The scene in front of me is strange: A young woman, wearing a unicorn mask, is lying across the knees of a bearded man in glasses. He is spanking her. She counts out each blow out loud, pausing only to add “Lord Vader” at the end of the number. “Five, Lord Vader,” she says, her voice muffled by the mask, then “Six, Lord Vader.”

For some reason, we are all giggling. This show, part of a demonstration about BDSM, is way outside the well-trod Fifty Shades of Grey realm. In the thirty minutes Sunny Megatron and her partner Ken Melvoin-Berg spend teaching a small crowd at a porn convention about the joys of dominance and submission, they go from talking about light spanking to a terrifying account of using a razor and Icy-Hot to trick a sub (completely willing and consenting) into believing that her throat had been slit upon accident. The goal of BDSM, they say, is to give the submissive a roller coaster experience. And even though I’m only listening to Sunny talk cheerfully about screaming “Oh no, we’ve made a horrible mistake!” as she and Ken convinced a woman (for a split-second) that her life really might be over, my body still feels exactly the way it would right before the first drop of an amusement park ride. By the end of the presentation, I’m breathing heavily and really confused about my feelings. Do I ever want to try BDSM or do I want to stay away from it forever? Isn’t my fear a suggestion that I should try it?

I first met Sunny Megatron earlier this year when I wrote about her excellent show Sex With Sunny Megatron, which ended its first season run on Showtime a few months ago (Sunny and Ken are crossing their fingers for a second season; so am I). Delighted by her excitement about a man who loves the feel of bugs crawling all over his face and body, I followed her on Twitter. Then, I met her at the AVNs. And then, after watching her and Ken flog a woman with a rubber chicken, I knew I had to talk to them about getting into the world of BDSM. There’s something about Sunny and Ken that’s different from other sex educators, many of whom are so sex-positive that any awkwardness or reticence on the part of the student is met with judgment. Sunny and Ken are funny, real, not always serious—as sex should be.

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I spoke to Sunny and Ken on the phone just after midnight on a day in late February.

I call you guys the friendliest couple in BDSM. Can I call you that?

Ken: Yeah, absolutely.

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Sunny: Yeah, we will beat you but then we’ll give you a cupcake afterwards.

Ken: I turn into a Jewish grandmother if I think I hit you in a place where I didn’t mean to.

I want to get your take on what people who are interested in trying BDSM and should do if they want to try it in a safe, effective way that isn’t scary.

Sunny: First thing they should do, is start reading. There are great sites. There are so many books out. (Tristan Taormino has a great kink book.) Start learning. Don’t feel that you should pigeonhole yourself into a role. Do a lot of self-examination. Stay open-minded. What you think you are interested in today, you may hate when you do it. Or, you may love it. And then next week you may be into something totally different or want to play a different role. That’s fine.

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Ken: I would also encourage people to take a look at different TV shows and movies that portray BDSM so that they can start getting a feel for what’s real and what’s not. Reading Fifty Shades of Grey is a great starter area for people to look at. Then, they might want to read Master of O or The Story of O. They might want to take a look at Anne Rice’s Beauty series. Somewhere in the middle of that and Fifty Shades is probably going to be the truth.

I think a lot of people who I’ve talked to about trying BDSM have done this thing where they go to a sex shop, get an instructional manual, come home, and find it really dry and prescriptive. Is that a misconception about BDSM? The fact that it’s really prescriptive?

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Sunny: It is. When you’re looking at the educational material, yeah, a lot of it is going to be dry. It’s educational material! And then, when you’re looking at some of the books, erotica, movies, etc., that’s way over the top fantasy—stuff that maybe you’re not really going to do in real life but it gets you hot to read about it. Where you need to meet is somewhere in the middle. To make your fantasies come alive, but recognize you can’t do it like it is in the movies or the book; to follow safe protocol and know what you’re doing at the same time. It’s a balance.

Ken: There’s something Sunny always says that I think is a great quote and that’s “you don’t watch pornography as a manual of how to do sex.” Much of it’s for its entertainment value.

But don’t believe the dry manuals on BDSM that say “there’s only one true way.” There is no one true way. You have to expose yourself to a variety of different things. I really encourage people to go on FetLife or a similar website and find out where there’s a meet up of just regular, everyday people that have a meeting at a restaurant. That’s called a munch. You don’t have leather on. You have your regular clothes. You’re drinking a cup of coffee or a beer and talking to other like-minded souls. It’s like a church for perverts.

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Sunny: One thing that I think is really important is don’t just go with one source as the end-all, be-all. Different things that different people say are going to resonate with you. What you’re going to do is construct your own way out of that. The more sources you can use, the more you can open up your kink-portfolio so you can find more of what calls to you.

One of the things you’ve mentioned before is that if you’re into BDSM, you don’t have to be into all the preparation that goes into BDSM. People who are into BDSM are going into all different types of things.

