A brief look into the world of BDSM
What is it about the allure of fantasy which piques our interest as adults? Whether we’re talking about cosplay or something a lot more complex, the underlying story is still the same every time.
And yet, when we look at the world of BDSM in the context of Second Life we more often find there are discrepancies involved with the understanding of the lifestyle in and of itself. That isn’t to say these stereotypes and misunderstandings do not exist from the real world, (and we’ll cover that shortly), in the virtual world it would seem that they are exaggerated even further while intentionally focusing on only the stereotypes.
For this wonderful Valentine’s Day, I would like to focus on a relationship centered post – but because I deal heavily in virtual worlds, it couldn’t be simple like a vanilla approach. After all, if you’ve read this blog long enough, you’d know by now that I absolutely love taking the side roads into the less traveled.
That being said, as the title implies, this post is about the Games People Play or; What a D/s and BDSM lifestyle actually look like versus the stereotypes. It goes without saying that we’ll be covering some basics as well as the difference between BDSM and Abuse. So if you’re a bit squeamish, or are easily “triggered”, now would be a good time to change the channel.
This is (after all) an adult oriented post.
On the surface, one may believe that the topic of D/s and BDSM is something of a mismatch for this blog (not to mention me personally). But that simply isn’t the case.
When I set out to transition from a Nidus focused blog into a virtual worlds inclusive space, part of that was with the intention to explore a wider swath of the virtual worlds community overall. As you and I both know, alternative lifestyles and virtual worlds may as well be synonymous, since there is little better opportunity to explore such things than through the interaction of avatars.
In the context of Second Life, let’s begin on the premise that D/s and BDSM within this context should be considered the “training wheels” of the lifestyle.
Now, that isn’t meant to belittle whatever dynamic you may be a part of. Instead, what I am getting at is that due to the context of interactions within this virtual space, there is a lot lost in translation.
You get much of the mental aspects, but therein is the downfall. D/s and BDSM are predominantly tactile experiences.
When it comes to me personally, I’ve been in the lifestyle for roughly nine years and running – though I had the benefit of getting into the lifestyle as a real life tangible long before I bothered with the virtual world side of things.
Of course, one may be asking:
But if Second Life and alternative lifestyles are nearly synonymous, then why did you make it a point to avoid the lifestyle in virtual worlds?
The answer may surprise you.
See, it actually had nothing at all to do with professional involvement. As most people already know about me, I really couldn’t care less what the opinions of others for me actually are. I’m usually straightforward and matter of fact. An open book (so to speak).
So if not the professional or public stigma, what gives?
The problem all these years was simply that what I saw in the alternative lifestyle circles inherent in virtual worlds played more to the stereotypes than to an actual D/s or BDSM dynamic. Often times masking the dishonesty, manipulation and abusive behaviors of pretend “Dominants” and the insecure, co-dependent, damaged goods known as “submissives”.
This (I believe) is why D/s and BDSM have that negative stigma. When somebody is being genuine and real about the whole dynamic, willing to sit down and have an open and honest discussion from a standpoint of common sense and logic… well, you tend to get a very different viewpoint about these alternative lifestyles.
The Wrong Way…
There’s this ongoing saying in the D/s BDSM world inherent in Second Life that “There is no right or wrong way to do this”, but for somebody looking at this from the perspective of a real life Dominant, I have to raise an eyebrow and laugh outright for the absolute line of bullshit that is. Not only is it a line of bullshit but it is also potentially dangerous to people who aren’t informed otherwise.
Is there a right and wrong way to practice breath play? Yes, because if you fuck up, somebody is dead. Ask David Carradine.
Allow me to paraphrase:
Actor David Carradine was found dead in the closet of a Bangkok hotel room Thursday with a cord wrapped around his neck and genitals, leading Thai police to suspect his death was not a suicide but an accident resulting from dangerous sex practices.
Carradine, 72, best known for his role in the 1970s television drama "Kung Fu," was found by a chamber maid at Bangkok's Park Nai Lert Hotel naked and dead, slumped in a closet with cords bound and connecting his neck and his genitals, Bangkok police said.
Citing Porntip Rojanasunan, the director of the Central Institute of Forensic Science, told the Bangkok Post that the actor may have died from auto-erotic asphyxiation, the practice of cutting off one's air supply to heighten sexual pleasure. Carradine had been in Thailand since May 29 to shoot his latest film, "Stretch."
