“What the hell is BDSM?” and Other Questions, Answered

“Kinky sex is defined not so much by what it is, but what it’s not,” Bernie, a southwestern Ontario entrepreneur in his mid-50s, told Metro News this October. His statement was made in response to former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi’s defence of the sexual assault allegations brought against him by nine women, stating that it was nothing more than consensual, kinky, BDSM sex.

Besides Ghomeshi being outed as rapist scum, BDSM is also being talked about on the morning news in a more positive light, soccer moms praising E.L. James’ novel 50 Shades of Grey for being a modern kink masterpiece.

Sadly for devout soccer moms and rape apologists alike, Ghomeshi’s disgusting sexual behaviour and James’ completely inaccurate portrayal of BDSM couldn’t be further from the real thing, but negative and far-off depictions of kink are just about the only thing being talked about right now. So, what the hell is BDSM?
A LIL’ BIT OF HISTORY

The origins of BDSM as a term are difficult to trace. Eric Partridge’s book The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English traced it back as far as 1969, the BONDAGE & DISCIPLINE and SADISM & MASOCHISM elements combined into an easy acronym.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 12.05.06 AM
these terms: remember ‘em!

The origins of bondage came from various places. In Tarquinia, a sixth century B.C. Etruscan flogging grave known as the Tomba della Fustigazione (Tomb of the Whipping) exists, wherein a woman is seen erotically being flagellated by two men, with a cane and a hand, respectively.

Tomba_Della_Fustigazione
Tomba Della Fustigazione

The act of flagellation was also present in the first or second century in the Roman poet Juvenal’s Sixth Book of Satires. The Kama Sutra, the most famous text depicting some of the sadomasochistic acts and connotations practiced within contemporary BDSM. This Sanskrit text from (what historians estimate to be) between 400 BCE and 200 CE was written by Vātsyāyana. It speaks of consent, includes some safety rules and focuses primarily on the submissive’s pleasure. This is outstanding, because consent is the most important part of BDSM culture and still sometimes fails to be mentioned when BDSM is discussed in modern times, which could easily contribute to instances of abuse and ignorance within the community.

THE ORIGINS OF SADISM & MASOCHISM

Born in 1740, Marquis de Sade, real name Donatien Alphonse François, was a Parisian philosopher, known for writing explicit, violent, blasphemous sexual works. A temperamental child of aristocratic origins, his obsession with flagellation was sparked after the act was used against him as a punishment for misbehaving in school.

TELEVISION PROGRAMME…. Masters of Darkness: De Sade Pictured..
a portrait of Marquis de Sade

His most famous text “120 Days of Sodom” was written while he was incarcerated for sodomy. The term Sadism is drawn from his name. The texts he wrote described some of the sadistic acts practiced in BDSM today; however, he had no mention of consent, and discussed pedophilia, bestiality and extreme violence, setting him apart from the very safe and sexy BDSM we know and love today.

The term masochism is drawn from the name of the Ukranian romance author Leopold von Sacher­-Masoch, who wrote some of his stories from a submissive standpoint, showing the structured relationship of a submissive and a dominant.

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

He advocated for feminism in his daily life, but pressured his wife to fulfil a very dominant sexual and romantic role that she did not consent to, which shows both negative and positive aspects of his views on sexuality.

CONTEMPORARY EXAMPLES

Contemporary artists and photographers in the field have also helped to bring BDSM into the sphere of public discussion as their works became more mainstream, depicting acts of BDSM and erotic scenes of the like. After Gene Bilbrew, a fetish artist of the 50’s, emerged Robert Bishop, his works from 1971-­1985 in magazines and catalogues presenting a visually brighter, more explicit look at BDSM-­related artwork.

In 1982, Barbara Nitké was raising to prominence as a talented female photographer, working in the completely male­-dominated setting of pornography sets. When the hardcore porn industry found its new home in Los Angeles in 1991, she went on to photograph the sets of SM and fetish movies in New York City.

