Many BDSMers wrestle with shame over their fetishes. For some, this culminates in a lifelong struggle. We’ve heard our whole lives from the media, colleagues, family, friends, and even lovers that what we’re drawn to is somehow strange or wrong.
I used to get hung up on this a lot, particularly when it came to my more misogynistic fantasies. “What kind of self-respecting, badass bitch gets off on submission?” I also couldn’t navigate the cognitive dissonance of my imagination’s penchant for ravishment. Having experienced rape in college, I knew better than most how terrifying and destructive it could be, so why did fantasizing about it still get me off? What kind of person must I be to enjoy such a horrible idea?
After spending enough time in the kink community, I realized my fetish for masochism could be a source of empowerment rather than a curse. This didn’t happen overnight. I had to be honest with myself, examine my darkest thoughts, and shed a host of poisonous beliefs in order to gear my spirit toward self-love. The effort was worth it, though. Life gets a lot better when you stop feeling like shit about who you are.
“To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”
E. E. Cummings
(What a great last name!)
If you’re wrestling with shame over your proclivities, I’m here to tell you why you can let go of that whole fucking mess and embrace your sexuality as-is. Here, have a seat and smoke this spliff while I wax poetic, weary traveler.
1. BDSM is mind-numbingly normal.
There’s nothing even remotely uncommon about getting aroused by power dynamics. Studies abound regarding the prevalence of kink and come with varying results. A 2009 study involving a group of female undergraduates reported 62% had fantasized about rape. Another study from 2015 published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine offered these results on the topic of BDSM:
Please note: I didn’t make this image, nor do I own the rights to it. I am borrowing it from talented people less lazy than I.
Seriously, you’re not weird. You’re so normal, it’s almost laughable. There are millions, if not billions, of people in the world just like you. Go outside, throw a rock in any direction, and you’ll be more likely to hit a kinky person than a vanilla one. (Wait, that’s not nice, don’t do that.)
2. Now that we’re out of the fookin’ Dark Ages, it’s perfectly sane to dig BDSM.
Until 2010, the American Psychiatric Association made no distinction between kinky play and pathology in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). A desire for consensual sadomasochism signified mental illness, like homosexuality did until 1973. The resulting stigma had considerable social and even legal consequences. For instance, BDSM could be used against parents in family court as justification for removing children from their custody.
This was, uhhhhhhh, problematic to say the least! There’s obviously a difference between, say, sexual sadists who enjoy hurting enthusiastic, risk-aware, consenting masochists and people who prey on non-consenting victims.
Thanks to the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), an advocacy group founded in 1997, these details were reexamined and changed in the DSM-V, published in 2013. The latest version of the manual lays out a difference between a paraphilia (a term for any kind of ‘alternative’ sexual interest) and a paraphilic disorder (a condition wherein a person’s kinks negatively impact their life or the lives of others). It now states the following:
“A paraphilia is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for having a paraphilic disorder, and a paraphilia by itself does not necessarily justify or require clinical intervention.”
For consenting BDSM practitioners, the link between kink and mental illness usually results from the stigma surrounding it. This is why the DSM-IV, released in 1994, was updated to specify that to be considered part of a mental illness, "fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors" must "cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” In other words, your kinks aren’t a problem unless they’re negatively impacting your life.
So good news: You’re not crazy! And that’s according to the people with fancy degrees who officially decide these things.
3. Your kinks don’t make you a bad person. (Unless being ‘bad’ is your thing, huh huhh hurr.)
You are not your fantasies or any of the other thoughts that pass through your head. The ideas that turn you on aren’t representative of your identity or what you genuinely wish to experience. You can submit to your boyfriend in the bedroom AND fight for gender equality. You can dig consensual non-consent AND be anti-rape. You can whip your partner and lap up their tears, as long as you’re safe and they’re super into it! BDSM is just play, for shits n’ giggles n’ orgasms. You’re not a terrible person.
We don’t even willfully choose our fetishes. They often arise when we attach a sexual context to some sort of particularly emotional event as children. Then, like a fingerprint, that arousal trigger stays with us for life. What we do choose is how we handle our kinks. As long as you and your partner(s) are happy and no one’s acting like an asshole, what’s there to be ashamed of? Hell, Donald Trump didn’t choose to get off on being peed on and spanked with rolled-up magazines featuring his own fucking face on the cover. It just happened! Go for it, Mr. President! I applaud your creativity.
People feel satisfied, calm, and confident when they’re having the type of sex they want to be having. So by fulfilling your deepest desires and/or those of your partner(s), you’re basically a superhero helping to raise the happiness quotient of humanity. Don’t even worry about it, you kinky fucker.
