DotN
English Composition
16 November 1999

BDSM; Not Just Kinky Sex

Kinky sex. That is the first thought that comes to mind when the subject of BDSM is brought up. BDSM, an acronym for bondage/discipline - Domination/submission - sadism/masochism, is one of the more misunderstood subcultures in modern society. When the majority of people hear the terms "bondage," "Domination," or "sadism" they immediately get a mental image of whips, chains, and other torture implements. It is very hard for some to see past the "kinky sex" stereotype to the deeper mental and emotional aspects of the BDSM lifestyle, Domination/submission (D/s) in particular. Although many BDSM-lifestylers enjoy kinks such as bondage, discipline, and sadism in their sex life, BDSM is primarily emotional rather than physical because of the deep levels of trust that are required, the profound emotional attachments that usually occur, and the complete surrendering of power to another person.(1)

First of all, BDSM relationships require a deeper level of trust than do traditional "vanilla" (non-BDSM) relationships. For example, consider the male/female D/s couple of Tiger and kitten. As part of their Dominant/submissive relationship, Tiger disciplines kitten when she has done something that she is not supposed to do, such as not eating properly or not getting enough sleep. One of Tiger's methods of discipline is using a single-tail whip on kitten. (A single-tail is a whip that requires a good deal of skill and practice in order to be used without causing permanent harm to the one it is used on.) kitten readily submits to the whip when she is told to because she trusts that Tiger won't cause her actual physical damage, but only give the reminder to take care of herself.

Many of those people that don't see the emotional aspects of the lifestyle look at the above situation and only see a man whipping a woman. This is not the case. This is an application of the principle that most people use to train children and pets - that physical punishment tends to make a more lasting impact than does verbal chastisement. When Tiger takes the single-tail to kitten for the poor manner in which she takes care of herself, she is more likely to remember that those actions are displeasing to Tiger and thus she is less likely to repeat them.

Yet there are others who will still look at Tiger and say that he is abusing kitten. Again, this is not the case. While it is true that Tiger and kitten engage in discipline "scenes," or role-playing sessions involving flogging, paddling, or whipping, Tiger doesn't cause kitten any unwelcome pain. Those scenes are for the enjoyment of both parties and are always completely consensual. Beyond the scenes that are for enjoyment, Tiger disciplines kitten only when she needs the correction for her actions, not just because he feels like hitting her. When kitten submitted to Tiger, she accepted that she would receive such physical correction for misbehavior and rewards for positive behavior. In her own words, kitten describes what she thinks when she is around Tiger: "Everything I do, from the way I walk into a room to the words I use when I speak, I constantly wonder, 'Are my actions going to please Master?'"

Along with the deep level of trust that is required in a BDSM relationship comes the capacity for extreme emotional attachment. This emotional attachment is often because of the complete lack of barriers, both physical and mental, between a Dom/me and his or her sub. "I care more about my submissive than I ever have about any of my girlfriends or boyfriends. The level of emotion just goes so much deeper." according to MrRich{ps}.(2)

Besides the lack of barriers between a Dom/me and a sub, there also exists a sort of mental link that serves to deepen the emotional attachment. For instance, study the female/male D/s couple of DotN and blu{DN}. blu knows whenever DotN is upset, even if they are only talking on the telephone. While a good deal of that connection has to do with the familiarity between the two and blu's ability to hear the subtle undertones in DotN's voice, there seems to be a bit more to it. "blu knows when I need something to help me feel better, without my having to tell him. That is part of the link that he and I have. A good deal of the time, I need only to mention an idea, and he knows what I want or need." says DotN.

The situation seems similar from blu's viewpoint, "When Mistress is feeling down, I will tease her with things that I know she likes to try to make her feel better. Sometimes I will do it even before she tells me that she isn't feeling the greatest because I can tell that she needs to be cheered up."

A final aspect of BDSM that not all lifestylers participate in is Total Power Exchange, or TPE. For many participants, TPE involves scening without the use of a "safeword," or word that means unquestioningly that all scening activities stop immediately. With the use of a safeword, subs can always stop a scene if anything becomes too much for him or her to handle or if activities move beyond acceptable limits. (3) In some BDSM relationships a level of trust exists that the submissive feels comfortable not having a safeword. This is not the typical state, however. M_Grinch, a Dom from Pennsylvania, rejects the concepts of TPE and no safeword as dangerous. "Without a safeword, a scene can be pushed too far and a submissive can end up hurt - either physically, emotionally, or both."

People that are involved in the BDSM lifestyle are normal people from many walks of life. For example, DotN is a college student, blu{DN} is a UNIX system analyst, kitten works at a call center, MrRich{ps} is a help-desk operator for an Internet service provider, and M_Grinch is a criminal defense attorney. Not only are BDSM lifestylers from all walks of life, but also from all geographic locations. blu and kitten both live in Colorado, while M_Grinch lives in Pennsylvania.

To most of those that are involved in BDSM, the lifestyle is more than a hobby or diversion, but rather a way of life. To those people, the "kinky sex" aspect has little or no part in the draw of the lifestyle. While there are many surface facets to BDSM relationships, such as bondage, discipline, and sadism - the stereotypical "kinky sex" - there are many more facets that are not seen as readily; those of a more emotional or mental nature. The deep levels of trust, the profound emotional attachments, and the surrendering of power to another, are just some of the facets involved.


(1) - To help illustrate these points, examples of real-life BDSM-lifestylers will be used. All names are aliases by which the volunteers are known online. Dominant examples will be referred to as "Dom" for males or "Domme" for females or else his or her name, capitalized. All submissive examples will be referred to as "sub" or by his or her name, beginning with a lowercase letter, as is customary to signify D/s status.

(2) - {} around one or two letters at the end of a name indicates that the sub is collared, or entirely submissive and/or owned by the person signified by the initials. If the braces appear at the end of a Dom/me's name, that Dominant has a collared submissive.

(3) - Each submissive has different activities that are "hard limits" or things that they will not perform or participate in at any time. Limits are always respected, though occasionally pushed a little bit beyond what they had been.

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