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BDSM: finding enlightenment in the dark

According to Ian Dury in his 1977 hit, co-written with Chaz Jankel, ‘Sex and drugs and rock and roll is all my brain and body need. Sex and drugs and rock and roll are very good indeed’. If I were being picky, I would add good food, some cash in my skyrocket and a nice place to live too, but I acknowledge with such attention to detail I would be a crap songwriter. In terms of the sex element, I lost my virginity at nineteen, a relatively slow starter by contemporary standards, and as I recall the earth didn’t move for either of us. I made up for the slow start and think I am fairly good at it, although to be honest I have never met another male who had a contrary view. Between you and I, not to be echoed to anyone else, I think my prowess is best summed up by Woody Allen’s sage words: “I’m such a good lover because I practise a lot on my own.” 

I am inherently lazy and crave comfort in most personal endeavours. Although I have done some risky things in my life my level of kink has nonetheless remained consistent: just above switching the light on. I also don’t do pain. Getting into the pool in Tenerife for the first time is usually accompanied by a few howls of anguish. If anyone were tempted to twist my nipples, they would probably follow this up with searching for their teeth on the bedroom carpet. Other than food, drink, and certain medical procedures my orifices aren’t for entering, and if any foreign object looms in the vicinity of my posterior my fight or flight response is highly attuned for defensive action. Overall, I would rank my sexual appetite as vanilla with a little sauce of which the latter is totally within my own defined pouring parameters. With this testosterone charged testimonial it was inevitable that my journalistic skills would eventually be challenged by the goading of others who smirk at the sexual exploits of a close pal of Pee-wee Herman and Noddy. So, with my stout boots on, sensible under garments and vest, ensuring that I never left any vents unguarded I turned my investigative skills to the great sexual unknown: BDSM. 

Of course I had heard of BDSM, mainly through inane banter with other male friends and had built up a mental image of gas masks, spanking, chains and being led around the lounge on a dog collar. How reliable this perception was would ultimately be put to the test. I must admit to being a tad confused too, especially since my mum’s neighbour Dorothy had expressed heartfelt appreciation of the novel Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, an accomplished author who in my humble opinion looked more like a librarian than a dominatrix. Dot was also in her seventies and liked knitting and jigsaw puzzles. Wrapped around this disorientation was evidence, if one can say that of mainstream media, that 

BDSM had seen a resurgence during the COVID-19 pandemic. I must admit to having altered my domestic habits somewhat during the successive lockdowns, although I doubted if binge watching Netflix in my dressing gown and not showering until late afternoon qualified as kink. 

With the help of a bunch of charming, trusting, and bubbly BDSM’ers drawn from the connections that form the social media highway of human cyber relations I drew up my list of research questions and listened. Without their collaboration, openness, and sincerity this piece would have lacked any veracity or humanity. Creating some form of instruction manual was never my intention, as quite frankly, I lacked any professional or anecdotal experience. 


What is BDSM? 

A good place to start since I didn’t know, without a Google search, what the acronym stood for. Indeed, I wasn’t the only one as it had a variety of definitions. 

B – Bondage, D – Discipline/Domination, S – Submission/Sadism (feeling pleasure/sexual excitement by inflicting pain), M – Masochism (feeling pleasure/sexual excitement receiving pain). 

Although Mistress Kiba qualified the textbook status by adding, “It generally boils down to a mutually agreed upon power exchange. This can look vastly different in each dynamic and there is not a single ‘correct’ way of being involved in BDSM. Some people keep BDSM to sex, some live ‘the lifestyle’ 24/7.” Thinking that I had grasped the parameters I was thrown into confusion when Tracy entered the room and proudly exclaimed, “It really does cover everything from balloon fetishes to ultraviolence.” Sam added somewhat rationally, “It’s an umbrella term for those practicing kink.” Kitchenalia could be kinky too! As I ate my porridge the next morning, spoon in hand my mind wandered… 


Does it hurt? 

