Fit to be tied…up
Story by Brianne Beets
Photos by Brian Corey
He was 13 years old the first time he felt sexually turned on by pain. It was summer in Indiana, and David, who prefers to use a fake name, was lying in the grass along with his friend and his friend’s girlfriend, Tasha.
That evening while the three were hanging out, David’ friend left, leaving David and Tasha alone. “I remember particularly [Tasha] had on a football jersey, and some very short shorts on,” David says. “She came over and started kicking my legs. Then she stepped on my chest and started calling me all sorts of bad names — It was probably my most exhilarating sexual experience at that point [in my life.]”
What David, now 27, experienced 14 years ago was a form of BDSM, a mix of bondage, discipline, dominance, submission and sado-masochism.
David shares his interests with 10 to 16 percent of the population, says Allena Gabosch, executive director for the Seattle-based Center for Sex Positive Culture. Gabosch, who took part in founding the center 12 years ago, says forms of power exchange, which is at the core of BDSM, have been around as long as mankind. Ancient Greek pottery portrays paintings of men flogging and spanking one another, she says.
Before the Internet, BDSM was called “kinky sex” or variations of “S&M” or “D&S,” which stand for sado-masochism and dominance and submission, respectively. After the popularity of online acronyms came along, the various fetishes were combined into what is now known as BDSM.
Gabosch says for many people BDSM is about feeling a sense of empowerment. For others, giving up control during play is why so many find it alluring. But one of the main reasons people practice BDSM is to get a buzz from the heightened physical sensations.
“Endorphins and adrenalin are released [during play] – and all of those act as opiates on the body; they get you high,” Gabosch says.
What David likes about BDSM is not hurting or being hurt by the other person, but the forbidden pleasure in acting out. “As strange as it may sound, getting tied up, beaten and talked to like a dog is liberating,” David says.
For BDSM practitioners like Jake, who asked that his real name not be used, taking a submissive role puts the person in control.
“[Being dominant] brings you in touch with how false that level of control is because the person who’s calling the shots is the one who is being submissive,” Jake says.
People who play the submissive role often decide how much pain the top is allowed to inflict.
Finding pleasure in pain
A common misconception about BDSM is that it is a fetish only abnormal people practice. David says many people who aren’t well informed about the BDSM community often buy into the stereotypes portrayed in popular media. “When a lot of people think about BDSM they think about the gimp from ‘Pulp Fiction’ or Mr. Slave from ‘South Park,’” David says.
Another misconception is that people may see BDSM as a form of abuse or an outlet for past abuse Gabosch says. Although she was spanked as a child, she doesn’t think there is much of a link in becoming interested in BDSM because of past traumas.
Gabosch says the main element in BDSM is about “hurting” but not “harming” one another. The injuries some people sustain during play are nothing worse than being involved in martial arts she explains.
David says the pain is more about the feeling a person gets from extreme sensations. “It is short, sharp pain, but it’s not overwhelming,” David says. “Your blood vessels are dilated and you’re at your peak, so it becomes physiologically and psychologically more erotic.”
Both Jake and David have had their share of slight injuries during their experiences.
Jake says he was once with a woman who enjoyed biting.
“She bit me really hard on the chest and caused this heinous bruise,” Jake says. “She just bit me too damn hard.”
David’s experiences involved a girlfriend who liked to rake her nails up and down his back.
Gabosch says negative aspects of BDSM are not what actually happens among its members, but how society views sexuality. Fear of being labeled a deviant causes many to hide their interest in it. For others, like Jake, fear of retribution in his professional life keeps him silent.
Because of this, Jake says his interest in BDSM isn’t something he often shares with his friends. But for those interested in making it a social activity, joining a BDSM organization is an option.
Setting the scene
Behind the walls of an ordinary beige building in downtown Seattle, rows upon rows of mattresses line the walls of an industrial-looking room. Sheer-red curtains drape the perimeter of the beds, providing an illusion of privacy.
In another room, a wrought-iron 700-pound birdcage sits in a corner. Plush couches intermingle with medieval-looking bondage devices. Rope loops around the corners of some, while others have numerous black, leather straps made for holding potential captives hostage.
For more than 13,000 members from around the country, the Center for Sex Positive Culture’s office basement is the place where fantasies come to life.
Deb Crow, the center’s site coordinator, says the rooms often host anywhere from 30 to 130 people at a time, depending on the event. The center hosts daily BDSM events. The parties range from bondage workshops to various themed social parties Crow says. Many parties encourage cuddling, BDSM scenes and sometimes sex for the center’s members.
For those interested in the BDSM scene, Gabosch says playing with a partner must start with getting to know one another first. “Before you can ever get around to playing with someone you need to sit them down and find out what their likes, dislikes and safe word are,” Gabosch says. A safe word is usually an unrelated word such as “red” or “yellow” that lets the top know when to ease up on a scene without completely losing the moment she says.
The beginning of a scene typically starts with light play, such as sexual rubbing or touching, Gabosch says. This prepares the person for more intense play, such as spanking, whipping or caning, which involves the use of a cane for the purposes of hitting.
A scene can last anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours Gabosch says, but lasts an hour on average. “Even though it’s intense and erotic, for many people [a scene] doesn’t end in sex at all,” Gabosch says.
One of the most common types of play is bondage, the act of restraining a person’s hands, feet or other body parts. Gabosch says Seattle is known as one of the bondage capitals of the world because of the city’s numerous experts.
Jake got his first taste of bondage when he was 17.
“My girlfriend was lying on the bed and as I was getting undressed I pulled my belt off, and as a joke I looped it around her feet and pulled it tight,” Jakes says. “A few hours after we finished she said, ‘I was hoping you were going to go further with that.’”
Less common forms of play include “age play,” which is pretending to be a child or a baby, Gabosch says. Blood sports are another form, which can include cutting or inserting hypodermic needles into the skin, she says.
The final part of a scene is aftercare, which Gabosch says is meant to wind people down and bring them back to reality after play. “It’s kind of like if you’re a runner,” Gabosch says. “You warm up, you run really hard and then you cool down. The aftercare is like the cooling down part.”
Living in a vanilla world
Despite the world’s constant bombardment of sexuality, David says he still finds that many people are afraid to stray from “normal” views of sex.
“In the world around us titillation sells everything, from bran muffins to toothpaste,” David says. “It’s shoved down our throats, but people still have these puritanical attachments.”
Jake says he has been with women who prefer more standard sex practices, and it’s never negatively affected his relationships.
“It’s not something so wild where you can’t get off any other way,” Jake says. “It’s just a fun thing to do.”
Although BDSM plays a significant role in Gabosch’s life, for David and Jake, it’s not something that dominates their everyday existence.