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We’re bringing Sexy Mac: “but chains and whips excite me” (when used safely)

My column for this week is going to focus on a particular sexual fetish: bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, masochism, most often referred to as a group under the acronym BDSM. This genre of kink is often the first foray of vanilla (non-kinky) people into the world of sexual fetishism. It came to mainstream popularity after the terribly-written Twilight fanfiction Fifty Shades of Grey series. Suddenly, soccer moms everywhere were glorifying abusive relationships and non-consensual sexual activity as sexy BDSM play. To anyone with even the vaguest knowledge of true, consensual BDSM activity, this extreme misinformation proved extremely concerning. Activities that fall under this fetish can include the lightest of spankings to pain-play that might seem more at home on a horror movie set. As long as there’s some element of the acronym’s activities (listed above) and/or any of the people involved wish to label the acts as such, virtually any behavior can be considered BDSM.

Safe, sane and consensual are the guiding words often used by people in the BDSM community. This trio of tenets act as guiding “rules” for the participants in any given kinky activity. What would this look like practically? We’ve talked enough about consent in this column and on this campus that “consensual” should be fairly self-explanatory. Consent takes on an even greater significance when the activities can involve feigned distress or actual pain. Participants in such acts may go about maintaining and ensuring consent in a variety of creative ways. Safewords can be used to signal withdrawal of consent or a change in activity without confusion that the protest is all part of the fun. Safewords are often silly or mundane to ensure that they wouldn’t be uttered without intent in the heat of the moment (eg. “red” might be used to signal stop instead of the more obvious “stop!”). If gags or other toys are used to block the mouth, hand signals or body movements can be used in place of safewords, similar to “tapping out” in wrestling or sparring. Another option is to have extensive conversations about the type of activities to which the participants consent as well as those to which they do not. Participants may sit down and write a list of acceptable activities that may be undertaken in a “scene” (BDSM role-playing or activity session) and veto those that are not acceptable. It is still a good idea for participants to agree on a safeword, even if the list strategy is used, just in case consent is withdrawn within a scene at any time for any reason.

Safe and sane go hand-in-hand and involve what usually boils down to common sense. This means that if, for example, a person becomes aroused at the thought of electrocution, they don’t just bring their hairdryer into the bathtub with them the next time they masturbate. Safe and sane electro-play would involve extensive research on a safe amount of voltage, the purchase of specifically erotic electrostimulation toys and the participation of equally knowledgeable partners. Similarly, any activity involving body fluids would be structured so as to avoid cross-contamination among participants and any superfluous non-sexy health risks. Certain activities, including those involving extensive bleeding or strangulation, should be undertaken only with the knowledge that they can never be truly “safe.” That being said, all sexual activity (and all activities in general!) have risks, and it’s up to the participants to decide their own limits when it comes to a trade-off between danger and pleasure. The key is to educate yourself and your partners and minimize the risk as much as possible.

All this talk about stuff that’s way over my head, you might be saying. That’s okay! I’ll back up a little for any fetish newcomers. What if you just want to try a teensy little tad of BDSM in the bedroom? Where to start? First, I would recommend doing some recreational research with whatever type of erotic material you enjoy (please don’t read Fifty Shades of Grey though!). This includes pornography, written erotica, audial stimulation and/or the wonders of your own imagination. Spice things up just a little at a time. This will give you a chance to see if you’re even remotely interested in gettin’ kinky. If not, absolutely no problem! There are plenty of people who are happily vanilla all their lives and wouldn’t have it any other way. If you do discover something you like, I guarantee there’s a million other people who like it too and the depths of erotic material for you to peruse are virtually endless. After you pick something you like, make sure you talk to your partner before getting crazy with the random and unexpected spankings or dirty talk. As always, the most important thing about sex with other people is getting their consent before and throughout. Remember that some things we think are sexy in theory lose their appeal in the reality of the moment. If that’s the case, don’t hesitate to tell your partner that you’re not digging the act as much as you thought you would.

Despite its scary reputation, BDSM sexual activity isn’t so much different from the good old stuff. And with that, go forth and have many safe, sane and consensual adventures!

Questions? Comments? Insults? Email dhawkins@macalester.edu but remember that it won’t be anonymous.

December 2, 2016

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