Song of the moment: Venus in Furs Black Rainbow
Note: Links in this post may be NSFW. You’ve been warned.
Who’s to say that love needs to be soft and gentle? ~Secretary
BDSM is perhaps the worst, most convoluted acronym for multiple types of sexual and nonsexual play. Bondage and discipline. Sadism and masochism. Domination and submission. Sometimes inter-related, but often not. The fact that they are all lumped under one umbrella acronym is something that’s irked me for some time.
For example, I personally want nothing to do with discipline. My masochistic, submissive sexual personality wants to be controlled, possibly hurt, but not punished. The pain is not because of some wrongdoing, but as a pure expression of someone’s power over me.
Many people in BDSM culture want nothing to do with pain. Some aren’t into bondage. There are so many aspects to BDSM that the blanket label often implies sexual play and desires that aren’t present in its practitioners.
Let’s look at the subtleties of the different subsets of BDSM culture. And, along the way, I’ll talk a bit about my own experiences/desires, because I think the best way for me to explore this particular area of sexuality is to do so through myself. Write about what you know, right?
Bondage is deliciously straightforward, yet as complex as the knots the players use. From the most basic viewpoint, bondage is the use of restraints as a means to heighten sexual pleasure in some way. Of course, how bondage is used and for what specific purpose varies across the board.
There are actually multiple ways bondage can be used to heighten arousal, though most people aren’t aware of that. First and foremost, there’s the control issue. When the dom (I prefer dom to top and sub to bottom, so those are the terms we’ll be using) binds the sub, restricting movement, it’s a power issue. They make the sub helpless, unable to move- the dom is in complete control.
Bondage can also be used to inflict pain, tying the sub into twisted, painful positions that only get more painful with time. Often, these use other accoutrements, such as spreader bars and x-frames. In these cases, the pain is a sexual stimulant to the sub.
Primarily in Eastern cultures, there’s yet another type of bondage, the Japanese Kinbaku or Kinbaku-bi. Kinbaku is a type of erotic bondage focused on immobilization, with pleasure being gained from the restraints and ropes themselves (which often squeeze the breasts and genitals). Like many aspects of Japanese culture, the aesthetics of the bondage are of equal importance to the pain/binding itself, and Kinbaku (modernly referred to often as shibari) uses multiple simple, intricate patterns to bind the sub.
As you can see, the application of bondage depends heavily on the individuals involved. Bondage, modernly, often goes hand-in-hand with leather culture, but that’s not necessary. Hell, tons of couples engage in mild bondage sex play, handcuffing their partners to the bed or tying them up with silk scarves.
Personally? I know how to tie a variety of knots, and (weirdly enough) can tie a few basic Kinbaku patterns (that’s a long story). I’ve never had occasion to use this knowledge, though it would be extremely interesting to try it. I enjoy the concept of bondage and wouldn’t be adverse to it, but I can’t say I’ve actually done much of it.
Here’s, in my opinion, what most people think of when BDSM play is mentioned- the discipline play. Dominatrices punishing their pet men for any little wrongdoing. Indeed, discipline can easily slip into all aspects of BDSM play and often does.
Unlike bondage, discipline is not always a form of physical BDSM play. Instead, punishment is often psychological in nature, usually centering around some form of humiliation. However, it can be physical (caning, whipping, spanking, etc.) and some even use bondage as a form of discipline.
Frankly, I hate discipline (as I already stated). When it comes to my BDSM desires, I tend to walk a fine line between the aspects of control and humiliation/degradation. My desires tend toward wanting to be helpless and under another person’s control, but not at the expense of my own pride. I think discipline is degrading, and I want nothing to do with it.
Power play. God, this is my very favorite part of BDSM. Which, given my personality, makes a twisted sort of sense.
Dom/sub relationships are just that- relationships. There is an enormous amount of trust involved for a person to just hand over control of any aspect of their life to another person. There also has to be a healthy amount of respect between the two parties involved. The dom has to know exactly how far to push the sub, and the sub has to respect the dom enough to do what they say, even when the sub’s internal voices say no.
Because in a proper dom/sub relationship, the dom works to open the sub up to new experiences. It’s a mutually fulfilling relationship- the dom gains satisfaction from controlling and shaping the sub and helping them reach their full potential, and the sub explores and finds whole new worlds they couldn’t have reached on their own.
And no, I’m not just talking about sex.
