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Feminism and Sexual Submission Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

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A meme showed up on my Facebook newsfeed one afternoon a few weeks back.

by Savannah Stewart

It was shared by some fuckboy I worked with for about five minutes before he was never seen again, except when sliding into his female former colleagues’ DM’s—which should have been reason enough to keep scrolling past, yet here we are.

The picture was of a young woman. “Preaches feminism,” it said just above her head. And below, “likes bondage.” Accompanying the meme was some type of monologue calling out women who support equal rights but “like to get slapped around” as hypocrites.

If women are going to “complain” about the things feminists get all up in arms about—like the fact that one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, or that almost half of murdered women are killed by current or former partners—then they’d better not enjoy a bit of roughness directed their way during sex or they’re full of shit. That was essentially the message of his ever-so-valued input about a woman’s sexuality. Because, clearly, those things are identical.

A few commenters pointed out that enjoying some naughty fun between the sheets is, in fact, completely different from experiencing abuse. “The difference is consent!” one commenter asserted, drawing digital thumbs-up from me and many others.

I agree wholeheartedly with that idea, and I think that the logical argument ends there. Rape and domestic violence are by definition not at all the same thing as enjoying and consenting to being in a position of submission during sex, and there is no correlation between the two. End of story.

But of course, fuckboy didn’t see it that way—how can a woman who likes to have physical force used on her in a sexual context walk around saying that hitting women is wrong? She obviously could not be taken seriously, he asserted.

I know I should’ve moved on, forgetting him and his irrelevant commentary. But I didn’t. It bothered me to reading that post, because I know a lot of people actually believe the things he believes.

Then I realized something: people who think that way, that feminist women cannot also be sexually submissive, probably just think that way because they don’t understand either concept.

And so this is me, after sitting on it for about a month now, retroactively explaining to Mr. Fuckboy what he doesn’t seem to understand.

First, it’s important to know that feminism is about a lot of things, but primarily it promotes political, social and economic equality regardless of gender, race, ability, sexual orientation, etc. It focuses on the issues that affect women, as well as other marginalized people, with the goal of empowering them and helping them achieve equality with privileged groups.

Sexual and domestic abuse are therefore important feminist issues because, though anyone regardless of gender can be the victims of these, they disproportionately affect women, people of colour, people with disabilities, and so on.

But on top of that, feminism is about making sure everyone has the freedom, education and tools required to make their own choices and become the rulers of their own destinies.

This includes, but is certainly not limited to, sexual preferences. Feminists believe that people should have the necessary information and confidence to figure out for themselves independently of society’s imposed constraints what feels good, what turns them on, and how they want to have sex—as long as it’s done between people who are fully informed and consenting.

Therefore, if someone comes to the conclusion that they enjoy being in a submissive role for sex and they want to act out fantasies of submission with a trusted partner, it in no way makes them less of a feminist—in fact, that’s feminist as hell. Feminism supports people owning their sexuality; so it’s not an excuse to start criticizing people who know what they want and actively seek it out.

But perhaps fuckboy’s issue is more with the notion of a feminist, someone supposed to fight for equality, wanting to submit themselves to the whims of another human being, very oftentimes a man?

The thing about submission is, like most other fetishes, it is the complex and unpredictable result of years of lived experience, exposure to all sorts of media, and plain old nature and nurture. And, just like every other fetish, it is a sexual fantasy that for most people in no way dictates how they wish to be treated outside of a sexual setting.

Think about it: just because you like being touched a certain way during sex does not mean that you want people to touch you that way when you’re on the bus, or making dinner, or reading, or doing whatever else. This can’t be repeated enough—consent is the key.

The truth of the matter is that we can’t control what turns us on, and our turn ons usually have nothing to do with how we live our lives. But something we can do is find ways to act out our turn ons in such a manner that is safe, respectful and enjoyable for everyone involved.

For people who enjoy experimenting with a power exchange, that’s where kink comes in. With communication, safe words, discussions about hard & soft limits, people who want to take on a dominant or submissive role during sex can do so in a way that is respectful and mutually beneficial. If you want to learn more about kink and dominant/submissive relationships, this guide is a really great start.

With all these tools at their disposal, people who are interested in being dominated—or dominating—can do so in a way that makes them and those they engage with feel comfortable. The goal is never to actually hurt someone, push someone’s boundaries or to make them feel unsafe.