The running joke about “real” Doms and their Dom Hats and Belt Buckles… then the “there is no right or wrong way to be a Dominant or submissive” to justify what extensively would be abusive/victim behavior is appalling to me.
The one thing I would impart on those looking at the lifestyle for the first time is simply that while there are infinite variations, there actually is a right and wrong way to do anything… including everything inherent in the lifestyle.
When I speak about “true” Dominants, my differentiation is between Dominant and Domineering. Traits inherent in an honest, trustworthy, respectful, and consensual Dominant – in short: Somebody who exhibits leadership qualities.
A submissive isn’t a door mat. He/she has a choice in the matter and despite what any Dominant may tell them, they are equal in the lifestyle.
It is a lifestyle that is entered into out of mutual respect, consent and most importantly by choice.
In the bigger picture, there absolutely is a right and wrong way to do things in this lifestyle, and anyone who tells your different is going to get you permanently hurt or killed. The line of “no right or wrong way” is the sort of thing you would expect to hear out of one or two types of people:
- Somebody who was told this themselves when being taught
- Somebody who is manipulative and abusive looking for victims
While we can say such things as SSC and RACK exist as acronyms, they are only baselines as a reminder. Safe, Sane, Consensual and Risk Aware, Consensual Kink are pretty much predominant mantras but there are others. The reason for this is because people in the lifestyle can’t seem to agree on what is safe or sane when it’s time to play so many people just “wing it”.
My general definition of safe and sane may not be the same as yours, but it goes something like:
What is safe and sane relies merely on understanding the disincentive to cause permanent or debilitating damage (physical or mental) to your partner including death, but also to include personal life and family, jeopardize their wellbeing or the wellbeing of their friends and or family, or destroy or cause harm to their career.
With the exception of scarification or branding, which in itself falls on the more extreme end of the scale in this lifestyle, the rest holds true. You don’t want to break bones, scar or disfigure your partner, or cause permanent injury, compromise their health (physical or mental) or cause death in the process.
What actions which are taken during a scene may appear as though they are out of control or “going too far”, but (and this goes back to our right and wrong way), a well balanced Dominant will always be in control of themselves and the situation at hand – every stroke, every decision is well calculated and thought out beforehand. It is our responsibility to actually know when you (as a submissive) have had enough and act in your best interest.
That isn’t to say that a Dominant isn’t acting in their own best interest as well. Some things are purely for the satisfaction of the Dominant – though I fall back to the overarching definition of safe and sane.
In order to understand this differentiation better, let’s take a look at “true” Dominants versus the pretenders.
The One True Morty
The biggest misconception about the lifestyle is that it is a disempowerment of a submissive in totality or in part. A dominant will never be wrong, always call the shots, and nothing is too far. A submissive, therefore, comes into the lifestyle believing that in order to be a “good” submissive they have to do whatever they are told without question.
If anything, this line of thinking is the biggest load of bullshit ever perpetrated in the lifestyle and is responsible for causing some of the worst situations imaginable. We ultimately do a disservice to submissives by telling them this and reinforcing these horrible behaviors.
Even when entering into a TPE (Total Power Exchange), the rules of engagement are meticulously discussed and agreed upon before anything is committed to, and even then the submissive has the right to use a safeword when they’ve had enough. Which is to say, the parties involved always are in control of the situation.
So when you see a dynamic whereby the submissive is “always doing what she is told” like a “good girl”, it is with express understanding that the submissive and Dominant have agreed to these interactions ahead of time. Even then… if the Dominant is going too far, breaking those agreed upon boundaries, etc, the submissive always has the right to refuse service.
After all, if you don’t believe somebody is of sound mind or body to be leading you, then you obviously would revoke their right to do so. Even with the TPE “slave”, he or she has outlined boundaries well in advance and only gives that near total control out of trust and respect which has been well earned by the “Master”.
I believe this is a point to consider when you are encountering self-entitled “Masters” in the virtual world… they often believe that they have control over every submissive they meet and act as thought they do. Of course, we know this isn’t true because the submissive never did consent to their control or to be in their service. In short, “Dominants” like this are simply ego driven and delusional.
More to the point, by perpetrating the lie of inequality, we empower predators covering as Dominants who are using the lifestyle as cover to justify their actions.
When I first entered into the lifestyle years ago, I had a predominantly negative view of it all merely because there were so many negative examples of dysfunction that I saw in the lifestyle. But once I had things better explained to me by my own mentors, and that what I was seeing were toxic people masquerading as Dominants, preying on submissives, and that there is a more noble cause to being a Dominant… well, it suddenly made more sense.
