BDSM I: History & Community: Leontii Holender

bondage

From whips and chains, raunchy BDSM clubs, to a little spank and tickle, BDSM (An acronym for Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/submission, and Sadism/Masochism) themes have become a popular avenue for those looking to delve into the world of romantic fiction as a reader or writer. For the modern-day writer, some of the mysticism around the variety of erotic activity and intrapersonal dynamics that encompasses the world of BDSM can be a bit tricky to navigate. Often the imaginative and elaborate scenes a reader can find in their favorite ManLove romance can inevitably lead to a desire to explore these concepts in their real-life relationships. So how do we separate applying these techniques and power exchange dynamics safely from the erotic fiction we all know and love? How do we write more realistic BDSM that gives an accurate scope of safe practice?

“Much of our BDSM practice can be traced back to the gay male leather culture that started around 1939-1945.”

While that answer is a complex one, it is best to start at the beginning and really dig into how it all began and what we have today. The history of BDSM’s origins on a worldwide spectrum isn’t so easy to pin down. Some BDSM historians (yes, that is a real thing) like to attribute it to the ritual flagellations that started around the ninth century B.C. Others yet like to ascribe the prevalence of kinky play to the Kama Sutra of India, which gives readers a how-to manual on four separate kinds of hitting permissible during lovemaking. It is suffice to say that from ancient Greece, to India, and even medieval Europe people can agree on one thing—the endorphin release caused by sensual stimulation of certain areas of the body during lovemaking can really spice things up.

Here in America, we have a more definite origin of the BDSM subculture we find active today. Much of our BDSM practice can be traced back to the gay male leather culture that started around 1939-1945. Men who were soldiers during World War II returned home from a wartime setting and sought that continuation of fraternal camaraderie. The first real leather culture that can be considered formalized as a public group started in early gay motorcycle clubs. It was in this organized leather community where a rich history of tradition, military based protocols, and ritual helped establish the face of what we know as BDSM today. Through the gay leather community’s exploration of kink and BDSM, they paved the road for any that define themselves as kinky in America.

The leather culture still exists and thrives today, though it is not strictly limited to any particular sexuality. Some groups function as nonprofit charities, while others are comprised of close-knit individual members to form a House. Here in the states, Leather in its variety of forms is often regarded in the BDSM culture as the roots from which all things came. With specific groups and gatherings dedicated just to those that live the leather lifestyle, it is easy to see how such a loving community helped others learn safe ways to practice consensual BDSM.

“Hand in hand with pansexual groups that welcome any variety of kinkster, there is a place for anyone in the wide welcoming community of BDSM.”

While most that practice leather still uphold those military protocols and traditions, they are only one part to the whole of today’s BDSM population. The lifestyle-like aspect of leather isn’t for everyone. Some people just like to focus on certain kinks and fetishes, while others enjoy BDSM in the bedroom or in a particular set time of play, and more yet like to incorporate the power exchange roles in their everyday relationship. Hand in hand with pansexual groups that welcome any variety of kinkster, there is a place for anyone in the wide welcoming community of BDSM. BDSM practitioners around the world can meet and commune with like-minded individuals at events, leather contests, monthly meetings with regional groups and chapters, or in the form of private social groups.

Most commonly, for those that want to learn about how to safely practice BDSM, researching the local groups is a good place to start. Public groups, that have a mantra of safe, sane, consensual, and show discretion with their members’ identities can be a plethora of information. With the invention of websites like fetlife.com, a person who is new and interested in BDSM can look up groups and browse those with an educational purpose. Still yet, oftentimes fetish conventions and fairs will have learning tracks for new lifestylers to become educated on how to safely play with a partner, the etiquette of the BDSM world, and how to protect themselves from the dangers that lurk in any social group.

Through personal experience and involvement for the past six years in the BDSM lifestyle, I have found that there are four blanket types of groups in most regional areas. The first branch of distinguishable public groups are those that center on community involvement and education, be it in the form of types of play, relationship dynamics, or safe practices in the community.  Oftentimes they will offer retreats and courses to help a person learn about themselves and how to function safely in a community. Most of the events hosted by this kind of group centers around learning opportunities, with perhaps a social meeting here or there.

“For the beginner, they are a great resource to be used, as there are generally members from all the variety of styles that are incorporated in the wide spectrum of BDSM.”

The second kind of group is one that is more social based and offers events and munches (dinner gatherings, usually in a public restaurant with a private side room), sometimes with topics of conversation that help a person explore and grow in their kink. These can be a great place for a person to let their hair down and just be in the same vicinity of people with a similar mindset or at least, an open one. For the beginner, they are a great resource to be used, as there are generally members from all the variety of styles that are incorporated in the wide spectrum of BDSM.

Thirdly, there are groups that center around the literal aspect of play in the form of parties, demonstrations, and ventures to BDSM clubs/public dungeons. These types of groups host events in which a member can be an active participant in what makes us kinky; be it in the form of spanking, flogging, canning, paddling, rope work, or any other variety a person can think of. Most groups of this nature have hosted events in local BDSM clubs, public dungeons, or a particular practitioner’s personal dungeon.

There is usually an educational class or two for a new person to attend that will inform of the particular group’s expectation of behavior while in the play space. These kinds of groups usually promote safe play and often have appointed dungeon monitors, which are people who make sure everyone is following the golden three—safety in play, sane types of play, and the consensual and informed agreement between all those participating.

Last but not least, there are groups that meet annually or bi-annually to hold conventions, retreats, or runs. For example, there is a group of participants from all different walks of kinky life that meet to hold a fetish fair convention in my particular region. As one of the moderating board members for the newbie classes, we often have a focus on general education. There are vendors for people to browse and buy from, nightly dinner gatherings, and play parties later in the evening with all of the aforementioned established safety precautions. While they can be a little daunting to the new comer, it is often a great place to meet people and learn a whole lot.

“As a writer, BDSM lifestylers can often tell you the misconceptions they face and what they would like to see portrayed more accurately in erotic romance fiction.”

While “public” involvement in the BDSM community might not appeal to everyone, experience is the best place to learn from. More importantly, a person that has been in the lifestyle for a long time, has a good reputation, and offers to instruct on a particular method of play can be a great learning instrument. Books and Internet resources can provide general information, but the best place to learn is from someone who has been there before. Speaking from experience, a mentor or instructor can often share information for problems that might arise that a book or the great wise chasm of the unreliable Internet doesn’t offer.

Every group has something to teach a person. If you want to look into BDSM for practical application or to research for a book, it’s a great place to start. As a writer, BDSM lifestylers can often tell you the misconceptions they face and what they would like to see portrayed more accurately in erotic romance fiction. They will often share scenes they have witnessed or participated in (while showing discretion for the other participants and setting) that can insight a new idea to draw characters closer together. All in all, I think the aspect of portraying realistic BDSM principles between two characters, a ménage, or a group setting can help keep the general public a little more safe.

 

photo credit: pigeonpie via photopin cc