Submissive feminists aren’t hypocrites. They are people who know what they like, know what they want, and know that their preferences don’t take anything away from their value as human beings.

Complete Article HERE!

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Financial Domination: Inside the Erotic Fetish That Controls Men’s Wallets

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A financial dominatrix rarely takes off her clothes or engages in sex. But she might have to talk a lot of shit about a client’s FICO score or let him listen in while she splurges at Saks with his cash.

 

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The first time Ceara Lynch dipped a toe in the world of sex work, she was 17 and a long way from home. A high school student who had grown up in the Portland, Oregon, area, Lynch was doing a semester abroad as an exchange student in Japan. She didn’t know the language, or anyone who spoke English. She was bored and lonely. So she did what people do now when faced with social isolation: connected with friends, and strangers, online.

“This one guy started randomly talking to me after he saw my profile on some site,” Lynch remembers. Though it wasn’t an adult platform, she explains: “To be straightforward: He was a big pervert.”

This stranger on the Internet had a host of fetishes—golden showers, pantyhose, you name it—stuff that seemed shocking at the time, though Lynch wouldn’t blink twice about anymore. He wanted to meet up; she said absolutely not. “I was young, but I wasn’t stupid,” she points out with a laugh.

When the man finally accepted that there would be no IRL meet-up, he asked her if she’d do something else: let him buy a bottle of her urine. At first she thought no way. But the more that Lynch considered the offer, the more she felt like, “What did I have to lose?” She packed up her pee and sent it away to the address he provided. Two weeks later an envelope arrived in the mail—containing $250 cash. That’s when she recognized a potential business opportunity. “I thought: If guys like this found me by accident, what would happen if I went looking for them?”

Lynch started selling her used underwear, among other things, online through an auction site that is best described at eBay but for fetishes. Guys would bid for her garbage, her used tampons, excrement, “all this wild stuff,” she recalls. But when she started to get messages from men begging to be her “money slave” she had to do some research to figure out what they meant. Eventually she stumbled on the kink she was looking for: financial domination. That was 10 years ago. And it’s how she’s been making her living ever since.

At its most basic level, financial domination is pretty much what it sounds like: domination whereby, instead of a bondage or ball gag, money is the means of (consensual) abuse. When you scratch below the surface though, that’s where it gets a little tougher to understand—as Lynch explains it, all BDSM is an exchange of power, and financial domination isn’t any different, but it’s not a kink most people understand unless they’re into it.

A financial dominatrix might be paid by her submissive to talk shit about his FICO score or tell him she’s going to spend all his money, even if she never actually has access to his accounts. Or maybe she has his credit card numbers and he gets off on the fear that one day she’ll decide to max it out; in other cases, he might send her, via Venmo or another money-sharing app, a certain amount of cash and want to listen in while she’s shopping so he knows how she’s spending it. The whole point is that the submissive gets off on the idea of losing power over his money—it’s his form of waiting for the bullwhip to crack.

FinDom for short, the fetish falls under the BDSM umbrella, can take on a variety of forms, and is admittedly fairly niche; it also goes by other names, like financial slavery. A financial dominatrix rarely—if ever—takes off her clothes or has sex with a client. According to Lynch, the fact that she doesn’t is an integral part of her brand.

“I don’t get naked in my videos. That’s kind of important for my image actually. If I were to do that, I would certainly gain another audience,” she says. “But I would lose a lot of them too, because the whole idea is that my submissives aren’t worthy of seeing me naked. Also I just don’t want to.”

FinDoms—who are typically women, though not always—might be called money mistresses, while submissives are referred to as cash cows, money slaves, or pay pigs, among other epithets. Unlike a sugar baby, a woman who has an emotional or sexual relationship with her client in exchange for cash, she’s demanding and assertive, not supplicant or sweet. But though the specifics of a relationship dynamic might vary, in a culture that equates money with power, and sex with power, financial domination can sound, at least in theory, like the ultimate aphrodisiac to some.

While financial domination is better known than it used to be, it remains a highly niche fetish that sex researchers don’t know much about, much like BDSM itself. Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D., is an award-winning sex researcher and psychology professor whose book Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life hits shelves this summer, explains that the lack of qualitative and quantitative data on this sexual proclivity has much to do with the fact that we literally haven’t been asking people about it. Questions about FinDom have yet to appear on national sex surveys, which also means that we have little way of knowing if it’s more or less popular now than it used to be.

