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

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - Twit­ter @re­bec­ca­xnew­man

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

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