Up from Bondage

OK. Here comes a post that isn’t easy to write or easy to post, but I think it’s important. It involves a form of sexual expression known as BDSM, which is some amalgam of bondage, domination, domination, submission, sadism and masochism. It’s sort of a mix-and-match of monikers that center around one common concept: that in a relationship, there can be (or should be) one partner who has power and control and one who does not.

I know a lot about this. I probably know more than most. I was curious about this sort of thing from my early-teens – something I discovered by uncovering my dad’s stash of porn magazines and books (don’t ever tell me that porn you see as a child doesn’t imprint on you). In my early 20s, through the miracle of the Internet, I connected with others who shared this interest. I was invited to one of their “munches” (tame getting-to-know-you events held in public places) and then to one of their play parties (private events that can range from structured and well-regulated to all-out free-for-alls). After I graduated from college and took a job in a big city where I knew no one, I sought out “the scene” there and got to know several people who belonged to a local dial-in bulletin board system. And then, when I moved home, where no such group existed, I started my own that held munches and play parties.

So when I talk about these things, I’m not doing it as someone who has only read theories about it and formed opinions. I’m not even talking about it as someone who once had an experience. I was seriously involved. That’s not saying that I’m more knowledgeable than everyone, but I probably know more than most. I’ve seen a lot, and I’ve done a lot.

And here’s the thing: I regret it.

It’s not necessarily the acts themselves I regret. Some things just feel good to some people. Liking a certain sensation between two consenting adults isn’t a bad or shameful thing. So if you like spanking or flogging, and you’re in a relationship, no matter how serious or casual, with someone who enjoys that too, and you treat each other well – I’m not saying what you do is wrong.

But what I am saying is that this world of BDSM is more than just acts out of context. There’s a lot of philosophy in there – some good, a lot terrible. There are ideas – some harmless, some contemptible. And there is a lot of abuse. A lot.

In theory, BDSM should be equal opportunity. Men as well as women can take the dominant role. And some do. But dominant women (dommes) are relatively rare. Submissive men are less rare though still uncommon, but you can usually find some of them cajoling any domme – and often submissive women, too – into dominating them. (This is called “topping from below” and is often a complaint among dominants.)

So what you mostly see at an average BDSM gathering are dominant men and submissive women. How … banal. But then it gets worse. I don’t know how many times I was treated to some rendition of “And this is what women were meant to do.” Sometimes patronizingly. Sometimes violently.

What the BDSM scene leaves you with is a montage of incidents of men dominating women, men telling women what their place is, women straining to “be pleasing,” women subjecting themselves to all these things because they’ve bought into the idea that this is what women should do.

And I’m not just talking about things like getting a spank that was harder than you expected, though that happens, too.

Here’s one of the most horrific things I encountered, ever. At one of the play groups I attended, there were two couples, both with young children. The men got together and decided that what they really wanted to do was swap wives. I don’t mean for a night. I mean for six months. The women were told to go live with the other man. Leave your kids. Go to that man. Do what he tells you to do. What he wants is more important than what you want or what you kids need. SIX MONTHS.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have called that crap in to child protective services. But I was young and had grown up sheltered, and I didn’t even know that such an agency existed or that I could call it. It’s one of my regrets.

Worse: Another man I knew from one of these groups claimed to know about a human trafficking ring that “broke girls until sex is all they were good for.” It made me sick to hear about it. I challenged him on it, told him I thought it was disgusting. All he did was shrug and say, “It’s all they know now. It’s all they want now.” I don’t know if he was talking bullshit or not. He did talk a lot of bullshit. If I had heard any specifics of where or who was involved, I would have reported it. It still haunts me.

Not all abuse is that blatant, though.

In theory, submissives are supposed to be able to call a halt to any action they object to by calling out a “safe word.” That said, there are some who like to play without such a safety net, relying on negotiating terms of play beforehand. But I never did that. I always had a safe word. If I was lucky, I was with a partner who respected it.

I didn’t always have that.

The worst night of my life came when I was “playing” with a man who gave me a safeword – then placed his hands around my throat until I couldn’t breathe while screaming into my face, “Don’t you ever say no to me!” I thought I was going to be killed. I did a quick calculus and decided my best path to survive was to capitulate and keep him calm. A safeword means nothing if you’re too afraid too use it. What followed were six harrowing hours that no one should endure.

And because I’d said yes – to him coming into my home, to “playing” with BDSM with him, to taking on the submissive role – I never reported it. Because I knew exactly what would happen if I did. I would have asked for it. I would have agreed to it. I would have made it up. And he knew that, too. That’s why he felt so safe in doing what he did. He may not have created the victim-blaming rape culture we lived in, but he sure knew how to use it to his advantage through BDSM.

Afterward, I told only one person – the boyfriend who’d first introduced me to bondage play during college. And you know what he said? “Well, you were stupid.” That’s the kind of support I got from the bondage community.

I’m not part of it anymore. I haven’t been for more than a decade. At first, it was because I had a job where I didn’t feel safe being out in that community – after all, people have gotten fired for such things. And then it was because I was in a failing marriage, and even though we used to go to those things together, I now felt emotionally dead inside and had no interest.

But gradually, I let it go because some things were becoming clear to me. Things like:

  • The times I felt the most submissive were the times I felt the worst about myself and my circumstances at that particular time.
  • It wasn’t fun anymore to pretend that degradation is the natural state for women.
  • I just wasn’t willing to go along with the premise that a man’s pleasure mattered more than my own.
  • I wasn’t OK with seeing women in a relationship that appeared abusive to me, even if she “chose it.”
  • That calling women things like “slut” and “slave” and “whore” isn’t edgy at all; in fact, it’s just more of the same that we’ve heard for untold generations.
  • And most of all, I deserve better. And, in fact, I don’t want it from a man at all.

