"Imagine finding a deliberate knife mark on your best friend's thigh and then being introduced to the person who put it there."
Two anonymous women and one anonymous man talk about their experiences with BDSM.
How old are you?
Woman A: Twenty-two.
What are your favourite BDSM things to do?
Woman A: I like rope bondage, impact play (being struck by an implement or bodily force), role-play, and edge play.
Woman B: Dominance and submission.
Man A: Broadly speaking, I'm really into playing with control, whether that manifests through bondage, giving or following orders, or other ways. I'm also a rope bondage enthusiast, and spend a bit of time practicing knots and finding people who want to be tied up.
Are you dominant, submissive, or a switch?
Woman A: I'm a switch with submissive tendencies.
Woman B: I'm a slave within a master/slave relationship.
Man A: Mostly I take the dominant role at the moment, but several years ago I was in a relationship as a submissive, and I enjoy switching.
How old were you when you first tried BSDM?
Woman A: Sixteen.
Woman B: Thirty-one or thirty-two.
Man A: I was 18 when I found someone with compatible interests, but I bought myself a pair of cheap bondage cuffs when I was 16. I can't remember a time when my sex life didn't involve BDSM-oriented fantasies.
What made you want to try it?
Woman A: A boyfriend introduced me to it.
Woman B: At first I was horrified that people could do this to themselves but the idea stuck in my mind. When the fantasies started, I ventured online to look into it a bit deeper. I decided I wanted to give BDSM a try and have loved it ever since.
Man A: For something to be hot for me, it needs to involve a power exchange. My sex life and relationships made a lot more sense, and worked much better, once I realized that!
Did it live up to your expectations?
Woman A: Yes. I had very limited exposure [to BDSM] at that point, so I didn't have many expectations. I also happened to be with a very competent partner.
Woman B: It has exceeded my expectations. At first [BDSM] was all about my sex life, now it's become something more. Neither my partner nor I were looking for a dom/sub relationship that went much further than our bedroom door, but that's what we have ended up with. I never expected that I would thrive within a relationship that is as defined and structured as mine.
Man A: Finding my first partner who had compatible desires was wonderful. We both learned a lot and are still very good friends. Now I'm getting to grips with the public BDSM "scene," and everyone has been extremely welcoming.
What do you like most about BDSM?
Woman A: I'm very independent in everyday life and there is a high expectation for me to succeed. So it is a great relief to exist momentarily in a role-play scenario where I am treated like a child, expected to fail as a result, and punished when I don't behave. Bondage and impact play are both physical forces that are so consuming they help me achieve a sort of "braincation," which is very similar to yoga (which I also practice and have instructed in the past).
Woman B: Aside from the amazing sex and mind-blowing orgasms? To be in a relationship with someone who loves me and who allows me the space to be myself and have my very specific needs met is something that I cherish. When you cut through all the bells and whistles, we are just two people who have created a relationship that satisfies the both of us.
Man A: I love the intimacy of it. You can run a really intense scene which takes someone across a whole range of emotions from scared to excited to desperately pleading and turned on without removing a single item of clothing or touching any of the usual erogenous areas. Oh, and there's really hot sex.
Is there anything you don't like about it?
Woman A: It is sometimes challenging to be a kinky person around people who are not kinky or have a low tolerance for such behavior — most notably my parents. My close friends are understanding, but only to the extent that they can be as reasonable humans. Imagine finding a deliberate (albeit artistic) knife mark on your best friend's thigh and then being introduced to the person who put it there.
Woman B: I've found myself questioning who I am and what I'm doing based on something I've read or heard. I don't wear much black, I don't feel comfortable naked, I don't have a voyeuristic bone in my body. I have a high sex drive and need to feel sexually satisfied. Challenging the dominant idea of what it is to be a submissive woman in your relationship can be hard work.
Man A: Having strong BDSM preferences can be very challenging for dating as it adds an extra dimension to find compatibility for. Awesome person, check. Likes me, check. Fairly attractive, check. Has no obnoxious habits or political opinions, check. Compatible kinks... dammit. The BDSM subculture can also be a bit of a minefield — there are lovely people, but sometimes the off-putting or dangerous fringe elements are loudest.