At least one thing is clear, though. “The Internet has allowed people with interest in BDSM to find a like-minded community.” That’s the medium through which most FinDoms work, whether via chat, video, pay-per-minute calls, and “ignore lines,” which are exactly what they sound like: a line that a sub calls into with the express purpose of paying for the pleasure of being ignored.

If you think it sounds easy, Lynch wants to correct the record: “You see a lot of girls try and get into it by just setting up a Twitter account. But if you’re going hunting for these guys, you’re just not going to find them.”

In a way, a successful financial dominatrix is just like any other online influencer. It’s all about building a brand, creating content, and connecting with followers in a way that brings them back for more. “Offering webcam, making videos, having an Instagram and Twitter presence”—in other words, diversifying revenue streams so that you’re widening your reach and depending less on one-on-one interactions. Maybe you also dabble in foot fetish or humiliation (Lynch also refers to herself as a humiliatrix). “If you keep doing that, and putting it out there, every once in a while, you’ll catch what I like to call a white whale,” she says, “one of those guys who surfaces, gives you a ton of money and then disappears.”

Speaking of money, by now you’re probably wondering what a financial dominatrix actually commands for her services. That answer depends on a range of variables. But Lynch breaks it down by the things she actually sells. “My webcam rate is $10 per minute, and my prerecorded videos, which usually run about 10 minutes, are around $10. If I guy wants a custom video, those start at $250 or so, and scale up depending on how elaborate their idea is. Then I have my phone lines: Talking to me is $5 per minute. With the ignore line, the guy just calls me and then I put the phone down, and I get paid for as long as he stays on the line.”

Other FinDoms Glamour spoke to for this story said they wouldn’t get on the phone for less than $50, and that their financial domination “side hustle” might yield $30,000 a year. Lynch is less inclined to share an exact figure, but it’s worth mentioning that, when we spoke, she was in the midst of a three-month trip through Asia, and that this duration of travel is a pretty normal part of her lifestyle. “I make six figures, I’ll say that,” she says. She’s used the money to buy a few investment properties, and has been an incorporated business for 10 years.

Another FinDom Glamour emailed with shared that, over the past 19 years, her financial domination business has afforded her the kind of lifestyle where she could be available and present for her four kids every day. When we connected, she was currently taking her youngest on a class trip to Disney World before heading back to work after the vacation.

Of course, on top of the rates and attention for pay, there’s also another financial element: spending sub’s money. Tatiana, a 30-year-old West Coast-based financial dominatrix, relayed an exchange with a client who transferred $450 into her Venmo account—under the condition that she go shopping and let him listen into how he spent her money.

The phone stayed in her purse, from which she could hear him loudly protesting the conversations about specific items she was having with the salespeople—the resistance, and the sub’s inability to do anything about it, is part of the kink. When she pouted about the fact that he hadn’t sent her enough to buy a pair Louboutin booties, he eventually wound up sending her an extra $200. “I viewed it as a tip,” she says.

Lynch recalled a time that a sub wanted to be “tag-teamed” by herself and another FinDom: He paid for an hour of their cam time each, set up his credit card information with Saks Fifth Avenue sites, and requested that they tell him what they were buying as they shopped the site. “I think we ended up spending something like $10,000 between us just in that hour,” she says.

But it’s not all shopping sprees and big spenders. “The thing about this fetish is that you don’t necessarily have to have a lot of money to have it,” she says. “You might just get off on the idea of it.”

“For instance, I had a guy one time call me on my talk line, just for a quick chat. He wanted me to tell him how rich I am, how I want all his money, how greedy I am. Then, at the end, he hung up and paid me maybe $10.”

Another thing about being a financial dominatrix versus a real-life dungeon master is that it removes the element—and some of the potential danger—of working in the BDSM world. Because doms and subs tend not to exchange real identifying information, it allows for more anonymity (for example, Ceara Lynch is not Ceara Lynch’s real name), and the fact that interactions largely happen online on or the phone adds a protective layer into the practice.

Over the last decade Lynch can recall being doxxed only once, and when she reported it to police, they basically told her there was no recourse. In the end, she decided the best way to deal with it was to ignore it, and eventually the guy just faded away. “Unfortunately, if someone really wanted to find a lot of personal information about me, they could. There’s only so much I can do about it. It’s just kind of a risk I’m willing to take.”

