|Work-In-Progress: To Do|
It's common for the general public to see BDSM solely in terms of sex or fetish. Indeed, even within the world of BDSM there are those who see it only in terms of sex or fetish. There are, however, many people who try to view BDSM in a more holistic sense, looking at BDSM as something which can contribute to their health and feelings of fulfillment in other areas such as:
- Spiritual development and awareness,
- Emotional well-being and satisfaction,
- Personal development,
- Physiological health and fitness,
- Psychological well-being,
- Quality of life, and
- Personal environment.
BDSM allows us to have diverse, powerful, unusual, and often unique experiences and relationships. These can create important opportunities.
Secondly, through these experiences and relationships we can challenge ourselves and thereby grow, learn, and understand more about ourselves and our world than we might otherwise. Often there's a choice involved: that of accepting those challenges, or of letting those challenges pass us by and, therefore, miss the opportunities for growth, knowledge, etc.
I hasten to add that BDSM is not the only path to good things, and that not all challenges need to be accepted. Growth and knowledge can be found outside of BDSM, of course, and many people lead deeply rewarding and happy lives without even a smidgeon of BDSM in their lives. Some people who take to BDSM may only ever look to it for a quick scene, a mighty flogging, and maybe a powerful orgasm, and that's OK. For others, those to whom this article is addressed, BDSM can be a useful path to something deeper.
Ultimately, what we're talking about here is quality of life and happiness. This article is about finding some of this through BDSM.
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Spiritual development and awareness
- 3 Relationships
- 4 Emotional well-being and satisfaction
- 5 Personal development
- 6 Physiological health and fitness
- 7 Psychological well-being
- 8 Personal environment
- 9 References
Before going on to explore this theme of holism more in detail, one of the first points to make here is that BDSM can and does involve profound emotions and interpersonal connections with our partners. These create opportunities for growth and development in both spiritual and emotional areas. At the same time, the activities themselves which we engage in allow us a lot of leeway for psychological expression and exploration. And many things we might do inside or outside of a dungeon may have physiological benefits as well, such as relaxation, exercise, massage, stress release, sexual release, and so on.
BDSM can create extremely rich contexts in which to explore and express ourselves in ways which other, more common or vanilla, contexts exclude. There is often a sense of stepping outside of the boundaries with BDSM, and the simple acceptance of this idea that the same old boundaries don't apply can liberate us and allow us to see things about ourselves, our partners, and our relationships, which we may not have realised or accepted before.
It can take a while for someone who enters the world of BDSM to see things this way. It can be that the initial attraction they experience for BDSM has to do with kinky sex, or novelty, or even simple lust. But after a time these initial attractions can fade. What happens next tends to be one of two things: the person concerned leaves the world of BDSM to look for excitement and shiny things elsewhere, or they start to look beyond the kinky sex and the black leather clothes for more profound sources of satisfaction within BDSM. This stage can kick in after a year or two in BDSM.
BDSM exists at many levels. At its most superficial, it is perhaps easy to see as kinky sex or a bit of fun with rope. This is not challenging, except perhaps technically, and it's easy to put aside and instead take up knitting or sailing if and when BDSM becomes too confronting. It is when BDSM presents challenge, when we find our beliefs or behaviours confronted by situations which we haven't dealt with before, when we are called upon to go further, be stronger, be more intense, or open ourselves up more than we have in the past, that BDSM becomes a vehicle for personal, emotional, and spiritual growth. This is where we start to see BDSM holistically.
Importantly, holistic doesn't just mean you. The whole which holistic refers to includes your partner, your relationship with them and your relationships with others and your community. While we might be tempted to view discussions on holism in terms of the individual---i.e., of ourselves---any changes in us extend through our relationships to others as well because our whole includes them.
Spiritual development and awareness
Spirituality has to do with those aspects of ourselves which are not materialistic and which aren't focused on the material world around us. It is specifically not about possessions and when we reach the point, if we do, in our BDSM explorations where new toys, new floggers, new partners, new bondage positions, and new activities in general don't do it for use so much any more, then we have the chance to turn away from these materialistic elements of BDSM and to look inside ourselves.
