BDSM: so much more than bondage
Most people think bondage is all about whips, chains and pain. But, says REBECCA NEWMAN, they’re missing the point
There were many things I thought I’d learn when I spent a year as a journalism scholar. BDSM was not one of them. But, then, as part of a course assignment, I ended up following a local journalist into the city’s dungeons. There, each week, she and a range of other experts held talks designed to hone and augment a variety of erotic skills and, afterwards, there might well be some demonstration. Prior to this experience, I hardly knew what BDSM meant (the term stands for bondage, dominance/submission, sadism and masochism). It vaguely conjured Fifty Shades of Grey- style gimp masks and an armoury of ways to inflict pain. I wouldn’t have guessed I’d find myself at the whim of a 2m-tall woman in pony-skin Manolos who was showing me how it felt to be tied in shibari rope bondage.
But what I discovered in the dungeons drew me with irresistible charge. Here was a universe of skilled sexual experimentation, a place bound by the watchwords ‘consensual, sane and safe’. Where people met to finesse a range of erotic techniques with which to lift their partner, body and mind to dazzling new levels of climax; where strong physical stimulation might be used – but only if you ask for it.
BDSM entails a huge spectrum of activity, despite its association with ball gags or barely disguised assault. ‘Thanks to Fifty Shades of
Grey, BDSM is certainly something South Africans are vaguely aware of,’ says sex journalist Dorothy Black. ‘However, the bite-sized pieces of information the general public are able to swallow consists largely of the merchandised paraphernalia of blindfolds and handcuffs. It’s very broad and getting educated requires a real interest and a “seeking out” of reliable information and people you can trust.’
At one end, dungeons, at the other the gentlest play: maybe running your nails across the soft of his abdomen, letting your hair just graze his torso, holding your lips behind his ears so he can just feel the warm breath – but refusing to touch him more strongly until he begs. Because the essence of BDSM is not pain. It is power. ‘Pain is one aspect of BDSM, but it’s not so common,’ says psychologist Dr Sandra Wheatley. ‘It is more about giving up, or taking, control. It’s about demonstrating respect and pushing boundaries.’ Surrendering to your partner – or having them surrender to you – can be a strong exhibition of the faith you have in your relationship.
‘Power games can be a way to test the trust we have for our partner, in a safe environment,’ Sandra says. ‘It is a way for them to demonstrate that when you are vulnerable, they respect you and are there for you. It can also be delicious to have someone relieve you of responsibility, to take over, to have you at their whim and mercy – or to look after and cherish you – with you unable to resist.’
Sarah, a 31-year-old legal professional, dates a criminal lawyer. ‘By day he is fighting in court, so occasionally it’s a relief for him to let me be in command. Sometimes we will make love, but in precisely