Pandora's Box: BDSM 101, a beginner’s guide

When I first arrived at Scripps College, I was incredibly naïve about what my peers were comfortable with in the bedroom. I had just gotten out of a lengthy relationship with my sexually-petrified high school boyfriend, who not only ignored my persistent efforts to do the dirty, but confessed a few months in that if I took his virginity, he’d try to marry me. Needless to say I was quite virginal—uncomfortably virginal. I not only wanted to pop my cherry, I wanted to pop it standing up, laying down, in a box, like a fox—I wanted to try it all. When the time came (my first raunchy, random, I’ll-figure-out-his-name-in-the-morning hook up) I couldn’t bring myself to request anything I’d fantasized about. I figured he’d just be able to follow my body language—an assumption I now realize is ridiculous, but I suppose it takes a couple times to understand your vagina isn’t your most effective means of communication.

While I didn’t realize the wonders of a torn hymen that night, I did learn one important thing: there is no universal way to fuck someone. Considering the overwhelming number of fetishes and fantasies that exist, the chance that you’ll find a partner who is on the exact same sexual page as you is basically nonexistent. So why was I so uncomfortable asking my partner to smack me around? Many creative sexual practices seem to unfairly carry negative stigmas, preventing them from being brought up in public or in private. This attitude is incredibly limiting; sex should be fun and freaky, not disappointing.

I’m going to focus on one fetish in particular: BDSM. Bondage and dominance, dominance and sadism, and sadism and masochism form a category of sexual expression that emphasizes the fusion of pleasure and pain through power role-play, intense stimulation, and consensual restraint.

In intimate, one-on-one settings, the roles vary between the dominant partner and the submissive partner. The goal of the dominant partner is to build stimulation until the submissive partner achieves headspace. The sensations are introduced slowly, alternating between lengthy periods of mild stimulation and brief bursts of intense stimulation and gradually inverting the extent of each type of stimulation. Alternating between different levels of sensation releases endorphins and adrenaline in the submissive partner, lifting their pain threshold and eventually delivering them to a state of ecstasy (headspace).

That being said, BDSM doesn’t even require penetration. It is often the achievement of an altered state through variations of stimulation. However, in light of the prevalent discourse about sexual assault on the Claremont campuses, it’s understandable that anyone would feel trepidation about introducing dominance or submission during sex.

However, BDSM isn’t about abuse or torture or force. It’s a form of sexual appreciation that is just as consensual as a delicate night of lovemaking surrounded by candles. It’s practiced both professionally and as a lifestyle, and though there is a fine line between being kinky and getting carried away, there are techniques that can help foster a safe environment for all parties involved.

The most important thing is to establish a safe word. BDSM is all about testing your physical and emotional boundaries, so words like “no” and “stop” can often unfortunately get lost in the game. Choosing a nonsexual word, like “bacon,” makes it clear when you or your partner is uncomfortable. Another way to assure the experience is pleasurable on both ends is to make sure both parties are fully on board. I cannot stress this enough, especially when dominant behavior is involved. The achievement of headspace can impact the submissive partner’s ability to communicate, and thus the dominant partner must be sensitive to the other’s behavior. In addition, inflicting intense sensory stimulation can be dangerous. Practicing with toys like whips or hot wax before attempting with another person allows the dominant partner to satisfy the other safely. If you have any other questions regarding safety, the BDSM community supports two philosophies: Risk-Aware Consensual Kink (RACK) and Safe Sane and Consensual (SSC). You can find more information on both online.

BDSM obviously isn’t for everyone, but it shouldn’t be written off as abnormal. There is a massive BDSM community (seriously, just Google it) that only continues to grow, and the practice has existed since the days of the Kama Sutra. It is both a spiritual and sexual practice, and worth experimenting with in a safe, consensual environment. If headspace doesn’t sound like your space, there’s still nothing wrong with asking to be tossed around or tied up. There’s also nothing wrong with saying no (or “bacon”) to your partner if that isn’t your thing. Remember: it’s all about pleasure—make sure you’re both comfortable with whatever you try, but feel comfortable bringing it up in the first place! Sex is about communicating physically and verbally, so don’t be afraid to assert yourself and try something new.

Don’t miss the upcoming BDSM workshops and discussions this week. On Dec. 6 from 4:15-5:30 p.m. there will be a discussion of Juana Maria Rodriguez’s “Queer Gesture in Mambo Time” at Pomona’s Queer Resource Center. For a copy of the article, contact CGuzaiti@scrippscollege.edu. Later that evening, from 7:00-9:00 p.m., Rodriguez will deliver a lecture called “States of Submission: Racialized Gender and the Critical Promise of Fantasy” in Vita Nova 100 on Scripps campus. See you there!