Allow me to pass on a little bit of wisdom that I was bestowed years ago when I first got into this lifestyle, and hopefully you’ll understand better.
It is said that a natural born leader embodies a set of characteristics which dictate how they act and react to their surroundings and circumstances. They are individuals which inspire others to follow their lead through practice, patience and confidence. What makes them different from other “Dominants” in Second Life is that they embody the leadership role realistically.
Effectively speaking, when I first got into the lifestyle, I was lucky enough to have been mentored by individuals who had their heads on straight – each giving me invaluable insight and advice not only about how to be a respectable Dominant but (not surprisingly) how to be a better leader in all things. They instilled in me the confidence and drive to strive to be somebody that others look up to as their milestone.
Others may look up to me, or use me as the litmus test for others to aspire to not because I am better than anyone else but because I strive to be better than I was yesterday. I’m not in competition with you or anyone else, but instead I am competing with myself. In the end, I am looking to lead by example.
Let’s go over some of the basic qualities inherent in leadership roles:
- You aren’t easily distracted from your responsibilities and goals. You can set those goals, manage and maintain the course to achieve them.
- There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Being confident comes from a past understanding of your performance and ability to follow through, it is something which resonates with others as self-evident. A leader instills confidence and ‘followership’ by having a clear vision, showing empathy and being a strong coach.
- As a leader, the only way I know how to engender trust and buy-in from others is to be 100 percent authentically me — open, sometimes flawed, but always passionate about the tasks at hand. It has allowed me the freedom to be fully present and consistent. They know what they’re getting at all times. No surprises.
- The difference between needing to be right and doing what is right. If you focus on becoming authentic in all your interactions, that will rub off on others, and the rest takes care of itself.
- Others gave me great inspiration and fantastic advice, and I was fueled by my beliefs and an internal drive and passion. That’s why I’m always willing to offer motivation — to friends or strangers. I know the power of inspiration, and if someone can stand on my shoulders to achieve greatness, I’m more than willing to help them up.
- Innovation is always seeking to better yourself and others. You are looking for better ways to accomplish things, how to better one self or another in the process.
- Patience is really courage that’s meant to test your commitment to your cause. The path to great things is always tough, but the best leaders understand when to abandon the cause and when to stay the course. Having patience is fundamental to being a leader in that one must have the innate ability to see the forest for the trees (big picture) and understand both short and long term goals.
- It’s inevitable: We’re going to find ourselves in some real shit situations, whether they’re costly mistakes, unexpected failures or unscrupulous enemies. Stoicism is, at its core, accepting and anticipating this in advance, so that you don’t freak out, react emotionally and aggravate things further. Train our minds, consider the worst-case scenarios and regulate our unhelpful instinctual responses — that’s how we make sure shit situations don’t turn into fatal resolutions.
- It’s true that imitation is one of the greatest forms of flattery, but not when it comes to leadership — and every great leader in my life has led from a place of authenticity. Learn from others, read autobiographies of your favorite leaders, pick up skills along the way... but never lose your authentic voice, opinions and, ultimately, how you make decisions. Being authentic is akin to: Be honest in your dealings. With others and yourself.
- One of the biggest myths is that good leaders act with dogged determination to stick to their goals no matter what. It’s nonsense. The truth is, leaders need to keep an open mind while being flexible, and adjust if necessary. Your commitment should be to invest, develop and maintain great relationships.
- ‘Make the call fast, make the call loud and don’t look back.’ In marginal situations, a decisively made wrong call will often lead to better long-term results and relationships than a wishy-washy decision that turns out to be right. The ability to make decisions clearly isn’t based on not knowing something, but instead comes from a place of expertise in a given field in which you can reliably make judgement calls on the fly. That being true, however, does not mean being close minded or refusing to defer decisions when you should instead be expanding your understanding further in order to make better decisions. In short: Know what you know, but most importantly, Know what you don’t know and make it a point to learn.
- We all provide something unique to this world, and we can all smell when someone isn’t being real. The more you focus on genuine connections with people, and look for ways to help them—rather than just focus on what they can do for you—the more likable and personable you become. This isn’t required to be a great leader, but it is to be a respected leader, which can make all the difference.
