Knot Applicable: BDSM in Real Life

So the second Fifty Shades movie came out earlier this year. And you know what, y’all? I could go all angry feminist about the series that would take way more column inches than Out In SA allots me. Short version? I’m so, so, so happy that people are having interesting and open conversations about BDSM because of the series. And I’m so, so, so disappointed that so many people believe the series represents how BDSM works in the real world. And this isn’t just me being an angry feminist who doesn’t shave her legs as a political statement. Truth be told, I just plain forget to shave my legs until my leg hair gets so stupid scary someone thinks my legs are being attacked by a roving band of spiders. But I digress.

Angry unshaven feminism aside, I’ve had clients tell me they tried out some Fifty Shades-style bedroom play and it felt icky, and creepy, and controlling … and it was all stuff they had to unpack in therapy. And that made them feel like they totally failed at BDSM school. Which is a bummer, because BDSM can be healthy and fun and a great addition to your sexitimes. When the first Fifty Shades movie came out, I wrote a little informational handout for the BDSM class I sometimes teach at the Love Shack Boutique. That handout turned into a small pamphlet that was printed by the ever-patient publishers at Microcosm (and is still available at the Love Shack and through the Microcosm website). While the second movie didn’t generate as much buzz as the first, it brought up many of the same issues all over again. So it seemed like a really good time to review some of the bigger questions that come up.

Heh. I said “come up.” But I digress yet again.

Okay, chica, what does BDSM stand for?
The “B” stands for bondage. The “D” can stand for either discipline or domination. The “S” can stand for either submission or sadism. And the “M” stands for masochism. Sometimes you’ve just seen it referred to as S&M. Don’t worry too much about the alphabet. It all refers to aspects of using control for erotic play purposes. So you see language referring to “doms” and “subs” — which just labels which person is doing the dominating and which person is doing the submitting. And if you are a “switch,” you are into playing either role, depending on the circumstances.

What does BDSM entail?
Whatever the fuck you want it to entail. You do you, Boo. You can do vanilla-with-sprinkles or you can do tie-me-to-the-inverted-cross-and-set-my-nipples-on-fire. BDSM doesn’t even have to involve physical control. Sometimes the mind-fuck alone is enough fun for everyone involved. The most common BDSM play is tying up — whether you are using ties, scarves, rope, or police-issue cuffs. If you are the one being tied up, you get to trade active control for the chance to be a total pillow princess, which isn’t a bad thing. If you are the tie-r-upper, then you can direct all the play. Also not a bad thing, eh?

Speaking of that … aren’t doms just controlling, abusive motherfuckers?
Here is the interesting thing. Unlike Mr. Grey, a true dom is actually not in charge of much at all. They are the face of the control in the relationship, but, in reality, the sub has all of the control. The dom has to respect boundaries, gain consent, and be willing to stop and back off at any time it is requested. Being a badass dom means doing all the hard work and having serious self-restraint in the process. It doesn’t mean they get to beat the fuck out of sexual partners all in the name of BDSM play.

 

Lionsgate Films

Okay, but what about the subs? Aren’t they just abuse victims reliving their traumas or some other unhealthy shit?
Not even. Like I mentioned above, the sub is the one with all the power in a healthy BDSM relationship. Having the power to say no and have whatever is happening actually stop is hugely empowering. It’s not the activities we engage in that define abuse, it’s our ability to make choices and have those choices respected. So, for some people with trauma histories, BDSM can be a very healing experience.

Are you trying to tell me that BDSM fans are actually mentally sound and not complete pervs?
Heh. Well, I contend that you can be a complete perv and still be mentally sound. One of the larger research studies about individuals who engage in BDSM happened to agree with me.  BDSM practitioners tend to be more extroverted and open to new experiences, self-report higher levels of well-being, and are more conscientious while being less neurotic and less rejection-sensitive. I’m still failing to see the downside. What about you?

Fine, whatever. But this is actually pretty rare, right? It’s not like real people are into this shit.
Depends on how survey-writers ask the question, so the numbers vary somewhat. But about 10 to 25 percent of people report they are intrigued by at least some aspects of BDSM and somewhere between two and 25 percent of people have actually tried BDSM sometime in the past year.

How do I get started, then?
A really good intro book is Jay Wiseman’s SM 101: A Realistic Introduction. If you have friends in the scene, ask them for advice. In San Antonio, we have The Lair and Temple of Flesh, as well as the annual Fetish Ball. If you want to investigate a bit more without committing, check the meet-up schedules online (just search for BDSM San Antonio — or whatever city you’re in — and you’ll find them). They are often called munches, which sounds dirtier than it is. Munch refers literally to food. You grab a bite to eat and meet other people in the BDSM scene. You get to check it out with no commitment required. For example, Dan Normal, a shibari rope maker hosts a munch/rope workshop once a month at Wake the Dead coffeehouse in San Marcos. He’s a fantastic educator who models consent and boundaries perfectly … you can learn a ton by going to one of his classes. Also? Watch the classes offered at the Love Shack. A BDSM class is one of their regular offerings.

Ok, but back to the boundaries, control and all that blahblahblah bullshit that you therapists yammer on about.
Just like everything else, you can take a nice idea and turn it into a problem. Some people get into politics because they want to help their community, and others get into politics to protect their own interests and those of their buddies. BDSM is no different. Someone may be an abusive asshole, and finds a way to hide that under the label of BDSM (ahem, Christian Grey, I’m totally looking at you). You are going to have to really be in tune with your own boundaries, and be willing to articulate them … and pay attention to them if they change for you and communicate that as well. If you are looking for a BDSM partner within the community, ask around about their reputation. The people who have problems will be well-known in the community. So if you see an emerging pattern, pay attention to it.

Okay, but what about the Fifty Shades books and movies?
Okay, so you’re grown. If you have come to the sad conclusion that Hogwarts doesn’t really exist as a school in Ireland, you can also approach Fifty Shades of Grey as a similar level of fiction, and remember that this is not how BDSM works in real life. And if you wanna watch a movie that portrays BDSM in a more authentic (and still #HotAF way) … check out the movie Secretary with James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal at their yummiest.

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