Beyond ‘Fifty Shades': What’s the Real Deal with BDSM? Sexual Healing

50 shades of grey

ColumnThe entire universe knows that the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trailer was released last week, so if you don’t – where on Earth have you been?

I chatted with Rachel Kramer Bussel, editor of “The Big Book of Submission: 69 Kinky Tales,” about kink, BDSM, and how we can go beyond “Fifty Shades”. You know you want to.

bboscover

Stefanie Weiss: What’s your quick and dirty definition of BDSM?

Rachel Kramer Bussel: I usually just define the acronym – bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism, which can involve eroticizing power and control as well as eroticizing the giving and receiving of pain, pleasure, and other kinks. It’s such a wide term that it can be hard to define.

SW: How and why can it be liberating for women — especially those who have only been exposed to “vanilla” sex?

RKB: I don’t think BDSM is for everyone, but for many women, it’s a way to explicitly play with power in ways we can’t always do in our daily lives, whether because we are expected to be “good girls” or are simply bound (no pun intended) by societal and workplace rules. There are also rules in BDSM, but once you’ve agreed on those, it can be anything goes in terms of exploring and possibly pushing your own limits, by choice. For example, you can be “bad” and get a spanking or other “punishment,” but you’re playing by rules you’ve agreed to, and very possibly fantasized about.

SW: I’m loving your new book “The Big Book of Submission: 69 Kinky Tales. The characters are in all positions (literal and figurative) in the submission/dom context. Women are dommes, subs, and everything in between. How is your vision different than the standard “Fifty Shades of Grey” narrative? (Which I will admit now I could never bring myself to read.)

RKB: With an erotica anthology, especially one with 69 stories, there’s much more room for variety. I wanted to give readers a range of entertainment as well as possibilities for reasons characters may enter into BDSM relationships and what they get out of them. I think something we as a culture don’t tend to think about as much are the doms; when someone wants, say, to be tied up, it’s expected that the other person, especially if they are a man, will want to. Not all kinky men are dominant, nor are all kinky women submissive, so I wanted that to come across in the book. I wanted there to be playful as well as more intense examples of kink, and show the mental as well as physical side, which is why my story is called “Reverse Psychology.” The narrator is devoted to his domme and does things to please her, not because he’s inherently into delivering pain.

SW: What myths about BDSM have been inspired by “Fifty Shades”?

RKB: I believe the main myths came from the media around the books, claiming, essentially, that women wanting to try submission are anti-feminist and that this was somehow a setback for women. What that idea misses is that what we do in the bedroom is not a direct mirror of our lives outside of it. There’s a world of difference between choosing to temporarily give up control (while still having ultimate control and a safeword) within the context of a voluntary, chosen BDSM relationship to further your erotic life and living in a world where women so often lack control over our safety.

SW: Follow up: Do you think some good things have come out of the “Fifty Shades” craze in recent years, or are you more concerned with the myths it’s perpetuated?

RKB: I think that like “Sex and the City”, “Fifty Shades of Grey’s” popularity has opened major discussions about women’s sexuality and BDSM and given women access to erotic reading materials, sex toys and information they had to hunt harder for before. Now, “Fifty Shades” is for sale at drugstores and pretty much every bookstore. Sex toy stores are reporting great rises in sales. The wayFifty Shades became popular was by women sharing the book with each other, so I think the barrier of talking about your kinky predilections and feeling they are something to hide has also lessened. Whether you want to try what’s in the book or not, it’s made it not just okay, but accepted that women are having their own fantasies and embracing erotic books written with them in mind.

SW: Any reason you think our culture embraced this now? I’ve heard theories about powerful women needing to be controlled in the bedroom, because they’re “always on top” at work. But I find this to be anti-feminist BS. What do you attribute the BDSM boom to?

RKB: I agree that that’s not the reason for its popularity. I think we’ve been moving toward a point where something like “Fifty Shades”could break out, and it happened to hit at the right time. I think it’s more about our culture embracing an openness to explore, to not have to keep sex toys a secret, to talk more freely about sexuality. Women are passing the books on to their friends and even family members, not necessarily because they think they should try kink, but because they connect with the story.

SW: How can BDSM change our self-perception? Can it help us to heal deep-seated sexual shame?

