This column is not about “Fifty Shades of Grey” because, frankly, reading that book pissed me off. Reading about how undeserving a woman thinks she is of a prototypical alpha-male is not sexually arousing. “Fifty Shades” did not provide any of the provocative mind-fucks I was anticipating. This column is about BDSM and the wonders of bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism, which “Fifty Shades” failed to mention.
Bondage is a fun place to start, as it physically restrains a person and forces him or her to take pleasure, humiliation, teasing and taunting. Dominance and submission are about the submissive giving-in to any demand for the pleasure of the dominant. Masochism describes the sexual pleasure one gets from receiving humiliation and pain by means such as whipping and flogging, while sadism describes the pleasure one gets from giving pain. Pain in these contexts is discussed and predetermined, as the person in power never intends to inflict any sensation that the subjugated individual cannot handle.
The attractions of BDSM are not so much physical as they are psychological. It’s not about leather and chains in a dungeon setting. It’s about taking on the mentality in which the sole objective is to give or receive pleasure through power plays. It’s about feeling so irresistibly desirable that one is forced to take sexual pleasure or entrancing someone to the point that one is given total control over another.
But BDSM has to be completely consensual. A nonconsensual act of pain or abuse is not BDSM. In all BDSM spaces, partners have to communicate what they will do, the limits of their pain tolerance and safe words before they start any play session. All parties have the power to stop everything at once if they become uncomfortable. At bondage clubs, the experts will constantly monitor and check in with you to see if you’re okay.
Contrary to popular belief, BDSM demonstrates how sex can be used positively and constructively. Sex is one of the best media we have to escape reality. When I’m in a kinky head space where all I think about is carnal pleasure, everything else melts away. Experiencing intense physical sensation can be stress-relieving. Kink-sters are people who take role-playing seriously. You can find yourself legitimately acting out a fantasy and become whomever you want to be through sex. Pushing boundaries in this way truly reveals how sexual exploration is unlimited.
BDSM reveals the primal nature of human beings in a way through which people become aroused by power and dominance. Our identities as civilized citizens are overwhelming in everyday life, so it feels good to let go of repressive moral codes and social norms in the bedroom. Consensual sex is one of the acceptable ways through which one can express such overt aggression.
Individuals with kinky sex practices and an affinity for sadism and masochism are often labeled pathological or psychologically lacking in self-worth. But a study in the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality found that there were “no significant differences between BDSM practitioners and the general population” in terms of psychopathology, anxiety and depression. The Kinsey Institute states “5 to 10 percent of the U.S. engages in SM for sexual pleasure on at least an occasional basis.”
Sexually empowered individuals get the most enjoyment out of BDSM. It takes a person with high self-esteem to become sexually aroused when being called a dirty whore rather than burst into tears. Giving up control is just as liberating as wielding it. As explained in a blog post from goodtherapy.org, some people may enjoy masochism or subjugation because, “Many of them crave submission as a way to temporarily escape the huge responsibilities they take on in their ‘vanilla’ lives.” Vanilla refers to “normal” sex practices that don’t include BDSM.
It takes confident and self-assured individuals to be “dominants,” who effectively exert sexual prowess. Being a caring yet commanding dominant takes training, knowledge of anatomy and good acting skills. Dominants aren’t always sadists who have intimacy issues or past issues of abuse — like Christian Grey in “Fifty Shades.” Dominants are people who put in a lot of effort to satisfy the specific desires of others.
The fact that the general public finds BDSM practices scary and wrong is largely what makes it so alluring. Humans are greatly attracted to and aroused by novelty. Exploring novel situations is closely linked to dopamine reinforcement in the brain’s reward system, according to a study in the online publication Neuron. Experiment with spanking, and see how hard you can go before you want a whip or a paddle. Getting slapped in the face is a nice masochistic addition to your sex routine — it can be a lot more erotic than it sounds.
If you’re interested in scoping out the kinky social scene and experiencing some soft-core flogging and exhibitionism, check out Bondage A Go Go in San Francisco on Wednesdays at the Cat Club. Tomorrow just happens to be Wednesday. I guess I know what I’m doing for Halloween.