Intimacy and bonding

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Intimacy is being especially close to someone. It is being inside the barriers which they have set up between themselves and the rest of the world. It involves trust and vulnerability. The person with whom you are intimate lets you see and share things which they normally don't reveal to other people.

Intimacy is two-way, and we can differentiate it from the way in which we may reveal parts of ourselves and make ourselves vulnerable to such folk as doctors and counsellors where the revealing is one-way and is often professional in nature.

When we make ourselves vulnerable to our BDSM partners, we are often preparing ourselves for them to have an effect on us which others---those outside of our defensive barriers---cannot have. We expect to have feelings, have reactions, and do things with these partners which other people are not privy to. This penetration of ourselves by our those who are intimate with us is often a requirement for BDSM. We expose ourselves and make ourselves vulnerable because we want or need to have these experiences with those close and intimate with us. If this penetration doesn't occur we'll probably be dissatisfied and lose interest in the relationship.

Trust is an important factor in intimacy, but ideas of a future with someone or any long-term involvement are not. We can have an intimate engagement with someone we have just met---particularly in BDSM---when we are confident that they have the necessary skills and that they don't pose a threat to us. For example, someone we meet at a play party in a city we're visiting might be an ideal candidate for some BDSM-style intimacy, play and revealing of oneself, safe in the knowledge that you'll probably never see that person again.


Bonding is the process of creating a close personal relationship. There is a long-term aspect to bonding. It is the development of a close relationship where we can come to depend on characteristics or attributes of the person we bond to. It is also, like intimacy, a two-way occurrence.

Powerful shared experiences serve to increase the bond between two people. As one of the points about BDSM is that it releases powerful emotions and feelings, its role in increasing the bond between two people is hopefully obvious. Without any powerful shared experiences bonding is much less likely to occur.

Things which block, prevent or diminish intimacy

Because one of the keys to developing or establishing intimacy with another person is sharing, anything which gets in the way of or which discourages sharing is going to interfere with intimacy as well.

Many BDSM activities lead to powerful physical and emotional reactions. To be able to have these experiences with another person involves letting them in to see and share these same experiences. This is intimacy, and the often sexual and private nature of much that is involved in BDSM naturally leads to a greater sense of it between two people involved in BDSM scenes and activities with each other.

There can be many things which get in the way of intimacy. These include:

  • Social custom,
  • Medical reasons,
  • Embarrassment,
  • Self-doubt, or
  • Self-defence.

Social custom

Social custom often contributes to a reduced amount of interpersonal sharing. Common customs or taboos involve nudity or women baring their breasts. Our western culture tends to discourage men from talking about their feelings, and also encourages everyone to take responsibility for themselves. Being intimate with people other than those we are married to is also discouraged. However, in BDSM, being more intimate (verbally, physically, and emotionally) with others---such as at munches or during play parties is much more common than in vanilla-land. This all has ramifications for sharing.

There are two main ways to mitigate the effects of social custom:

  1. You can consciously override these learned biases, or
  2. You can move yourself into a microculture where these biases and customs are not present to the same extent. This happens, for example, when you involve yourself more with other BDSMers where different behaviours and values are the norm.


Medical grounds also can limit sharing, though this is more commonly in a physical or physiological context. For example, it can be:

  • Not wanting to engage in some activities which risk either infecting your partner, or risk you getting infected by your partner,
  • Having an illness or some other medical or physiological condition which prevents you getting involved in some activity---such as a recent heart-lung transplant, or asthma, migraine, skin condition, missing limbs, etc.
  • Not wanting to get pregnant


Embarrassment, or an excessive focus on how other people will see you or think about you, is another thing which can block sharing and intimacy. This can be due to a strongly conservative upbringing or the views of your peers which make what you do BDSM-wise seem like it is demeaning or that it diminishes your worth---e.g., striking a woman, kneeling at someone else's feet, eating from a dog bowl, etc.

This is tied to identity and self-worth. It is however worth noting that these same areas of embarrassment can be fertile ground to explore in humiliation scenes.

A supportive and accepting partner can be a big help with embarrassment.


A lack of confidence in self, or a perceived potential for ridicule, or a tendency to compare one's self with other tops, dominants, bottoms or submissives can inhibit someone from sharing or even in engaging in BDSM activities in the first place. Such self-doubt can also lead to avoidance.

Again, a supportive BDSM partner who accepts you and reassures you can be a great help.


Not sharing can be a form of self-defence. For the emotionally sensitive, or the socially vulnerable (such as public figures), being very careful about who knows about your BDSM predilections can be important to prevent subsequent attack. In these cases, it is mainly about preventing information from leaking out to those who may use it to either disadvantage or embarrass you, or to take advantage of you (e.g., blackmail).

Things you can do

There are things you can to assist in bonding and allowing intimacy to develop:

  • Don't be distant with your partner. Look for ways to open yourself more. Try to identify situations where you have trouble opening up and work to overcome them.
  • Your partner may consciously or unconsciously hold back because they don't trust their own feelings or reactions, or because they don't know how much they can trust you. Make an effort to earn their trust.
  • Encourage eye contact during BDSM activities. Talk and share (even if just with grunts and other noises). Your partner needs to feel that they are having their powerful experience WITH you. If they feel they're having it on their own then it's not going to feel anywhere near as intimate, nor is it going to contribute as much to any bonding. Eye contact, talk, and noises help you and your partner feel that you're in this together.

See also