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History of BDSM

A Brief History Of BDSM Meaning, Context, And Culture

‘It is always by way of pain one arrives at pleasure.’

For every BDSM enthusiast out there, no words ring as true as these.

Written on a piece of toilet paper in the 18th Century, these were the words of Marquis de Sade. A French philosopher and revolutionary who is known exclusively in the modern world as that guy who liked to get a little freaky in the bedroom.

Although that might be simplifying it a little. In fact, it’s rare that de Sade ever acted out his desires in a bedroom. He was imprisoned for his outspoken beliefs for the majority of his life, writing his infamous work 120 Days of Sodom from the confines of a god-damned impenetrable fortress in France. The book famously describes a four-month long orgy which involves the humiliation, torture, rape and eventual slaughter of 46 victims.

It would go on to become a hallmark of the BDSM world. It quite literally puts the sadism in BDSM.

Contrary to popular belief, de Sade wasn’t the only novelist to inspire the BDSM movement. The M in BDSM is derived from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (masochism), an Austrian writer and journalist.

Sacher-Masoch’s most famous novel, Venus In Furs was published in 1870. It dealt with the themes of sadism and female dominance. The story concerns itself with the narrator submitting himself to a woman as her slave. He requests she degrade him in increasingly extreme ways, which she obliges with, until she reaches the point that domination because her default sexual desire.

So that’s the SM part of BDSM. But what about the first part: Bondage, Domination?

Bondage should be a familiar notion to anyone in the kink world. It instantly conjures up an image of a person being restrained, whether their hands and feet be tied to one another or whether they be handcuffed to an object. Bondage can take all forms of physical variation. Additionally, it can also imply the restraint or removal of the senses; such as blindfolds or mouth gags.

The pleasure one derives from the act of restraining or being restrained cannot be understated. It is perhaps one of the few BDSM-based kinks which regularly transfers to the vanilla world. It is often used as additional spice for regular sexual activity as well as being a means to end for more sado-masochistic purposes. It's likely that you have had slept with a type of lover with these tendancies, as being restrained is a common fantasy.

The act of bondage has sexual connotations for both roles in a BDSM relationship; the dominant and the submissive. A dominant personality will derive sexual gratification from gaining the complete control of another person, and likewise, the submissive will enjoy relinquishing any power they previously held to the ultimate possession of another.

The D part of BDSM, while it stands for Domination, is inclusive of both dominance and submission. It involves the complete surrender of one person to another often in the form of degradation, which can include physical punishment, forms of humiliation, forcing a person to cross-dress, amongst many other things.

On the reverse side, dominance is not only limited to physical play. Domination can occur entirely by voice or text if the submissive partner should so desire. It’s also inclusive of mental dominative acts such as verbal humiliation or the more extreme version: cuckolding. The act of a woman willingly engaging in sexual activity with another man while the submissive partner is informed (or watches) the acts.

Bondage, Domination, Sado-Masochism. While singularly, these worlds terms can be used in relation to real-world aggressiveness, violence and horrific acts, in the context of sexual gratification BDSM becomes something entirely different.

Perhaps the most important rule in BDSM culture is the emphasis on physical well-being: safe, sane, consensual.

What this means in short is that safety precautions should always be in place before any kind of BDSM activity occurs, and precautions should be adhered to at all times. Due to the obvious element of risk involved with any play which involves physical degradation or physical restraint, pre-play negotiations are a vital factor to any kind of BDSM relationship.

Without limits, both the dominant and submissive partner will not be able to know where the boundaries are, which will inhibit their enjoyment of the session. For example, if a dominant doesn’t know how far to push a physical act, he may go too far and end up forcing the submissive to tap out or suffer serious injuries. Similarly, if a submissive person hasn’t made it clear where their limitations are, they cannot comfortably submit themselves in the knowledge that they won’t be hurt past their limitations.

Dominants in particular are expected to understand the basics of practical safety and BDSM Rules. For example, they will understand that there are particular parts of the body which shouldn’t be intensely damaged. Places such as the lower back are often out of bounds during BDSM play, even if the wishes of the submissive are to hit there. While it may be erotic in a fantasy sense, the reality of the situation would pose too much risk for it to be an enjoyable experience for either party.

Because of this total placement of trust in another person, BDSM sex sessions can become something which transcend simple sexual relationships. While the mainstream perception of BDSM culture is often considered to be ‘weird’ or unconventional, it is clear that BDSM provides a type of relief which appears to be unattainable anywhere else in life. This is evident by the sheer amount of people who engage in various forms of BDSM, whether it be as a dominant or submissive role.

From transgressive works of fiction in the 18th century to the recent runaway success of a particular erotic novel (and major Hollywood film adaption) further proves that more people are becoming aware of the world of BDSM, or more accurately, realising that they themselves may identify with a particular kink or fetish. Indeed, it is a bold step to be able to make the link between distant fantasy and real world application, but the fact that BDSM culture is more alive than it’s ever been suggests that more people are taking the leap than ever before.