all have kinks of some sort, and our sexual identities are a majorly important part of us,” he adds. “In my opinion, it shouldn’t even be a subculture, it doesn’t need to be a hidden. A lot of that has to do with power structures, and the sexual attitudes that we have in Britain, that keep that ingrained.”
As is to be expected from such a tight-knit community, once one person told their story, they would introduce Joshua to a few others, leading the photographer to meet more people hoping to show a different side on the BDSM community.
It wasn’t all a fun experience – Joshua experienced a fair share of sexually aggressive messages from men, some of which are featured in the series. But very much unlike Britain’s tabloid representation of kink would suggest, they weren’t in the majority at all.
Learning to screen his messages early on, Joshua would speak to each subject for weeks, sometimes months, before heading to their houses to shoot. The result is Sex Site: a series of relaxed portraits that are in no way voyeuristic, or catering to the shock-value idea of kinksters, perpetuated by a shame-fuelled culture.
It uses honesty to show how our sexual culture is changing and adapting with the internet, opening a frank discussion on the many different ways people in which people can experience their sexuality.