Sadomasochism is usually believed to be some sort of sexual activity involving bondage and the infliction of pain or humiliation. In the article, “The Time of the Sadomasochist”, Darren Langdridge talks about S/M culture and how it plays into todays culture. While some might consider this act a psychopathology alongside rape and sexual abuse, there has been a growth in this culture of different sexual interests and identities. Sadomasochism communities are becoming more dynamic as individuals are able to feel a sense of sexual belonging. Sadomasochism has appeared in film, literature, television, and music showing the continued social interest in this idea of non vanilla sex. Some people identify with Sadomasochism as there primary identity while others might consider it a sexual practice.
The sexual acts of sadomasochism are based of the three principles; safe, sane, and consensual. Dealing with pain and bondage, it is important to have a central rule for both practitioners to remain unharmed. Darren Langdridge defines these three concepts and notes that any activity that does not constitute them is abusive and should be avoided. Implementing safety in SM practice involves negotiations and contracts between the practitioners to discuss the physical safety. It is also necessary to consider mental safety where the practitioner should never feel abused or have emotional aftermath. Sexual acts involving SM should be regulated in a way that play is grounded and informational. Consent is another important issue in maintaining a relationship based on SM. Through consent as an ethical concept, participants will determine what acts the will and will not perform in with understandings of their partners desires and limits. It must be mutual and informed.
These types of sexual practices are seen through the recently renowned novel 50 Shades Of Grey. This book is able to provide the readers with an introduction to this BDSM culture with Anastasia Steel exploring her new found sexuality through these sexual acts. As Anastasia enters into this BDSM relationship, she is introduced to this world of Safe, Sane, and Consensual practices. Ana must sign a contract for Christian which entails hard limits, soft limits, safe words, and so on. This contract is not only looking out for safety but it also shows a form of consent by agreeing to participate in Christian Greys different acts. Even though Ana takes the role of a submissive, her input in the contract challenges the power structures that usually exist in other forms of sexual activity. They go against the hetero-normative understandings of sex by incorporating control from both participants. Even though the contract is never signed, it represents this idea of safe and consented sex.
BDSM is thought to be a non normative sexual act between participants. However, due to BDSM being more mainstream conscious in the media, literature, and other aspects, it has allowed it to be considered among normal sexual activities and not the deviant acts its thought to be. However, some still consider it abnormal due to its non normative ideals. This could be why people are ashamed to read 50 Shades of Grey in public due to these abnormal ideals. There is an embarrassment when people feel like they are promoting or buying into these dark and deviant concepts. This novel is a growing romance between two people, but the acts of BDSM culture are what make it scandalous because these actions are not considered normal in the average idea of sex. Not only is BDSM non normative, it can lead to the idea of sexual violence using a dominant and submissive with inflicting pain. This misconception is construed from a powerful male sexually and physically claiming complete control over the submissive female.
There are also ideas of SM being a product of childhood trauma and these non normative sexual acts offer alternatives to loving relationships. There is a connection here to 50 Shades of Grey, where Christian did experience a childhood full of trauma which results in his BDSM sexual ways. He admits to his as he describes himself as, “Fifty shades of f*cked up”. He provides Ana with this new sexual experience that she finds very conflicting. The following quote exemplifies that BDSM might seem abusive and harmful to others but the people who participate in it do it for pleasure and not pain.
“At the touch of leather, I quiver and gasp. The shock runs through me, and it’s the sweetest, strangest, hedonistic feeling.”
I think this idea of BDSM is about overcoming constraints and programming that society has put in existence. At one point anal sex was considered taboo and now it has become more mainstream and acceptable to most people. It doesn’t even have to be as extreme with the floggers, and chains, and whips as thought to be. As you can see in this clip from the Big Bang Theory, Sheldon is participating in BDSM culture by spanking his girlfriend for being a bad girl. It is less hardcore than found in some BDSM relationships but it shows that it is enjoyable and the submissive here is enjoying it as much or even more than the dominant.
This leaves us with the questions, “What are the true reasons behind the negativity toward BDSM culture?” “Is it the idea of sexual violence?” This raises another question, “What are ways to overcome the negative conceptions?” and “Will BDSM culture ever be truly accepted in the politics of sex?”