Saturday, June 7, 2014

The disservice we've done BDSM

It was inevitable. When Fifty Shades of Grey hit the bookstores, I was pretty sure what was about to happen, and I turned out to be correct. I remember thinking, We’re about to have a whole bunch of people trying to walk right into the fetish community cold. Boy oh boy, is that gonna be a mess.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “Fetish community? BDSM isn’t a fetish!” then do us all a favor. Close this page, throw away your fur-lined wrist and ankle cuffs, and keep buying your lingerie at Victoria’s Secret. Spare some poor souls some grief.

As for my prediction, I couldn’t have been more right. Since the phenomenon known as FSOG, adult stores have had a boom in customers. Go to any of them and you’ll find more stuff than you could ever imagine. Eight different types of nipple clamps; five different riding crops; paddles that leave a word imprinted on flesh when they’ve made contact (how cute); cuffs of every size and kind; and, quite frankly, things that even I can’t identify without an instruction manual. Everybody’s creating a knock-off version of the Hitachi Magic Wand. I noticed in the last three trips that I made there (for research, of course *wink*) that the set of urethral sounders they’ve had all along are still there. Those weren’t in what I like to call “that popular trilogy written by a British author,” or they’d be gone too. Most visitors to the store don’t even know what they are.

And it’s gotten harder and harder to get membership into a BDSM club. Thank god/dess.

Women everywhere read the books and swooned over Christian Grey. They’ve been trying for several years now to talk their otherwise-clueless partners into doing the things they read about in the books. Most of these guys are just bewildered that a woman they’ve known for so long suddenly wants to be paddled. The great majority of them don’t even want to try that. Scares the hell out of them, frankly.

But I think readers are doing the fetish community, and the practice of BDSM, a grave disservice. It’s become “fashionable” to wear a collar.


I’ll let you in on a little secret. Over twenty years ago, I read, for the first time, The Story of O, and I've read it several more times since then. If you’re trying like hell to get your partner to jump into the BDSM fray and you can’t understand why they won’t, you might want to get a copy of that book. Matter of fact, if you think you’re even remotely interested in BDSM, you should probably get that book. Read it; read all of it. See if you can understand it.

Because the simple truth is this: What you saw in FSOG? That’s not BDSM. Oh, yeah, she’s an authority! She knows better than that writer. Actually, that’s not it at all. I just think the writer and her intentions have been misunderstood. Let me dissect this for you so you can understand a little better.

The BDSM that readers found entertaining in FSOG was not what you see in the fetish community. Yes, there are sadists and masochists in the fetish community. Without them, there would probably be no community. But the truth of the matter is, there are very few true sadists and very few true masochists. A huge segment of the individuals in the fetish community are practicing portions of the BDSM lifestyle strictly for the purpose of arousal. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, as long as you know the difference. They are women for whom the pinch of a clamp brings on a tingle of excitement, and men who want to push their partners to their limits.

But the community also includes those true sadists and masochists I mentioned. I’m a borderline masochist. What does that mean? Do you know what a cutter is? I’m not one, wasn’t one, but I did develop a habit early on of doing things to myself to cause pain. Most people don’t understand masochists, but for a great many of us, the pain we cause ourselves helps to redirect our thoughts and emotions away from emotional and mental pain that is unbearable. It’s a distraction. For me, it was to try to forget that, according to their actions, I was never good enough for my parents to really care a damn thing about me. For the masochist, handing themselves over to a true Dominant or Master is a safe way to take care of that need.

For the true sadist, something inside them needs to inflict pain on another for the same reason a masochist does their thing – to help redirect their own pain. The masochist enlists the sadist because they not only need relief, but they need to be relieved of the responsibility for gaining relief, and maybe perhaps they lack the stomach or nerve to cause enough pain to do the job. And the sadist is practicing simple transference. As they cause pain, theirs is relieved temporarily. They know that, with the use of a simple safeword or hand signal on the part of their submissive, it’s a safe and sane way to fulfill their needs.