- Meditation - meditative and contemplative states
- Finding peace (duplicated in Relationships!),
- Finding your true self,
- Authenticity and being oneself,
- Of yourself,
- Of others,
- Of your partner, and
- Of the meaning of life.
Meditation is "serious and sustained reflection or mental contemplation". Some BDSM situations---e.g., bondage---tend to create the circumstances where meditation can profitably occur. For many who do practice meditation in a non-BDSM context, part of doing so is removing external distractions and quieting the mind. In a quiet dungeon and once tied up firmly, and after the initial sensations and awareness of restraint have faded, it's easy for the mind to turn inwards and for serious contemplation to begin.
For many people, this peaceful and meditative state is something that they achieve partially through simply being restrained and not being able to do anything else but think, as well as through a natural physiological response to tight restraint.
Not all BDSM activities are full on. Sometimes there are quiet times, and after something intense, powerful, or surprising has happened, it can be a very good idea to look for some peace and quiet so that you can sit and think through what happened and put the experience into its right place in your mind.
Many things which we do in life are determined, even if indirectly, by the circumstances in which we grow up. These include our family life, our circles of friends, and society in general. From all of these we see examples of what we can do, and we learn what's right and what's not. Being "right" isn't an absolute though. Being "right" may just be that our friends or family think is OK. What we might want or need to do might be perfectly safe, healthy, and fulfilling, but people around us may indicate that it's a no no and we shy away from it.
Although BDSM, and the people who practice it, also have their own ideas of right and wrong, people into BDSM tend to be more open to challenging preexisting ideas. It can easily be the case that the world of BDSM is more accepting and supportive of what you want to do, or what makes you feel whole, than the world outside of BDSM. This can be very liberating.
For example, there's a prevailing idea in the world-at-large that everyone should be equal and have full responsibility for their lives and choices. In effect, this means that everyone should be a fully-autonomous island. This isn't however, right for everyone. Many people like to feel dominated, like to surrender to the power or strength (not just physical) of their partner. For some people they only feel complete when this is the case. In terms of what the wider community outside of BDSM might have us believe, these are uncomfortable thoughts. They can be difficult to overcome, but liberating when they are. And, of course, these sorts of attitudes and ideas are par for the course in BDSM.
Along with the sense of freedom often comes peace. Freedom means that there's less need to fight or struggle against the often-artificial constraints we can come to feel (although these are frequently self-imposed). Once the constraints are gone, and the compulsion to act in ways that aren't right for us is reduced, it can be very peaceful. This is an internal peace, not an external peace. Externally, we might be more active than ever, but this activity is driven by genuine internal needs, rather than desires to conform or by desires to be accepted.
Finding your true self
Perhaps the major obstacle to holistic BDSM is yourself because as we see in this article (and elsewhere) BDSM can contribute to your life and your relationships in many ways. You simply need to open the door to it. This is often not simple, though. Preconceived ideas, ways of thinking and behaving which are conditioned into us by family, friends, and society, can be hard to dislodge so that we are actually free to be ourselves.
Some activities, particularly intense ones such as some forms of pain play, can compel surrender, and this can be an intensely powerful experience. Surrender can be transformative, it can change us. For some people, BDSM compels them to surrender for a time only.
Empathy is often a direct or indirect by-product of BDSM. BDSM is necessarily about creating and sharing experiences with your partner, and this sharing aspect is quite fundamental. It's not enough to merely be a good flogger or an excellent pain slut. To be a good BDSM partner requires understanding and awareness of what your own partner is looking for and what they are experiencing so that you can contribute. You need to see into them. This is, of course, what empathy is about. BDSM provides constant opportunities for you to develop empathy because you are constantly exposed to what your partner is going through, and the intensity of your own reactions to your BDSM activities with your partner are going to expose you to them.
It can be easy to think that it is mainly the job of the top or dominant to be the empathic one in a BDSM relationship but this is not the case. It is the job of both partners, top, bottom, dominant, or submissive. Both are looking for the shared experience which satisfies their wants or needs and their partner creates the opportunity for them to do that.