- You seek to elevate others and delegate tasks which can and will allow them to achieve the best that they can be, applying their unique strengths to the given situation rather than their weaknesses. You seek to work on their weaknesses in private while allowing their strengths to shine in public.
- In order to achieve greatness, you must create a culture of optimism. There will be many ups and downs, but the prevalence of positivity will keep things going. But be warned: This requires fearlessness. You have to truly believe in making the impossible possible.
- My main goal has always been to offer the best of myself. We all grow—as a collective whole—when I’m able to build up others and help them grow as individuals.
- All great things take time, and you must persist no matter what. That’s what it takes to be a leader: willingness to go beyond where others will stop.
- It takes insight every day to be able to separate that which is really important from all the incoming fire. It’s like wisdom—it can be improved with time, if you’re paying attention, but it has to exist in your character. It’s inherent. When your insight is right, you look like a genius. And when your insight is wrong, you look like an idiot.
- If people aren’t aware of your expectations, and they fall short, it’s really your fault for not expressing it to them. In a leadership role, whether it is in business or BDSM, my mantra has always been: I am only as good as you keep me informed, and you are only as good as I keep you informed. Otherwise, we make reasonable decisions based on bad information which in turn creates bad decisions and actions.
- It’s a lot easier to assign blame than to hold yourself accountable. But if you want to know how to do it right, take note: When you screw up, take responsibility and then go above and beyond to make it right. Own your own actions and strive to elevate yourself above the pitfalls of the blame game. This is accountability. It’s not only taking responsibility; it’s taking the next step to make it right.
- It takes real leadership to find the strengths within each person and then be willing to look outside to plug the gaps. The “outside looking in” approach is a willingness to offer that constructive criticism and offer solutions to help inspire and guide others to a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life. This mentality also requires that we be honest with ourselves first and foremost, lest we use self-delusion to stunt our personal growth and potential.
BDSM versus Abuse
Now that’s we’ve taken a look at some of the qualities inherent in a leader, it should become obvious now that many people you interact with (including those pretend Dominants) actually exhibit the opposite of those qualities. This is why they are often referred to as “Toxic” Doms. More importantly, however, they are toxic people in general.
In the D/s and BDSM lifestyle, these are people who are “fake” Dominant or (more aptly) Domineering archetypes.
- Selfish vs Selfless
- Opaque vs Transparent (Dishonest vs Honest)
- Disrespectful vs Respectful
- Govern through fear instead of Respect
- Arrogant vs Confident
I could go on for an entire article just on this, but to be perfectly clear, we’re talking about somebody who is truly in a leadership role versus a dictator.
The latter will more often than not be self destructive and toxic to others. Manipulative, isolating, antagonistic, threatening, controlling and so on.
Of course, the obvious comes up when making these lists out:
Isn’t the point of being in a BDSM or D/s dynamic as a Dominant to be controlling?
Well, not entirely. Context here is king (or queen).
What a Dominant in the lifestyle really does is follow the consensual lead of the submissive. As a Dominant, you are fulfilling a role of responsibility to a submissive to help them attain certain things out of the dynamic – whether it is self-fulfillment, betterment or just to get their ass whacked while tied up.
Ultimately, and I believe this is sorely overlooked, a Dominant is listening to their submissive’s wants and needs in that negotiation, and then accepting the responsibility of helping that submissive achieve those needs. It just so happens that such wants and needs have a positive effect for the Dominant in reciprocal fashion.
A Domineering individual achieves those ends through physical and emotional manipulation, fear based repercussion, isolation, antagonistic and intimidating behaviors. In short, they are abusive individuals. Either physically or mentally (maybe both).
Now, the end-all to this is a simple declaration:
The difference between BDSM and Abuse is Consent.
If you didn’t agree to it, it’s abusive.
The reason I say this is because there are plenty of circumstances in D/s and BDSM where those Domineering behaviors are explicitly sought out and consented to by submissives of sound mind and body. Therefore, what looks like abuse from the outside looking in could simply be an agreed upon dynamic to the untrained eye. It all stems on that one lynchpin of consent.
In the grand scheme of things, the bigger issue among the lifestyle in Second Life (and sometimes real life) is that the context of consent isn’t there, and then we have submissives who are finding themselves in abuse situations thinking it is healthy BDSM… not that something is wrong with their partner but instead that something is wrong with them and their inability to “serve”.
The goal of a “true” Dominant versus a Domineer is to elevate a submissive and help them achieve their goals. A Domineer will intentionally try to break a submissive mentally and physically to deter and prohibit their happiness and fulfillment.
