Psst...pass the handcuffs

by Whitney Worden, SUNY Cortland, December 22, 2005

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Stop for a moment and think about anything different you’ve ever done while having sex. Have you ever role played? Incorporate toys like handcuffs or a blind fold? Have you ever bitten your partner, be it lightly or a little rough during sex or foreplay? Talked dirty? If you have then congratulations! You’ve just practiced some light BDSM.

Don’t panic just yet. This does NOT make you a pervert.

It’s come to my attention that a great number of people have a grand misconception of what BDSM truly is, no thanks to some persistent social folkways and now, as of the end of September, the FBI. “According to an electronic memo from FBI headquarters, established legal precedents indicate that conviction is most likely in cases where the content [in pornography] ‘includes bestiality, urination, defecation, as well as sadistic and masochistic behavior.’” Be aware that this all involves consenting adults, except for in the case of bestiality where the animals don’t have the ability to consent.

When people hear that acronym BDSM, or words associated with it (“sadistic” and “masochistic”) they’ll think of some very dark things like serial killers or beaten victims in chains. These are very incorrect visions of what the true BDSM subculture is about.

BDSM stands, roughly, for Bondage, Dominance, and SadoMasochism. Yes, I realize that spelling it out only makes it sound more criminal. Bondage, dominance, and sadomasochism are scary words, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the acts behind those words are scary, or illegal for that matter.

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If you have ever used handcuffs or a blindfold or even role played then you, my friend, are practicing the basics of light bondage and dominance (as well as some of the politicians in office right now). BDSM is about positive sensation (physical and emotional), trust and equality. The objective is that you and your partner both receive maximum satisfaction, not to harm or to be harmed, which is the common misconception that most people get.

Let’s start with using the blindfold as a beginning example. When you’re blindfolded your other senses become stronger, most importantly your sense of touch. Simple touches become more intense and your body becomes more responsive, especially towards pleasure and pain reception.

That’s the point. It’s about giving and receiving positive sensations.

One person’s pain is another person’s pleasure, and that’s a key element for BDSM. For another example, some people like to be spanked because they find it stimulating, not painful, depending on the degree of pressure behind the slap. The pleasurable sensation is so teasingly close to where you want the most attention. For some people to be spanked is a sheer thrill, not a degrading punishment.
Now comes the toys. This is where a common person’s perception of whips, chains, and nipple clamps comes into play. Scary toys, I know, but again, it all has to do with each individual’s perception of pain and pleasure, and to what degree their partner will use with these tools. Some people might enjoy being whipped until they are covered in welts and some people might only be able to stand nothing more than a few light taps. It varies from person to person and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as everyone is willfully consenting. (It’s wrong if you’re being pressured into it, like say your boyfriend or girlfriend says he or she will leave you if you don’t try. If that’s the case you’ve got some larger problems in your relationship and you’re reading the wrong sort of article.)
Now, after understanding how sensation plays in the BDSM world there are still some parts that can throw people off. This is usually a fetish. A fetish is any object which has sexual connotations for a person. Some of the more bizarre ones are what will throw people –and the government- off. I’m sure some of you are thinking of something you’ve seen or heard, be it scat (feces fetish) or painful sounding fetishes such as whipping or flogging. Once again, one person’s pain is another’s pleasure.

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There is nothing wrong with having a fetish (although it’s perfectly ok to be disgusted by some. Scat is not a turn on for me, personally). Actually, I find it unhealthy for a person to have no fetish at all. Lacking a fetish makes me worry for two reasons. One, you have a fetish so morally unacceptable that you’re too ashamed to say what it is, be it a fetish for small children, animals, corpses or whatever else sounds perverted totally socially unacceptable in any culture. Or two, you have a very strong fear of sex and of feeling aroused in general, which I do not find too healthy for one’s mental state or social life.

Besides, views on sexual behavior, like everything else in society, changes over time. For example, did you know that today more heterosexual couples practice and enjoy anal sex than homosexual couples? In fact anal sex is something I would encourage upon couples since it involves so much trust, patience, and, most importantly, communication. Communication, as we all know, is dire to successful long-lasting relationship.