Sam commenced with a reassuring salvo. “Not all acts will involve physical pain. For instance, I get off on humiliation and the psychological.” Now I could do that, having years of experience barracking my own players at Notts County! But then again, I don’t think this qualified as BDSM as Miriam upped the tempo, “It can hurt, but there’s consent and boundaries within each interaction and relationship. Pain play can come into it if that’s your thing, but there’s so much more than discomfort involved with BDSM. It definitely shouldn’t hurt emotionally.” 

Mistress Kiba broadened the enquiry with a degree of welcome theory. “A dominant/submissive dynamic can have no pain element to it at all. As a dominatrix, I have many clients that I purely dominate online. They may have tasks to complete, rules to abide by, acts of servitude that they get enjoyment out of without even having to be in the same place. It is a myth that all dominants are sadists and all submissives are masochists. If you want it to hurt it can hurt a lot, if you don’t want it to it doesn’t have to.” 

I was beginning to realise that BDSM was not a narrow pursuit. This continuum was elegantly summed up by Debbie who said, “Saying I’m into BDSM is like saying I like food. There are so many branches of the community and probably something even the most vanilla person would be curious about.” 


What was your BDSM journey? 

Sam was relatively new to the scene and up until recently had been standing with me in the ‘nothing to declare’ aisle. “My BDSM journey is a relatively new one. My vanilla relationship had broken down and I had always felt there was something missing. I got to meet a dom in December 2019, after several weeks of online chatting. He planned and discussed every detail from start to finish, what to wear, what to expect, how I would be expected to address him and so on.” 

Although more experienced, Debbie’s gateway to kink had similarities despite her progression being from higher ground. “At 25 I started organising my own private orgies. I was fortunate to find a man who had several trusted friends. I met a businessman in a hotel who ended up using his fist, but not to bang on the table if you know what I mean! This had rather pleasurable results. I liked being controlled.” 

Miriam added to the narrative and initially I wondered if she knew Dorothy. “I was acutely aware of its existence thanks to that awful set of novels called Fifty Shades of Grey. I read half of the first book and never picked it back up again. As a newly single 19-year-old, I wanted to stretch my legs – I mean wings! – and signed up for an online dating profile. I came across an older man and we matched, started messaging and eventually swapped numbers and hooked up. We swapped porn videos and explicit messages. Then he took me to a market called the BBB (Birmingham Bizarre Bazaar) where he introduced me to the social side of BDSM.” 

Mistress Kiba chimed a more cautious tone as she reflected on her voyage of discovery. “I was 18 and was introduced in an unsafe way by people who were taking advantage of my naivety. It seemed fine at the time but now I look back and cringe which is why it’s important to wait to get involved when you’re a little older and you have people you can trust to guide you.” 

Tracy added, “I came across it via the internet, realised I was into some of it, and went to one of the big fetish markets to investigate further. I started attending events about eight years ago, and that’s really when my social circle grew, and my understanding of different fetishes and the etiquette and expectations of the scene developed. For people looking at getting involved, I’d suggest starting with online social sites to understand more about your kinks. Munches are a good starting point, post COVID restrictions, which are social, non-play events held in vanilla venues, such as pubs or coffee shops.” 

This all seemed very cordial and, dare I say, British although I couldn’t help wondering if falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland could have some disadvantages, especially in terms of monogamous relationships? Miriam picked up my vibes and sought to manage the opening of Pandora’s box in a more practical manner. “For me, BDSM and romantic relationships go hand in hand. I would struggle to have a monogamous romantic relationship without any BDSM based activity. I naturally lean towards polyamory because I feel as humans, we have a complex set of needs in romance, sexual and platonic ways so confining that to just one person feels inherently unfair. I like Wensleydale cheese as much as I like Cheddar, right? Similar concept with sex and BDSM.” 


Is it for everyone? 

Everyone in the house agreed. BDSM isn’t for everyone. None of them metaphorically pushed it down my throat either. Miriam qualified the sentiment by adding, “There’s probably something that falls under the umbrella of BDSM that a lot of people will like. Anal sex used to be considered particularly out there and kinky, but it’s quite normalised now.” 

