Sex & Dating | January 29, 2021 8:09 am

Five of the Most Common Misconceptions About BDSM

It's not all sex dungeons and "50 Shades"

bdsm
Welcome to BDSM 101
Mike Falco / Bad Girls

BDSM and kink are terms that are often used interchangeably. While I’m not against this equivalence per se, I do find it helpful to explain the technical differences so that they’re easier to understand. “Kink” is a large umbrella term encompassing all sex acts that fall outside of “vanilla” sex. Vanilla sex is — and again, this definition is fluid — heterosexual P-in-the-V sex, between a cis man and a cis woman.

Everything else? That’s kink. By this definition of the term, oral sex, anal sex, hand sex etc. can all be considered kinky. How about that? Not so scary when you think about it this way, eh?

You might be a little kinky without even realizing it. What defines something as kink depends entirely on how you feel about that particular act. Oral sex? Might be kinky, might not. Spanking? Might be kinky, might not. Dripping hot wax on someone? Might be kinky, might not.

People are as diverse in their sexual preferences as they are in their taste in cuisine, and it’s all 100 percent normal as long as everyone is a consenting adult. “Normality is a societal concept. Those of us in society have decided as a group what is normal and not normal. Many of us follow the herd and just go with the flow. Others decide for themselves what is their normal, and for some that includes fetishes within BDSM,” says Taylor Sparks, an erotic educator and founder of Organic Loven.

BDSM is a subset of kink. It stands for Bondage, Dominance, Submission and Sadomasochism. It’s all about power dynamics, with the submissive partner willingly giving power over to the dominant. This can involve punishment, sensation play, bondage, and much more. When practiced with care and caution, by people who know what they’re doing, it is very hot. 

The reason more people aren’t hip to BDSM is quite simple: sexual shame. Our sex negative culture is very afraid of anyone who chooses to live sexually out loud, copulating outside the lines of “normal sex.” It’s time to shrug off these puritanical shackles and embrace sexual expression of all kinds so we can all have more pleasure. Ditching these common misconceptions about BDSM is a good place to start.

1. BDSM is all about pain


BDSM can have a pain component to it, but that doesn’t mean it has to involve pain in order to be considered BDSM. While there are plenty of pain sluts in the community, BDSM is not limited to receiving and inflicting pain. Rather, BDSM is about the power exchange between a dom and sub. The experience is entirely co-created by the people involved. The play can involve rope tying (like Shibari), restraints, tickling, sensory play (using blindfolds or headphones to enhance your other senses) and many other acts that don’t involve pain. 

“BDSM play creates a fantasy world, context, or roles to explore different relationship dynamics in a playful way, beyond just the physical manifestations of pleasure or pain. It’s more about the dynamics between partners than the actual implements and accessories,” says Lorrae Bradbury, a sex coach and founder of the sex-positive site, Slutty Girl Problems.


BDSM play cannot be engaged in ethically without consent from all parties involved. When you think of BDSM scenes in porn, (which are problematic on many levels, but that is an exploration for another day) you probably picture a dom (most likely a man), beating, spanking or otherwise “punishing” a sub (most likely a woman). What isn’t shown is the crucial boundary negotiation that the dom and sub would have engaged in if this were an IRL scene. While it may look like the dom is harming the sub, that is in no way the case. Each detail of what will and won’t happen has been ironed out. 

“The foundation for a healthy kink dynamic is that both parties want each other to succeed and win. Even if the sub enjoys being bratty or provoking the dom, she ultimately still desires for her dom to succeed in being dominant — she wants him to find the strength to continue in his role,” explains Kenneth Play, an international educator and creator of the Sex Hacker Pro Series. “Even if the dom is pushing the sub to her limits, he still wants her to find the strength to remain in the submissive role.”

Honestly, when it comes to consent, vanilla folks could learn a lot from the BDSM community. Theirs is one built on a foundation of communication, trust, and boundaries.

3. BDSM is not accessible to “normal” people


This is one of the main things that keeps people in the dark about BDSM: the idea that it’s only for super kinky people who live in 24/7 dom/sub relationships and go to seedy dungeons every single day to be tied to a St. Andrew’s cross and whipped within an inch of their lives. This is simply not how it works. Do some people who practice BDSM do this? Sure, probably, but this isn’t true of most people in the community.

BDSM is accessible to everyone, no matter who you are. In fact, recent research has shown that it’s more common to have a kink than it is to have no kinks at all. This doesn’t mean you necessarily love spanking, breath play, or tying someone up with a rope, but think about the things you like sexually: does something specific stand out as a preference? Maybe you like it when your partner takes charge, or vice-versa. Perhaps you enjoy when your partner surprises you with a new sex move or uses a sex toy on you. This can all be considered kinky, if that’s how you feel about it. Kink and BDSM don’t fit in a tiny box — they are a vast ocean of sexual experiences.

4. BDSM is misogynistic


This is completely untrue. In fact, in many dom/sub dynamics, women are the doms. Being a female dom (or domme, dominatrix etc.) is extremely empowering and allows us to flip the script on traditional gender norms. It puts women in control of their subs (whether male, female, or gender queer), giving them the reins over what our cultural script has determined to be “masculine” behaviors. This might include, but is not limited to, giving orders, being worshipped, degrading someone or having control over their partner’s bank accounts (in the case of financial Dominatrices).

Moreover, even when women are in the submissive role, there is still power in submission. “Although BDSM plays with power exchange, power exchange can run in any direction regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Even when the submissive partner happens to be female identifying, boundaries and limits and negotiated in advance,” explains Bradbury.

5. BDSM is unsafe 


“Healthy BDSM cultivates a safe environment to explore taboos within a consensual framework and can help us unwrite or heal past trauma or societal conditioning, taking typically taboo topics and transforming them into fantasy role play,” says Bradbury. BDSM is not about causing harm; it’s about a power exchange that allows for exploration and healing. That said, just because you enjoy BDSM does not mean you were drawn to it because of past abuse. For people with a traumatic past, BDSM can be a conduit for healing, but research has shown that this is not absolute and, in fact, the majority of kinksters don’t have significant trauma in their past.

With these misconceptions cleared up, it’s important to note that BDSM should only be practiced by those who know what they’re doing. If you’re interested in trying BDSM play, don’t jump right in, tying your partner’s legs akimbo and stuffing a ball gag into their mouth. This play needs to be thoroughly negotiated, with each partner expressing their desires and boundaries. 

Keep in mind this list only scratches the surface of our collective misunderstanding of “fringe” sexual practices. While correcting these misconceptions is foundational to understanding BDSM, there is still a lot to learn. Start by taking a few workshops (Dame and O.School have great options) and listening to kink-focused podcasts (Why Are People Into That, Loving BDSM) before trying it yourself.

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