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The 8 Most Misunderstood Things About BDSM

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It’s easy to mock and misunderstand kinky people. We’re weird. I know. Trust me, only kinky people know how really weird we are. But seriously, most of us aren’t that weird, especially compared to say, soccer moms. Everyone deserves to be laughed at for something, and it’s easy to poke fun at kinksters. But if you’re going to laugh, please laugh about the right things. The stereotypes and misunderstandings that “vanillas” (what kinky people call everyone else) have about us undoubtedly exceed the 8 things on this list. Lo, these misinformed stereotypes even recently appeared in a cracked.com article.  We already have to deal with the fictional travesty that is 50 Shades of Grey, with its dubious conceptions of BDSM and its lexically challenged heroine. So please take a minute to learn how most of what you’ve learned about BDSM is wrong.

 

8. “What the hell is that acronym for anyway? Can I just call it ‘kink?’”

The acronym cheats: “BDSM” actually stands for 6 things—Bondage & Discipline, Dominance & submission (and yes, kink orthography traditionally capitalizes the “D” and doesn’t capitalize the “s”), and Sadism & Masochism.  The acronym evolved over time from S&M to SM to BDS&M to just plain BDSM.  Expect it to change again in 10 years.

And yes, you can just call it “kink.” Kinky people do. Just don’t be a judgmental prick about it.
For a good summary of the history, see CARAS research 

 

7. “All kinky people wear leather. And are gay.”

Long, long ago, there was a “leather scene” primarily for gay men that involved many activities that we now tend to label BDSM. Then some straight-ish people saw what was going on and thought that that kinky shit looked fun and started building their own BDSM subcultures. To this day, gay men and… everyone else… functionally have two separate, albeit related BDSM worlds. Occasionally, we all get together at big events, but for the most part, the “pansexual” BDSM scene and the “gay men’s leather scene” are basically distinct.

Gratuitous hot boys in leather.

 

Well, kinky girls wear weird shit too… it just isn’t always leather: gratuitous hot chick in latex.

Nowadays, all kinksters have the same flag, but the not-gay male kinky people are a lot less likely to wear leather.

“No flag, no subculture–that’s the rule that I just made up!” ~with apologies to Eddie Izzard

References: Fennell 2014  Lenius 2001  Richters et al. 2008 (for Australia)

 

6. “All people who do BDSM participate in ‘The Lifestyle’”
The public face of BDSM tends to be folks who are out, loud, and proud.

Awww, so cute! This was the #2 picture when I searched google image for “BDSM.”

Cute pic, right? But in reality, you won’t find most kinksters at a pride parade or at their local BDSM “munch” or happy hour (those are kinky social networking events, FYI), or even at the local BDSM club.  Despite the visibility of public kink, social scientists actually assume that the vast majority of people engaging in kink are not part of the public BDSM subculture (usually referred to as “The Scene” or “The Lifestyle”).

It’s like facebook, except there are lots of naked pictures.

It’s like facebook, except there are lots of naked pictures.

The BDSM subculture (which is most visible on the internet on the website FetLife) only represents a tiny fraction of kinky folks. Only a few kinky folks are lucky enough to live in a big city with a public BDSM scene. But even a lot of those people don’t like getting dressed up, going to parties, and doing kink surrounded by lots of other people. The public BDSM scene calls to exhibitionists and people who like doing weird things in the company of other weird people. These people also tend to be white and middle+-class.

I created this diagram to illustrate my point.

I created this diagram to illustrate my point.

People who participate in the public BDSM scene tend to participate in a lot of overlapping and adjacent subcultures as well, most notably the geek subculture, the pagan subculture, and the polyamorous subculture. Polyamory???  You know, that crazy thing where people get to sleep with people who aren’t their spouses, but don’t lie about it… or have meaningful relationships with lots of people… or some combination of the above.

Polyamorous life is definitely more complicated, but it’s also a helluva lot more fun.

Most people who participate in the public BDSM scene in the main urban areas around the U.S. are non-monogamous, while we’re pretty sure the people who like to play at home have more traditional monogamish relationships.

I can’t be wittier than Oscar Wilde.

In the public BDSM scene where I live, monogamous kinksters were so rare that they tried to set up their own dating group. But there were so few of them that it rapidly vanished.