How do you negotiate consent with BDSM stuff?
Woman A: I have only ever played with people I've been in long-term relationships with, but I use safe words within all of them. I'll often break the parameters of a scene to make my partner aware of a sensation I'm experiencing. For some, dismissing a top or Dom(me)'s command and addressing them directly might take away from the heat of that moment, but I know that if I inform my partner of a mistake on their end early on, that the next time we play it likely won't have to be addressed again.
Woman B: For us it is pretty simple: We talk. I know that no matter what, if I say no, he will stop and figure out what is going on. While we do have a "he says, I do" relationship, I know that if I have a problem with something, I can say, "Hey, wait a second," and let him know what I'm thinking.
Man A: It depends on the situation. As a prepared kind of person, I have a list of limits (and a list of turn-ons, because I like to be helpful like that) and I've had discussions with my partner about what kind of things I can do with other people. Personally, I often like to fight and resist, so I use the traffic light safe words. That means I can fight or say "stop" and "no" as much as I like, but my partner knows I'm having fun and everything is fine unless I say "red."
How important is BDSM to your sex life?
Woman A: Very. I don't enjoy vanilla sex acts if they are not paired with some form of kinky play.
Woman B: Very important. In the confines of my relationship, BDSM is so much more than the props and words that we use. It's a commitment to being who you are and seeking what it is you need in a way that is mutually satisfying, involves conscious decisions with an understanding of the possible risks, undertaken by adults who get the difference between real life and the porn fantasy.
Man A: Very — I consider it part of my sexual orientation and I'm not sure I could have a romantic or sexual relationship without it.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about BDSM? Other than that it's all just like Fifty Shades of Grey.
Woman A: Where do I begin? There's a misconception that BDSM or kinky sex is a type of lowly human behavior. Sex is primitive, but the way in which we enjoy it has evolved tremendously, and I consider BDSM to be on the very latter end of that evolution. When I bring curious vanilla friends (a few of whom are now kinky) to their first kink events, their immediate response is always, "This is just a bunch of nerdy people geeking out over sex." It's a pretty accurate reaction.
Woman B: That because I am in a master/slave relationship that he makes all the decisions and controls everything. That submissive equates promiscuous. That BDSM is all about the whips and chains, kneeling, and being fucked 24/7. That BDSM is abuse or that because I'm submissive I can't be abused. There is also a misconception that the rules of dating stop at the BDSM doorstep. If a guy would be seen as a jerk by your friends, chances are he is still a jerk — he just calls himself a Dom.
Man A: That it is super-serious, and must involve pain or suffering. If things are going on that the participants really don't want to happen on any level, that's not BDSM. Some people want to devote their lives to developing an intense master and slave relationship, and others want to be restrained or hurt. Others might want to be pampered, and some really enjoy causing pain. None of these is better or more "authentic" than any other and just because you are interested in one thing doesn't mean you have to try others.
Do you have any advice for people who want to try BDSM?
Woman A: FetLife is a great social network to join, even if you're not looking to find an immediate partner. It's got tons of very active user-run forums for beginners with all interests. If you're looking for introductory events in a major city in the U.S., The Wink is a great place to find them, from parties to educational workshops to support and discussion groups.
Woman B: Have a go! But please remember that you are still a whole person and that being submissive, dominant, or getting your kink on in the bedroom doesn't mean you have to forget who you really are. You can be you and be kinky. Understand what you're asking for: If you say you are a no-limits slave, then trust me, there will be someone out there who will take that literally. You don't have to do everything and anything to be kinky.Man A: Take the time to sit down and figure out what you want. It's OK if the answer is that you don't know and you want to explore, but even then it really helps to have a direction. It also helps to have an idea of what you really don't want. Then talk to your partner (or hook-up, or fuck buddy, etc.) about it. It doesn't need to be a clinical planning session — you can discuss hypothetical scenarios for other people, share porn that you find particularly hot, or plot fantasies out together. This might seem like very basic advice, but I know I still find it difficult at times to actually use words to express what I want, and miscommunication, or one partner going ahead with a grand kinky plan and the other person not being prepared for it seems to be one of the biggest problems people run into when starting to try some BDSM.