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Ken: Absolutely. Me and Sunny, there’s sometimes where we have unicorn masks on, we’re fucking each other. There’s pumps involved and floggers. Sometimes, we’re just going at it.

Sunny: I think most of the time people think S&M and BDSM sex is a lot of hard work and planning. Most of the time, it’s, “Hey, I want to get off.”

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When I think about BDSM, I actually have a pretty skewed view because I started reading De Sade when I was 16-years-old and was afraid that BDSM involved a crazy Frenchman coming to to my house to kill me after castrating me.

Ken: You wish!

I do! When I saw your workshop, BDSM looked so much friendlier. Other workshops that I’ve seen, even on a college campus have been much more intense. Halfway through I’m like “This is just scary. I’ve got to go.”

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Ken: Yeah. You see a lot of that. Sometimes Dommie McMasterton is the one who’s teaching the course. They’re very leather, very serious. But Sunny and I, before we even told each other we loved one another, were dating for one year with no protocol set up other than constant communication. I think that was the key. We both laugh during sex. We joke a lot.

As we explored one another—and I’ve been doing this a lot longer than her—I’ll tell you what I learned: I haven’t found anybody as fun or as sexy or as entertaining as my wife. We have fully explored many aspects of BDSM together. She started off bottoming. She didn’t really like it very much. She’s like my evil co-pilot. She’s my evil sister.

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Sunny: Before I was involved in BDSM, that dark, serious aspect of it turned me off. Not that it was scary, but it made me laugh. I was like, “Are you people serious? I can’t do that.” Really, BDSM to me is about play. It’s about assuming different characters, playing with different roles. It’s like play theory. Why do little kids play? Why do kittens play? Why do, when we grow up, some of us play Dungeons and Dragons or go golfing?

There are lots of different reasons that we play. It’s an outlet. BDSM is another extension of play. When you’re playing, you don’t always have to play the same game or have the same attitude. I’m a laughy, jokey, light, fun person. That comes out in my play. I can’t play a character that’s dark and scary that I don’t relate to. That’s not me.

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Ken, you’ve talked about the serious stuff. I remember you mentioning going to a dungeon and told them your name was something like Thunderpants.

Ken: Yeah. They kept asking me. “All right. What’s your name?” “I’m Ken.” “Well, what’s your name here?” “My name here is Ken.” They kept asking me, repeatedly. I had to have some scene name.

Sunny: ”What’s your scene name?”

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Ken: I just used the only thing I could think of that was in my mind at that time, which was my Starbucks name. When I go to Starbucks, I either call myself Fatty McFatAss or Thunderpants. One or the other, just because I like to see them laugh. They write it on a cup. They’re like, “let’s see. We have a Double Chocolaty for Fatty McFatAss. Fatty McFatAss. Are you in the house?” Thunderpants was the one that I was using at that time. I’m “Lord Thunderpants,” which also happens to be just enough characters to completely fill out a FetLife profile.

Are people responsive to a profile like that? [Ed note: Sunny told me her fetlife name but asked that it not be published.]

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Sunny: Oh, yeah. They’re like, “Oh my God! That’s hilarious. That’s great.” We’re poking fun at ourselves. We’re poking fun at the seriousness of BDSM. It’s not about, “Who can wear the most leather and latex and be the most serious?” It’s about playing, having fun, tapping into your psyche. It’s learning things about yourself, about your partner, tapping into yourself physically and learning the things that your body can do. That’s fun!

After your workshop I thought “Huh. I might want to try this again.” The only time I’ve ever tried it was we went down to the porn store and bought the BDSM beginner’s guide, which came with a small booklet and I think a flogger or something. I remember thinking “This is boring. I don’t know what to do here.”

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Ken: There’s one really great book that isn’t being referenced very much these days. Were you ever in the Boy Scouts, when you were a kid?

No.

Ken: You’ve maybe seen like a Boy Scout Handbook before?

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Yes.

Ken: It shows you this kind of knot does this, this is how you do basic first aid, this is what a poisonous spider looks like. There’s this great book called, Screw the Roses, Send me the Thorns. It was like the bible for S&M when I first started out because it told you how to do the most basic things that all of these other books aren’t telling you to do. How to do the knot, how to do a single tail whip, how to make a gag. Also, how to have fun with it and how to talk to somebody. It’s a great book that is very much overlooked. It’s all we used up until like 1998, as an instructional manual for almost everyone.

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Sunny: It’s kind of like BDSM’s answer to The Joy of Cooking. You pick up The Joy of Cooking for “How do I pluck a chicken again? How do I do this basic thing? Or, what temperature do I bake a potato?” Just the basic stuff.

Ken: Instead of The Joy of Cooking, you look at Screw the Roses, Send me the Thorns. It tells you every basic thing that you need to know. The authors are Philip Miller and Molly Devon.

