BDSM -- Soft Ropes
Summary: Dispelling the taboo of the dark side of sensuality
Little is more tantalizing and frightening than the darker side of sexuality. It draws our attention but also repels some of us. But why repel? The allure of dark sensuality and lust is obvious, but the fear and taboo of bondage and dominance is more problematic, less rational. Many people are disturbed by physical restraint in the bedroom, but it is a disturbance born of a lack of real information about bondage, as opposed to the preconceived misconceptions that wrongly vilify bondage practices.
First, to sweep away the misconceptions and prejudices. Despite the Hollywood dramatizations and the representations most usually seen in fiction, bondage is not about pain. Bondage is not about hurting the victims, scarring them physically or mentally, rape or torture. Bondage is not about whipping your partner bloody, humiliating them and leaving them shattered on the floor. It is not a master dominating an unwilling slave, or a dominant completely controlling his/her submissive. Although this is the face presented by many porn sites, it is not reality, just as a regular hardcore porn video is not the reality of vanilla ("regular") sex.
Neither is bondage about a single pair of handcuffs and maybe a little rough housing if you're feeling kinky that day. A bit of twine and a handkerchief through the mouth does not a bondage scene make.
Bondage is much softer and more complex than what is commonly portrayed in sensationalist fiction and HBO specials. Ideally, it is an expression of love and trust. Of course the potential for torture and abuse is there, but abuse also occurs in traditional, vanilla relationships as well and is not unique to bondage.
Taken apart, BDSM stands for Bondage, Discipline, and Sado-Masochism. The letters are different for a reason; discipline is not necessary for bondage and vice versa. Only because the four are often found together are they grouped together. Each are a distinct and interesting practice in and of themselves.
Bondage is simply the tying up of one sexual partner. It does not have to painful, strict or domineering. One partner can be bound one night, the other partner the next. The ties can be a simple spread-eagle on a bed, a hands-behind-the-back position, or a full Japanese-style shibari tie, with several yards of rope going from the head to the feet, with an optional gag and blindfold. All that matters is that the subject is bound up in a manner that they enjoy.
It may seem ironic or contradictory that the person being bound is the one receiving the most pleasure, but this is so established in the regular bondage community that often it goes without saying. This is sometimes why people who know little about the practice only see a victim who can't say no. This could not be farther from the truth. The submissive, the person who is tied up, blindfolded and gagged is the person in control of the entire scene. They discuss with the person who ties them up, the dominant, what they want, what they like, and how far they are willing to go in a scene, which is then acted out. They derive pleasure from being bound and enjoy both the feeling of helplessness and the trust they give to their partner.
If the submissive feels any kind of real pain, fear, or are just becoming uncomfortable with where the scene is going, they can stop it at any time with a safeword. A safeword is a word agreed upon before the scene. No and Stop are not automatically safewords. A common safeword is red, as in red light, so that the submissive can scream no and stop as much as they want and fulfill any fantasies without worrying that the dominant will become worried and release them.
While the words submissive and dominant are common, they do not necessarily mean that the submissive is always the submissive and the dominant always dominant. The titles are easily interchangeable. The only thing is that some people prefer one position over another, and do not like to switch. In fact, a person who enjoys both submission and dominance is called a switch. It may be interesting for newcomers to the community to know that the submissives easily outnumber the dominants, as the submissive receives most of the pleasure while the dominant does all the work. The dominant must see to the submissive's safety at all times, be aware of the submissive's feelings and limits and know exactly how far they can push them, and be ready to stop and immediately release the submissive if the safeword is given. There is something of a running joke that the dominant is really the slave.
Discipline enters the scene in both the strictness of the ties and the occasional whipping, clamping and other punishments that BDSM is known for. Regarding the ties, a tie is considered strict if it is tighter than need be or if it puts the submissive into a difficult position, like a hogtie or binding the elbows closely together. What was said about bondage still applies here. The submissive will dictate how they are handled, and an uncomfortable tie may be wonderful to their senses. In fact, this kind of tie may be more difficult for the dominant, who must learn complicated ropework and knots. Once again, the dominant is slave to the submissive's desires.
This also applies when considering the different punishments used. Punishment is something of a misnomer, since although a whipping may be given as a punishment for the submissive failing to do something, the submissive would never take it if they didn't want it. Usually a punishment is simply a means to delivery sensory stimulation. A quick flick of the whip leaves a sudden smack and then a warm sensation across the skin. A clamp consistently applies pressure and when removed leaves a rush of sensation in its wake. For a person who cannot move and whose mind is focused on their body, the sensations become stronger and more intense, and pleasure becomes overwhelming.
Sadism and masochism, the last two letters, are the reason the two parties enjoy the discipline. Bondage can occur without sadism or masochism, and S & M play can occur without bondage, though some type of restraint is often used. Sadism and masochism are also something of a misnomer. While sadism and masochism refer to the enjoyment of pain, either giving it or receiving it respectively, in the context of bondage it more accurately refers to the giving of sensations and the receiving of sensation. Sensation need not be pain. Often instead of a whip, a dominant will use a feather, a fur covered glove or paddle, or other objects that have nothing to do with pain. The sadist, then, enjoys giving and watching the other person's pleasure, while the masochist enjoys receiving everything the sadist gives. And of course pleasure can be more tortuous than pain, when it is either withheld or given in such quantities as to overload the body. This may be something better understood through experience than explanation.
Of course, abuse and real pain does happen. While this is usually a case of a clumsy dominant not understanding the submissive's needs, or of an accident involving a whip used too hard or improper candle wax burning someone, just as in mainstream relationships, one partner might take advantage of another. This may be like one spouse abusing the other, wife or husband abuse that should not be condoned in any relationship. On the other hand, there are some submissives who enjoy real pain and some dominants who enjoy giving real pain, to the point of drawing blood and sometimes mutilation. This is not BDSM, this is torture, and torture should never be confused with BDSM, even though the victim might be tied up. The core of BDSM is that all play must be "safe, sane and consensual." This means no jeopardizing your partner's health or life, that all play be done carefully and with the proper safety precautions, and that nothing happens without both parties agreeing to what is done. Obviously this is not the case in torture scenes, where cruelty certainly is not safe and can hardly be considered sane.
If done properly, bondage can be an added ingredient to a healthy relationship, a physical demonstration of love and trust between people who love each other, and a spice to a sex life that might be trailing into boredom. BDSM is not the victimization of either partner, nor does it involve anything that should be considered taboo or disgusting. It is simply the giving and receiving of pleasure, and should be treated as such.