References:  Newmahr 2010  Sheff & Hammers 2011

 

5. “Kinksters and swingers are all part of the same subculture”
Au contraire, there is actually a longstanding subcultural war between kinksters and swingers, even though—nay, perhaps because—they often have their events in the same venues on alternating nights. The hostility is so common that the primary group for swingers on the kinky social networking website FetLife is defensively named, “’Swingers‘ is not a dirty word!”

#3 google image pic for “Swinger Party.” Real swingers tend to be a lot older than this, but just as white, and just as naked.

The only google image I could quickly find for “BDSM Party” that wasn’t from porn. As you see, sexy, but a lot less sex. Real kinksters tend to look pretty much exactly like this—just as white and just as semi-clothed, most of the time.

To be clear, kinksters like to play with power and pain; swingers like to have sex with lots of people. These desires occasionally overlap, but mostly don’t.

Many kink gatherings forbid sex; sex is what happens at swinger parties. Most kink events enforce strict rules about consensual touching; most swinger events operate with a “touch unless swatted” attitude.  Many kink events are extremely Queer-friendly (despite a decidedly heterosexual male/bisexual female bias); most swinger events strongly discourage two men from staring at each other’s asses, let alone fucking.

Reference: Morton 2010

 

4. “All kinksters live in 24/7 Dominant/submissive relationships and do crazy shit like play with enemas and let people pee on them.”
Whoa, there, friend!  Um, some of us do… but actually, the vast majority of us don’t.

Don’t gay guys dress like this all the time?

Just like the gay guys who make the news are often wearing rainbow tutus with sparkly underwear, the people who are conspicuous among kinky folk tend to live at the extremes—but neither is really representative of “most gay guys” or “most kinksters.”  Most kinky folks aren’t in 24/7 relationships, have never signed a contract that lets someone else “own” them, and wouldn’t let someone else pee on them.

Lots of kinky people get collared or collar someone else. Most of us don’t.

Sure, lots of kinky people have done all of these things, but your average kinky person likes being tied up and beaten with a flogger on weekends, not wandering around on a leash and eating from a dog bowl in their spare time (not that I’m judging those people—those people totally hot and cool, and I sleep with plenty of them, but they’re still not the average). On Fetlife, discounting oral sex (#2) and anal sex (#5), the 10 most popular “kinks” are: bondage, spanking, hair pulling, blindfolds, biting, talking dirty, handcuffs, discipline, collar lead/leash, and lingerie.

Handcuffs: so kinky you can buy them at the mall at Spencer’s, along with a Superman wallet.

Reference: for Sweden: Carlstrom 2012

 

3. “All kinky people were abused as children, or have been raped or molested.”
This one just won’t go away: the great kinky romantic comedy Secretary actually opens with the main character being released from a mental hospital; meanwhile Christian Grey in 50 Shades of Grey has some sort of tortured past of non-consent. Just like psychologists used to try to expend a lot of energy and imagination trying to figure out the experiences in someone’s past that “makes them gay,” the culture still tends to assume that some experience “makes them kinky.”

Dude, Mama Monster (Lady Gaga) said she was Born This Way. Why would she lie?

Despite the persistent idea of kinksters with haunted pasts of abuse and molestation, in fact, psychological research has found over and over again that kinksters are pretty damned normal and as likely to have been raped or abused as anyone else.  A lot of kinky people say they were just born this way, with some suggesting that “kinky” is a basic sexual orientation the same way “straight” or “gay” is.

References: Meeker  Connolly 2008 Wismeijer & van Assen 2013 (the Netherlands)  Richters et al. 2008 (Australia)
2. “All Doms are men” OR “All Doms are women”
Both of these misconceptions manage to float around simultaneously.  The idea that all Doms are women is fueled by the fact that most professional dominatrixes are women.

It’s a living.

The idea that all Doms are men is driven by sexist assumptions about women all being submissive and having a deep-seated biological urge to spread their legs whenever anyone with a penis tells them to.

You can regularly meet people in the BDSM subculture who will assure you that all women are “really” submissive, and all men are “really” dominant… although they have an awkward habit of spelling the adjective “dominate.”

Nevertheless, the idea that men are Doms and women are subs turns out to have a little validity: inside the BDSM subculture, women are much more likely to be submissive than dominant.  However, in defiance of popular imagination and BDSM imagination both, about a third of men identify as submissive, and switches (people who like to be dominant and submissive) of both genders are quite common.