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How did you discover the laughing and the unicorn masks and the rubber chickens? Why did you start doing it on stage?

Ken: I’ve actually got a couple reasons. Every time I do something like that, I very carefully think it out. The first thing is that I want her [the submissive] to feel at ease. That little bit of humor puts it at an edge where she feels comfortable on stage. The second thing is it’s actually a sensory deprivation device. The only thing that she can see out of the unicorn mask are those two nostrils. Everybody in the audience is at ease because they’re looking at her looking ridiculous. She knows she looks ridiculous but she’s more at ease because she can’t really see or hear anything other than what’s going through the nostrils. It also helps her hyper focus on whatever I’m doing to her.

If I’m spanking her, she’s feeling it more. If I’m doing something that is arousing her sense of smell, she’s smelling it more. So on and so on. It’s a great tool overall, for a number of different reasons. That’s also one of the reasons why we do things like clowning in BDSM. It puts us and other people at ease. They’re more likely to want to do fun things in that kind of a situation.

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Think about it, you’re at a piano bar. There’s a bunch of guys there. They’re all cruising around. Are you going to want to look for the guy who looks like super, duper creepers that are checking everybody out or would you go to the guy who had the unicorn mask out who was blowing up balloons and having fun?

Probably the latter.

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Sunny: I always regarded sex as fun. I would do silly things and laugh during sex. But I’d get partners who were like, “What the hell are you doing?” The thing for me was BDSM allowed you to be whoever the hell you were. It was okay just to be.

Ken: It worked great for both of us.

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It seems like you really have to find the right person and place. Some people you can go to for really great information and laughing and such. Some, however are so “sex-positive” that it feels like it’s actually kind of harsh.

Ken: They’ve been so politically correct that you’re not able to have fun even in a very simple way.

Sunny: Mm hmm. I look at people who are attracted to the BDSM community or any alternate community. They are looking for something different. Oftentimes, they’re looking to find the part of themselves that’s been buried or whatnot. But sometimes they just become one of the stereotypes, like everybody else.

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Would you say that some people are coming into BDSM in search of an identity?

Sunny: Right. They want to belong. They fall into what they think they should be. If, what they honestly are inside is the person who’s very serious, who wears latex. That’s awesome. For some people, that’s really them. So many other people are going along with it because they’re not sure. In any kind of group or society, we have the pressure to go along with status quo.

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Ken: A young girl who just came to me for some assistance who just recently got involved in S&M about three months ago. She had been with her dom for, I want to say, two weeks. Suddenly, they were collared, which is like an S&M version of a marriage—that’s a really quick period of time to have it. As you can imagine, a week later, they were hating each other. After talking to her for a bit, I actually recommended that she simply consider just being monogamous and doing normal, not normal, but like...

Sunny: Average.

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Ken: ...Having an average sort of relationship instead of looking for fringe. She was recently out of a bad marriage and wanted to explore. But she wasn’t seeking the sort of person that she is really like. I think that that’s a lot of what S&M is. What makes it good is when you’re seeking someone within your own tribe.

It sounds like that would be difficult, though. I think it’ll be a bit different now that Fifty Shades Of Grey has come out, but I think that I could easily go on OkCupid and find somebody who likes to laugh and play Nintendo. It’d be much harder to say “I’m really into BDSM. I’m also into laughing while I’m doing it.”

Ken: It’s funny that you say that. My Tinder profile, not too long ago—and both of us have Tinder profiles and OkCupid—said, “Hi. I’m Ken. I like comic books and science fiction and zombies and blah, blah, blah.”

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A week ago, or two weeks ago, I said, “Fuck it.” I decided to change it. I wrote, “I’m going to abduct you, stick your head in a toilet, and anally fist you. That would be our first date.” Within five minutes, I got ten times more responses than I ever had in the other profile.

All legitimate responses?

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Ken: Some legitimate and other people who just thought I was being very clever and kitschy. Most people that respond to profiles, on any form of social media, are looking for something specific. For the demographic I’m looking for, those people really responded well to me being very honest about what I would do, or they assumed “Oh my God! This guy must be joking.”

Sunny: “He’s hilarious!”

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Or he’s a psychopath? Have you had any of that reaction?

Ken: No. They meet me and they realize that I’m cracking a couple of jokes along with it, and the risky stuff I do, I explain to people in detail before I do it. I want to make sure they’re consenting to do this, but also to know if anything I do might trigger them later.

But, do I do risky, kind of crazy shit? Absolutely. I’ve done everything from being involved with abduction scenes to interrogation scenes, clown stuff. Believe it or not, Mark, it’s the clown thing that freaks people out more than anything else. Coulrophobia, as I’m sure you know, is probably one of the top phobias in the world. It boils down to one thing. Inability to read facial expressions. If they can’t tell what emotion I’m feeling versus what’s being displayed on my face, suddenly people think I’m the creepy clown from American Horror Story season four, as opposed to Ken, the funny guy, who just happens to have clown makeup on.

