Vigil of Darkness: BDSM.

S&M and BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism) is often seen as a symptom of a struggle for power between the sexes. Do you think it has anything to do with that?

That viewpoint comes from a need to simplify the myriad reasons for engaging in BDSM, by people who simply don’t understand it. I have no doubt for some people this dynamic may come into their play, but for BDSM to be solely considered as symptomatic of gender war is to reduce it to an obvious common denominator. And, of course, there are plenty of people engaging in BDSM for whom the struggle between the sexes is completely irrelevant in their personal sex lives.

Does it feel better to receive, or to withhold, pleasure?

For me it very much depends on the dynamic with my companion. If we’re going to get technical then I’m a Switch, meaning I enjoy moving between the dominant and submissive role with different sexual partners. It’s an interesting question because in the Dom/Sub dynamic, pleasure is the currency of the exchange – a submissive allowing me to create a space where I withhold pleasure from them is as much a turn on for me as it is for them, so I’m absolutely ‘receiving’ pleasure in that instance regardless of being the withholder. Although, as much as I get off on being in control of another person’s pleasure, I’m not going to lie about the fact that sometimes I am an incredibly lazy and selfish bitch and I want the whole damn thing to be about me and my pleasure, with minimum effort on my part. In those instances, it’s a simple case of receive-receive-receive and I make sure I get what I want.

Do you think BSDM is different between two women, compared to hetero sex?

In my experience, only in the same way that non-BDSM sex with another woman differs – an instinctual knowledge by another woman of how you might want to be touched. When I’m in bed with a new female partner, we tend to get to get to know each other’s bodies and get where we want pretty quickly, whether BDSM is involved or not.

I fantasise about ‘submitting’ but in reality become insecure fairly quickly. Under what conditions, if at all, would you submit?

Trust is a very thorny issue for me and so true submission – and by true I suppose I mean complete, both physical and psychological (which is ultimately what I am looking for in a submissive experience) – is a very rare thing.

I can count on two fingers the number of people with whom I have ever felt truly submissive, but that’s not the same number of people with whom I have played the role of submissive. For me, where there is a need for guidance there is also an element of performance – if I’m teaching you what I want you to do to me, then I want you to know that you are doing it right and that it feels good, so I’ll play my ‘part’ more consciously than if you came to me already confident in the act of domination. That absolutely doesn’t mean that I haven’t enjoyed those experiences or that I was dishonest about my pleasure, but to submit to someone who needs little guidance about what I need and can read me almost instinctually, is a different experience altogether. There has been someone in my life recently who moved into that space very quickly after we met and that was unnerving for me, especially when I realized that I wanted to hand myself over in that way so rapidly. In The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson writes of her lover Harry, ‘I feel I can give you everything without giving myself away.’ For me, this is the crux of the terms of my full submission. Without that feeling of trust and emotional safety, and the belief that the person I’m submitting to is capable of holding that space open, I can’t/won’t go there.

Performers partaking in ‘ethical’ BSDM porn, such as that by legendary San Francisco outfit, Kink.com, ask – or are primed to ask – for a new experience, anal-fistfucking or whatever, to test their limits. Rising to the challenge, they sob and yawp. Can we find empowerment in the adrenalin of transcending pain? Is this psychologically problematic? Is the mingling of BSDM and feminism fucking us up?

If human beings find empowerment in transcending pain in things like sport and illness – and we know that they do – then why not in sex? There is a massive societal tendency to complicate sex and desire, particularly for women. It’s like women are now allowed to say they enjoy sex, but they also have to tear themselves apart over the way they like to get fucked. We don’t seem to demand sexual self-analysis of cis men in the same way (or in any way…). We have endless articles asking a variation of ‘Can I still be a feminist and want to be gagged, spanked, fucked by multiple partners at once, etc’ and my response is YES, you absolutely fucking can. Embracing your sexuality and your turn-ons without shame is a feminist act, whether that is vanilla sex, head-to-toe rubber and restraints, or a room full of people jacking off over you. Stop agonising over your desire.

In The Story of O, the novel by Pauline Réage, O says, “it is only when you make me suffer that I feel safe and secure.” In a discarded epilogue, O, spurned by her lover, begs to kill herself and he permits it. Is BDSM, in any way, about love?

BDSM can absolutely be about love. In fact, I think a BDSM relationship is perhaps the best example of a healthy sexual relationship. It relies fundamentally on trust, continual open communication, physical and emotional safety, and enthusiastic consent. And, if it’s not about love, then it should be conducted with profound respect for the person with whom you are engaging. If you are testing your limits of pain, pleasure and trust, you are going to have a better experience with someone who sees you – and with whom you feel safe.

‘E’ was talking to Soma Ghosh.

Photo, above, from ‘The Black Glove’, Maria Beatty. Other photo credits: E.

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