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Breaking the Stigma: Learning the Truth about BDSM

Breaking the Stigma: Learning the Truth about BDSM

I received an email this morning from a client I had seen a week ago. He was reaching out in hopes to book a second session with me, but after inquiring about my availability, he asked if I thought his foot fetish was normal. He was seeking external validation. He was searching for a sense of acceptance because he genuinely thought his erotic attachment to feet was unnatural and reading his words made me heartsick. His next email would shake me even further as he continued his request by suggesting we create a therapist/patient role play scenario where I, the therapist, would attempt to eradicate his foot fetish entirely. Of course, I agreed to book the session, but in spite of consensual role play, I knew this man was torn between deeply-rooted shame and owning his sexual narrative.

breaking the stigma of bdsm

When it comes to intimacy, many folks who enjoy kink-oriented experiences in the bedroom and have particular fantasies or fetishes—sexual or nonsexual—refrain from expressing them with others. Why? They don’t feel safe speaking openly about them because they fear they will be judged by their loved ones. They don’t feel their partner will understand their interests so they ignore them and move along to maintain a safe-and-sound relationship. They subconsciously carry shame around their sexual desires due to the negative social stigmas attached to sex and/or the BDSM community. But we as individuals are not born feeling indignity around our bodies or sexual desires. It is learned through repetitive programming. We are conditioned by socially shared normativity, family cultures and socialization, religious conformity, the media, bullying, education or lack thereof, and childhood trauma.

Despite the fact that BDSM and sexuality have entered the mainstream in a multitude of ways—and successfully I might add—it still remains as one of the most misunderstood subcultures of sexuality and those who engage in kink have become part of a marginalized sexual minority. While each person has a unique explanation for not owning their sexual narrative, many of our qualms and judgement around BDSM stem from misconceptions surrounding the community at large. In hopes to shed light on the subject and break the stigma, I’ve tackled some of the more common falsities I’ve heard since becoming an openly kinky woman.

BDSM Relationships are Not Normal

Firstly, using the term “normal” to describe a relationship or an individual’s kinks is a habit that needs to be unlearned. This word should be removed from our vocabulary. Language is incredibly powerful and utilizing words like “normal” and “abnormal” are both subjective and harmful. They suggest that normal equates to acceptance and abnormal equates to exclusion. They give the assumption that there is a collective standard of normalcy and leads to a sense of failure and rejection from others. There is no such thing as a “normal” relationship. Love is not identical. Our sexuality was not cut from the same cloth. We have just been hardened by society’s unrealistic models of what a relationship is supposed to look like. But relationships are not to be defined and humans are not meant to be forced into standardized boxes. We are all unique and complexly beautiful.

breaking the stigma of bdsm

Secondly, your fetishes are common and a phrase my clients always want to hear from me is that you are absolutely, not alone. There is a universal belief that any kind of sexuality that exists outside of conventional social standards is considered perverse or inappropriate. We are trained to believe that intimacy that lives beyond the typical monogamous and heterosexual hallmark of a relationship is deviant and promiscuous. But there is nothing wrong with being you and there is certainly nothing “abnormal” about pursuing a BDSM relationship. BDSM is a remarkable form of sexual expression with a diversity of genders, age groups, ethnicities, and sexual orientations.

Whether you acknowledge it or not, there are folks in long-term BDSM relationships all around you. For those of you who are unfamiliar with BDSM, the defining elements of these relationships are consent and the identification of roles for each partner. Typically, one person is the dominant and the other is the submissive, but these roles can translate into many kinds of partnerships—including but not limited to— daddy/little girl, master/slave, mommy/little boy, and pup/owner. But guess what? While everyone is a little different, the majority of those in BDSM relationships do the same things that those in “normal” or vanilla relationships do. They go on dates to their favorite restaurants, they get married, they raise children together, they spend time with friends and family, they share mutual respect and practice open communication, they set boundaries, they build trust, they argue, they make up, and most importantly, they love each other for exactly who they are.

