Genres of BDSM

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by Randall S. Frederick

Since the dawn of civilization (or whenever people starting trying to act polite and proper), non-normative sexualities have been shamed and pathologized. We tend to think of these events as “good” since they led to social stability and tried to prevent violence – rape, for example, or sex with children. But cultures ascribe different meanings to sexual acts. Greece, for example, “humanized” the gods and their desires for love, sex, and power. Sex was a joyful, free activity where partners shared their bodies and intimate selves. Rome, when they seized control of Greece, tried to suppress both the “free” sex acts and to legitimize them for social purposes. Sex in nature was permissable, as it was a “worship” of fertility, divine providence, and ensured future crops. Sex, for the Romans, served a social purpose – it was never “free.” Those “non-normative” sexualities that did not conform to Roman standards of permissability were pathologized, shamed, and stigmatized. It wasn’t just the freaky, kinky sex acts either. The norms cut both ways. A man who loved his wife “too much” and was faithful to her for the duration of their union was seen as a weak man, a man who was perhaps effeminate. However, a man who was not faithful to his wife had an excessive appetite. The double standards became more and more rigid with each generation, more puritanical and oppressive.

Which is perhaps why so many people find such happy satisfaction with kinky behavior. It’s taboo, transgressing all of those silly standards and laws that seek to control our natural appetites and desires. Here, we continue our series on popular kinds of BDSM play to help normalize what you’re probably already doing (or at least fantasizing about).

Power

BDSM inherently plays with themes of power. Some expressions are more overt than others and depending on the dynamic of each partnership, often go unnoticed because of “traditional gender roles” or “personalities.” Some individuals keep a tight leash on their kink until they get in a bedroom, others find they like an intense experience to prevail throughout their relationship – not just in the bedroom. Whatever the form of expression based on the individuals and nature of their partnership, themes of power – dominance and submission – take very specific and predictable forms. I would argue every relationship is negotiated, and that negotiations are very often about control and power. Who does what to whom and how long. Many balk at this, thinking that they can practice all forms of BDSM simultaneously with a full balance of power and full equality.

Good for you, snowflake. Try that out a few times and tell me how it goes for you.

For virtually everyone else with a kink, acknowledging and embracing themes of power are at the heart of why they enjoy BDSM. Whether in control or deprived of it, there is something deeply satisfying to be found in embracing the secret desires of our inner selves, finding them in a partner, and enjoying them in one another. But how is that expressed?

  • Head Trips – This is probably the most important part for me to discuss, so I want to spend a little time with it. Whenever you play with BDSM elements, it’s really all about the headspace. You and your partner may be having fun and get so “into it” that you lose track of time and the world around you. That’s a nebulous phrase, isn’t it? “Into it.” What is the it there? The mood, the scene, the sex, each other – whatever “it” is, you should take a moment to think about what that means for you and your partner because sometimes you can get lost in the experience and may have a hard time reorienting with the world around you.

How’s that? For many individuals, a good “head game” is the most important part of a sexual experience. Dirty talk, humiliation, really getting into it with role playing, ageplay, intentionally making your partner angry just to have “angry sex” or “make up sex.” All of these fall under head trips in some way. You are consciously and intentionally screwing with each other’s head and heart, getting into “headspace” where your daily lives (with the stress of laundry or schedules or whatever) are no longer on your mind. In fact, that’s entirely what head trips are about – getting you out of your head so you can be in the moment and get “into it.” Once you are able to arouse those emotions, your body often goes along for the ride so you can enjoy some kink, get your freak on, and “blow your mind.” This is a really complex thing and sometimes it goes amazing, sometimes it goes really wrong because your brain is part of your body. Your brain may experience a flow of chemicals that makes a sexual experience especially meaningful or emotional. Think of those sexual experiences you have had which are memorable because they were exceptional. Was it just because of the motion of the ocean, because of the person you were with, because of the kink you were participating in, or because of something else? Whatever your answer – be mindful of that. Think about that and dwell on it because recapturing headspace and expanding on it, really starting to “live” in that headspace can create a whole other realm of sexual experience for you as you figure out what you like, what you don’t, and why.