Subs are obviously going out on a limb too. Sydney Lee, a dominatrix whose YouTube channel AstroDomina is devoted to explaining kinks of all kinds to the layman viewer, describes how her pay pigs getting aroused by the idea that she could financially ruin them at any moment.

“It’s a deep mental fetish, and it definitely takes more than a random pretty girl saying, ‘Give me money,’” she says in a video devoted to FinDom. That comment echoed an observation Lynch made about supply and demand—and why it’s harder to be a successful financial dominatrix than it might seem. Which makes sense, given that capitulation to the dom is part of the kink.

“One thing about financial domination is that there’s this element of humiliation that goes along with it,” explains Lehmiller. “What we know now from a lot of research is that physical pain and psychological pain activate the same areas of the brain and have similar effects. One of those effects makes us focus more on the here and now, allowing us to experience other things more intensely—for example, if you experience pain and then have sexual stimulation afterward, it might feel more intense.” In the case of financial domination, it’s not hard to see how chasing intensity might put a submissive on the road to financial ruin. It’s the kind of costly thrill you don’t want to be addicted to unless you can afford it.

Lee, of AstroDomina, positioned it in her FinDom video like this: “Handing over money is the ultimate representation of surrender or submission for most money slaves.” And with all the ways to connect and spend money these days, it’s never been easier for subs to find their financial doms or make deposits into their accounts.

Lynch has watched the landscape change a lot over the years. “When I first started, there were about five girls doing this,” she says. “But now there’s this huge influx of girls trying to do it because it seems easy. Once, one of my slaves gave me his log-in to Twitter and I went through his DMs—there were all these women trying to hustle him, like, ‘Hey bitch, pay me.’ I’ve had the luxury of time to build my brand, and I don’t mean to talk shit; however girls make it work, they make it work. But I thought it was fascinating because I have never sent a message to a guy first. They come to me.”

She used to think she would be out of the business by now, and, in a way, she’s a little surprised at how in-demand she continues to be.

“In the adult industry youth and beauty are your main currency—I imagined that mine would be up by now. But I make more and more money every year. It’s really confusing and unexpected. I always told myself I would keep doing it until it makes sense not to. I have my bachelor’s, but it’s not a very useful bachelor’s, so I’ve thought about going back to school one day.”

But even though she know she has plenty of options on the table, Lynch says, at this point, it doesn’t make sense to set FinDom aside—she just doesn’t have a reason to. “I make a lot of money. I travel. I have a really cool life right now. My focus is to make as much money as I can for the future, put it into real estate and other investments. Once the reason to stop arrives, I just want to have a good nest egg to explore the rest of my life.”

Complete Article HERE!

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A Glossary of Terms for Talking About Sex and Gender in 2018

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As our understanding of gender and sexuality is evolving, so are the words we use to describe them. There are many more sexual identities and expressions than previously acknowledged, so it’s about time we named more of them.

“The binary options of gender—man or woman—and sexuality—heterosexual or gay—are way too limiting to capture the complexity of human life,” says sex educator Kenna Cook. “There are so many variations in our personalities, beliefs, and DNA that limiting human sexuality to a tiny box of two choices makes it impossible for people to exist authentically.”

Learning the correct terminology for different expressions of gender and sexuality is essential not only to participate in conversations on this topic in an educated way, but also to support the people in your own life who might identify with them. “Language gives us ownership of our identities and autonomy over our personal choices,” says Cook. “Having words to communicate our identities gives us a way to find others similar to us. Words can help us feel seen.”

So, in the interest of educating ourselves and others, here’s a guide to a few human sexuality terms that you might not know, but definitely should.

Cisgender: Identifying with the same sex you were assigned at birth. A cisgender woman, for example, may have been born with female anatomy, like a vulva, and assigned female at birth.

Transgender: Identifying with a gender that differs from the sex you were assigned at birth. For example, trans women are people who may have male anatomy and been assigned male at birth and identify as women.

Queer: Anything other than straight and cisgender, or, more generally, breaking the mold of what society teaches us are the default options for gender and sexuality.

Sexually fluid: Feeling attracted to different genders at different times in one’s lifetime, or open to sexual relationships with a gender that one is not normally attracted to. For example, a heterosexual women who occasionally is attracted to women might identify as sexually fluid.