It’s not my goal to “kink shame” people who find something of value in BDSM. When I think of submissive women, I don’t feel judgmental or disgusted or angry. I’m sad. I’m sad because while the community talks a lot about consent and limits and respect, it often delivers the opposite. It pedals ideas like “It’s empowering to be submissive,” or “As long as everyone agrees, it’s harmless.” War is peace. Ignorance is strength. Slavery is freedom.

And I just don’t believe it anymore.

Perhaps this is too much TMI, but just to keep it real: It isn’t easy for me to get over this kink. It isn’t easy to replace those fantasies – that I have relied on for my entire adult life – with ones that are healthier (at least for me). In fact, there is a sense of loss.

But also, a sense that there is so much more to be gained.

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9 comments

  1. I am also into BDSM, though not community wise. I’ve never been to a get together, party or group setting. It has always only been me and my FwB, and it has never been as rough as it is shown in the pornos.

    He’s older than me, and experimented with spanking and roleplay before we met. After 8 years, he is still my only sexual partner I’ve ever had. When we do BDSM play, I’m the sub about 95% of the time…it’s pretty rare that he wants to be dominated. (FYI, most of our sex is on equal terms anyway). We found that we were both intrigued by it, and have had fun testing our limits. We have a consistent safeword, and neither of us has ever not stopped/paused if it’s been said. I totally trust him and he totally trusts me, as I think it should be for this type of play.

    Given my admittedly small amount of experience with this, I have always wondered why it seems that the community at large has some of the issues you detail above. Why would one agree to such vulnerable positions/states of mind if one wasn’t 100% comfortable and trusting of their partner?

    PS: I’m sorry for what happened to you. I’d probably never play with BDSM if I had heard or gone through any of the things you have talked about here. It’s a utterly foreign experience to what I’ve enjoyed. 😦

  2. demogirl06

    I probably haven’t spent as much time in the BDSM community as you have. But I did live in San Francisco, I did frequent the headquarters of Kink.com (BDSM porn site), as well as participated in their filmings, and I did spend significant time in play communities as well as all-fetishes sex clubs.

    Frankly, I’m shocked by the “data” you present. Maybe it’s because I’m a tall woman… but I see/saw submissive men everywhere. They are everywhere. Most of them don’t “come out.” I had to drag them out and offer them their first-time floggings, just to be helpful. I’m not even “dominant.” I’m very submissive. But I also haven’t really “come out” and owned it. What I like about the BDSM scene is that, with mutual trust, we can engage in our other sexual roles; sexual roles are never fixed.

    But only in trust. That is the name of the game.

    The women I met were tough and in charge. And they dominated each other. I saw very little of male-on-female dominance. I think it depends on each of our perspectives. We see what we’re accustomed to seeing.

  3. Very brave post, thanks for being so honest. I have no interest in BSDM, but found some statistics on comorbidities of transvestism/transsexualism and, sure enough, up pops BSDM. 30% co-existing in a round robin: 30% of primary TVs have secondary BSDM; 30% of primary BSDM have secondary TV – and these are not the same 30 out 100 guys. And they all identified as Submissives. The same 30% stat also holds for “transgender”, all the way through transsexual. And very interesting was that the submissive BSDM primaries who eventually identified as TS and subsequently transitioned, became Dominatrices. Pussy is powerful, in their autogynephilic minds, at least.

  4. “So what you mostly see at an average BDSM gathering are dominant men and submissive women. How … banal. But then it gets worse. I don’t know how many times I was treated to some rendition of “And this is what women were meant to do.” Sometimes patronizingly. Sometimes violently.”

    I’ve written a series about this on my own blog. The thing that concerns me most is that we live in a culture that constantly creates a message that male dominance is sexy. And that can cause women to crave their own abuse. So on the one hand we have a culture that has created shelters and hotlines and has told women that you don’t have to put up with it, and given them the economic resources to keep out of those situations. But then you circumscribe all that by getting women to crave their own abusive humiliation. Or sometimes to find themselves in that situation – as some of your experiences – even when that wasn’t exactly what they thought they were going into.

    And these folks think that it’s just their thing and don’t realize how they been socialized into it.

    These are the posts that are most relevant to this blog post, if you’re interested:

    Learning to Like Torture in Shades of Grey
    http://broadblogs.com/2013/06/17/learning-to-like-torture-in-shades-of-grey/
    Shades of Making Sexism Sexy
    http://broadblogs.com/2013/07/08/shades-of-making-sexism-sexy/
    Fifty Shades of Pro-Orgasm
    http://broadblogs.com/2013/07/29/fifty-shades-of-pro-o/

    But now you’ve got me thinking that I need to write a little more and link back to this post. Since I recently finished the series I’ll probably take a little break from the topic, though, so it will probably be a few months before I write on this again.

  5. OMG! That sucks that you we’re put in that situation! I hope that if you had used the safe word, he’d have stopped. Having the safe word is (here I am telling you why we have safe words, but it’s relevant to my point so I’ll carry on), so you can say no when you mean yes, and if you say the safe word (lets say it’s “banana” for simplicity), then that’s telling the dominant to stop or pause. Can I ask if you’ve spoken to him about it since, or was it something you just tried to avoid / forget about (which is understandable).

    • This was literally almost half a lifetime ago. Yes, there was a safeword, but he made it very clear that if I dared use it, he would use extreme violence. I was already unable to breathe when he did that. My only goal was to survive. Actually, he did call me a week or so after, if you can believe it, and asked if I wanted to see him again. I was stunned and just wanted to “get over it,” so I just said no. I moved 1,500 miles away about a month after, and that was a big part of why.

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