For several years now, I’ve been following a particular blog. I’m not going to say whose it is, but this particular sadist is well-respected in the BDSM community. He has taken in several submissives who had been abused and mistreated by wanna-be Doms and helped them heal so that they could look for a worthy partner. I have been encouraged as I’ve read his posts, in which he often rails against supposed Doms who have no clue and only choose the lifestyle to make themselves feel powerful and important or to inflict pain indiscriminately. He’s not a Dominant; he’s a Master and has a full-time slave.

And his collared slave is also his wife. I was excited when I read that. I wanted to know more about their relationship, and he has been blessedly transparent; matter of fact, they both have. She has her own blog and shares regularly about their lives together. She approached him at a time in his life when he wasn’t looking for a permanent relationship, was happy to use unattached, willing slaves for his needs, and decided that’s all he wanted. She shook up his world with her needs and wants, and he found himself more and more interested in trying to meet her needs. Notice I said HER needs; his were already being met within the community.

What I found most interesting in their relationship is that he has a time every day when they talk. (If more vanilla couples actually did that, think what their relationships could be like.) Together they talk about what’s working, what’s not, what her duties are, how she’s doing meeting her goals, and if they need to change anything. She’s required to keep a journal, and they talk about her journal entries. Right now, they’re talking about his taking of a second slave (he’s outright stated that it won’t happen unless she understands the ramifications and is okay with it; she’s considering it). She wants his micromanaging, and he’s glad to give it to her. And he makes it clear that it’s his responsibility, he doesn’t take it lightly, and it’s a heavy burden, but he loves her and he’s committed to carrying out their relationship in the way in which they negotiated it. Matter of fact, they renegotiate when they need to. In all, he bears sole responsibility for EVERYTHING; she has none except to do as she’s told. Gotta tell ya, it tempts me.

Think his approach means he’s not a hardass? Yeah, well, think again. He’s described the times he’s come in, tired and upset, and taken her anally with no lube, knowing full well it was painful. I’ve also read him detailing how she didn’t do what she was told to accomplish and he’s had her lie on the bed with her head tipped over the edge and performed deep fellatio, watching her neck swell as he thrust into her. And they both will tell you that he has amazing sexual control and this can go on for extended periods of time.

You ask yourself, Why would she subject herself to that? Because it meets a need in her life. She needs to be used by someone she trusts. She treats his use of her as a service to him, and because she loves him, she understands that it’s used to help her learn to do as she’s told. She knows the difference; she was abused by at least one "Dom" previously. And if it’s just to relieve stress for him? That’s her service to him too. She takes it in stride. “Safe word?” He has a thing about ladies cursing, and he says that when she mutters “fuck,” he knows she’s had enough. And yes, even though  he’ll whip her until she’s striped, he’ll tell you she’s a lady, and he treats her as such.

But here’s something most dabblers don’t understand: BDSM isn’t necessarily about sex. And it’s true. Take the Domme I saw on TV who has numerous clients coming to her during the day. She has them undress to a certain degree or maybe altogether, makes them wear collars, whips them, instructs them to lick her boots. And she never has sex with them, not once. So why make them undress? Because nakedness breeds vulnerability. And that’s what she’s looking for to help them receive what they need from her. They leave there having bowed and prostrated themselves to her, maybe even having been sexually humiliated, and they’re relieved and happy about it.

To all of you who still don’t understand, let me assure you, this is not a game. It’s not something you do for recreation. Not everyone practices discipline. Some only practice extreme sexual arousal techniques, with the desired effect being to push their partner to the outer limits of their sexual tolerance. And many Doms/Dommes like that. They want to know their partner so intimately that they know when they’re pushing too far and can back away just enough to give them the ultimate sexual release they crave. Often times they practice bondage and restraint. That can be very, very arousing. It feeds the rape fantasies many women have (matter of fact, research shows that’s the number one fantasy among women), relieving them of the guilt of enjoying sex by having it done to them, rather than doing it with someone. For others, being restrained is similar to a baby being wrapped in swaddling cloth; the restriction is oddly comforting. A good example of that is kinbaku and/or shibari; they’re considered an art form without sex ever taking place. And sometimes those undergoing them do have spontaneous orgasms. It’s about the feel of the rope and the constriction, or the suspension and feel of “flying,” not actual sexual manipulation. Me? I'm claustrophobic, so that's a no-no.