Pansexual: Attracted to all variations of gender identities. Because there are more than two genders, pansexual people may not find the word “bisexual” adequate to describe their sexual identities.

Asexual: Not experiencing sexual attraction to other people. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t have sexual urges or romantic attraction to others. In fact, many aseuxal people masturbate and have romantic relationships. Some people also feel some sexual attraction to others but view themselves as on the asexual spectrum.

Pangender: Feeling an affiliation with multiple gender identities. A pangender person, for example, might feel they embody male, female, and other genders simultaneously.

Agender: Not identifying with any gender. Agender people might disagree with the whole concept of gender or simply feel that it does not apply to them.

Non-binary: Not exclusively identifying as male or female. Non-binary people may also identify as agender, pangender, or trans. They can also identify as male or female in addition to being non-binary. Some non-binary people use the pronouns “they/them”.

Genderqueer: Expressing gender outside of cisgender. This could include someone who is trans, non-binary, pangender, agender, or simply “genderqueer,” without any other gender label.

Gender-nonconforming: This term is sometimes used simply to denote a lack of adherence to typical gender roles or stereotypes. Other times, it indicates a refusal to identify with a gender. Some non-binary and trans people also identify as gender-nonconforming.

Polyamory (a.k.a. ethical non-monogamy): Consensually having romantic relationships with more than one person, whether with one primary partner and other secondary partners or with several partners given equal importance.

Open relationship: A relationship in which one or more people are permitted to have other sexual or romantic relationships. This type of relationship agreement can exist in both monogamous and non-monogamous relationships.

Solo polyamory: Someone who considers their primary relationship to be with themselves. Sometimes this means having multiple partners but not a “primary” relationship with anyone.

BDSM: an acronym for Bondage, Dominance, Submission/Sadism, and Masochism.

Kink: a term that is representative of alternative sexual interests like BDSM, sexual fetishes, and other forms of sexual expression that depart from what’s considered “vanilla” sexual expression.

Keep in mind that all these definitions are personal, so you won’t be able to say which term applies to another person unless you ask. For this reason, it’s important not to make assumptions about who someone dates, who they have sex with, or how they identify based on how they look or act.

Complete Article HERE!

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‘If We Want To End Sexual Violence, We Need To Talk About Female Desire’

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“Good sex is about more than lack of violence or fear.”

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It might seem strange to be talking about pleasure and desire when we are surrounded by stories of rape and harassment. Aren’t we getting ahead of ourselves? Shouldn’t we concentrate first on stopping those crimes before we ask for sex that might actually work for us?

I don’t think so. The worst men—and the worst lovers—I have known were the ones who didn’t understand that women, too, want things from sex. That sex is not simply something we give to men—or something men take from us.

These were the men who commented, with a mixture of surprise and revulsion, on how much I actually seemed to enjoy the sex we had, how I acted as though we were sexual equals, as though my own desire mattered—and how unusual that was. I’ve never known what to say to that. I’ve never known whether to pity their ignorance or worry about the other women they have been with, about how those women may have felt forced to deny their desire, to keep their sexual agency secret, even in bed.

Study after study shows that women want sex just as much as men do—but they’re often afraid of the consequences of saying so. The story we tell about how women should behave sexually is one of hesitancy, of submission, of waiting for the man to make the first, second, and last moves. Cajoling a woman into sex is considered normal, hence much of the confusion about women who are now complaining, often for the first time, about men who pressure us into sex we don’t want to have.

Good sex is about more than lack of violence or fear. But there are still too many people out there who believe that it is enough for sex to not be painful or frightening for a woman. One recent study showed that 32 percent of college-age men said they would commit or had committed acts of violence against women that courts would describe as rape, but when asked if they would ever rape a woman, most said no. This is rape culture; nonconsensual sex is normalized and, as long as we don’t call it rape, tolerated.

There are still very few societies that are truly comfortable with women having sexual and reproductive agency—in other words, the right to choose when and if and how we have sex, and when and if and how we have children. All over the world, including in the United States, the basic assumption made about women by their governments and employers and families is that we do not deserve to decide what happens to our bodies—and we cannot be trusted to tell the truth about our experiences. This is sexual repression, and we must fight it.

