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Three Questions People into BDSM ask themselves (but may not want to work on in therapy!)

Posted 08 Dec '15 by Bay Whitaker

Since the publication of the best-seller “50 Shades of Grey” and subsequent film of the story, most people probably know that BDSM stands for bondage, dominance, discipline, sadism, slavery and masochism.  Increasingly BDSM (and a whole raft of related fetishes) is being recognised as being OK.  Not bad.  Not mad.  Just different.  Nevertheless, people who are into BDSM are still part of a sexual minority, sexually different from the mainstream. 

Coming to terms with sexual difference, many people will have struggled with a variety of questions.   Here are three of the main ones.

“Why Am I Like This?”

From the early days of Freud, there has been a stereotype about talking therapies.  This is, that therapists are inclined to focus on the early histories of their clients, with particular emphasis on sexuality.   However, there are many different approaches to talking therapies in the 21st century.  Counselling generally gives much more power to the client in deciding what will be pursued and focussed on. 

A BDSM client once disclosed to me that he had not mentioned his kinks to a previous therapist because he had felt convinced she would want to delve into the question of “Why Am I Like This?”.  He, like many kinky people, came for counselling because of other life stresses, much like anybody else: loss, work-related stress, anxiety, depression.  Kinky clients may want their counsellor to be aware, and accepting of their kinkiness, without wanting to explore and problematize that aspect of their lives.  

Of course, kinky people may, at different stages in their life, want to explore their personal narrative of ‘why am I like this?’ in counselling.   A kink-affirmative counsellor will be OK to acknowledge that this question is sometimes troubling for the sexually different client, without feeling the need to explore or theorise about it, if the client doesn’t want to.

“How Can This Possibly Be Acceptable?”

Most BDSM activities involve playing roles where power imbalances are central to the scene: Master/slave, Dominant/submissive, Sadist/masochist.  Many  people into BDSM will have struggled to square their sexual interest in such scenes with the sorts of liberal, egalitarian outlooks that are considered normal and desirable in everyday life.  “I’m a feminist!  How can it be OK for me to want to be raped?”, “I’m anti-violence: how can it be OK for me to want to hurt and degrade someone?”  The answers, of course, are that it isn’t OK to rape, hurt or degrade anybody!  But it is OK to play a scene with someone who consents to join in that game, because they get off on being a part of that fantasy too! 

Just as we do with actors who play the roles of badguys or victims, we that this is a pretence.   We enjoy stories, films and books where power is exploited abusively, from Cinderella to Homeland, from Dickens to Tolkein, because this power imbalance drives the narrative.  As kinky people grow in self-acceptance, we learn that playing scenes involving pretend-cruelty, pretend-degradation and the rest of it is no more worrying than acting in a play, or playing the kinds of role-play-games that we enjoyed as kids.  And of course, as in vanilla sexual encounters, the notion of consent is crucial here.  However, many kinky people have felt shame and anxiety about this aspect of their sexuality for years.  Having a counsellor who is accepting and able to reassure about the difference between consensual and non-consensual play, can be very helpful for some kinky clients.

How Do I Get My Kinks Into My Life?

As people grow and realise they are sexually different, a very usual question they may have to address is how can they explore their fetishes.  Given that BDSM is not considered the norm, most kinky people will need to take proactive steps if they wish to find others to play with.  Again, many BDSM clients will not need to talk about this with their counsellor: lots of people are quite happy to explore the many events and groups that are established around the country, as well as using the internet to explore and make contacts online. 

However, although BDSM is increasingly seen as acceptable, there is a wide range of kinks, some of which may be viewed as more OK than others.  A little light bondage and spanking is generally viewed as harmless, spicy fun.  Other kinks may still be viewed as shameful or disgusting, even within the BDSM community, and thus harder to find.  A kink-affirmative counsellor can provide emotional support and affirmation for those whose opportunities to express their sexuality fully are limited by difficulties in finding compatible partners.

 

These are just three of the very big questions that kinky people face.  They are usually broken down into smaller questions as people work their way through them, either with a therapist, or on their own.  The growth in acceptance of sexual difference is a great benefit of the internet century, and as acceptance grows, these questions may become less and less troubling for people.  In the meantime, kink affirmative counselling can help kinky people make their own sense of their sexuality.