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Out of the Shade

Since the hype of Fifty Shades of Grey, women have become more experimental when it comes to sex. Ann Summers has reported a 60% increase in sales on items like, blindfolds, ropes and paddles. But what do women really know about Dominance and submission? Cosmo talks to real women and men in the BDSM scene to see the reality behind the novel. “Suspended from the air, ropes tied intricately round my body holding me tightly in place. I feel like a work of art as people walk by admiring me like a sculpture. Blood rushes to my head and I start to feel dizzy. My whole body numbs as the ropes cling to me firmly but gently. Everything turns to black - a silk cloth forcing my eyes closed. Sensing someone walking behind me, I brace myself for the sting. I feel it deep in my backside then spread over my entire body. The rushing feeling of pain and pleasure is intoxicating, it settles in my groin. I feel exhilarated. This is my first time in Copenhagen. Iʼd experienced ʻriggingʼ before but this is something completely different. Suspended in the middle of a warehouse for seven hours by a web of ropes while people walk past spanking and whipping me. It might sound rough, but I had paid hundreds of pounds to come here and experience this and I loved it.” Helen*, 27, would not have been able to speak so openly about her experiences a mere six months ago, but now women are not only interested in her revelations but more and more of them are trying it out themselves. Helen, who is from Leeds, has been part of the BDSM (Bondage & Discipline, Dominance and submission) scene for over five years now and has had to deal with endless misunderstandings attached to the lifestyle. “I think a massive misconception, which is also portrayed in Fifty Shades of Grey, is that everyone involved must have psychological issues or have been abused as a child. Or, that a D/s (Dominance and submission) relationship is one person abusing another in non-consensual manner. This is not at all the case. I had a very wholesome upbringing with very loving parents, as did most of the people I know on the scene.” Ever since Fifty Shades hit our shelves in April there have been criticisms about the reality of the lifestyle that author E. L. James is trying to portray. The book is the story of a young virginal woman who meets a ʻdarkʼ and disturbed man. He seeks her out to be his submissive and while she is intrigued by his offer she fears the side of him that it brings out. The reality of a Dom/sub relationship, however, is somewhat different to the book. The BDSM lifestyle encompasses a wide spectrum of relations from people who like kinky sex in the bedroom to a full-blown Master/slave relationship. Some people see the Master/slave relationship as degrading and harmful, but those who enjoy these partnerships donʼt talk about degradation, but about trust and passion.


Michael Reddy, Sex Psychologist from The British Psychological Society says: “The female subs Iʼve met don't, themselves, feel degraded. To the extent they are subordinated to another person - usually a male but not always - it is something they seek and have chosen rather than something that is imposed upon them or diminishes them.” For some the Dom/sub relationship is not just about play, it is an allencompassing lifestyle. “There is a lot that goes in to that kind of lifestyle,” says Helen. “It takes a lot for the Dom or Domme (female Dominant) to truly understand the sub, know their limits and act appropriately to make the sub feel safe. The sub also has to act and respond appropriately, guided by their desire to please their Dom(me) at all times.” Helen who introduced to the scene by a friend from work was nervous about her first BDSM party. “I remember my first time vividly. She took me to what looked like a normal house and when I entered there were about ten people naked, some in couples and some in groups. I was taken to the DM (Dungeon Master) and he is responsible for making sure that everyone in the party is obeying the rules. He went over safety issues and code words with me and then gave me the tour. There were chains everywhere and people in collars. That was where I met my first Dom.” Michael Reddy says: “ The dependency on a partner for support is typical and understandable. This however, does not equate to some innate need in a woman to be more submissive to a man. This type of relationship is all about boundaries.” Whether you are, or want be, a sub or a Domme this says nothing about you psychologically; itʼs simply just preference he says. “For both this comes as a recognition and acceptance of the pleasure and excitement of being one or the other, and it is an orientation or ʻchoiceʼ that happens most typically at some key moment of psychosexual growth between late adolescence and early adulthood,” he continues. It is clear that this type of relationship is not for the faint hearted. Helen says that many women she knows, who are a submissive, are powerful and highly intelligent businesswomen. “The chance to lose all control and surrender to that one person gives the sub a great amount of inner peace and harmony. Reaching subspace is one of the most blissful experiences I have ever encountered.” A study looking at message board posts found 71% of heterosexual males. But only 11% of heterosexual females and 12% of homosexual males prefer a dominant role when engaging in sexual bondage. John, 32, from Hull, is a man who knows what itʼs like to encompass both roles. “When I was 20 I became aware that I experienced certain sensations and situations differently from other people,ʼ he says. ʻPain, control,