Honesty and authenticity
Hand in hand with empathy go honesty and authenticity. You are going to have the most profound experiences with your partner when you are completely open and honest with them. You are going to get the best out of your relationship with your partner when they are seeing all of the real you, without any pretense, and without any attempts to make yourself different than what you really are.
It can sometimes be tempting to try to present ourselves as better, more skilled, more confident, or more knowledgeable than we really are, but this has a major downside. Namely, that when our partners are making an effort to ensure that our own wants and needs are met, they'll be aiming for what they think we are. It strongly behooves us to present ourselves as openly and honestly as possible so that what they aim for is what we really are. If they're aiming to satisfy some image we've conjured up for them, where that image isn't the real us, then what they will be aiming to satisfy won't be the real us, either.
We're talking about authenticity here. What our partner needs to see, and what we need to show them, is our authentic self, and the better job we do of that, the better the BDSM we share with our partner is going to fit.
Being involved in BDSM and looking to get wants or needs met through BDSM means that we are constantly exposed to motivations to discover and reveal our authentic selves to our partner.
Some books on spirituality and BDSM
Although not a common topic, some authors do write about BDSM and spirituality. For example:
- Lee Harrington's Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths Of BDSM And Beyond,
- Raven Kaldera's Dark Moon Rising, and
- Easton and Hardy's Radical Ecstasy: SM Journeys to Transcendence.
Much of the focus in BDSM how-to guides and other books is the experience we have as individuals. But BDSM is rarely about just an individual experience. Almost always we engage in BDSM with someone else, a partner, and often we look to have a longer-term relationship with them rather than just a quick wham, bam, thank-you-ma'am at a play party.
Because of this, and in common with many other types of intimate relationships, BDSM relationships involve:
We establish relationships, particularly long-term relationships, with our partners because by doing so we can find more pleasure, satisfaction, fulfillment, and meet many of our wants and needs, more deeply and more completely than if we were to try and achieve these things with casual partners.
This depth often has to do with being able to let down our defenses.
Trust is necessary to creating a situation where we can let down these defenses.
Human beings are complex and emotional creatures, but not everyone wants to be exposed to the emotions of their fellow humans all the time. Many, who actually may be quite compassionate when called upon, have better things to do than deal with emotional outpourings of people they don't really know or don't want to know. As a result, and because there isn't a copious supply of emotional "listeners" around all the time, we generally keep our emotions to ourselves, particularly our strong emotions. If we do show our emotions in the company of people who aren't open to them, then we often find ourselves isolated or embarrassed, or even criticised or rejected.
So we learn not to show our emotions, except with people who we trust will accept them. In a sense, this acceptance is validating for us. When we do have feelings and we show them to others, most notably our intimate partners, and these feelings are accepted and supported then we feel that they are OK. If we show them and they aren't accepted then we are left with a sense of not being OK.
It is in challenging and confronting situations where we learn to trust because we see how our partners react when things get tough. Do they run? Do they stay and support us? For some people it is the emotional side of an intense relationship which can be the challenge, for others it can also be the physical side of BDSM.
In this sense we trust that our partners will act or react in ways that are not harmful to us. BDSM activities can include interesting, risky, and intense things such as suspension bondage, cutting, or heavy flogging. In this sort of environment trust can grow much more quickly than it can in less confronting vanilla relationships. It takes more trust to let someone tie you up and dangle you from on high, for example, than it does to go on a date to see a movie.
In terms of challenge and confrontation, what we may find is that it's not so much our partner's limitations which get in the way of trust, but our own fears or history which get in the way of being able to trust.
Even though we might look at things like sex and nudity and think that they're intimate, in reality they can be quite un-intimate. This is because it's easy to separate ourselves from the fact of nudity or the act of sex. We can distance ourselves from them. Even though being naked, especially in front of others, may be embarrassing, or even though sex may be pleasurable or exciting, neither of these need to be defining.
On the other hand, the penetration aspect of BDSM (and I'm not just talking about sexual penetration), requires that we identify and define our most intimate wants and needs. For BDSM to affect us, and that's often the whole point, it needs to be aimed at us and we need to expose ourselves to being penetrated.