Key Elements of BDSM
Key Elements of Abuse
- Physical/Emotional Damage
- Fear of Partner*
- No Communication or Consent
- No Trust or Respect
* Keep in mind the distinction between fearing your partner and fearing pain. For example, you may flinch when being spanked despite having asked to be spanked, and you may enjoy being spanked. However, you trust your partner to respect your boundaries and do not fear them – rather the opposite: You trust them enough to take the responsibility you have given and not break that trust.
Dominant as Life Coach
A lot of what people believe concerning BDSM as a lifestyle revolves predominantly around kinky sex as the generalization. Unfortunately, this is a very misguided belief and more often than not fails to characterize what BDSM and D/s is all about.
When I first got into this lifestyle, my mentors also explained to me a simple analogy as the baseline of being a Dominant:
In effect, you are a life coach. Your responsibility to a submissive is to help identify needs, wants and together reach those goals. You lead through guidance and the submissive will follow through. A submissive should naturally wish to please and follow through, because they respect your judgement – and not because they fear you. They have taken the role and handed you the reigns because they believe you have what it takes to guide them on that journey.
With this premise, both should be able to find genuine happiness with themselves and each other.
From a baseline perspective, BDSM may encompass no sex at all and be entirely non-sexual in service and direction. Take the “service” submissive for example:
If you’re simply into the lifestyle as service only, there isn’t always a sexual aspect to this. You could merely find fulfillment as a glorified personal assistant. Maybe a homemaker archetype? These are types of submission just the same and often cited in religious circles (Christianity also).
At the core of it all is something I believe many forget or simply ignore, which is the need for discipline.
When we speak of discipline (for the sake of this writing), we are speaking of The controlled behavior aspect and not the act of disciplining another person for correction. In this context, think of the etiquette and presentation of an individual.
There are many ways to instill discipline in another person, through corporal actions or more intellectual means. Personally, I avoid corporal punishment tactics because I am more of a life coach mentality as a Dominant. The punishment or correction (repercussion) is aligned in such a manner whereby it becomes self-evident and does not require reinforcement.
This might vary from dynamic to dynamic depending on what was agreed upon and personal styles, so keep that in mind.
That being said, a service submissive may look no different than a vanilla relationship, and more to the point a BDSM relationship may look quite similar to a well balanced vanilla relationship outside of the bedroom/dungeon.
After all, BDSM isn’t always about sex. So you can kindly ignore the glorified porn videos capitalizing on BDSM… those situations are about as common as normal porn video plotlines. It is (after all) about playing out a fantasy or ideal.
The big picture is that two (or more) consenting adults have found a dynamic which makes them happy together.
But what is happiness?
Well, in the words of the famous Anthony Robbins:
If you’re not growing, you’re dying.
When we are making progress and improving, we’re happy.
When we aren’t, we tend to be miserable.
Interestingly enough, we can then say that (in spite of the kinks and taboos), BDSM and D/s are the practice of adults in a relationship dynamic (sexual or non-sexual) which is meant to bring happiness and fulfillment to the parties involved.
Of course, that is where we can say – and how you go about getting there is varied and there is no right or wrong way.
So long as we understand the happy, healthy, safe and sane methods to reach those goals – what you will find is that in the bigger picture, BDSM and D/s are far more practical and disciplined than you might have thought.
In the bigger picture, we are exploring amazing things about each other with dynamics and at an elevated level of trust and honesty that becomes required in order to partake in this lifestyle without causing lasting emotional and physical damage to another human being.
Overall, what BDSM is about is realizing a better self with the help of another.
You can take out the kinks and leave out the sex… and you’d still have a lot of parallels with BDSM mentality. Even if you know that those four letters stand for… now (hopefully) you know what a monumental amount of good it can be applied to.
And of course, there’s some kinky sex involved depending on who you’re with.
For the past few years, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to lead discussions regularly in this lifestyle at a myriad of locations in Second Life. As of the new year, I had made the conscious decision to take a step back from those circles and not lead discussions for awhile. The biggest reason to this decision revolved mostly around the alarming drama and abusive situations I’ve noticed in various groups in-world.
There is a lot of misinformation and (unfortunately) a lot of predatory individuals leaving a trail of abused people in their wake. I may in the future decide to return to that discussion circuit but for now I am enjoying a semi-retirement from all of that with my girl.