I know many people find anal sex disgusting, but it’s perfectly safe and clean when done right, like most fetishes (anal sex is a fetish if that’s what you mostly fantasize about). Then again it annoys me when people refer to anal sex as vile on the grounds that that is where waste comes from, but they forget entirely about oral sex. Waste comes out of there too, you know. Or at least you should know!
Trust is the biggest part of the BDSM world. You probably would never allow yourself to be blindfolded by a person you didn’t trust, let alone be handcuffed. A person in a healthy relationship would never need to be afraid of his or her partner, nor would his or her partner do something to that person without consent. This is true even in BDSM relationships, where there is bondage and rape fantasies a plenty. These are just fantasies that a couple is acting out for sexual gratification. They are not meant to be real or harmful in any way (especially rape fantasies). A healthy couple knows this and understand it, regardless of their sexual interests, be it mainstream sex or hardcore BDSM play.

There is, however, a lot of arousal in knowing that your partner could do whatever s/he wanted to do to you when you’re in a helpless state. And that’s the point. Your “top,” the dominant partner or the one who is doing most of the work, has to be someone you MUST have complete trust in. It’s a bonding experience (no pun intended) that brings a couple closer together. Your partner must know what you do and don’t like, what makes you feel good and what makes you feel uncomfortable, and most importantly, how to exploit and use it to his/her advantage.

Even without the bindings there must be trust. This is where your master/slave or whichever role-playing-game comes into the picture. A top needs to know when his/her partner is enjoying being commanded and when s/he feels insecure or uncomfortable. Some women are aroused by being called degrading names in bed while others are terribly insulted and hurt. It’s up to their partners to know which they prefer.

There has to be as much equality in the relationship as there is trust. Just because a partner is commanding or demanding towards his/her significant other in the bedroom does mean that they are allowed to act that way outside of the bedroom. Either partner, the one doing the acting or the one being acted upon, should be able to call the stops on any situation that that person is uncomfortable with no matter what. One partner should not continue if the other doesn’t want to, nor should that person feel obligated to continue simply because that partner wants to.

Each partner should know what the other likes and doesn’t like, when and where to proceed or not, and what lengths they’re allowed to go with each other. Each must also respect whatever limitations or condition their partner may have. Because one man likes to be verbally humiliated in bed does not give his partner the right to do so in public.

Another misconception about BDSM practitioners is that they are perverts or were sexually abused at some previous point in their life. Neither is true. Many BDSM’ers grow up in normal families and homes. Again, it’s all about a person’s personal interests and kinks. Nor is a BDSM person someone you can easily point out on the street. You probably know a person who is fond of some light whipping or spanking or bondage and you’d never know it, nor would a person know that about you just by looking at you. A pervert is the man in the trench coat in the park who walks up to you and, well, bares it all. That’s something of a violent act or could at least lead to a violent act.

BDSM has NOTHING to do with domestic violence, as some government sponsored groups would have you believe. Domestic violence is one partner abusing the other verbally and/or physically. BDSM is about trust and equality. There is nothing equal in an abusive relationship. A person in a BDSM relationship knows whether or not his/her partner would like to be harmed or not, and will do whatever the partner desires.

This is not the same in an abusive relationship. One partner exhorts more power over the other and is abusive regardless of his or her desires. An abusive partner will hit the other regardless of his or her partner’s feelings. An abusive relationship may always lead to long-lasting injury, which is usually rare in a BDSM relationship.
Finally, some people may not understand BDSM because it is considered unethical, even criminal. There are in fact a few places were consensual SM is considered illegal, and there will be more still if the government keeps wasting its resources on something they never even bothered to do basic research on. Mainly this is because of the lack of understanding in lawmakers between the difference between healthy sexual play and unhealthy sexual play. For example, healthy sexual play is handcuffing your partner to the bed and pleasuring him/her until s/he begs for some kind of sexual release. Unhealthy sexual play is handcuffing a stranger to the bed and harming the stranger while he or she begs to be released. See the difference? The bed and the handcuffs are there, and that’s what some people may see instead of the dissimilarity.

If you’re still confused and think BDSM is sick and twisted, then I will just have to refer you to other, more detailed, sources. I’m not saying you readers should go out this instant and buy a new set of cuffs or get some rope, but I’m simply asking you to understand that there’s nothing wrong about practicing sex a little differently than many people normally would. I don’t personally practice BDSM, but it does intrigue me and I don’t see any reason for it to be shunned. I honestly think it could help many people’s sex lives. Trust, equality, and giving each other maximum positive sensual gratification is what a healthy sex life is all about, after all, and I’m sure many FBI agents are aware of that.

Sources: FBI agents paid to surf for deviant Internet porn
BDSM Archive
Clean Sheets Erotica Magazine: Power Principles

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