Jamie Dornan stars in the second Fifty Shades film, Fifty Shades Darker
Jamie Dornan stars in the second Fifty Shades film, Fifty Shades Darker

Common BDSM myths: It's not a new fad, it's not violent and not everyone who partakes is psychologically maladjusted

BDSM first gained mainstream momentum in the 1940s

Debra Soh
Wednesday 21 October 2015 14:58
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With the unprecedented success of the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise and the upcoming film sequel on its way, BDSM has found itself at the forefront of kinky sex. As an acronym that stands for Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, and Sadism and Masochism, here are its most common myths, debunked.

1) It's a rare phenomenon

A study by Durex recently found that 37% of people in the UK have engaged in some form of bondage or blindfolding.

2) And a new fad

BDSM first gained mainstream momentum in the 1940s, with the popularization of pin-up girls and fetish magazines, as well as the birth of the leather subculture in the gay community after World War Two.

3) It is defined by sadistic and masochistic acts

There is a distinction between BDSM and sexual sadism and masochism, which involve actual physical or psychological suffering to one’s partner or oneself, respectively. BDSM, on the other hand, involves only the role-playing of such acts, with a heavy concern for safety and the prevention of harm.

4) The dominant partner is the one in control

BDSM usually consists of a dominant (“dom” or “top”) partner and a submissive (“sub” or “bottom”) one. Although the dominant would appear to be the one running the show, it is actually doms that perform to please their subs. Hence, subs are often nicknamed “bossy bottoms”.

5) Partners are either dominant or submissive

Many in the community identify as being a “switch,” which means they are open to taking on either the dominant or submissive role, depending on their mood or their partner’s preference.

6) A person who is dominant or submissive in real life will prefer a similar role in BDSM

As a sex researcher, I can’t count the number of men I’ve interviewed who identify as Type A alpha males at work and in their relationships, yet love to be walked around on a leash and spanked. People who are dominant in real life will take on a submissive role in the bedroom, and vice versa.

7) BDSM is about whips and chains

Like vanilla—or non-kinky—sex, individual preferences vary, from the somewhat tame use of silk scarves and blindfolds, to more extreme pursuits, such as needle play (which involves piercing the body with hypodermic needles), erotic electrostimulation (which is exactly what it sounds like), and sounding (inserting objects vertically into the male urethra).

8) BDSM is spontaneous and violent

Mutual consent, trust, and negotiation are hallmarks of the BDSM lifestyle. Most will meet potential partners before “playing together” to discuss personal boundaries, any health conditions they might have, and safe words, to ensure that a “scene” (or sexual encounter) will be both sexually fulfilling and safe. Any use of control or infliction of pain is within the context of fantasy, including the role-playing of nonconsensual sex.

9) It always involves some form of sexual contact

Orgasm during a scene is not always necessary for sexual gratification. For example, one man I spoke with enjoyed being humiliated by being whipped by his partner and told repeatedly that he had a small penis. “Sex” for him did not involve any physical contact with her. Gratification would arrive in the form of going home after the scene ended to masturbate while replaying these events in his mind.

10) The BDSM community revolves only around sex

Like any community, those practicing BDSM also enjoy embarking on non-sexual activities. “Munches” are informal events, usually held in restaurants, for the purposes of socializing. Some will also hold information workshops (such as, “Rope Tying for Beginners”) to help educate others in the community.

11) BDSM involves the use of fancy tools and expensive equipment

The impressive set-ups seen in professional BDSM porn is not representative of what most BDSM practitioners have in their collection at home. In fact, many acquire their essential items at hardware and kitchen supply stores. In addition to finding ropes and chains, one can use plastic curtain rods for caning, wooden cooking utensils as paddles for spanking, and clothespins as makeshift nipple clamps.

12) People who take part in BDSM are psychologically maladjusted

In fact, they have been shown to score higher than vanilla folk on several positive psychological characteristics, including subjective well-being.

13) You can tell if someone is part of the lifestyle based on what they look like

Contrary to what you might expect, those who partake in BDSM are usually successful professionals who are educated, work full-time jobs, and have families. Some will wear jewellery emblematic of locks, keys, and dog collars to show that they identify with the community; most others look like the average person you’d see on the street

Debra W. Soh is a sex researcher, neuroscientist, and writer at York University in Toronto, Canada. She has contributed to Harper’s, Pacific Standard, Men’s Health, and many others. Follow her on Twitter @debra_soh

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