I first started exploring BDSM when I was 13 years old. It’s been almost 10 years since then and I’ve spent most of that time feeling my way through the dark. The only way to really learn what your kinks are is to try them, but for most of that time I was afraid to talk about my interests with anyone.
Even vanilla sex wasn’t talked about when I grew up. Sure, there would be a few people at school who would brag about things they did, but there was no real frank discussion. And the mandatory sex-ed course was designed to scare us out of ever wanting to have sex. It didn’t offer any real answers. So I didn’t have access to a reliable source of information about BDSM—bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism—let alone sex, until I found fetlife.com.
Dungeon parties happen every month or so. One of the local groups will book a venue. There will be a bar, snacks, a sitting area, maybe a little bazaar, and a play floor that is always moderated for safety. The play floor always has spanking benches, tables for needlework, suspension rigs, Saint Andrew’s crosses, cries of pain, and moans of pleasure. People bring their own toys or gear to use with the big fixtures, and beyond that, it comes down to what each couple or group is into. You see, everyone has their own turn-ons, or kinks, and they use scenes to explore them; some people like to be spanked hard enough that their ass bruises, some like to be electrocuted, some like to be lit on fire, and so on. Some doms just tie their submissive up and tease them with a vibrator between their legs. A scene can refer to any kind of play like this between two or more people.
[pullquote]Being a bad dom in public is a fast way to develop a poor reputation in such an open community. People are even quick to point out if your flogging technique is sub-par.[/pullquote]
The dominant is always responsible for the well-being of their submissive. They satisfy their desire to be in control or to hurt someone, but in return they are responsible for that person. Likewise, the submissive can experience the stimuli they are looking for in a safe way. After any scene, a good dominant will clean up the device they used and then bring their submissive to the couches at the sitting area to cuddle and rehydrate. Aftercare is as important to a scene as the actual play. It lets the sub safely come down from their endorphin high and builds the bond between the two people. Generally, only an experienced dom will have their scene in public, because they have an audience who will intervene if anything unsafe is happening. Being a bad dom in public is a fast way to develop a poor reputation in such an open community. People are even quick to point out if your flogging technique is sub-par.
I went to my first event a few months after moving to Victoria, before I really knew anyone in the city. I’m short for a guy, 5’5, but I’m in decent shape and have a lean build. More importantly I am a switch, which means I am comfortable filling either a submissive or a dominant role. These different roles offer people a psychological fulfillment as well as a sexual one, and the specific role will fulfill you in different ways. Being a switch means that I can appreciate the psychological fulfillment of being a sub or a dom. I have crippling social anxiety, but I wanted to get over it. I wanted to meet people in the Victoria BDSM community.
I was messaged on FetLife by a woman who shared some of my interests and who wanted me to sub for her. She told me that Conception was happening downtown at the Harbour Towers and that she had a room booked for it. Conception is one of the biggest annual BDSM events on the West Coast. People from all over Canada and the U.S. attend for the whole weekend. The group that organizes it booked three floors of the hotel for playrooms and workshop locations alone. I was nervous, but I had wanted take part in a scene for years. I told the woman that I would meet her, but that I would check in with my friend via text every hour so that they would know I was safe. She agreed.
On the Friday of Conception weekend, I packed up all the toys and accoutrements I owned into a bag and caught the number 11 bus downtown. I walked down Government Street carrying a bright red nylon bag with Grover’s face on it, past the buskers, the old couples, the Empress Hotel, and the B.C. Parliament Buildings, the Harbour Towers being only a few blocks from all of the downtown tourist attractions.
When I arrived, the lobby was packed with college-age people in team sweaters. It turned out that several university volleyball teams were also staying at the Towers for a tournament. Their rooms were on the same floor as the woman I was meeting. I went around them to the hotel bar where she was waiting for me. She looked 20 years my senior, with short platinum hair, bright blue eyes, and a narrow face. When I arrived we exchanged our real names, though I cannot remember hers now. She ordered something to snack on and offered to buy me something too, but I smiled and politely declined. My stomach was in too many knots to eat.
We talked a little as she ate. She was not particularly active in the community, but she had been interested in BDSM for years. She worked mainly as a painter, and was successful enough that she could afford to take a weekend off to go to Conception. More importantly, she brought up limitations. She asked me what I had experienced and what I was comfortable with. I told her that I hadn’t really done much, but I was open to trying new things slowly.
She paid and we went up to her hotel room. She offered to see about getting me into the party, which would have been 30 dollars a head. I turned her down. Being led around on a leash in public seemed like too much so soon. I wanted to take it slowly, after all.
I laid out all of the devices I had brought with me. She began to uncoil a length of rope and told me to strip down, so I did. She took my wrist and tied the rope around it. She ran it down my arm to my elbow, securing another bind there, and then another and another. My hands were tied behind my head and my elbows were bent and secured. She then did the same to my legs. When she was done I couldn’t move at all. She asked me if my circulation was alright. I responded in the affirmative, so she put in a ballgag. I had tried them on myself once or twice, but it doesn’t prepare you for the feeling of someone taking your voice away. I tasted hard plastic, and then I was blindfolded. I could not see or speak at all. Then she began.