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Sunny: That reminds me of another thing. A benefit to being funny, when it comes to S&M and life: your serious seems a lot more serious compared to your funny. You can get a lot of mileage by being psychologically diverse. You can be more psychologically sadistic when you have a larger range of behavior or emotion.

Ken: You know what’s an interesting example of this. Are you married? Do you have a boyfriend that’s living with you right now?

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Yeah.

Ken: Is he in this room?

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No. He’s in another room.

Ken: There’s a joke that is a perfect example of this. I would like you to do to him at some point just to see how he reacts. It goes like this. “Knock, knock.”

Who’s there?

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Ken: KGB.

WE ASK THE QUESTIONS AROUND HERE!

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Ken: Yeah! Then smack him in the face.

I will tell you I have done that joke on my partner several times. He thinks it’s funny. I actually got a lot of hate mail a while back when I made him see a gross movie and he was fine with it, but the internet wasn’t.

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Sunny: Yeah. You know that you have a relationship with him. You know what his boundaries are. You wouldn’t really purposely hurt him.

Would you say that knowing the person and being able to communicate clearly is more important than any actual skills you might have in the BDSM world?

Ken: I would actually say that communicating to that person in a way they can understand is more important. You need to know what your submissive has desire for.

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Sunny: For me, I feel more comfortable knowing the person to some degree. If I don’t know you, I could fuck some shit up. I need to be able to look at you and be, “Wait a minute. Something’s not right. I’m going to check in.” If that’s a stranger or somebody you don’t know very well, the likelihood of you being able to do that effectively is diminished.

That Icy Hot thing, where you put Icy Hot on the flat end of a straight razor and then run it against the throat of someone who’s blindfolded. You make them believe that you’ve actually slit their throat. I would probably never want to do this, but I can’t get my mind off of it.

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Ken: We just did that in LA.

Was that with people you knew or people you didn’t know?

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Ken: No. It was with somebody that I had vetted very carefully, and I actually talked to her top for an extended period of time so we could do this in a way that it would be safe.

He was there during the whole thing, and she jumped a little bit but I don’t think she was nearly as frightened as other people that I’ve done this to in the past because she knew that her dom was in the room—that there was no way he would let somebody put a straight razor up against her throat and cut her. I asked her afterwards, “Why didn’t you jump or react as much?” That was her exact answer. She knew her dom was in the room.

Sunny: Right. She said she was confused. “Wait! What’s going on?” She said, “I think if you would have done it to my arm, I would have been more freaked out.” She said, “The fact that you did it to my neck, I knew that he wouldn’t let you do that for real.” It was interesting. She was disoriented and confused for a couple of minutes.

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Did she enjoy it?

Sunny: She did.

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Ken: She enjoyed it very much. She sent me a long thank you note afterwards.

It’s very different from the Fifty Shades type of BDSM. There’s no laughing there.

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Ken: Some people expect the title “Master” to be branded on you and then people have to assume that what you say is correct, but one of the best lessons I ever had about this was from one of my former submissives before she was my submissive. I was in a bar. I was playing with her. She said, “No, you can’t do that.” I’m like, “Why not?” She says, “Although I am a submissive, I’m not your submissive.” That was something that really resonated with me.

Sunny: Right. I think overall when it comes to BDSM, especially new people coming in, yes, there are absolute truths that you need to follow. When it comes to technique and safety. When it comes to obtaining consent. Hygiene. That’s sort of thing.

Ken: Nobody likes stinky balls. That’s the other thing I think I’ve learned. I’ve had some S&M sessions where I’ve shaved my nuts. I’ve washed myself really well.

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You can’t just jump right into risky play, right?

Ken: Yeah. I’d say wait for anything that’s risky. Really, really look into watching TV shows, books, website. Go to a munch before you dive right in.

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Sunny: I would just also tell people to take it slowly. Once they dip their toes in the water, they are like kids in a candy store. They’re diving into everything. But kink is not going anywhere. Your ass is not going anywhere. You have all the time in the world. It’s much better to leave yourself or someone else wanting more than doing too much and being, “What the fuck did I just do?” and traumatizing yourself or somebody else.

Ken: In fact, I still have tricks that I have up my sleeve that I haven’t shown Sunny. We’ve been together for six years now. I purposely hold stuff back just because I want to be able to tantalize and amaze her with some cool trick that I’ve never used on her before 20 years from now. That’s an important thing to do. If you have this repertoire of knowledge then you don’t want to expend everything in the first year or five years. Pace yourself out a little bit.

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For more information about BDSM and Sunny Megatron, you can visit her site or check out her Twitter.

Image courtesy Sunny and Ken; Photo by GlitterGuts.com