possession and lack of possession, aroused me. Not always sexually but with deep feelings. The more I explored these thoughts, the more I found myself fantasising about extreme situations,” he explains. “Then when I was 22 I had a relationship with a slightly older woman who was much more experienced than I was and she taught me to be honest about what I like and to try and understand what it is that other people like. The first time she dominated me I was nervous but excited. She made me feel safe and secure. I loved the way it felt when she controlled me. Riding waves of pain into a state of hypnotic bliss is really liberating and can free all sorts of personal issues and demons.” Subspace is a psychological experience that some people can reach when they are part of the BDSM scene. “For me subspace means being in the moment. There is nothing happening in your head apart from what is happening then and there. Every sense is heightened and intensified,” explains John. John, who has been part of the scene for ten years now says that codes and boundaries are the basis of any good D/s relationship. “You should use safe words to stop play that has gone beyond your limits. These are not ʻstopʼ or ʻnoʼ, as those words are too easily shouted out during peak experiences. I prefer people to say their own full names when they want to stop, something not many do in heightened states naturally.” Meg Barker, a Sex and Relationship therapist at The College of Relationship and Sexual Therapist and author of Safe, Sane and Consensual says that the D/s lifestyle is not so different to the vanilla – or conventional - relationship: “The rules are just more explicit,” she explains. “In a ʻvanillaʼ relationship one person takes more responsibility for the finances, one person is more outgoing socially. The only significant difference is that there is more communication in BDSM relationships. Everything has to be completely consensual and have specific rules and codes.” For some the D/s lifestyle is a hobby - something that they can enjoy outside their everyday life. Lucy, 29, from Hampshire, who has been in a vanilla marriage for three years now, enjoys BDSM parties away from her married life. Her husband, who knows about her other life, accepts it but doesnʼt want to be apart of it. “I was part of the scene when he met me. He tried it a few times but he wasnʼt really interested. He feels weird when I ask him to choke me or strangle me, so he doesnʼt mind if I go and do it elsewhere. I have been completely honest with him from the beginning and even though he doesnʼt enjoy it he is completely fine with me doing it. I go to BDSM parties with friends; itʼs like a holiday for me.” Meg Barker explains that this is not uncommon in many vanilla relationships: “Having different sexual desires is one reason why some couples open up their relationship to one or both of them being sexual with another person,” says explains. “If this is communicated about clearly, kindly and thoughtfully, it


can work perfectly well. The important thing again is kindness and communication.” Lucy enjoys going away and taking part in rigging and spanking parties every so often to blow off some steam. “It is not always about sex in the BDSM scene, even though on the occasion I do have sex with them. Sometimes it is refreshing to let someone else deal with all of your wants and needs and just succumb to that person. People might think that itʼs weird but it works for us.” One of the most common misconceptions of the scene is that people are hurt or abused. Meg Barker believes that these misconceptions tend to come from the mediaʼs portrayal of BDSM. “It tends to be very negative, often associating it with violence, danger, abuse, madness and criminality,” she says. “Research has shown that actually people who are into BDSM are no different from others in terms of emotional well-being or upbringing, and that they are no more likely to get serious injuries from their sex lives, or to be criminal, than anybody else.” If itʼs such harmless fun, why arenʼt we all doing it? “Some couples canʼt handle what comes with a true D/s lifestyle,” says Helen. “I know some men that can not in a million years inflict pain on women, even for their own pleasure. In that scenario it isnʼt going to work.” Whether you feel you canʼt do it or are desperate to try it, I think we can gather that the most important thing in any type of D/s relationship is communication between you and your partner. Every BDSM relationship is probably not going to be a Mr and Mrs Grey moment, so donʼt believe everything you read. “More and more women have started to experiment with this lifestyle and I think that is great,” says Meg. “You just need to make sure that you have done your research extensively before getting out the whips and chains yourself.” Side Bar Glossary of Terms Intrigued about the lifestyle but not quite sure about the lingo. Here is a short and easy to follow glossary that will get you through any BDSM party: BDSM – is an acronym of bondage & discipline, Dominance and submission and sadomasochism. A relationship where people take on the Dominant or submissive role and may involve restrictions, rules and boundaries. Dominant – The Dom (or top), lays down the rules for the sub to follow. The Dom is directly responsible for the sub and has complete control over their lives.


submissive – The sub (or bottom) gives themselves to the Dom and has to follow set rules. If the sub fails to follow the rules, they are likely to be punished by their Dom. Switch – someone who participates in BDSM activities sometimes as a top and sometimes as a bottom. Domme – Female Dominant Vanilla – refers to a normative or non-kinky relationship. The word vanilla means mainstream and outside of the BDSM culture. Subspace – refers to a psychological state that can sometimes be entered by the person bottoming in the BDSM scene. It can cause a sub to mentally separate themselves from their environment as they process the experience. Side Bar Do you want your man to be more Dominant but donʼt know how? Communication is the key; here are a few ways to get you started. • • •

Before you jump straight into BDSM make sure you have a set of boundaries. A list of your likes and dislikes. Code words are imperative: laying down rules will help you both feel safe and enable you to let go. Read about it before you get started. Nine and a Half Weeks Later by Elizabeth McNeill and Rewriting the Rules by Meg Barker will help you understand the scene and better prepare you for whatʼs to come. Be honest with him and explain exactly what you want. If you find it difficult to communicate in the bedroom, seek a Sex and Relationship Therapist to help you explain what you want.

*Some names have been changed to hide the idenity of individuals For Cosmopolitan Online


Out of the Shade