We live in a society where discussing aspects of one’s lifestyle and/or sexuality can be critically judged from the outside looking in without gaining any insight or knowledge on the topic at hand, especially BDSM culture. Therefore, addressing topics that we are not familiar with can normalize it or at least make society more comfortable and able to embrace others’ cultures and life choices. BDSM stands for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. In fact, the BDSM culture consists of people from all walks of life, races, genders, and sexual identities. Our society has built a perception of what BDSM culture is from its portrayal in movies, mass media outlets, and social medias. The power system within partners that practice BDSM may be seen as unconventional and nontraditional to the societal norm of what a relationship dynamic should incorporate. However, if something is not a societal norm, then it does not make it wrong or have people to be outcasted. 

The elements of the BDSM culture dates back to 400 BC, while the practice of consensuality in BDSM dates back to the 1300’s (Subcultures and Sociology). During the Women’s Right Movement, occurring throughout the 1970’s, women have started to become more liberal, empowered and independent. Therefore, the most common BDSM relationship in our society is male and female with the female being the dominant partner and the male being the submissive partner. As the generations progress, the BDSM lifestyle has become more socially acceptable due to the lifestyle being displayed in movies, mass media, and through peoples’ everyday life that they don’t acknowledge. The practice of BDSM is considered to be a kink which are things that are categorized as “non-traditional sexual and intimate desires, practices, or fantasies” (The Daily Dot).

Usually, in a BDSM relationship one person is submissive, while the other person is dominant or a switch. The submissive partner is the person that endures the pain and/or follows orders and commands. The dominant partner is the person that gives the pain and/or gives the orders and commands. In addition, a switch is a person that is satisfied with “partaking in both dominant and submissive roles” (Switch). Majority of the time, the pain that the dominant partner inflicts on the submissive partner can be either “verbally or physically” (BDSM Culture Throughout History and To The Present).While practicing BDSM, one can develop safe words as indicators for when actions/behaviors have gone too far and you want your partner to stop. Developing safe words is apart of shaping your comfortability levels and creating a safety setting. Majority of the people in the community utilize the motto “safe, sane, and consensual” to “promote and ethical code of conduct” (BDSM: History, Culture, and Awareness). 

The levels of BDSM can range from low to medium to high. People that participate in BDSM can go as far as they please as long as both parties are in agreeance to the boundaries. Currently, there are eight levels of submission in the BDSM culture (from low to high): the kinky conseualist, the submissive role-player, the play slave, the true submissive, the true submissive play slave, the uncommitted short term slave, the part-time sensual slave, and the full-time live-in consensual slave (BDSM Basics). Therefore, adopting the various levels of the culture shows the versatility, safety, and consensuality of the practice along with its complexity. The complexity derives from the involvement of “artistry, excellence, and mastering a craft than sexuality”, because oftentimes sexual encounters do not occur during BDSM acts (Subcultures and Sociology). 

Society has built their own negative assumptions and ideas around BDSM culture from what is displayed in the media. However, many people potentially practice subtle BDSM in their daily lives that do not even realize it or have zero acknowledgement of it. Some people perceive the culture to utilize this practice as a form of abuse due to the pain that is being performed and how dangerous it can be. In addition, some people perceive the culture to be filled with people who are abusers. On the other hand, the actions being done must be consensual and agreed upon from both parties, if not then it’s abuse and must stop. People within the BDSM culture are viewed as hyper sexual or nymphomaniacs due to the culture not being apart of societal norms.

The stigma surrounding the lifestyle of BDSM has forced some people to hide aspects of the practice due to safety concerns, workplace biases, and “alienation from social circles” (Subcultures and Sociology). On the contrary, when BDSM is practiced in relationships it doesn’t always have to include anything sexual. Society believes that those that practice BDSM in their daily lives have mental issues when that’s not the case at all. The BDSM culture remains heavily criticized although it is one of the most practiced kinks around the World with “65% of people [being] more open to the idea of submission than they were dominance” (Hills, Rachel, et al.). Many people on the outside looking in perceive BDSM as a way for those to commit sexual abuse and to not be punished for ir. However, sexual abuse is not consensual, safe, or sane due to BDSM lifestyle strictly following those ethics and standards.

References

“BDSM: History, Culture, and Awareness.” Sex Addiction Treatment Center | Porn Addiction Rehab | Sexual Recovery | Los Angeles CA, 29 Nov. 2012, www.sexualrecovery.com/blog/bdsm-history-culture-awareness/.

“BDSM Culture Throughout History and To The Present (Maybe NSFW).” Observation Deck, 2015, observationdeck.kinja.com/bdsm-culture-through-history-and-to-the-present-maybe-168471371.

BDSM Basics – Nine Levels of Submission, www.geocities.ws/bdsmlearningcenter/basics/nine_levels_of_submission.html

Hills, Rachel, et al. “5 People Get Super Honest About Their BDSM Lifestyle.” Cosmopolitan, 24 Oct. 2019, www.cosmopolitan.com/sexlove/news/a35099/sex-talk-realness-bdsm/.

“So What Does ‘Kink’ Really Mean-and Is It Right for You?” The Daily Dot, The Daily Dot, 10 Aug. 2017, www.dailydot.com/irl/what-does-kink-mean/.

“Subcultures and Sociology.” Grinnell College, haenfler.sites.grinnell.edu/subcultures-and-scenes/bdsm/

“Switch.” Switch – BDSM Wiki, 2014, bdsmwiki.info/Switch


CLAUDE STUNTIN’ is a 21 year old college senior and was born and raised in Norfolk, VA. Claude is a feminist and an advocate for young black men pursuing higher education. Claude is a songwriter and records music as well.