After all of that, you might have a hard time believing that I consider what followed to be sexual assault. I was not comfortable with what she did to me, and I would not have consented to it if I were able to. She violently beat my back, my groin, and my ass with a riding crop. Then she hit, scratched, and pulled at me with her bare hands. After the first hour was up she untied me and I made an excuse and got out of there as fast as I could without my legs shaking too much. I passed a few of the volleyball players on my way to elevator, but I avoided eye contact. A few days later I got a followup message from her checking up on me. I lied and said that I was fine. I was too ashamed to tell her how violated I felt, because this was what I had wanted all along. But it wasn’t.
Here is the thing: I have never blamed her for what happened then. Yeah, she could have gone more slowly with me. But I should have been much more specific when she asked me what my limitations are. Since that night I have had some experiences that are better and some that are worse, but I have learned from all of them. When I have been the dominant to a submissive I make sure that they can always communicate with me, and I ask them if they are okay frequently. Whenever I meet someone who is new to the community I make sure to tell them what I have learned so that they don’t have to suffer (unintentionally) the way that I did.
[pullquote] I lied and said that I was fine. I was too ashamed to tell her how violated I felt, because this was what I had wanted all along. But it wasn’t. [/pullquote]
But I can only do so much in that regard. The taboo that existed around BDSM and sexuality in general still exists today. It is still not something that you can have a frank discussion about, and there are still no reliable sources of information available to people. That may not be the same in every city, but there are still plenty of young people who are in the same situation that I was. And that alone would be bad enough, except that we have been experiencing a romanticisation of BDSM in the last few years. Fifty Shades of Grey has brought this lifestyle into the mainstream for twenty-somethings and sixty-somethings alike to fantasize about. And that would be fine if the relationship was remotely healthy. But it isn’t. In the story, Christian Grey introduces a young, inexperienced girl named Ana Steele to BDSM. He does not ease her into things, though. He hands her a binding contract that will let him control all aspects of her life. During their first scene he beats her violently, and then foregoes aftercare entirely.
Fifty Shades author E.L. James started the novel as a piece of Twilight fan fiction titled “Master of the Universe.” It was her personal fantasy, and it developed into North America’s most popular depiction of a BDSM relationship; but based on the content of the book, James knows very little about the community that she is inadvertently representing. If someone’s first exposure to BDSM is Fifty Shades of Grey, then at best they will be turned off of something that they might have actually enjoyed, and at worst they will come away thinking that a very unhealthy relationship is totally fine.
BDSM has recently become a big issue in Canadian news. Jian Ghomeshi, the former host of the CBC radio show Q, has been accused of sexual assault by numerous women. Just before this story broke, Ghomeshi released a statement on Facebook claiming that the women were just out to get him, that he enjoyed BDSM in his private time, and that everything was safe and consensual. Since then at least eight women, including actress Lucy DeCoutere, have come forward with accusations. Now, whether Ghomeshi is guilty or not, it is very important to clear up some misconceptions about kink. In BDSM all parties involved need to communicate clearly what they want and what they are comfortable with. They should set their hard limits and their soft limits so that whoever is dominant knows how far they can push. No one who is new to the experience should ever be in a position where they cannot retract their consent. Once that consent has been retracted the scene is over. When it is done properly the scene ends when the submissive says it does.
Ghomeshi was met with a lot of support when he first made his statement. A lot of people were quick to agree that he should be allowed to do what he wants as long as it is consensual. The problem is that a lot of those people probably don’t know what is or is not okay at first glance. I have seen scenes where the sub is screaming and crying in pain. But they have a safe word worked out with their dom, and if that safe word is spoken the scene ends. There are different methods of doing this, but they all come back to proper communication; that is how people can beat the ever-loving shit out of each other for hours at a time, and then cuddle together afterwards like nothing happened.
Based on everything that has been said on the Ghomeshi subject from both sides of it, communication did not happen at any point. Maybe this is just a case of Ghomeshi not knowing how important it is. If that is true then he is still responsible for his actions. No self-respecting dominant would behave in that manner, especially with a sub who is completely inexperienced. It sounds unlikely that he clearly communicated about, and eased into, BDSM with those women. If he had, then this would not have happened.
This is why kink is something that we need to be willing to talk about. It its being used as a defense against allegations of sexual abuse, and it will be used more often in these situations as a result. The victims of sexual assault will be even less likely to come forward because people will be more likely to accept the abuse they have suffered as something else.
It took me a while to start looking for a partner again. But when I finally felt comfortable, I went to meet another woman. Her name was Brie. We’re around the same age, but she’s shorter than I am. When we met, she was even newer to the BDSM community than I was. She wanted to try domming, but she wanted to do it right. We met at Wild Coffee on Yates Street. They have an indoor balcony where people smoke hookahs in the evening, but it was early enough that we were the only ones up there. It was public, but private enough that we could talk openly.
We spent two hours laying out exactly what we were both looking for, what our hard limits and soft limits were, and the general direction that we both wanted to explore. The two of us have not done a scene yet, but the care and attention that I experienced there makes me feel comfortable with the idea of being vulnerable with her. I trust that she will take care of me if we ever do have a scene together.
What I have now is a level of comfort that everyone should have in their private lives. This is something that we need to be able to talk about so that people don’t end up as victims because they lacked information. Sex is not something we should be scared to discuss, and neither is BDSM.