It’s called “switching.” It’s not surprising that mainstream imagination tends to forget its existence, since the BDSM subculture tends to forget about it too.

References: Lindemann 2010  Wismeijer & van Assen 2008 (the Netherlands)  Bienvenu, McGeorge, Jacques 2002

 

1. “It’s all about sex” 
This pseudo-myth actually gets debated a lot among people in the BDSM subculture themselves. Witness the following:

I admit I find this attitude pretty funny myself, but it’s kinda popular.

In wild contrast to the porntastic popular portrayal, many kinksters say that BDSM isn’t about sex at all, and it’s common for public kink parties and gatherings to forbid any sexual activity. When I interviewed American east coast kinksters, about 25% of them said that kink wasn’t sexual for them personally, and that they didn’t think it was sexual in general.

It may seem really counterintuitive, but lots of people do BDSM the way that other people climb mountains—like an extreme sport. Many people report the same kind of endorphin high from getting whipped, beaten, tied up, etc. that other people report from running, rock climbing, etc.

This looks pretty fucking kinky to me. That’s some serious bondage.

 

In case you were wondering, people don’t usually fuck when they’re tied up like this.

Other people really do engage in BDSM as a religious/spiritual activity, and psychologists have shown that participants’ bodies actually respond in ways that echo those of a person having any other type of religious experience to these rituals.

 

BDSM can turn your body into a religious work of art. I wouldn’t recommend having sex like this, but you theoretically could…

 

Kink, religion, or both? If the people weren’t white, would your answer change?

References:  Newmahr 2010  Livescience Fennell 2014

 

 

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Please note: none of these photos except the diagram in the middle are original to me. All are live-linked back to their original sources. Enjoy!


16 Comments

  1. desireebpc says:

    Reblogged this on A Wordsmith's Affirmation and commented:
    Just amazing. Good things to remember when you start judging people on their preferences or “lifestyle”.

    • The Slut says:

      Thanks for the link! All the pictures here are live-linked back to their original sources–none of them are mine except for the diagram.

  2. Yingtai says:

    Thanks! Although this is not precisely what I would recommend to a vanilla I was trying to build bridges with because of the pictures that would make them want to pull their eyes out. 🙂 BTW I have added the comic to my BDSM Humour board at Pinterest – thanks!

  3. Jeff Benson says:

  4. […] I encourage you to read the post and check out the blog – https://slutphd.com/2014/05/24/the-8-most-misunderstood-things-about-bdsm/ […]

  5. Lew Rubens says:

    The pic of the two girls suspended in the trees with bamboo is my pic. See more at http://www.boundndetermined.com (To the management of this site: Please leave my comment here or credit the pic or remove it. Thank you.
    Lew

  6. jade10099 says:

    Reblogged this on judyevelyn and commented:
    Very good article. More newbies need to read this for clarification of kink.

  7. […] I.E., 2014. The 8 Most Misunderstood Things About BDSM. SLUT, PH.D., [Online]. 1, 1. Available at: https://slutphd.com/2014/05/24/the-8-most-misunderstood-things-about-bdsm/ [Accessed 10 November 2014]. 4. Peachum, P.P, 2014. Defining The BDSM Life Style: The Essential […]

  8. Amanda says:

    This artical is really informative and I am glad that I sat down to read it (even though I really need to be in bed right about now). I know a few people that are into the lifestyle and honestly you wouldn’t know unless you were close family friends. They would very much appriciate this artical because it shows the truth that people don’t see. It has deffinatly clerified things for me and I am a person that is all in favor of learning something new whenever possible.

  9. heyerdahl says:

    Thank you for posting this.

    i am a moderator of the Fetlife group WordWize. i’m writing to let you know that your blog has been recommended for permanent inclusion in the WordWize index of informational articles and essays. You can find the recommendation here: https://fetlife.com/groups/91913/group_posts/7088607

    Basically, WordWize was organized for the sole purpose of making sure articles like this can be easily located, no matter how much time passes. We don’t post the information. We only tell people how to find it. (This article will give you more information about WordWize and its purpose: https://fetlife.com/groups/91913/group_posts/6296575 )

    The one thing i want to emphasize is that the recommendation is not a reblog. Instead, readers follow the URL directly to your original.

    Again, thank you.

  10. heyerdahl says:

    In that case, your work is listed under several categories in the index. Thank you!

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