Mistress Kiba reinforced the variety of kink to choose from when she reminded us all of the joy of dressing up. “Getting dressed up as a schoolgirl/boy and having your ‘teacher’ tell you off is a form of submission.” At this point I had a flashback to Mr Piper, my stern mathematics teacher at secondary school. Tracy broke this unhealthy chain of thought when she turned the focus onto fantasy pursuits. “It’s not just about wearing latex and leather and being whipped in a dingy club. It could be role play during sex; it could be your long-distance partner 

telling you exactly what to do when you masturbate on video chat. I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what BDSM is which is why people think that it isn’t for them.” 

Debbie couldn’t hide her craving for the kink. “Impact play is a huge part for me. I love being spanked and caned. I also adore the degradation and humiliation side although only for Sir at his request.” Bugger! I was back in front of Mr Piper and couldn’t remember what a half times a half actually equated to. Time to move on! 


What are the myths and legends? 

Debbie was quick to pop the balloon (which I now know I can use for more than just celebrating a birthday) that most of my associates had dreamt up about BDSM. “I guess myths and legends would be images of whips, chains and dungeons. They can be introduced but this would not be a fair representation.” 

Miriam sighed at the numerous fables. “The one that springs to mind first is about submissives. They’re all meek, shy nerds. Absolutely not the case! I’ve met submissives who just look like regular people: doctors, nurses, factory workers, shop assistants, mechanics, etc. Your barista at the coffee shop might be a night-time deviant. Another common misconception is that people into BDSM can’t have normal sex, and that it has to get weird and kinky. This is absolutely not true! I’ve had some really fulfilling, satisfying sex as just two people getting it on.” 

Mistress Kiba continued to dispel the myths that I was increasingly minded to conclude were being perpetuated by those who knew absolutely nothing about the case in hand (or umbrella, you choose!). We vanillas were holding the smoking gun. “I have clients from all walks of life. Since my time is valuable, I deal with a lot of people who earn a fair amount of money. That respectable CEO business person may be grovelling at my feet after their meeting. There is no one ‘type’ who are into BDSM. Not everyone in the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex plus) community are into BDSM either.” 


What role do you best represent? 

Sam kicked off with an entry level synopsis. “Roles involved include dom, master/mistress, sub, slave, rope bunny and switch.” The need for clarification on these alien terms was forthcoming when it was explained that you can switch from rigger (one who ties) to bunny (the one being tied). She added, “I mostly 

identify as a brat, a type of sub who enjoys punishment and will play with their dom to even encourage discipline.” Debbie nodded enthusiastically in a distinctly impish manner. 

Miriam laid her cards on the table, “I will take charge in a group situation to help control someone else on request of a dominant person. Generally, this is referred to as a ‘service top’, but my preference is to be the submissive, bottom of the food chain if you will.” This sudden mention of food made me hungry although I was beginning to wonder if vanilla ice cream would be adequate. 

New terminologies, that got me clicking on Google, were introduced by Mistress Kiba. “I am a cis (individuals who identify with the gender that was assigned to them at birth, not being transgender) femme dominant. I am a sadist but that is reserved for my masochistic subs and I get my kicks from medical play.” Tracy continued the penchant for all things related to doctors and nurses although she also expressed a keenness for extreme spanking by virtue of an array of instruments. 


What is the best part? 

There was a mutual recognition of the care, compassion, and honesty that my BDSM’ers had encountered. This came as something of a surprise, as some of the roles, excluding the balloon play that even I could engage with, static aside, appeared to contradict this assertion. But that’s where I almost certainly had it all wrong. Miriam captured the mood by declaring, “For me, it’s feeling cared about. Knowing that you have someone who you can talk to about anything and everything and stuff you didn’t even think about until it comes up. You are someone.” 


Any disadvantages? 