Personally, I’m one of those people who feels a good head game is fun although some of my best friends say they feel it’s unfair to their partners. Everyone likes to mix it up occasionally and play “naughty teacher/student” or “naughty convenience store owner/shoplifter who always steals Cheetos I mean seriously why Cheetos when you have the whole store?” It can be fun!

Be careful though because playing with someone’s mind can trigger bad memories or cause them to question the safety of the relationship (ya know, that thing you have with your partner when you’re not having sex?). As with every other part of the BDSM world, it’s important to talk about what you’re doing. Then talk about it some more. And then talk about it again.

For me, when I know I am about to engage in a scene where headspace will be sustained and I will be provoking them, I like to talk about it first. Talks like those can be really light chats, can be done while we’re flirting and having dirty talk, or it can even be a rundown right before we have sex. “Hey, let’s pretend this and that. Call me this or that. Is that something you’re cool doing?”

Once you start having sex with each other, it’s important to check in. Don’t be so focused on the scene and playing Mars Alien that you forget your partner is still in this moment with you, may not really be as into it as you or, or may be triggered by something that is happening in that moment. Get out of your head, but stay aware. Finally, “aftercare” is vitally important for those playing with each other’s heads. Vitally. Can’t emphasize that enough. It’s super important, once you’re both finished and cooling down, to share what you liked, how much you enjoyed it, and listen to your partner’s thoughts of the experience as well. Cuddle them if they need that. Have a bottle of water, a snack, a blanket, maybe a teddy bear, or leave them alone and give them space so they can process their thoughts and emotions if that’s what they need. I know a woman who needs to take a shower, eat a popsicle, and cuddle with a blanket while we watch a movie – in that order. For me, it depends. Sometimes I want to cuddle, sometimes I want to be left alone to get my head back on straight. Whatever the response, again, it’s important to “check in” with yourself, check in with your partner, and see how each other are doing – talk before, check in during, and talk some more after.

  • Role Playing – It’s easy to think of role playing because it has been so satirized. The French Maid outfit, for example, or the strange behavior of “Furries” who like to dress up as mascots or animals. I think all of these are great, though, because humans are so creative and imaginative! Why not bring some of that fun into the bedroom with your partner?

Role playing is more than a good costume, however. It involves those issues of power we have been talking about, and you start getting into the familiar topics of dominance and submission. Okay, one of you is dressed like a pony. Who rides whom? You’re dressed in leather,  and have a whip in hand – how dominant will you be, how rough, and how is the submissive partner reacting to this? Are they pretending to “give you all the rocket launch codes” or will they be defiant and resist your lashes? Again and again, this all comes back to a good head game – getting into the scene, getting into character, and having the kind of (mutually consensual) fun you want to have with each other.

  • Ageplay – You may have looked up ageplay and found the standard discussions about how ageplay is a frame of mind, and does not mean you are engaging in sexual behaviors with an actual child. I think articles like those are great. In my experience, ageplay has been a longer, more drawn out form of role playing. That is, where role playing might mean that you and your partner(s) are pretending to have an age gap between you, or even heightening that age difference by means of fantasy for the time it takes to have a sexual activity or encounter, age play takes much longer. At least in my experience, it has meant developing a long, drawn out form of foreplay where concern for my partner begins long before and extends until well after whatever may (or may not!) happen in the bedroom. Nurturing, mentoring, listening, basically “babying” a partner or “looking up to” a partner are central to ageplay activities.
  • Humiliation – I think Anabelle Bernard Fournier’s article does a great job at explaining humiliation play, and so I want to entirely turn over the understanding of these theme to her. One of the things she points out is how difficult it can be to verbalize these desires, initially.

Humiliation can be a difficult topic to discuss with your partner because of how delicate it is. Asking someone to degrade you can make them feel bad because they don’t feel they can do it. Because it’s mostly mental-level play, it can be hard to manage if your relationship is more casual.The first thing to do is to be honest with your desires. Hiding them in shame helps no one, especially not you. You want to feel shame for fun, not for real. Just ask them to listen without judging, and tell them that having these desires doesn’t necessarily mean you are asking them to do it.