This is necessarily far more intimate than just being naked or having an orgasm.
Having sexual intercourse is a natural drive. Every adult has it. So wanting sex or responding sexually isn't defining. Stepping forward and saying that you need a flogging, or saying that dominating your partner is a powerful and satisfying experience for you, is defining. And by doing so we are exposing our intimate selves.
Sex is, of course, often closely associated with BDSM. There's good reason for this. Sex is one of the most private, most intimate, and most powerful things we do. And, given that many people look for intense experiences in BDSM, when intensity is the goal, sex and BDSM clearly are a good pairing.
Quite literally, sex is about penetration. It's about doing things to and with our partners that make us both intensely experience the other. BDSM is also about penetration, but in its case the penetration need not be sexual. It can come through other experiences, feelings, and activities---such as pain play or mind fucks---which can be just as powerful, or more so, than sex.
Combining the two then, BDSM and sex, potentially leads to much stronger experiences than each could create on its own.
In vanilla sex for example, foreplay might consist of fondling, massage, soft music, dirty movies, an expensive dinner, or some combination of the above. These are nice, but they’re not really that powerful.
Compare them to stringing your partner up to a bondage frame, tying them so tightly that they can’t move, then teasing or torturing them with pincers or clamps on their sensitive bits, and exploring their genitals without them being able to move to stop you; or imagine starting out with a gentle caning and working up to an intense and heavy hammering of their butt; or imagine stripping your partner naked, pushing them around roughly, and wrestling them to the ground. Consider what it’s like when you’re on the receiving end of these things. There is power and intensity written all over these activities. Whether you’re a dominant or a submissive involved in scenes like this, the scope for having a deep and penetrating awareness of your partner is much higher than, say, by sharing a dirty movie and some popcorn.
And then you add actual sexual intercourse on top of it. Of course BDSM sex is hotter than vanilla sex!
Intensity isn't always the goal in BDSM. As we've seen above, sometimes quiet spirituality can be, and when this is the case some of the more penetrative and intense BDSM and sexual activities can be out of place.
Emotional well-being and satisfaction
- Maturity and growth,
- Emotional needs.
As human beings, we have emotional wants and needs. We look for love, companionship, and we look for someone with whom to share our highs and lows.
BDSM is necessarily challenging and often confronting. It often takes is into "grown ups" territory and our success in individual scenes, and in our relationships with other BDSM folk---whether they are a special partner or just other BDSM folk in general---often depends on our emotional maturity. BDSM frequently gives puts us in situations where we either grow emotionally or we get out.
- Personal, and
- Technical and skills;
- Intellectual development - how we reason and think, understanding complexity,
Personal - means learning about what works for you and what doesn't work for you. This doesn't need to be anything deep and meaningful, like spiritual discoveries about yourself, but can simply be things like learning that you don't like pasta, but you do like pizza; or that you often prefer some BDSM activity, but only in certain circumstances.
Physiological health and fitness
- Physical health,
- Movement and flexibility,
- Cardiovascular fitness.
Interestingly, to be able to get the most out of many BDSM activities, particularly some of the more heavy ones---such as intense pain play, it's necessary to be healthy, often quite healthy, because many of these activities can require a lot of vigour and stamina to endure and to do well.
This applies equally to the tops, dominants, bottoms, and submissives in these scenes. For tops and dominants there can be strength or stamina involved in long and heavy floggings, or when manhandling or hoisting a submissive into the air during suspension bondage. These can also be effective cardiovascular workouts.
On the receiving end, a hard scene with a top can leave a submissive or bottom sweating and exhausted because it too can be a very demanding workout.
Because of the physically intense and intimate nature of many BDSM activities, most BDSM folk want or need a greater-than-usual awareness of health and safety issues. For heavy players, it's not uncommon for them to also have first-aid training. Many groups and people who run play parties will also have rules and protocols involving disinfectants, condoms, and other barriers, to diminish or remove the risk of infections.
All of this means that BDSM folk, simply by making an effort to engage in BDSM safely, develop a much greater awareness of themselves and their partner physiologically. This extends to tolerances and limitations of the human body, care and maintenance, and even a greater appreciation of the consequences of any medical issues they or their partner may have---such as haemophilia or asthma.