Its origins in film and photography stem largely from Irving Klaw. A producer in the 1950s and 1960s, his photographs of Bettie Page arguably his most famous works, he also published bondage comics by Eric Stanton and John Willie.

BDSM-related imagery, although growing more and more common, can still create controversy today. For example, pop performer Madonna was often seen pushing sexual boundaries throughout her career, generating tons of negative feedback and immense publicity after the release of her Erotica album, especially. Still, Madonna wasn’t the first, and she certainly won’t be the last to get kinky on national television.

Madonna’s Erotica album
Madonna’s Erotica album

a typical shocking Madonna look from her Erotica days
a typical shocking Madonna look from her Erotica days

HOLD ON JUST A SECOND…

What if, when I mentioned, BDSM, you thought of “50 Shades of Grey” by the best-selling novel by the (likely orgasm-deprived) so-called author E.L. James? My response: NO! 50 Shades of Grey” is abuse, plain and simple.

E.L. James, someone who somehow makes more money than most people
E.L. James, someone who somehow makes more money than most people

I feel it is best outlined within the article “50 Shades and Abusive Relationships“ written by Jenny Trout, wherein she compares the “Universal Red Flags” in Sandra L. Brown, M.D.’s book “How To Spot A Dangerous Man” to the situation Ana endures in James’s novel. Her analysis shows that their interactions blatantly fulfil all of these criteria, romanticized to seem like something people should yearn for in a relationship. He manipulates and degrades her time and time again.

Please never use this as an example of BDSM. It is an abusive situation and perpetuating the idea that it is anything but extremely dangerous is potentially very harmful.

Say it with me this time: CONSENT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF BDSM, AND SEXUAL OR ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS IN GENERAL.

Great! Now that you know the history of BDSM, the general terms, what it is, exactly, and what to avoid, you are ready to learn how to get into the BDSM scene, should that be an interest of yours.

GETTING OUT THERE

If you’ve decided that BDSM may be of interest to you, it’s important to learn how this culture came to be, how it’s practiced today and where you can find all the information necessary to get started.

There are tons of easy ways to meet people within the BDSM scene, the easiest likely being signing up for the website Fetlife (which is free!) and checking out the events, groups, pages, and just speaking to people who seem interesting. I made many friends within the scene, both play partners and pals that are just there to listen.

fetlife’s interface
fetlife’s interface

Some people just want friendships, are in relationships already or just aren’t looking for a new play partner, so don’t feel intimidated by the idea that there are obligations once you sign up. In fact, the most crucial part of BDSM is the consent factor! Anyone who’s a true part of a community will always mention this to a beginner.

Another way is to put yourself on the line and attend public events that can be discovered via Facebook, flyers, or word of mouth; however, be careful to only attend something you completely trust. Montreal Fetish weekend, held in September, offers tons of amazing kinky experiences, and is totally open to everyone (besides the whole “it costs money” thing) from star fetish models to newbie players.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 12.21.51 AM
ONLINE RESOURCES

To discover what elements of BDSM you enjoy (and to show your partner to ease communication), here’s a personal pleasure checklist:

http://www.cepemo.com/checklist.html
If you wanna DIY some BDSM stuff:

http://asibdsm.com/bdsm­resources/rope­bdsm­resources/
http://www.ohjoysextoy.com/diybdsm/ (cheap!)
An easy-to-read little infographic on bondage by the super sex-positive, queer site Ohjoysextoy:

http://www.ohjoysextoy.com/lucy­bellwoods­rope­bondage/
IN CONCLUSION, be safe, be kinky, and always have fun. Sex should be a positive experience for everyone involved, so whether you like inflicting pain, receiving pleasure or sitting out and watching, be sure to do your research. Oh, and don’t read 50 Shades of Grey, unless you’re analyzing it and vomiting during. Also, never use Wikipedia.

Enjoy yourselves, kinksters!

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