What immediately comes to mind when you hear the term BDSM?
A quivering half naked girl being flogged by a brute of a man wearing leather! A latex clad Dominatrix in thigh high boots torturing her male submissive!
Let's take a reality check. For some people, BDSM is a 24/7 lifestyle whilst many just indulge in the bedroom; for many people the kink community is like an extended family which welcomes their gender or it provides a safe place to express their sexuality or fetishes. Until 2013 the American Psychiatric Association classed BDSM as a mental illness. So it's understandable that for many kinksters it is a part of their lives which they keep private and don't share with non-kinky - often referred to as vanilla - family and friends.
Mainstream is always curious about things on the edge but there has been a definite shift when it comes to BDSM. Pop culture has embraced it with Gaultier dressing Madonna in fetish for her Blond Ambition tour, Versace designing an entire collection entitled "Miss S&M" in the 90s and Katy Perry declaring her love of latex. Movies like The Secretary and Venus in Fur put BDSM on the big screen and Rihanna's S&M hit had everyone screaming "chains & whips excite me".
So what do those four little letters mean? The term BDSM stands for bondage & discipline (B&D), dominance & submission (D&S), and sadism & masochism (S&M).
The BDSM community accepts there will always be someone who rants about how they don't understand how someone could enjoy being tied up, subjected to being spanked, have orgasms withheld; wear nipple clamps or have hot wax dripped on them. Oh my, is anyone else feeling a little hot and bothered?
So let's get the facts right and bust 7 of the myths that are out there.
Myth #1 Fifty Shades was an accurate portrayal of a D/s relationship
Wait, did you hear that? It was everyone in the BDSM community collectively rolling their eyes. Despite the trilogy becoming a best-selling phenomenon it most definitely is fiction! EL James obviously believed many of the myths surrounding BDSM and put her own slant on a D/s [Dominant/submissive] relationship to make the book appeal to horny housewives ... and it did!
So what did Fifty Shades get wrong?
Consent is the cornerstone of BDSM and the community upholds the principle "safe, sane & consensual" so the books miss the mark entirely. Ana agrees to sex she's not 100% comfortable with and doesn't enjoy the pain but endures it as she doesn't want to lose Christian. He also ignores her safe word which is the key element which gives submissives the power to control a BDSM scene.
We could write a whole article about Fifty Shades but we still have 6 more myths to debunk so let's summarise. It's a fictional bodice ripper with a handsome and rich main character who only gets away with being a controlling, dominating prick because otherwise it wouldn't have been a best seller. The only good thing about Fifty Shades is that it got people openly talking about BDSM and it certainly got women talking about satisfying their own desires if we're to believe the spike in sex toy sales the year the books were released.
Myth #2 None of my friends would be into kinky stuff
This one is quite easy to debunk as we have the statistics to back it up. Back in 2014 we conducted our "Under the Covers" Survey with over 7000 Aussies revealing their bedroom secrets. Let's imagine you're having drinks with 9 of your mates. At least 1 of the group regularly gets his kink on and another 2 want to try it, and 4 of their girlfriends are also keen. Another survey question revealed 6 of you enjoy kink in the bedroom as do their girlfriends. If that surprises you then I guess you're the 'nilla in the group.
Our stats were also backed up by a 2015 study published by the Journal of Sexual Medicine which found 53% of men and 64% of women fantasised about being sexually dominated.
Myth #3 BDSM always involves sex
Most people assume that BDSM is a sex act or it leads to sex. And while it is for some, others draw a distinction between the two. A small study conducted in the US asked respondents how important sex was to their enjoyment of BDSM. 29% said it was important, 21% said it wasn't important and everyone else said it depends on the situation.
If you're exclusively indulging in kink in the bedroom then it's obviously important to you but your typical BDSM play party doesn't usually involve much sexual contact. And it's certainly not an all-in kinky orgy! Now everyone might go home and fuck themselves silly - and we hope that they do - but sex or orgasms isn't the objective.
So in summary, for some people BDSM is about sex but it's not about sex for everyone.
Myth #4 Female submissives are weak, vulnerable and at risk
Firstly, women are just as likely as men to enjoy dominating their partner. And being submissive in a BDSM relationship or environment doesn’t necessarily mean you are submissive in all aspects of your life. In fact feminist submissives do exist - it's all about choosing your form of sexual expression.
