7 Myths About BDSM, Because You Totally Don't Have To Wear Leather

Handcuffs, gags, and blindfolds, oh my! It's an understatement to say that the book 50 Shades Of Grey has taken the world over by storm — and yanked our attention into the direction of BDSM. But a lot of the unrealistic things we see and hear don't get to the core of what this erotic practice is all about. BDSM stands for bondage, dominance, submission, and masochism, and it's a kinky sexual experience that can range from a one-hit-wonder to a lifelong experimentation. It's meant to be an enticing, passionate encounter between two consenting adults, and, though we might first think of danger when we hear about bondage, it's meant to be an incredibly safe rendezvous that allows people to find a new level of sexual expression.

There's nothing wrong or abnormal about BDSM, especially when it's executed in a careful manner. In fact, our brains are proof of this: Neuroimaging work has proven that the pleasure and pain parts of our minds overlap quite a bit, and gratification is not as black and white as we once thought. Sex therapist and neuroscientist Nan Wise told Huffington Post that we all have our own "unique erotic fingerprints," and we should be given the opportunity to explore them in any and every consensual sexual setting, even if that means pulling out a whip.

Lots of feminists are stepping up to defend bondage and masochism. They do acknowledge, though, that, as interested beginners, we need to educate ourselves on the topic before we decide to visit the nearest adult shop for a new batch of toys. I know I learned a lot just from snooping around online, and there are quite a few fallacies that need to be addressed.

Consider replacing all your skewed images of Christian Grey for a furry pair of handcuffs, and read on for the top seven myths about BDSM.

Myth #1: It’s All About Pain

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Google “fetish” or “bondage” and you'll probably stumble upon a series of bizarre videos that might make you cringe instead of perk up. But that stereotype has been tainted by the porn industry; keep in mind a main tenant of BDSM is to choose what turns you on. Sure, there are some aspects of it that involve pain, but that’s merely one of many facets of this kind of sexual encounter. If you’re not into it, it doesn’t have to find its way into the bedroom; being lightly tickled with a feather while blindfolded is also BDSM, so don’t think you have to draw blood to give it a shot.

The head mistress at La Domaine Esemar, the oldest BDSM training chateau, told the Huffington Post that “BDSM is about creating vulnerability, opening yourself up to your partner,” rather than focusing on the physical agony. You are allowing a fulfilling power exchange to flow between you and your SO, and the point is to get your adrenaline going so you both get all hot and bothered. That might mean little to no pain — or a lot of it. Totally up to you.

2. It’s Always A Fetish

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Guilty as charged — I believed this one for years. Los Angeles based sex therapist Christine Milrod told Women’s Health that, while society at large likes to label BDSM as a strange, unnatural fetish, it’s technically just “erotic behavior, or kink.” There are definitely props and items used in the act that can be taken to a level of fetishization, but that doesn’t automatically mean the whole sexual experience is a weird obsession. Milrod technically defines fetish as sexual gratification from a specific item that is used during intercourse.

In fact, BDSM doesn’t always involve sex, which helps us take it away from calling it a fetish; dominance and masochism could merely be part of the prelude that leads up to the main event. Because the media likes to label it as a fetish, we have painted ourselves a mental image of something that’s dark, scary, and perhaps even inhuman. If we stick to calling BDSM a kink, it gives us a little more room to breathe and move away from the sweeping generalizations that aren’t doing us any favors.

3. The Woman Has To Be Submissive

Generally, there are two roles in a steamy BDSM situation: the dominant and the submissive. Neither is based on gender, meaning women are just as likely as men to be the one taking charge. Both are interchangeable as well, so if you find yourself getting bored with either one, you have the freedom to switch. You don’t have to toss your feminist ideals aside to engage in bondage; at the end of the day, you can choose which part is sexiest for you in the tryst.

Furthermore, when it comes to deciding on the submissive role, a lot of us think that means you’re the one whose feelings are being tossed to the wayside, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s been said by many people in the BDSM community that submission can be even more powerful than dominance. The submissive has the final say — they choose when things are going too far and when everything could be taken up a notch. Besides, never forget that these are temporary, shapeable roles, and you can redefine them at any time.

4. 50 Shades Of Grey Is A Typical Good Example

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Gloria Brame, Ph.D. and author of Different Loving, told Women’s Health that she and every other BDSM endorser she knows weren’t supporters of the storyline — mainly because it misses out on the very important element of consensual play.

She also says that Christian Grey is unhealthily controlling in other aspects of their relationship; he pretty much pressured Anastasia into the whole scenario when she clearly wasn’t comfortable with it. When BDSM is about to enjoyed between two adults, there needs to be mature communication on the matter, a piece that is crucial to any sexual experience.

5. It’s A Form Of Violence Against Women

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Did you know the motto of BDSM is “safe, sane and consensual?” Well, it is. It’s important to remember that being tied up or blindfolded is all about context — obviously, those things could be wrong and oppressive when put in a certain situation that dishonors the woman’s desires. But it’s not fair to say all ladies are being abused during kinky sex if they have made a conscious, adult decision to put themselves in that situation. Psychologists and BDSM practitioners alike say it can be incredibly erotic to run wild with our imagination, even if it means we engage in things that don’t initially make sense from an outsider’s point of view.

There are always safe words used when things get heated, and they are used as the brakes, should things get a little too out of hand. Part of the BDSM code is to heed these commands, respectfully and consciously. Anything that’s not done with consent is no longer kinky sex — it has turned into abuse.

6. Only Emotionally Disturbed People Like It

We think just because Christian Grey was psychologically scarred all individuals who dig bondage must also mentally messed up. But recent scientific studies show that this is simply not the case when it comes to the average BDSM lover. An Australian sexual health study showed that couples who are into this kind of kinkiness are actually much happier than the people around them who aren’t role-playing and experimenting. In fact, some researchers claim that taking part in bondage regularly can improve your life by reducing anxiety.

There’s also a myth floating around that people who like bondage and masochism were abused as children, so they grew up to have sick minds. Studies show that BDSM supporters are no more likely to come from dysfunctional families as those who aren’t into this kind of sexual excitement. There is no evidence to connect strange pathological symptoms with being turned on by handcuffs or spanking.

7. Props Are Necessary

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The thought of rope, metal handcuffs, and uncomfortable leather might make you squirm in your seat, especially thinking about where on earth you would store them so that innocent guests couldn’t accidentally find them. None of these props are mandatory, by any means, though. Seasoned BDSMers recommend you take some time to think about what is fun and sexy for you, without anyone else’s influences.

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