Submit to your kinks: the nuanced psychology of BDSM

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My hands are tied behind my back. I hear movement in front of me and then behind me. I focus with my ears and not my eyes — because even with eyes opened, they see nothing but the shadow of cloth folded around my head. My heart beats faster as I feel his breath on my skin. I can barely move.

What can I do? Nothing. Nothing — but smile with excitement as I enter into the world of kink.

The kink that is BDSM, the umbrella term for a variety of sexual practices and activities that, in general, concentrate on the exchange of power between two people: the more dominant player (often just shortened to dom) and the submissive player (the sub). Recently, this practice has become more and more recognized (thank you, “Fifty Shades Of Grey”), and now, the curiosity has spread. On occasion, if the subject were to come up, I’d hear the question “what does BDSM stand for?”

So what does it stand for exactly? BDSM is an overlap of acronyms.  (BD) stands for Bondage and Discipline.  (DS) stands for Dominance and Submission.  (SM) stands for Sadism and Masochism.  The activities that can fit under this category can range anywhere from something as simple as pulling hair to role play to restraints.

I, for one, have known this since middle school, back when I first “accidentally” discovered porn. I’ve been fascinated and drawn to this culture ever since. It was, however, only recently that those long-awaited fantasies were fulfilled.

Society seems to have portrayed this kink as a rather negative stigma. Having only been in the position of submission, I can only speak from that point of view, but the common associations and connotations of sexual abuse and dehumanization that come with this practice are far from the truth.

There are probably more people who fantasize, practice or are interested in this kink than the general public think. But it’s not always the easiest thing to bring up before, during or after sexy time. I suppose it makes sense if you look at it on the surface, without understanding what BDSM is really all about. Where is the pleasure in pain and humiliation? How can one find getting hit by whips or tied up by chains enjoyable?

BDSM is much more than just whips and chains. It’s much more than just physical pleasure. It’s psychological. There are certain emotional and mental fulfillments that are realized by relinquishing control to another person. But those aspects are often ignored or unknown, even though they are very, very relevant.

First, in order for me to allow someone to tie me up and take control of me, there should be some level of trust that must first be met. The BDSM community’s motto is “Safe, Sane and Consensual,” and there should always be a mutual understanding of limitations, safe words and proper care and attention toward the other person’s needs — all communicated beforehand and during.

So I’m bound. Yet I am free — outside of the physical world, anyway. As paradoxical as it sounds, there’s something about having the choice — my choice — to relinquish that freedom and control that liberates me. With all the real-world stress, pressure and expectations of needing to feel in control with grades, life, relationships or the future, it’s a relief to let go. I feel expected to have my life figured out and I’m expected to take control, but sometimes I just can’t, and it’s not always my choice.

No, I would not want to be bound, belittled or spanked in any situation that is out of my control. And by choosing to let someone else dominate me and to be constrained, in a sense, I feel powerful knowing that submission and vulnerability was fully my decision, because it is much too easy to actually feel that real helplessness and not be able to do anything about it.

Actually, the whole concept of power play in BDSM itself can be pretty ironic, if you look at it a certain way. It is expected that the sub is the one to feel powerless. What does it mean to be the “master” or “mistress”? What does domination mean in BDSM? To have absolute power over another person? To have your way and will, whatsoever?

It’s a little bit more ambiguous than that. Power play is never black and white in BDSM. It’s all the shades of gray in between. One can even say the sub is in control. The sub has the power. In any moment — “Yellow!” — the captor must slow down. “Green!” — the captor will go faster, harder. “Red!” — the captor must stop. In this sense, the captor is the captive. The dom is only able to dominate because the sub allows it.

So I’m tied. I’m powerless. But it’s more than being a bird in a cage. Yes, the freedom is gone, restrained by the cuffs or ties that bind my wrists and ankles. But really, it’s freedom that I choose and want to lose.

I guess I’m “supposed” to feel degraded or used. But I don’t. Not outside the acting field, anyway. In fact, I often feel quite the opposite. I feel like the star of the show, as the dom feeds my needs. It’s a win-win, for sure. The control of the dom is evident. The power of the sub is subtle but 100 percent there.

Safe and consensual sex, whether it’s vanilla or kinky, is supposed to be a fun and pleasurable thing — not something that anyone should be embarrassed of, despite whatever society may view it as. Sometimes, just vanilla sex is nice. And sometimes, I’m in the mood for something a little wilder than that. So why do I enjoy BDSM so much? It’s a relationship of trust between two people. It’s an escape from the stresses and responsibilities of school or work. It’s a play of power that fulfills the desire of making the choice to give myself up, and the decision is mine and no one else’s. Oh, and yeah, it’s also really fucking hot.

Contact Irene Chen at [email protected]