Kinky Folks are Promiscuous & BDSM is all About Sex

There is an inclusive understanding that BDSM is explicitly about sex and folks within the community are too promiscuous. Cut it out though cause that is the furthest thing from the damn truth. BDSM is centered around sensation and power-play dynamics, not conventional sex. There are endless kinds of non-sexual activities to be explored within the community—from edge play and rope bondage to caning and electrostimulation, the list of implements and scenes is boundless. While there are some individuals who prefer sex to be the outcome of a scene, it is always a matter of personal preference. There are many kinky individuals who engage in play with their sexual partners and others who enjoy sharing that energy with platonic friends.

Personally, I prefer to focus my mind and body on either the play or the sex, but not both simultaneously because too much sensation and skin-to-skin contact can be overwhelming, especially when my intention is to reach a heightened state of being. There are times when I crave the sting of a leather strap across my bare bottom and there are times when I want to make love to my partner without the novelties. I have engaged in BDSM activities with both sexual and non-sexual play partners, as well as those whom I was not physically attracted to. It’s not about sex. It is about energy, connection, and trust. Not everyone who enjoys kink needs to indulge in sex during play and a preference for BDSM does not make an individual more or less promiscuous. Whether in a traditional monogamous relationship or non-traditional relationship—i.e. polyamory, open, or swingers—everyone has their own sexual preferences and libidos. Own your narrative and be unabashedly you.

breaking the stigma of bdsm

BDSM Relationships are Dysfunctional

Reminiscent of the fact that there is no such thing as a “normal” relationship, there is also no such thing as a perfectly functional one either—BDSM or not. All relationships are at some degree dysfunctional in their own unique way and at various stages. Hard truth: yes, there are relationships within the BDSM community that are destructive, but—and this is a very large but—this does not account for the majority. We assume BDSM relationships are “dysfunctional” because there is a lack of education around it. We land on inaccurate conclusions based on negative stereotypes and the terrible representation of BDSM seen in popular media time and time again. What we don’t see however, is the real magic, the foundation of these significant relationships. A dynamic built upon BDSM requires an abundance of vulnerable communication, grounded boundaries, negotiation and consent, and most importantly, unadulterated intimacy.

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Whether gay or straight, polyamorous or monogamous, kinky or vanilla, relationships are not all created equally. Conflict or behaviors that are labeled as “dysfunctional” can be found across the board, including infidelity, a lack of trust, poor communication, narcissism, emotional/physical abuse, and divorce. To be honest, I think those within BDSM relationships are actually winning. To the unfamiliar, this lifestyle and its practices may seem extreme, but those who have owned their kinks and sexual narratives have discovered a more profound way to connect with their partners. As voiced by Holistic Sex and Relationship Coach Kim Anami, “For centuries, various cultures have used these techniques as deeper ways to explore consciousness, power, and control, as well as the dynamics of masculine and feminine energies in relationships.” More often than not, those who have embraced BDSM into their lives have cultivated some of the most loving and meaningful relationships I’ve ever encountered.

BDSM is Linked to Childhood Trauma

We have all heard the phrase, “she has daddy issues”. Firstly, why are we even blaming women for the faults of men? And secondly, assuming individuals have gravitated towards the BDSM community due to childhood trauma or sexual abuse is a mistaken belief. Certainly, there are those within the subculture who have experienced trauma, but this can be a truth for anyone in any subgroup. In fact, many BDSM enthusiasts are actually more attuned to their mental health and/or emotional instabilities. In addition, there was a recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine that revealed two things: those who engage in BDSM activities may actually be more mentally healthy, extroverted, and open to experiences, and BDSM practitioners overall, had a more secure attachment style.

Everyone has their own fetishes and enjoys the BDSM lifestyle for a multitude of reasons. For me, the BDSM community has served as a catalyst to personal growth and healing. I have learned how to use my voice with bold conviction, how to release ingrained sexual shame and escape into liberation. I have been given endless opportunities to fully understand the meaning of sadomasochism and learn the exquisite language of pain and pleasure. Being part of this world has allowed me to engage in some of the most beautiful forms of intimacy—providing me an outlet for both creativity and full-body exploration. I was fortunate to experience a happy childhood and I’ve always had a harmonious relationship with my father. But do I enjoy calling a deserving man “daddy”? Ugh, yes. Yes, I fucking do.

 

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