BDSM is a taboo topic in our society that often goes unacknowledged. When it is acknowledged, it’s not always a full or accurate picture. This is an important issue that lurks in the shadow of our culture because we often don’t know what it is or we assume something about what it is. When done well, BDSM can be loving, nourishing, and creatively inspiring. When there is confusion, lack of education, and engagement in practices that are not deeply connected to one’s body and awareness, BDSM can cause harm.
I felt moved to host classes on BDSM last year after the “50 Shades of Grey” movie popped in the media. I had also been coming across “BDSM relationships” in the therapeutic world that sounded more to me like a situation void of education and knowledge about power dynamics and a possibly abusive relationship. This left me with complex feelings. On one hand, I was glad to see the media and mass culture acknowledge this typically shadowy / taboo lifestyle. On the other hand, the movie and book painted a picture of a gender-stereotypical abusive relationship. I was saddened to know that many people could now be thinking “that’s what BDSM is.” The invitation with this, as always is to keep an eye on your inner world as you read. Notice your emotions, thought content and tone, bodily sensations, and breathing. Notice what turns you on, what you feel unsure about, what you feel curious about, and what you feel a “no” about. This is the nature of our inquiries together!
WHAT IS BDSM ? (the disclaimer is there should ALWAYS be consent from both parties with any of these practices, if there’s not, it’s a problem):
– Bondage: rope tying & binding, handcuffs, bondage tape, self-adhesive bandage and other restraints
– Dominance: giving directions / orders / rules, making choices for another, having an impact on others and benefiting from / gaining pleasure from using that influence on them
– Discipline: spanking, flogging, lecturing, training someone to respond to rules and using punishment to correct behavior (the person on the other end may get pleasure from receiving the discipline)
* Important Note: Dominance and discipline should not be enacted from a place of anger, that plays with the territory of abuse. Dominance and discipline with integrity is firm and clear with a kind and loving intention. It is the job of the dominant one giving discipline to ‘take care’ (physically, energetically, emotionally) of the submissive person while they are in surrender. With power comes responsibility.
– Submission: practicing surrender to the dominant person and their desires, being clear about what is / is not okay for one’s own body is key here, having the ability to say no and / or make requests when needed and those requests need to be respected and acknowledged for the relationship to be consensual, the submissive has the most power because they are the ones who decide what is too much and when, typically one wants to feel pleasure and satisfaction from what they agree to
– Sadism: flogging, spanking, needle play, bondage, knife play, metal claws, candle wax, verbal humiliation, getting pleasure from causing another pain and / or humiliation (the term erotic humiliation lives here)
– Masochism: gaining pleasure from having sensation / pain / humiliation caused or given by another (see sadism above)
These dynamics are present in relationships because they all involve power. They show up sexually but they also show up outside of sex. Power dynamics are present in relationship whether we are practicing BDSM or not. The piece about BDSM dynamics that I’m most interested in is that all of these practices have an impact on the nervous system. When these practices are done with consent and safety, verbal / emotional agreements, intimate contact, and deep bodily connection they can produce trust building, intimacy, and flood the body with pain-relieving chemicals that can often make one feel like they are “high” without having to use a substance. When these practices are enacted without consent, education, and attunement to the physiological process, people can have confusing and jarring experiences that leave a negative imprint.
One of my most important mentors said to me “look around at the world and see the power and control that is used for abuse. When power is used for love and kindness, that is one of the most healing things anyone can do.” Once we recognize how to have a relationship with power, we start to see it everywhere. There is much healing to be had in a BDSM – oriented relationship when it’s practiced from a place of integrity.
This spring I am offering TWO CLASSES with a colleague (Melissa Walker) on this topic that rose out of our shared passion for relationship & sex-education. One class is for anyone interested and the second class is for professionals who may be working with clients / patients who come in with questions & experiences about relationships relevant to this discussion. Many people are experimenting with and playing with BDSM dynamics behind closed doors or in groups and it can sometimes catch us off guard as professionals when clients come in and share their most personal stories that are outside our realm of experience. We may find ourselves asking “is that ok? What does that mean?” yet we don’t ask because we’re the professional. I truly believe any counselor or service-oriented professional needs to know about these dynamics and how they show up in order for us to be ethical and well-informed professionals. This can be a place to get education and bring your questions. Please take note of which class you register for.
The class will:
– help you understand what BDSM is
– help you understand what healthy and unhealthy BDSM is
– cover what is safe, sane, consensual and what is not
– cover power dynamics
– help you understand the nervous system’s role in BDSM lifestyle
– identify what your own edges are
Click here for more information on the BDSM classes