RKB: BDSM can show you sides of yourself you’d never considered before. Maybe you’re the shy, quiet type, but are with a lover who wants to be ordered around, told what to do, yelled at, who is at your service in every way. That’s heady stuff and a power trip that can surprise you with how you react. Similarly, if you are exploring submission for the first time, it can be both exhilarating and scary; you have to truly trust the person you’re with, and trust yourself. You can test your mental and physical stamina and emerge awed by the power of your mind and body to, say, transform pain into erotic pleasure, or process something we’d hate in our daily lives into something incredibly erotic. For example, I love being “ordered” to do things in the bedroom, but in my regular life I despise it. I don’t know why exactly that’s how I’m wired, but it’s a wonderful feeling to realize how turned on I can get when I’m with someone I trust who then taps into that and can play off of that element.

SW: If a woman wanted to introduce BDSM to her very-vanilla husband or partner, how would you suggest broaching the subject?

RKB: Firstly, you need to be comfortable with talking about what you want, and making room for the other person to talk about what they want. You can just go in and demand, “Tie me up, gag me and torment me,” even if that’s what you’re fantasizing about, especially if you’ve never discussed it with your partner. I’d suggest having that first discussion outside the bedroom, and while you don’t need to make a PowerPoint presentation of what you want, offer some examples of what you’re interested in. Perhaps you two can browse online or watch an erotic movie involving some of the things you’re intrigued by and then discuss what you may or may not feel comfortable with. You may want to explore kinky social networking site Fetlife.com, where you can read about what other people are into and join groups such as The Newbie Spot for subs and Dominants.

Before you start playing, agree on a safeword, which means if one of you wants to call things off or pause, you can say the word and automatically halt the action. Consider making a yes/no/maybe list of things you do want to try, things you definitely don’t, and things you might be into; Charlie Glickman has helpful resources on that.

SW: So many people have dark associations with the concept of S & M — they believe that everyone that engages in it is damaged — care to counter that stereotype?

RKB: There are some people who, like Christian Grey, may be working out mental demons via BDSM, and there are ways to do that safely as well as ways to do that not safely. You could say that we are all “damaged” on some level so I think it’s not necessarily a problem unless you’re being unsafe in your BDSM practices. But the idea that everyone who practices BDSM is automatically suspect is a problem. People come to BDSM from a range of backgrounds and experiences, as many people as come to, say, marriage. Maybe a partner is into it and that’s your entree, or you read about it watch a movie about it or discover a club or party or event. It’s such a personal journey and there’s no one size fits all element.

SW: For all the psychologically-stable BDSM participants merely exercising their fantasies in real life, there are people out there who are using it the wrong way. How can those interested in experimenting with BDSM — outside the context of an established relationship — find safe people to play with?

RKB: Try going to a munch in your town, which is a casual gathering, usually at a restaurant, to meet like-minded people. There’s no pressure and it’s a non-sexual environment where you can talk and chat and get to know people, who may be able to help you steer clear of people known to be unsafe as well as guide you toward safe spaces. You want to be extra cautious and if you are going to be in private with someone you don’t know, tell a friend where you are going. Vet them as carefully as you can because you want to make sure they have your best interests at heart, will listen if you use your safeword or have concerns and won’t pressure you to go further than you’d like, and also knows what they’re doing. For instance, there are parts of the body that you shouldn’t use a flogger or other tools on, and they need to know that to keep you safe, as do you if you are the one in charge.

SW: Can BDSM just be about physical, sensual pleasure — or is there always a psychological component?

RKB: It definitely can. There’s so much variety; some people combine mental and physical play, for some people it’s more one or the other. Some people enjoy the sensation of being flogged or beaten or spanked or straining against bonds but they don’t want to do it as “punishment” or as part of a dominant/submissive dynamic. It may be an endorphin rush or simply part of how they get off.

Join Stefanie on a journey to the authentic heart of your sexual self with Project 40: Sadism, Masochism, Sexuality & Shadow, an online 40-day tour through the heart of your psyche via intensive journaling, ritual, and guided daily emails. 

Got a question for Stefanie? Email stefanie at ecosalon dot com, and she’ll answer it in the next Sexual Healing column.

Keep in touch with Stefanie on Twitter@ecosexuality

Related on EcoSalon

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Sex & Intimacy: What’s Love Got To Do With It?

 image: Arif Akhtar

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