Secretary, my absolute favorite movie (and the way I discovered my own BDSM desires), deals heavily with domination/submission (and with sadism/masochism and discipline as well, but to a lesser degree). Lee and E. Edward Grey slowly enter into a dom/sub relationship, beginning in the office and eventually spilling out into their lives. E. Edward tells Lee what to eat for dinner- she does. He tells her to stop getting rides from her mother- she does. And, when Lee misbehaves, she’s punished.
What’s so wonderful about Secretary is the characters’ struggle and acceptance of their BDSM desires, which are so decidedly outside the mainstream. E. Edward’s disgust with himself is based solely on social norms- because his sexual desires lie outside what is “socially acceptable,” he feels contempt for his own wants. It is only through Lee, his sub, that he learns to accept who he is.
Lee is changed through the experience as well. As she says, “In one way or another I’ve always suffered. I didn’t know why exactly. But I do know that I’m not so scared of suffering now. I feel more than I’ve ever felt and I’ve found someone to feel with. To play with. To love in a way that feels right for me. I hope he knows that I can see that he suffers too. And that I want to love him.” There it is- the trust and respect necessary for a dom/sub relationship to work.
Personally, as I said before, this is my favorite bit of BDSM play. I’m a forceful, aggressive, take-charge person at work and among friends. I take what I want. I force others to submit to my will. I run organizations, I coordinate meetings, I have multiple subordinates reporting to me. And I love that.
But in the bedroom, I secretly want to be a bit helpless. It’s the only place I feel I can explore something I fear in the outside world- being powerless. I want someone to control me. To tell me what to do. How to act. Not all the time, mind you, but some of the time. As foreplay. As part of the sex act. Yeah, I’m all about that.
Okay, here’s the final bit of BDSM, and the part that I think is hardest for most people to really understand. Because sadism and masochism are all about the infliction and reception of pain. And not just that, but feeling aroused and gratified by giving/receiving said pain.
Sadism and masochism are actually terribly misunderstood. Sadists are seen as wicked, and masochists are seen as weak and often as people who are victimized. But that’s not the case. There’s nothing wicked or wrong or weak about sadomasochistic play. Also note that sadomasochism is not always sexual in nature.
Sadism and masochism are both unofficially classified as personality disorders, with neither one being listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, though both are still studied and used for research purposes. Now, it’s not necessary for practitioners of sadomasochistic play to follow the criteria outlined by either disorder, but it’s worth noting because it does happen frequently.
I am a masochistic personality. I’ve recently come to terms with that. How I live my life, from the situations I put myself in to the men I fall for, demonstrates perfectly how I conform to the guidelines for masochistic personality disorder. I know this, and I struggle with it daily. I’m constantly working to overcome myself- and that’s difficult as hell.
That being said, I have no problems with the fact that I’m a sexual masochist. Like most masochists, I don’t like pain outside a sexual setting. I fall down all the time, I’m constantly getting bruised- and every time, I whine about the pain. Because it’s not the right kind of pain. But within a sexual atmosphere, pain is something I enjoy very much.
There are a few blog posts I wrote early last year that wonderfully highlight my sexual awakening as a masochist. I wasn’t ever intimate with a sadist, but I still had my eyes opened by one. I’m leaving those posts private, and I won’t paste them in here, but one of my favorite bits involved a bruise I got from being bitten. It was this large, painful bruise on my arm. And I remember receiving it and feeling a tingling in my loins as his teeth clamped down. I remember touching it later, feeling branded, and being more turned on than I ever had been in my life. That moment was the moment I first realized I was a real masochist.
It was a terrifying realization, might I add- I had never thought of my sexual desires as being anything but straight-edge. It wasn’t until that moment that I really forced myself to turn a magnifying glass on my sexuality, to accept and be comfortable with who I was. It’s something I don’t openly discuss with people, despite my own ease with it now. Because it is still an area of sexual play that people don’t understand. I don’t hide it, mind you. I just don’t feel the need to bring it up often. My sex life is my own business.
But the fact of the matter is, the vast majority of couples dabble in mild, vanilla BDSM play at some point in their relationship. The silk scarves, fuzzy handcuffs, teacher/student roleplaying- it’s all a muted example of BDSM sexual culture.
I’ll admit, though, there’s one branch of BDSM play that I will never, ever understand. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is pony play. That shit’s just weird.
On the docket for tomorrow: An exploration of why women are attracted to the “bad boy” or “dangerous” type of men. It’s only fair, given Sunday’s post, that I explore an oddity of female attraction as well.