Orlando BDSM dungeon caters to kinksters

The Woodshed is a private club that's host to members of Central Florida's BDSM community, men and women who participate in practices governed by strict hierarchies and modes of conduct.

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"Do you want to choke me?" she asked.

There were smiles across the table. Muted laughter spread across the wide-chambered room, weaving between the chains, pulleys and restraints mounted in the strange wood and metal contraptions. A man with long hair turned from his pizza and nodded.

"Tell me how hard," he said.

The dungeon was about to open.

Off South Orange Avenue — nestled among an array of storefronts, warehouses and private businesses — stands an unassuming glass door.

Past the colored streetlights that flank its entryway you'll find a store that caters to a very unique clientele. On its racks hang whips and handcuffs, adult videos and devices thats usage requires an expertise not often shared in polite company.

It's called The Woodshed and it's one of Orlando's strangest open secrets. It's a private club that's host to members of Central Florida's BDSM (Bondage Discipline Sado Masochism) community, men and women who participate in practices governed by strict hierarchies and modes of conduct.

50 shades of popularity

Now, with the runaway success of erotic bondage novel 50 Shades of Grey, popular interest in the BDSM community has reached a crescendo.

While it brought many new faces to The Woodshed's doors, members expressed a collective distaste for the novel's depiction of a dominant-submissive relationship.

"[50 Shades of Grey] is all Hollywood — it's not living the life," said Christine, a longtime member of the club. "We know whoever wrote it wasn't somebody that understood the lifestyle. This is our life. We live this and we want the public to know. We know we'll never be able to be [completely] open and out there, but it's getting there.

To me, it's no different than being gay — but there's always things that people won't be able to understand."

Master Cecil, the co-owner of The Woodshed, was a stocky gentleman with large hands and a booming voice.

The Woodshed's website described it as a "kinky community center" whose primary mission is to "provide a safe place to learn and play." This two-dungeon, 6,000 sq. ft. location has been the home of Orlando's BDSM community for more than six years.He spoke with the easy cadence of a salesman as he toured his domain, and his eyes often crinkled with a smile as he explained the different uses of the many strange and intimidating devices contained within its walls — devices like the St. Andrew's Cross, a human-sized X, which boasts restraints on each of its ends.

Behind the scenes

Master Cecil said that The Woodshed in its current location has existed since 2008 when and his partner — his submissive, Darcy — decided to purchase and renovate a defunct bondage dungeon after a layoff at work left Cecil with time and money to spare.

"The dream of The Woodshed was first dreamt in 1993 when I attended my very first public play party," Cecil said. "There were about 45 people in 600 square feet. You couldn't swing your own arms without touching someone inappropriately. I realized, at that point, that [our community] needs space."

In 2007, when Cecil heard that a local dungeon had stopped paying its bills, he realized that he had the chance he had been waiting for.

"I said [to my partner], 'Baby, it will never make money and we will never have a weekend free again,'" he said. "Owning a dungeon, owning a playspace is a huge life change. I knew at the time that all of the dungeons on the East Coast were up for sale because no one was making any money at it."

The Woodshed saw its grand opening on Valentine's Day of 2008. Since then, after an influx of members launched its membership roll into the thousands, it has expanded from its original 2,000 square-foot location into the massive 6,000 square-foot space it occupies today.

Members are charged a one-time yearly fee of $30 for membership and a daily door fee of $15 to $20 depending on the day.

UCF ties

Members of The Woodshed, including Master Cecil himself, have come to UCF to give presentations and educate students about their practices at the invitation of Charles Negy, an associate professor who teaches a class on sexuality and sexual behaviors.

"This group of characters showed up to my class one day — it was planned, it wasn't by surprise — and they talked about their lifestyles and what they do at their club," Negy said.

The presentations, which include a whip demonstration and PowerPoint slides, have occurred about four or five times since their first instance two years ago. Negy described them as educational, but expressed reservation about the assumed pleasure of the BDSM practices.

The BDSM community encompasses a wide range of interests and individuals. Listed activities include fire play, rope play, the eponymous bondage, suspension, sensation play, waxing and more.

Members are provided with an abundance of devices with which to engage themselves at the dungeon.

Different stations are dotted throughout the two main dungeon rooms to practice crafts ranging from whip play to wax dripping, and volunteer Dungeon Monitors circulate throughout the space to ensure safe play and provide their expertise — in the case of Master Cecil, some two-plus decades involved in the leather and bondage communities — to any willing ears.

Diversity in the dungeon

Short and tall, skinny and fat, young and old, the only common denominator that seems to link the club's members together is an attitude of safety and an iron-clad adherence to the rule of consent.

Members must follow strict hygiene protocols to ensure that blood and other bodily fluids are not unknowingly transmitted between members, and no one is allowed to engage in any play without acquiring the active and continued consent of all members involved.

"No. 1, the biggest, baddest thing is consent," Cecil said. "Not only the consent, but the active request [for play]. I will not work on someone who doesn't ask for me to do it. Once they ask, then we negotiate. I ask, 'What do you like, what do you know you like?' You may never have done this before, and it [comes down] to us old farts to take them on a journey that they can enjoy.

Cecil said. "That's hard to get your head around, it really is."

Consent paves the way for the intricate hierarchies of power that run through and define the types of play that go on in the dungeon.

Pain, restraint and surrender of personal agency are methods by which members are able to tread the fine line between pleasure and pain.

"The biggest sex organ you have is between your ears," Cecil said. "That's where we play. It's really all about power and control. [There's] a very fine line in your brain between pleasure and pain. Quite honestly, the endorphins and the receptors in your brain are the same ones — it's just a matter of perception. I know it's really hard to smash your finger with a hammer and say 'That was amazing,' but I know people who can do it."

For the people who make it to The Woodshed, they find more than just a club — they find a home.

"We see it every two or three weeks here," Cecil said. "We have a new person reach the door of The Woodshed and they'll stop dead in their tracks. They'll lean against the right-hand wall and they'll start crying because they're like, 'I'm not fucked up. I'm not unworthy. I'm not somebody that should be killed or put to death for my thoughts.'

I can be home here."

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