You should also know that, for the record, those gorgeous, muscled-up Doms and curvy, buxom submissives with long, wavy hair you read about in books? Nah. For the most part, you won’t see them in clubs. Most Doms and subs are average, some barely so. They choose each other on skills, abilities, and willingness, not looks. Some are even sort of repulsive, and for many in the community, being able to submit to or dominate someone whose looks don’t appeal to them, and yet still respect them, is another form of self-discipline. And I’d say that’s something to which we should aspire.

But the most important aspect of FSOG that most readers didn’t get was simply this: Christian Grey dropped the whole thing at the end of the third book, remember? And why? Because he wasn’t a true Dominant – his tendencies were the result of being abused as a child, first in foster care and then by a pedophile. His “dominance” was nothing more than hurt and anger being wreaked on another, and it gave him no relief. That lack of relief? That’s the tipoff that his “dominance” was misdirected. He didn’t go into the community and find submissives; he found a girl he was attracted to and tried to turn her into a submissive. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. A true Dominant wouldn’t do that. He’d give her a taste and if she didn’t fall into it, he’d walk away for her good. Otherwise, he’s just an abuser. Get it?

So how have we done BDSM a disservice?

First, we’ve treated it like a game. It’s not a game. It’s serious business for the people who are committed to the relationship, but it’s been turned into a form of entertainment.

Second, it’s also been turned into big business. I should know; I write about the stuff, although I attempt to be bare-bones honest about it. People have been lured into it by pretty trinkets and interesting gadgets, not to mention promises of over-the-top sexual gratification. Tools of discipline and punishment are in every household if you’re creative. It shouldn’t cost you thousands of dollars to get your needs met. (But good-quality lube is a must.)

Third, we’ve been led to believe that if our chosen partner isn’t our complement, we can turn them that way. Sure, if someone has never been exposed, we may be able to show them something that they’ll come to desire and enjoy. If if they need to be coerced, that’s a no-no. If you do manage to make your partner be something they're not, the self-loathing and guilt they'll feel about what they're doing will eventually wreck your relationship. Unless they're a complete jerk. But that's another blog post.

Fourth and last, if you’re a supposed “Dominant” who gets squeamish when your “submissive” undresses and you see the razor marks on her arms and legs, especially to the point that you refuse to administer any pain to her, you’ve missed the point. And if you’re a “submissive” who refuses, without consideration, something your “Dominant” decides they want to do to you simply because you just don’t “like” it, you’ve missed the point as well. Even more importantly, if your partner wants you to become one or the other and you really don’t feel it suits you, either ask them to get some psychotherapy or let them go to a true Dominant or submissive to find some relief. And remember, you’ll have to accept the consequences of their possible sexual interaction. Find a happy medium somehow or let go. In the end, you’ll both be grateful.

So go ahead. Be as kinky as you want. But, for the love of leather, do not call yourself a Dominant just because you like to tie up your girlfriend, or a submissive just because you like to be spanked occasionally. And regardless what they say they want or need, never let anyone do anything to you that will have long-term harmful effects. A Dominant you’ve just met insists on penetrating you without a condom? No. Not cool. Autoerotic asphyxiation play? I refuse to discuss that. Even with the most experienced Dom at the helm, all it takes is one misreading of a submissive and damage can occur that can’t be undone. In this instance, I wouldn’t even trust a skilled Dominant who was also a physician. Just too risky. But that's just me. As the community says, "safe, sane, and consensual." If you approach it that way, you'll be fine.

And if you want to criticize others who engage in golden showers, age play, or sterile blade or needle play, not to mention some of the other lesser-known fetishes? Maybe you should just go back to reading about BDSM and spare someone else a lot of grief.