Debbie, I am sure, knew Dorothy as she immediately, and thankfully, rejected anyone who had read the Fifty Shades of Grey series or seen the films. Tracy was a little more forgiving of my mums near neighbour. “I won’t dismiss the ‘Fifty Shades’ effect as wholly detrimental because I do think it opened doors to people who might not have been brave enough to open them, but I do think it’s become a lot more judgemental as people who are less experienced or less knowledgeable come onto the scene. Also, I hate to break it to you but I’ve yet to meet a billionaire dom with his own private jet. Maybe it’s just the company I keep, but they don’t seem to be in large supply.” 

Sam pointed out the risks of inexperience and choosing the wrong partner. “Always be clear what your hard and soft limits are. And if they say there’ll be no safe word then that’s an immediate red flag!” Mistress Kiba added to this caution. “Everything has it’s disadvantages but that’s where the community really come into play. There are plenty of people who claim they have experience who haven’t which can get people hurt. The community are great for education and protection though. We all understand that we didn’t get into BDSM knowing everything, we don’t look down on anyone for knowing less about something. If you want to learn, just ask.” 

According to Miriam certain roles have drawbacks too. “Being a submissive takes an awful lot of trust, and because of how much trust you need to give it’s extremely easy to get hurt.” 


Mainstream media suggests that there has been a spike in BDSM during COVID. What are your thoughts? 

Tracy couldn’t hide her excitement. “I think it’s brilliant! People are having a go, exploring, and learning.” Then added the ‘but’ (not to be confused with bottom play), “Just make sure that you’re doing it safely. Things like breath play and even restraints can have catastrophic effects if they go wrong. I know someone who nearly lost a finger because of a rope tie that was too tight for too long.” 

Others recognised that successive lockdowns had increased the notion of ‘spicing things up’ in the boudoir. Mistress Kiba, ever the pragmatist, pointed out, “There are tons of resources online including online classes in just about everything that will help guide you in healthy BDSM practice. FetLife (BDSM-focused social networking website) is a great place to go for information and to learn about classes and talk to like-minded people.” 

Miriam likened the apparent surge to other natural cravings. “Imagine eating the identical meal prepared in the exact same way, every single day. You’ll get bored after a week, won’t you? Same thing for sex and I also think that this might be separate from Covid-19, as women are discovering their sexuality and ability to be sexual and enjoy their own bodies as well as exploring their partners. They’ve realised there’s more to sex than just penis in vagina.” 

As I was digesting this nugget she followed up with a contemporary quip. “Even the best suited of partners get bored of talking about their workdays and zoom quizzes.” She was right. Zoom quizzes were now beginning to suck, although was this a dom or sub trait? 


For all the other vanillas out there, is there anything else we need to know? 

As a vanilla with honours the reassurance of a simple code of ethics provided by Sam was more than helpful. “The golden rule: safe, sane and consensual. And enjoy it, hang up the guilt and have fun.” Tracy added the useful tip of agreeing a ‘safe word’ or better still utilising the traffic light system: Green, good to go, amber, slow down and red, stop right there! 

Debbie likewise offered a reassuring hand of guidance, open palmed rather than clenched in a fist. “If you are considering it don’t just jump in. Do your research. Take time to ensure that partners are fully consenting and comfortable with all situations.” 

The fun element was vocalised by Miriam who added with a broad smile, “Have fun! Genuinely, BDSM and kink and anything non-vanilla is meant to be fun. Even if that includes pain. Also, things won’t necessarily go right the first-time round and if they don’t, try again in a week. Lastly, try everything at least twice. You might have just got your technique wrong initially.” 

I started this journey with several preconceived ideas about BDSM and readily admit that I was comprehensively wrong! I met a bunch of people who were happy with their sexuality and were able to express to others, including old vanilla me, their emotions in a manner that was truly remarkable. My own sexual roadmap had been heavily suppressed by a narrative of Monty pythonesque ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more’ reflections. Vanilla is just as good as kink, but ignorance is never a substitute for knowledge. If I have signposted you to more sunnier uplands, or reassured you that where you are, for the time being, is exactly right then our time together has been worth the effort. But time for me to depart dear reader as Dorothy has her balloons out, and has been shaking her fist at me since I am late. Ooh err missus! 

© Ian Kirke 2021

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