We loved this quote from Rachel Kramer Bussel, a widely published sex writer and editor of two books about female submission. “There’s no reason why a woman’s feminist thoughts or credentials or beliefs should be somehow demoted because she’s sexually submissive,” Bussel said. “If you are a feminist and you tap into that as a submissive, it can be empowering - maybe not in a political way, but in a personal way. It’s a huge mistake to assume that submissive women are weak or that men who want to dominate women in the bedroom are sexist pigs. For scenes to work, you have to let go, to some extent, of that organized, take-charge persona. You have to let go of that take-charge aspect of your personality in order for the submissive fantasy to work. But that doesn’t mean that women who are submissive in a relationship or submissive in a fantasy are submissive in all aspects of our lives. There’s a big difference between structural sexism and negotiating power with someone you trust in the bedroom."
One of the first male submissives I met at a private play party was on all fours, wearing a tutu while his female partner used him as a chair. To be fair her thigh high boots were very high so the poor woman needed to sit down somewhere. We later discovered he is a well respected barrister and after a stressful week in court he took pleasure in submitting to his partner who chose what he was to wear and how he was to act during the evening. And remember the submissive is in control. If at any time he wasn't comfortable with the situation he could walk away but that's unlikely to happen because every aspect would have been negotiated in advance and there's a strong foundation of trust.
Most people aren't purely dominant or purely submissive - everyone sits somewhere along the scale. And then there's the "switch" who can take on either role. In fact we loved this quote by Jay Wiseman, author or SM101: A Realistic Introduction who said “Dominants often make excellent submissives. They know the rules of the game.”
Myth #5 People involved in BDSM must be disturbed or mentally ill
In Fifty Shades, Christian's childhood abuse and neglect is given as his reason for indulging in BDSM and people who don't understand might jump to this conclusion but they'd be wrong.
A national survey in 2002 of 19,000 Australians tested the theory that BDSM is practised by people who have sexual difficulties and/or psychological problems. Researchers found that sexually active people who had been involved in BDSM were no more likely to have been coerced into sexual activity, and were not significantly more likely to be unhappy or anxious. In fact, men who had engaged in BDSM scored significantly lower on a scale of psychological stress than other men. They concluded that BDSM is simply a sexual interest or subculture and for most participants not a pathological symptom of past abuse.
More recent studies have not only failed to find evidence that BDSM is harmful, they've found it has actual health benefits. In a 2013 study published by the International Society for Sexual Medicine researchers concluded not only that kinksters weren't psychologically damaged but were on average more well adjusted than their vanilla counterparts. Overall, the BDSM sample felt more secure in their relationships and had an increased sense of well-being.
Most people within the BDSM community would agree that kinksters are generally more educated as there has to be a strong understanding of the nuances of play and the rules of engagement. Others believe that it's because people with a higher education or higher IQ are typically more open to exploring new things whether that be travel, food or BDSM.
Myth #6 BDSM is all about pain
If you ask the BDSM community what it means to them it wouldn't be about pain - it would be about the exchange of power and academics agree. It's far too complex a subject to get into here and I'm not an expert so you'll just have to trust me on this one.
Pain is obviously an outcome of many kinky activities but for many submissives the pain releases endorphins to such an extent that they find themselves in a sub-space where the pain hardly exists while others find the endorphins sexually stimulating.
But it's definitely not about whips and chains all the time. Sensual play or sensual dominance is what rocks some people's boat, for others it's humiliation, for others it's service. As we said in the intro BDSM is a term which has different meanings for everyone in the kink community.
Myth #7 BDSM is dangerous
I would argue that the vanilla world is far more dangerous as the conversations around consent and safety often don't exist. There's considerably more communication in the BDSM world. The BDSM scene has rules for play, safety guidelines, expectations of behaviour and of course the guiding principle "safe, sane & consensual". Yes some of the activities could be perceived as high risk but I can almost guarantee the person involved has upskilled through workshops, studied under a mentor, has devoured information shared within the kinky community and, most importantly, discussed what he/she intends to do BEFORE play commences. Of course it's not risk free but then neither is vanilla sex.
So let the "nillas amongst us ask the questions. Who knows they might find out they're kinkier than they realised. Have you ever thought about the popularity of wine cellar conversions these days with ceilings high enough to swing a flogger or a whip? Australia might not be a wine loving nation, we may just be kinkier.
Perhaps you won't need this article to debunk myths after all, well at least with 50% of the people on your friend's list.
Note: A safe word is a word agreed upon by both parties that can stop play at any time. If the submissive is gagged then it becomes a hand gesture. So the submissive is actually in control of the scene. And remember, "harder" is not a safe word.
If you're curious about bdsm and kink then check out Beginning your Kink Journey