4. In many ways, BDSM is safer than ‘regular’ sex.
Kink-community protocol is built around several elements.
Negotiation: We talk explicitly and continuously about preferences, limits, safewords, STI status, health concerns, and other considerations both before and after diving into play together.
Safewords: We create communication systems that help us maintain a clear line between fantasy and reality.
Consent culture: Consent is signalled by an informed, enthusiastic ‘yes’, rather than a lack of a firm ‘no’. We understand that consent can change or be revoked by anyone at any point, and encourage one another to speak up at all times.
Acceptance: We refrain from kink-shaming or judging others whose preferences differ from ours as long as they’re not harming anyone. We respect the fact that everyone’s sexuality is uniquely wired, rather than trying to fit the whole of humanity into a few tiny little boxes.
Risk awareness: All practitioners are equally responsible for knowing the risks of the activities they willingly participate in. We don’t do anything we’re not properly trained and qualified to do.
Aftercare: We make the time and effort to ensure the well-being of our partners after play is finished.
Of course, there’s no reason vanilla folks can’t incorporate these strategies and philosophies into their sex lives. In my experience, however, most don’t. I certainly didn’t! Vanilla sex felt like a gamble full of uncertainty and treacherous potential for misunderstandings. I, for one, will not be going back.
Additionally, BDSM on its own doesn’t necessitate fluid exchange, intercourse, or even nudity if you don’t want it to. For people who are asexual, celibate, practicing abstinence, concerned about issues involving STIs, or simply don’t feel like taking their clothes off, the possibilities for funzies are still endless within the world of kink.
What could be bad about all that? You’re an ambassador for sexual safety and you should be proud, kinkeroo.
5. It’s not your damn job to impress anyone with how you get your fuck on.
“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”
There will always be people who will think you’re crazy or weird or awful for having the fetishes you do. You’re under no obligation to give a shit. You couldn’t even please everyone all the time if you dedicated your life to it. ‘Tis a fool’s errand and you are not a fool!
When someone gets judgy about the sex you’re having, it says a lot more about them than it does about you. Maybe they’re too ashamed of their own kinks to take the brave leap you took when you began experimenting. Or perhaps they just don’t understand BDSM and have that “DIFFERENT = EVIL!!” neanderthal vibe going on.
Whatever their deal is, don’t take it personally. It’s unlikely that it has anything to do with you. Live your life.
6. Hell is not real and you are not going there.
Can we all just go ahead and agree there’s not some bitter, all-powerful, finger-waggity old man in the clouds keeping tabs on everyone’s pink bits? Sounds like an incel-baked rage-fap fantasy to me.
“God,” in the personified religious sense, is not real. And if he is, he’s not sitting up there with a clipboard taking detailed notes on whether you get off on getting pegged or skullfucked or having your ballsack electrocuted. And if he does, that voyeuristic motherfucker is far more perverted than you or I could ever hope to be. Creepy ol’ coot.
I know it’s hard when we’ve all been culturally indoctrinated toward sexual paranoia, but you can stop looking over your shoulder. The Bible is just a book written a long time ago by some dead people you’ll never meet. Their opinions were no more valid than mine or yours. They were just as full of shit as the rest of us. (And you can trust me, a writer. I know all about spinning bullshit.)
We’re literally wired to behave as sexual beings. You can blame that on God, evolution, or whatever higher power makes you want to touch yourself at night. By honoring your sexuality, you’re fulfilling one of the few purposes the universe has programmed you to strive for. It’s not going to come bite you in the ass after you die. The only true hell is the one you create for yourself here on earth when you poison your spirit with guilt.
7. And if I’m wrong about that last one, it’ll be a great party anyway.
All our friends are going to hell. That’s where the fun people end up. I can’t even fathom what they do up there at the other party. Sip Kool-Aid and play Yahtzee? Whatever it is, it can’t be good.
"[Man] has imagined a heaven, and has left entirely out of it the supremest of all his delights, the one ecstasy that stands first and foremost in the heart of every individual of his race . . . sexual intercourse! It is as if a lost and perishing person in a roasting desert should be told by a rescuer he might choose and have all longed-for things but one, and he should elect to leave out water!"
Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth
At the end of the day, repressing your kinks won’t make them go away. It’ll only give them more power over your life. I recommend embracing your fetishes in all their perverted glory so you can focus on expressing them in safe, healthy, consensual ways.
If you’re sitting there shouting “EASIER SAID THAN DONE!” and desire advice from a qualified professional, there are loads of lovely people out there who have your back. Check out Kink Friendly Therapy or a similar resource to find guidance that works for you.
Now have fun and gimme back my fucking spliff, sinner. xx