For example, haemophilia, which is a tendency to bleed more readily than others, is clearly going to effect blood play, cutting, or piercing, and is a significant consideration where bleeding may occur as a side effect, such as flogging.
Asthma is a major consideration for breath play.
- Mental health,
- Social needs,
- Ego support,
- Primal self (animalistic),
- Self expression,
- Artistic expression.
We human beings are social animals. We don't live isolated lives. We involve ourselves with others. BDSM gives us additional opportunities to socialise, to spend time with others who share our values, to swap ideas, and to express ourselves.
This social aspect is important because without contact with others we can feel lonely, isolated, and neglected. Sharing is a major part of this, whether it is simply sharing ideas---which can help us find new directions for our thinking or our activities which we might not think of on our own, or whether it is being involved in group activities and experiences.
We can also find validation for ourselves through our socialising with others. We can and often do compare the sum of what we do with what others are doing, and through this get a sense of how valuable what we do and think is. This contact with others can provide us with clues about what we can do differently or better, and about what things we perhaps should not do at all.
This sharing with others enriches us. Through others we gain exposure to things we might normally encounter. In BDSM, for example, there are hundreds, if not more, activities in which we can engage. By sharing with others we can get ideas about what might works for us, and we can get useful tips about things to try and things to avoid.
We get to feel part of a group and, in a sense, there is safety in numbers because we feel reassured when we share that what we're doing is not completely crazy and that we're on a, if not the, right track.
For many people, artistic expression is a vital and necessary part of their lives. Even though their job may not be in any artistic or creative field, the need to express inner creative drives shows up regularly in their hobbies or in their evening or weekend activities. Maybe they make things or design things such as jewelry in their spare time. Without this outlet they may become restless or even irritable.
BDSM provides a number of opportunities for these drives to be met. For example, some people like to hand-craft floggers. Floggers can come in a very large variety of styles and having a well-balanced flogger which is easy to wield and sits comfortably in the hand can easily involve many hours of work with leather, wood-turning, and braiding.
Some bondage tops like to do decorative bondage, which is bondage where the appearance of the end result---the pose of the tied submissive and the pattern of the ropes and knots---is often as important, or more important, than the effective restraint.
The point is there that BDSM offers many opportunities for creative and artistic urges to be expressed; so many, in fact, that I devoted a whole book chapter to the topic. It is eminently possible for someone to completely fill their spare time with creative activities which directly or indirectly involve BDSM.
- Status quo,
- Money and finance,
Importantly, accepting, acknowledging, and exploring BDSM as part of your life can create circumstances, situations, and environments which may not necessarily be life-changing or fulfilling on their own, but which may set the stage for other things which can be.
For example, you may discover that your passion for floggers leads you start designing and making your own. Beyond any artistic aspect of this, you may find that other people admire your handiwork and offer to buy floggers from you. This may give you some financial benefit.
Through BDSM you may also meet people who might otherwise have never crossed your path and find great friendships.
Many of the benefits which can come from BDSM are not those which are planned, but which come from the changing circumstances around us which BDSM can foster. Being open is the first step to these happening, and this openness---as we have seen---tends to be an outcome of engaging in BDSM in the first place.
- Understanding BDSM Relationships. Chapter 4. Uncomfortable thoughts
- BDSM Relationships - Pitfalls and Obstacles. Chapter 2. The False Self, AND Chapter 3. Trust
- BDSM Relationships - How They Work. Chapter 2. Section 1. Openness and honesty
- BDSM Relationships - Pitfalls and Obstacles. Chapter 2. The False Self
- Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths Of BDSM And Beyond by Lee Harrington
- Dark Moon Rising: Pagan BDSM and the Ordeal Path by Raven Kaldera
- Radical Ecstasy: SM Journeys to Transcendence by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy
- BDSM Relationships - How They Work. Chapter 6. Section 21. Super-hot sex
- BDSM Relationships - How They Work. Chapter 8. The lists
- Understanding BDSM Relationships. Chapter 10. Artists and Tinkerers