We must also fight against internalizing it. The consequences of capitulating to what our bodies seem to want—whether it be an orgasm or another slice of cake—are made very clear to girls long before puberty turns up the dial on desire. We must not be too hungry, too horny, too greedy for anything in life, or we will become ugly, unlovable. Women who eat too much, talk too much, shag too much—women who want too much—will face shame, stigma, and ostracism. We must not lose control.

When you’ve learned to be suspicious of your own appetites, it takes time to treat yourself and your body with more kindness. How can we be honest with anyone else about our desires when “slut” is still one of the worst things you can call a woman, when women who openly enjoy or seek out sex are shamed for it, and men who do the same are celebrated?

For women and queer people, for anyone whose sexuality has been treated as abnormal and punished, and particularly for those who’ve survived sexual violence, it can be very hard to be honest about what we might want in bed, even with ourselves. That’s alright. It’s okay not to know what you want, as long as you know that the wanting itself is okay. This isn’t going to change overnight. But I know I’ve had more positive experiences than negative ones when I insisted on making my desires clear. Being able to ask for what you want is the first step toward real sexual liberation. The sort that works for everyone.

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Finding power through play: How BDSM can fuel confidence

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By Emerald Bensadoun

Marianne LeBreton is suspended in mid-air, tied in an upside-down futumomo, legs bound together. The ropes cascade in intricate patterns, beginning at her ankles and working their way all the way around her wrists. The ropes arch her body backward. Her breathing steadies. Serenity washes through her. The slight discomfort of certain positions causes slow burns to spread across her body—but the pain is secondary to the relief. LeBreton becomes entrenched in a state of flow. Her mind is quiet. She’s enjoying the intensity, both emotionally and physically.

For LeBreton, bondage has become a meditative experience. When it comes to receiving pain, which she enjoys, it takes a certain focus and determination. LeBreton finds rope— especially Japanese rope bondage—to be particularly meditative. She equates BDSM to an empowering “sense of calm,” but it didn’t start out that way.

“What colour should it be?” thought LeBreton. She wanted her boyfriend to like it. As an 18-year-old student on a budget, it couldn’t be too expensive. For almost a week she scrolled through the internet until she finally came across what she was looking for. It was even in her price range. This was the one. Satisfied, she clicked “purchase.” LeBreton had just bought her first flogger—a whip with long tendrils coming out the end. “It felt like the beginning of something for me,” said LeBreton.

When asked about her first experience with BDSM, she grins from ear to ear, trying to visualize the details. “There wasn’t Fifty Shades of Grey but there was hentai,” she says. At the age of 13, LeBreton became fascinated with Bondage Fairies, an erotic manga about highly sexual, human-shaped female forest fairies with wings who work as hunters and police protecting the forest.

Now 30, LeBreton has an MA in sexology from Université du Québec à Montréal and owns KINK Toronto, an up-and-coming BDSM boutique in Toronto’s Annex. BDSM, she says, is about much more than pain—it’s about empowerment. LeBreton says we could use a little more playfulness in our lives. More sensuality. More discovery. “That’s usually what I hear from customers who are curious; they are excited and thrilled to be daring and to be doing this for themselves or their partners,” says LeBreton. “It’s definitely a journey of self-discovery and acceptance.” In her workshops, being naked and engaging in play publicly, she says, has helped with her confidence and body image.

In 2015, Christian Joyal, who has a PhD in psychology from the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, and his colleagues published a paper on fantasies; ranging from sex in a public places, to tying up a sexual partner, to watching same-gender sex and pornography. But there were also fantasies about being dominated sexually. These were present in 65 per cent of women and 53 per cent of men; dominating someone sexually, present in 47 per cent of women and 60 per cent of men; being tied up for sexual pleasure which appealed to 52 per cent of women and 46 per cent of men.

“From what we’ve seen, most people have a very strict image of what [BDSM] should look like, which is very restricting,” she says. BDSM, she notes, doesn’t have to involve leather. It doesn’t have to involve pain. Another mistake is attributing masculine or feminine traits to erotic behaviour. For many people, BDSM is a healthy way to express their sexuality and grain a sense of control in their lives and of their bodies.

In her workshops, being naked and engaging in play publicly, she says, has helped with her confidence and body image

When it comes to dominance and submission, negotiations, and boundaries, safety and consent are crucial. While the words “dominant” or “top” may conjure up images of complete control, those in the BDSM world know that the submissive, or “bottom” hold true power. “The bottom is the one who gets to decide what they would like, what they do not want, what their limits are,” says LeBreton, “It’s the top’s responsibility to follow that through. Of course some people have very specific kinks where it’s kind of like ‘I want you to take control.’ But that’s negotiated and within limits set by the bottom.”

