Busting the myths around BDSM

Many of us have seen 50 Shades of Grey, The Secretary, or The Bookclub. All these movies have introduced everyday people to the world of kink and BDSM. The BDSM community was outraged by 50 Shades as it did not depict how BDSM ‘should’ be, and they are not far off the money. The question is, have these movies busted the myths around kink and BDSM? If so, why are the comment sections on Facebook still flooded with horror and misunderstandings?

We haven’t fully grasped how the fundamentals of the kink world play out. You will not always see a red room filled with toys that seemingly create pain. The reality is far from it; most people involved in the scene carry their toys in a bag or have them locked away in a cupboard. Granted, there are places you can visit with dungeons set up for high levels of kink and BDSM; even so, the red room can still put them to shame. BDSM clubs are usually member-only invites, so unless you are a regular or have been to their introduction evenings, do not expect to get an invite.

How prevalent is BDSM in the community? One study cites over 46% of the 1027 people interviewed had tried at least one BSDM activity, and a further 22% had fantasies. Regular participants of BSDM accounted for 10% of the interviewees. Other studies cite results ranging from 2% to over 60% of people engage in kinky bedroom activities. These numbers show kinky sex is not the deep, dark secret we believe it to be.

What is more troublesome is that society continues to shame people who enjoy anything besides vanilla sex. The psychology field isn’t exactly helping the stigma as the DSM (the bible for diagnosis by psychologists) still lists sadistic and masochistic interests as paraphilic disorders. How can we reduce shame and guilt in those who enjoy BSDM if the field of psychology still refers to it as a disorder?

Trauma and BDSM go together.

There is little evidence supporting this claim and much discussion around it. I’ve put this myth first as it is the most damaging one. It implies anyone involved in kinky sex is not normal. Trauma or abuse must be why they like being involved in activities such as flogged with a cat of nine tails or being suspended by the ceiling with rope. After all, what other reason can there be? We must note that causation differs from correlation; some studies can correlate trauma with BDSM. However, it is like asking what came first, the chicken or the egg.

BDSM is always about sex.

No one is discounting BDSM can be about sex; all you have to do is watch the BDSM porn category to verify this. Yet, many people who enjoy BDSM do not partake in sex or have an orgasm. Activities such as wax play, sensory deprivation, or rope bondage (Sharabi) are not inherently sexual. People will enjoy these as they offer relaxation and general pleasure. Many Asexual people enjoy BDSM. After all, BDSM is all about the senses and experiencing them in a way where your mind just empties.

BSDM is all about pain.

If you are a masochist (enjoys receiving pain) or a sadist (enjoys giving pain), BDSM can be about pain. Yet, even for those people, the act of the pain is not the be-all and end-all. The pain for a masochist is all about the inner body, meaning an endorphin and adrenalin rush. It has been described as similar to a runner’s high. It is about sensations felt on and through the body and the quietening of the mind. A sadist in a BDSM context will never enjoy giving pain to someone who does not enjoy it. It is about giving to them. The reactions of the masochists’ body, the perceived power given to them by their partner/s. BDSM is mutual enjoyment.

BDSM is abuse.

The pillars around BDSM are trust, negotiations and consent. In context, any relationship where these pillars are not present is abuse. Abuse is often centred around power, especially taking power without consent. Vanilla relationships won’t normally involve discussions around negotiations around sex or how power dynamics are divided. References are often requested from previous partners to gauge someone’s experience or reputation or to make sure they play safely. This is not saying abuse cannot occur in BDSM dynamics. There will always be people who inherently abuse the power they are given. Vetting or communicating with potential partners, taking time before playing, and checking references can all offer safety nets. Importantly, knowing yourself and your boundaries are important in all relationships.

Are you interested in learning more about BDSM? Reach out today.

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Kellie Payne Psychotherapist and Counsellor, Midland, Perth

About the author

Kellie Sheldon is the owner and operator of Kellie Sheldon Trauma and Sex Counselling in Midland, Western Australia. She holds a Master of Counselling Practice from Tabor College in Perth. Specialising in trauma and sexual therapy, she focuses on aiding adults in forming secure connections. With a particular interest in kink, BDSM and trauma, she is adept in techniques like EMDR to assist clients in processing negative and traumatic memories. Kellie is a firm advocate for therapy's potential to alleviate symptoms stemming from childhood or relationship trauma. Her primary goal is to accompany her clients on their journey toward healing, recognising that healing involves not just addressing past events but also acknowledging what hasn't occurred.

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