The Psychology of BDSM

by bruce

On Saturday evening, after a workshop on the ‘Psychology of BDSM’ was over, I was walking home wondering to myself what really motivated me to pursue BDSM. While the evening started out well, and proved to be interesting by itself, I got the feeling that, by the end of the talk, few panelists had actually answered the question on ‘WHY’ they do what they do. Many had described their likes and dislikes, what scenes are attractive, but not their motivations. So I decided to sit down and write a small piece on the ‘WHYS’ of BDSM.

My first motivation for BDSM would have to be the awareness of basic security that I feel, especially in the kind of bondage that I prefer. It gives me a sense of envelopment where I am suspended in time, safe from the outside world. It also gives me a sense of freedom by not being in command of myself.

Of course, being naked and bound, under someone else’s control, definitely creates a certain vulnerability, but it is a different kind of vulnerability than what I usually face in my everyday life: a kind that brings a mix of sexual excitement and, sometimes, a definite challenge to ‘escape’. When I’m in a scene, I know I can let go of everything and just ‘experience the now’, knowing that I will be brought back safely afterwards. Ron, a friend of mine in his late 20s, has the same basic feeling of security: it’s the driving force for him when he goes into an BDSM scene. “It’s like regressing back into childhood where parents are your protectors. You don’t have to concern yourself with the everyday problems of life. It’s all been taken care of. You only have to concern yourself with the moment at hand and the multitude of sensations flowing through you.”

He went on to say that he also felt the same sense of freedom as me, and an abandonment of responsibility. In his day job he is always results oriented, and finds himself obligated to take on additional responsibility, especially when individuals in his department come up ‘short’. When he’s in a scene, he lets go of his everyday worries, his responsibilities and the simultaneous stress he experiences with it, and moves into a different world: a world where he is only there to ‘experience’, though personal responsibility still remains with him in a generalized way.

Another motivation is the unknown: an exploration into new experiences and different sensations. To me, it’s a learning experience in which you are continually finding out about yourself, and where you’re moving through a different ‘concept’ of reality. If I had to describe that reality, it would be like exploring an unknown plane of existence through experiencing BDSM.

Another friend, John, agreed saying, “I do it because of the variety, and I never know what will happen. It’s similar to choosing a smorgasbord in a restaurant where I can select and taste each item on the table before plunging in.” Over the last few years John frequented many rest stops as he toured throughout North America.

While he would caution against casual sex without adequate protection [always be SAFE, SANE & CONSENSUAL – Ed], he had no problem picking up individuals who expressed an interest in the ‘kinky’ and unusual.

I’ve tied more guys up at rest stops and played with them in an S/M context than I ever had through the bars. I’ve also had more than my share at playing the bottom. It’s tremendously exciting.

John continued by saying that he felt a sense of control when ‘tying’ his partners, and that leads me into another aspect of the ‘Whys’ of BDSM: a feeling of power.

Dean and his partner, bill, have been together in a Master/slave relationship for several years. As a top, Dean feels motivated by that exchange of power between them whenever they’re in a scene together. “It’s an energy exchange between us, with him giving me the strength necessary to make the scene successful.” When he first started in BDSM, he didn’t know why he felt so exhilarated until he made that connection. Now his relationship with bill is almost exclusively BDSM, although he did admit to me that cuddling in bed without overtly being bill’s Master was equally as nice.

bill, for his part, echoed what other bottoms say drive them: a sense of freedom from everything but the moment. It’s also a sense of oneness. “I get tremendous satisfaction in offering myself to Dean, in putting my complete trust in my partner. It’s a feeling of completeness when i submit myself and merge in Him. That completeness continues even after we’ve finished the scene.”

bill continued on by saying that the bonding that they go through in BDSM is much deeper than when they were engaging in ‘vanilla sex’.

I suppose it’s the total trust that i give to Dean, and his accepting that trust that moves us closer than ever. i become a part of Him and, He a part of me.

For those who are less ‘involved’ in the BDSM lifestyle, one reason why they experiment in BDSM is the ‘oneness’ to the other person. Many friends told me of the closeness they felt by giving their trust or receiving another’s trust in an BDSM context. Others say to me that spontaneity, “to do something different, something forbidden” is why they play with BDSM. After all, BDSM is outside the norms of society, like the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden; dangerous, yet extremely seductive.

John echoed that danger when he was on the hunt. “Playing in public facilities are such that you never know. The danger heightens my sense of excitement, the thrill of adventure in doing something that is against the law.”

Another aspect into the ‘WHY’ of BDSM might be as simple as natural addiction to pleasurable feelings, where individuals are experiencing a brain induced ‘HIGH’ through BDSM. There’s a definite release of endorphins, particularly when the scene focuses on pain, and through pain, to pleasure. Many individuals who haven’t experienced BDSM do not understand the intertwining of pain with pleasure, and the sensations it brings.

It becomes more complicated since these feelings are not opposites. Not only does the body & brain confuse the two, but also the intensity operates independently from the type of sensation being experienced. Given a skilled Top, the bottom can literally hover between agony & ecstasy with incredible results: and with tremendous satisfaction.

My last ‘motivation’ as to the psychology of BDSM should touch upon my first paragraph and the phrase, “Because it’s there…” After all, many individuals are lured into performing dangerous stunts because of the challenge, whether it be physical or mental. The challenge can start low, then increase as you “grow” in BDSM, increasing ‘risk’ as you’re more able to handle it: like daring yourself to stretch existing limits, climbing up to a new plateau of endurance.

So when I ask myself ‘WHY’, I inevitably come back to a basic question we all ask ourselves in life, “Why do we do things at all?” In retrospect we are always saying ‘why’ in all aspect of our lives, so it isn’t really unusual to ask that same question with BDSM. Most of the time, people don’t honestly know the ‘whys’. Indeed, is there a purpose to anything?”

My response would naturally say, “Maybe there isn’t any reason, except to strike out into the unknown, experience, learn from it fully, then pass that knowledge on.” Perhaps that is the real ‘WHY’ in everything we do, including BDSM.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

SMP2This article, by bruce, first appeared in S/M Perspectives (Vol 1, Issue 2), independently published in Vancouver by Rainfall Press in 2003.

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