Feeling in control can also be about letting go. Relinquishing that sense of control they exert in every other part of their lives can be therapeutic. For this reason, LeBreton says that men, especially those in positions of higher power, will often identify as submissives in the bedroom.

Alex Zalewski says he’s always been a little rough. But in a seven-year “vanilla” relationship, it was difficult to break routine. Months later, for the first time in Zalewski’s life, he felt horribly unsure of himself. He’d been flirting with a new girl for some time whose friends invited him to their apartment. But he was confused. “Spit in my mouth,” she demanded. “Slap me.” Zalewski was torn between arousal and inner turmoil. If there was one thing he’d ever been taught from a young age, it’s that good boys don’t hit women.

For Zalewski, empowerment is a quiet confidence, and feeling a level of control that builds pleasure from the knowledge that he is fulfilling his partners’ desires. Zalewski, who lives in Toronto’s downtown core, offers relationship and personal coaching for various clients in his spare time, but he doesn’t charge money for it. The women in his life kept asking him for advice on BDSM. He decided he would try his best. In 2016 he created Authentic Connections, to help people overcome their barriers in exchange for a relationship they’ve always wanted. His goal was to have someone open up to him enough about the types of barriers that were preventing his clients and their partners from having the sex life they wanted to have.

“What are your fantasies? What are your desires? What do you want out of your partner or partners?” He would ask them. Once he could get them to admit what they actually wanted, they would work out a plan. Develop themselves, develop their skills to be able to do the things that would help them achieve their goals. Zalewski says a lot of the time, this is the most difficult step for the people he’s met with. It’s hard for people to step outside their comfort zones sometimes, he says, because they’ve been conditioned into associating kink and BDSM with abuse and mental instability.

A person becomes curious in BDSM. They don’t tell their friends. Maybe they’re afraid of being ridiculed or judged. Maybe rejection. But maybe it’s none of those things. Maybe they just want to keep their personal life, personal.

In 2006, the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality published an article that compared BDSM practitioners to published norms on 10 psychological disorders. Compared to the normative samples, those who actively engage in BDSM had lower levels of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological sadism, psychological masochism, borderline pathology and paranoia.

But just because a person likes to be controlled in the bedroom doesn’t necessarily mean those needs translate into the real world and can have dangerous implications for parties involved.

Jen Chan was 16. Her boyfriend was 24. He was her dominant and she was his submissive. “That was generally the dynamic of how our relationship went,” she says. But chipping away at her self-esteem, her boyfriend would pressure her into doing things she wasn’t sure if she was comfortable with, and she would go along with them, afraid of appearing inexperienced and childish to her older boyfriend. While BDSM allows you to play out different scenarios from that of everyday life, she says her first experience with dominance and submission was just an extension of the life she already had.

It’s hard for people to step outside their comfort zones sometimes, he says, because they’ve been conditioned into associating kink and BDSM with abuse and mental instability.

After their relationship ended, Chan says it took her several years until she felt confident enough to engage in BDSM again. Coming out as queer, she says, has also made all the difference. Chan now identifies as a switch, which is someone who enjoys partaking in both dominant and submissive roles, or both topping and bottoming.

“There is something very staged, controlled and intentional about BDSM, at least that’s the way I interact with it,” says Chan, who adds that her empowerment with BDSM lies in feeling like she’s doing something adventurous in an environment of her choice. Feeling satisfied sexually, she says, has made her feel more confident in the real world.

Is what you’re doing safe? Is what you’re doing consensual? Zalewski says risk awareness, the amount of risk a person is comfortable taking in order to attain the pleasure plays a large role in BDSM. From flesh hook suspension to unprotected sex, it’s important to understand the personal level of risk you are comfortable with when it comes to the acts you want to perform.

Chan says that while engaging in BDSM gave her the opportunity to try new things and step into new roles, most importantly, it allowed her to reclaim control, sexually. As a person begins to immerse themselves in BDSM, Chan says, they start to learn more about what makes them comfortable, where their boundaries lie, all while pushing themselves to continually learn new things—and to her, that’s all empowerment really is.

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