If you and your partner have good communication skills, this part should go fairly well. There might be some reaction on their part, like “I couldn’t do that to you!” or “But I love you, I don’t want to make you feel degraded like that!” Or, they could be totally into it.

If they aren’t sure what you mean by “erotic humiliation”, you could show them some pornography that you like that touches on that fetish. Although we all know that porn is not real life, at least it gives them an idea of the kinds of things that turn you on.

Just as with any kinky activity, starting slow is always a good idea. One small thing could be to have your partner call you dirty words during sex. “Whore”, “trollop”, “sissy”, “slut”, and other slurs work well and are easy to integrate in your regular dirty talk.

At one point, you might want to start integrating some humiliation activities as well. Classic examples include eating or drinking off the floor, being led around by a leash, sleeping at the foot of the bed, having to kiss shoes or boots, or other acts that put the submissive in a vulnerable position. Again, there are some acts that you might like more than others. Look at your regular fantasies and the kind of pornography you enjoy for some hints.

  • Depersonalization – Building off of Fournier’s article, depersonalization can be either a heightened form of humiliation (“you’re nothing”) or it may simply mean getting so far out of your head that you can forget who you are and what is going on with your life. This is not the same as having a dual or “split” personality but, you might say, suspension of the normal self. Whether in a dominant or submissive role, depersonalization might be seen as stepping outside of your normal, daily life and into a new version of yourself. Together, this unified identity is affected by whatever is done. A spanking, for example, while you are in the headspace of a submissive, may cause you to cry – and maybe you won’t be sure of why or what you’re crying for at that moment it happens. Later, when you “return” to your “right senses” (notice that phrasing and the assumptions to be made in how we speak of our sexual lives and daily lives?), you may find that being spanked made you feel reassured and loved.

I think this is probably one of the most misunderstood and compelling parts of BDSM. Depersonalization does not necessarily mean you humiliate and shame someone – although that certainly happens. It can also mean you adopt new identities, whether in a dominant or a submissive role. Depersonalization can apply to all stations of the power dynamic. I think the popularity of superheroes who have dual identities comes, in part, from our fascination with living outside of ourselves, becoming something else, or even reverting to a “smaller” state that our heroic activities protect. For Peter Parker, Spiderman is the “mask.” For Batman, Bruce Wayne is the “mask.”

Perhaps, when it comes to depersonalization, there is as much to say about our kinks as there is about who we are and how we are maintaining our lives. This is why communication is key to all parts of the lifestyle – because what we do in private affects who we are in public, and vice versa. When we can admit that, sure, everyone has a private life, and that yes, sometimes we feel like we “become someone else” for a few moments, we can begin to understand how such a basic idea can be utilized for sexual purposes and where we can find new avenues of motivation.

Lifestyle D&S 

With BDSM comes a definition of relationship. Are the partners sexually active with one another exclusively or do that have other partners? Are they denying one another, or is the arrangement entirely non-sexual? In some arrangements, partners may be focused exclusively on a sexual dynamic. In others, sex may be present but have a comparatively diminished role. With those arrangements, the partners prioritize the establishment (and maintaining) of a relationship.

In my experience, I have met several partners who do not have sex, and in some instances, are married to other people but still maintain their master/slave relationship with someone outside the marriage. In some of these, they emotionally support one another, verbally abuse one another, only engage in oral sex, or have a monthly “night out” where spouses know but do not participate. Think of it as a non-sexual “friends with benefits” and established dynamics.

These arrangements fall under a “lifestyle” because the establishment and maintaining of a relationship is prioritized over sexual activities. They may be temporary or sustained, sexual or not, emotional or not, mental or not – it entirely depends on what the partners agree on and are capable of participating in. Again, “lifestyle” is a very long and broad spectrum with unique stations. No lifestyle looks the same.

Look forward to the forthcoming articles, where I will be addressing each of this parts of BDSM practice, play, and lifestyle. Until then, Be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Continued from Part 1: Lessons of BDSM

Continued in Part 3: Will it Hurt?: Kinky Expressions of BDSM

Further Reading

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