This stereotype, like most, is not without a kernel of truth. In a society as close-knit as Iceland, the whole “getting to know you” aspect of dating can seem largely unnecessary. But it is this very close-knit quality that also pushes more “fringe” aspects of the romantic world into the shadows—specifically with regard to Iceland's BDSM and swing scene.
“Many couples probably engage in BDSM, or have a D/s [Dominant/submissive] relationship, without even knowing what it is,” says Tinna, who has been active in the BDSM community, both here in Iceland and in the UK, for several years now. “Maybe a girl will like it when her boyfriend ties her up, or a guy enjoys being spanked, but neither would ever say they're into BDSM. That term carries associations with something they'd see as freakish and perverted. Not something 'normal' people would do. But they do it all the time.”
It is difficult to assess just how large, or small, Iceland's underground sex scene is. There are a handful of Icelandic web forums catering specifically to those into BDSM and swinging, though none that are especially active. People with these interests prefer instead to use general dating sites, such as Einkamal.is, to find like-minded partners.
Tinna has been less than pleased with Iceland's BDSM scene, which she compares to “sandbox games”—children playing irresponsibly.
“There's almost no self-policing,” she says. “If some young sub ends up in the hands of a Dom [“sub” and “Dom” are shorthand for “submissive” and “Domi-nant”—the use of lowercase for the former and uppercase for the latter underlining the power dynamic] who turns out to be abusive, doesn't respect limits or doesn't listen to safe words, normally, word would spread like wildfire to avoid this guy. Here, though, people are so afraid of being exposed as being a part of this world that they keep things quiet.”HOW THE SCENE GREW
Freyja, who has also been a part of Iceland's BDSM scene, contends that the size of Iceland is only a part of why people with these interests stay underground.
“In the last few years laws regarding sex have gotten stricter,” she says. “In 2000, the hours that clubs could stay open until were changed. Then they began shutting down the strip clubs, and then they made it illegal to pay for the services of a prostitute.”
Freyja says that while these issues, taken separately, might have fine justifications, they reflect a general growing prudishness about sex.
“In the last five years or so, the price for a regular service [from a prostitute] has gone from 30,000 ISK to 15,000 ISK,” she adds. “In times of crazy inflation, I'd say that this is a pretty good indicator that the underground sex scene is growing. Who's fault is that? Brushing things under the carpet might just make the mould grow under the carpet. So we have more hookers and cheap ones, too.”
Things being driven underground has done little to affect the vibrancy of the community, though, she says. “I think this is how things came to be in the underground sex scene in Iceland. People were told not to, so they found a way, and also found out that they weren't the only pervs out there. Now you can find little parties of a 50-year-old bisexual crossdresser being spanked in a pink dress just after the evening news by an ordinary couple in the suburbs. If you don't like that, I'm sure you can find what you crave.”
Freyja explained the process of how these people find each other. It starts, more often than not, on Einkamál. A person sets up a profile (usually without a face photo) outlining their interests. They find others with similar interests, and begin communicating through private messages on this site. If this goes well, they might carry the conversations over to MSN or Skype chat. If this goes well, they might then agree to meet in public, such as at a café, to see if there's any physical chemistry. And if that goes well, they take it from there.
But not everything going on underground is strictly one-on-one. Gunnar and Bryndís, a couple in their late 40s, regularly host swing parties at their summer house in the countryside. Having taken part in swing parties in Iceland and the US for a number of years, they have learned a few things along the way.
Gunnar and Bryndís have had swing parties that involved young people from all over Iceland, but for the most part, they say those involved in this world are between the ages 30 and 55 and usually come from the capital area.
“Young people, especially those with small children, might have a hard time keeping this a secret or simply finding the time and energy to take part,” Gunnar says. “People in small towns have to be even more careful. But when these couples get older, and the kids are moved out of the house, they start looking for adventure.”PLAYING BY THE RULES
Bryndís and Gunnar have established ground rules with regard to who can participate, and how. “We ask for total honesty,” Bryndís says. “We're not going to have some guy over who wants to cheat on his wife, or wants to deceive their partner in some way.” By one bizarre example, she mentions a time when they were contacted by a young man looking for a foursome. Insisting that his girlfriend could not know he had found the couple on Einkamál, he suggested instead that he take her for a walk, and that Gunnar could pretend to “just happen by” and offer the couple to take part in a foursome.
They also don't tolerate possessiveness and jealousy. Most important, however, is that “everyone has a good time.” If someone is nervous or shy in a group setting, they say, they prefer to make them feel relaxed, with assurances that “no one should do anything they don't want to do.”
This, then, is the core of Iceland's underground sex scene (or really, underground sex communities the world over): a form of fun between consenting, informed adults.
“The ones that never liked having the sex scene shoved in their face are happy thinking that it all just went away,” Freyja says. “At the same time, the un-derground scene is growing fast in all directions. That bubble is about to burst, and then we'll see what is accepted and what isn't.”
A long-standing stereotype about Icelanders is that they do not date. The notion of asking for someone's number, inviting them out for dinner or movies, taking a potential relationship through a step-by-step process from friends to lovers has been, as many contend, a phenomenon largely absent from Icelandic society. Relationships are rather founded within circles of friends, often catalysed by alcohol; you're friends one moment and lovers the next, with levels of commitment increasing with how many times you sleep with each other.