Queen's University — Since 1873
26th June 2012

When domination rules the bedroom

Local group Kingston Kinksters is a social and educational outlet for people interested in BDSM

The Sexual Health Resource Centre is an on-campus retailer of BDSM toys, like a trick belt.
The Sexual Health Resource Centre is an on-campus retailer of BDSM toys, like a trick belt. (Gina Elder)

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Soft-spoken and well-mannered, the voice on the other end of the phone isn’t what people typically see as someone who enjoys BDSM — a practice that encompasses bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism and masochism.

I’m speaking with Gaelach, a single mother in her 40s. She has a nine-to-five job and, now that the summer weather is here, regularly attends barbecues with family and friends.

Gaelach is her “scene name” — an alias used by those who wish to protect their identity for what’s often still seen as a sexual taboo.

Gaelach and her partner Renshu regularly engage in BDSM in the bedroom.

“We met through friends who were also into BDSM,” Gaelach said. It was a friend that first introduced her to the BDSM community.

“That person had recognized in conversation … things I had said about the way I thought [and] the way I felt about things,” she said. “[They] recognized that I was a person who might be on a different side of things, and who kind of exposed me to the community very gently.”

Gaelach and Renshu are part of the Kingston Kinksters, a group of people with similar alternative sexual interests.

The umbrella term of BDSM covers a wide variety of activities. It can range from restraints and blindfolds to psychologically humiliating actions — like using degrading comments in bed. The common factor here is that use of these consensual actions end in sexual arousal.

The Kingston Kinksters provide social and emotional support for people interested in BDSM. The group was started in early 2011 and now has upwards of 250 people involved, including some Queen’s students.

“They provide a lot of education and activism and fundraising in the local community so that people who practice alternative sexuality aren’t persecuted because of their forms of expression,” she said.

Outside of these communities, Gaelach has faced the cold shoulder from her peers.

“I personally have experienced some difficulty because of my choices [from] people who have found out just through conversation … or they suspect something,” she said. “Not everyone takes it well.”

BDSM toys like a leather cock ring, harness kit and leather ball stretcher can be purchased at the Sexual Health Resource Centre.
BDSM toys like a leather cock ring, harness kit and leather ball stretcher can be purchased at the Sexual Health Resource Centre. (Gina Elder)
It’s not uncommon for people to switch preferences 
when it comes to BDSM play in the bedroom.
It’s not uncommon for people to switch preferences when it comes to BDSM play in the bedroom. (Tiffany Lam)

While bestselling books like 50 Shades of Grey help bring BDSM into the public eye, Gaelach said the media helps propagate a negative image of the community.

“The public generally think everyone wears six inch thigh-high boots and carries a whip, that kind of thing,” she said. “Really, if you met most of our BDSM friends, you wouldn’t know if they were different from anyone else.”

Film and TV shows typically represent BDSM practitioners as people who are into leather and pain — a very strict image of what it means to have a certain sexual preference.

BDSM activities are said to date as far back as the second century. The Kama Sutra, an ancient Indian Hindu text on the art and practice of sexual love, describes pleasure-inducing hitting practices that could be seen as precursors for today’s idea of BDSM.

Despite the practice’s public image, Gaelach says it involves developing a genuine connection between partners — much like any other intimate liaison. Through communication and trust, Gaelach says that this sexual expression helps her feel closer to her partner.

“You develop a relationship with a partner, not a kink, and it’s really about trust and communication and intimacy just like any other relationship,” she said. Though achieving closeness may be the end goal with some BDSM relationships, Meredith Chivers, assistant professor in the department of psychology, said there are certain things that make a person more likely to try BDSM.

“The people who gravitate towards BDSM are people who have a certain degree of openness to new experiences and are a bit sensation-seeking to begin with,” she said.

Chivers has researched peoples’ responses to atypical sexual interests.

While there’s no concrete hypothesis that illuminates the psychological reasoning behind BDSM, Chivers said her research has revealed that interests sometimes emerge from an earlier experience.

“There are some individuals who will have a narrative that describes some kind of key childhood experience or adolescent experience that for them seemed to galvanize a sexual interest,” she said. “For example, I remember talking to one person who’s a rubber fetishist and he was a masochist as well.

“He had recalled very fond memories of a rubber raincoat he had when he was a child.”

Although infamous serial killers like Paul Bernardo and Russell Williams have been noted as sexual sadists, Chivers said there’s a big difference between being criminally sadistic and sadistic in the BDSM sense.

“It has to do with how antisocial they are,” she said. “People who … commit sadistic sex crimes, part of that interest is in being coercive.”

There are many things that are incorrectly perceived about BDSM, according to Chivers.

“One of the common beliefs about BDSM is that sadists are always sadists or masochists are always masochists,” she said, “but my experience has always been that there’s always flexibility.

“People may always have their preferences but it’s not uncommon for people to switch.”

Though some say that the media portrays BDSM negatively, Chivers says the media has helped BDSM become less of a taboo.

“I think that it’s become a lot more mainstream,” she said. “I think that [50 Shades of Grey] is proof — I think it’s very interesting that a book that has so many BDSM overtones is selling like hotcakes.”

With BDSM’s increasing public exposure, students may find it useful to seek sexual education on campus.

Sexual Health and Resource Centre (SHRC) Director Marvin Ferrer said a lot of BDSM-interested clients wonder if they’re normal.

“We reassure them that there’s no such thing as weird, especially in the realm of sexuality,” Ferrer, PhD ’14, said.

The SHRC stocks items like floggers, whips and restraints — all of which sell well.

While anyone is free to explore BDSM, Ferrer said one must remain risk-aware.

“Every interest is okay as long as everyone participating is consenting and informed of any risk that might be involved,” he said.

To avoid any danger, Ferrer suggests using a safe word.

“It’s more useful if you’re engaging in some sort of role play or activity where someone will say ‘no’ where they mean ‘yes,’” he said.

“To get around the consent issues there, you use a safe word to signify when you really, really mean no.”

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