Black Lives Matter
Subscribe To
The Advocate
Scroll To Top

Learning the Ropes in BDSM: Whips, Chains, Pain and Lots of Pleasure

BDSM

"Are you a dominant, a submissive, or a switch?" I laughed at the directness of this question, though it didn’t shock me considering where we were. It was a Friday night in San Francisco, a hotspot for alternative lifestyles, and the sprawling dungeon offered a welcome respite from the cold, sketchy streets of the Tenderloin district. There were stilettos, latex, and tutus, but my attire was comparatively simple; a plunging red top, leather pants and boots, and hair pulled into pigtails. The attendant talking to me was a polite man who was tasked with acquainting new patrons with the space and making sure they were comfortable.

I think "switch" describes me best. I’m not a trained dominatrix, and waiting on somebody hand and foot like a slave isn’t suitable for me either. I prefer a middle ground that allows me to oscillate depending on the company and what feels right at the moment. This is a reflection of my personality: feisty, forward, and mischievous most of the time, but also brooding, passive, and willing to give the reins to someone I trust. Versatility makes for meaningful contact with others and that applies to all my relationships, whether there’s kink in the equation or not.

BDSM, the acronym for bondage, discipline/dominance, sadism/submission and masochism, encompasses a variety of acts and fetishes, which aren’t always sexual in nature. My history with it spans nearly a decade, and it’s complementary to a life that is anything but dull. BDSM challenges traditional views on human interaction, with the caveat that all must legally consent. It offers a safe haven for those in the margins of society, who roll their eyes at the mundane, and crave that special something the vanilla world can’t provide. For some, this lifestyle isn’t reserved for the odd night out, it’s a commitment that takes effort to maintain. My relationship with BDSM is casual — I like to say it’s the spice on my plate, rather than the food itself.

Not unlike nudism and swinging, BDSM has been criticized by those who can’t fathom the appeal, and on the other side of that coin is sensationalism. Who could forget Fifty Shades of Grey, the first bestselling novel in years to feature a sado-masochistic relationship? It spawned three films, and was such a cultural phenomenon, that blushing housewives flocked to sex shops for handcuffs and fantasized about a spanking in Christian Grey’s Red Room of Pain. Some would argue it was good to see the general public talk about sex so openly, but the series didn’t do the BDSM community any favors, because informed consent, a crucial pillar, was either unclear or absent.

The attendant showed me the lockers and bathrooms, and beyond them was the lounge with slightly tattered leather furniture. A diverse group of patrons mingled over snacks and non-alcoholic beverages in accordance with the substance free policy. Hygiene was equally prioritized; there were disinfectant sprays and wipes everywhere, and all were responsible for cleaning sur faces after use. Play involving needles, fire, or wax required advanced permission from management, and cameras were prohibited to protect privacy. Failure to comply could lead to dismissal or a ban without a refund. Aside from play parties, the dungeon hosted art shows, rope workshops, and talks on kink etiquette.

The pièce de résistance was the play area itself, with its illuminated, disco-era floor, and every variety of equipment from cages to sex swings. I was eager to incorporate the St. Andrew’s Cross into a play session if I could find a partner with a flogger, crop, or a seasoned hand. Any area above or below the buttocks is a no-fly zone for me, unless it’s a massage, which warms the skin and takes the sting out of spanking. I prefer the detachment of facing the cross instead of the other person, and I’ll wink over my shoulder at them and twerk just to be a brat. It’s a playful duel where each feeds off the energy of the other, and if my partner is an authority figure, or substantially older than I am, all the better.

If you’ve been to a kink party, or any lifestyle event for that matter, you likely know about scenes. A scene is like role-play, usually for the enjoyment of the actual “players,” but in some cases, outsiders are invited to participate, even if it’s just quiet observation. It’s important to be mindful of the protocol, namely, where you’re standing in relation to the scene, and whether you have permission to look. Also, don’t assume that just anyone will want to do a scene with you. As you would anywhere else, start with casual conversation and you’ll see whether there’s potential for more.

Contrary to popular belief, the submissive doesn’t relinquish power, in fact, they determine what a scene entails and how long it lasts. I’ve never cut a scene short, but I’ve indicated with speech or body language if I desire a change of course. At another kink event I attended on New Year’s Eve in San Francisco, the dominatrix asked me to lift one finger if she was flogging me too hard, two if she was too gentle, and to say “stop” if I had enough. It helps if there’s a safe word established in advance, but if a submissive gives any indication that they want the scene to end, the dominant must comply. Anything less is criminal, and should never be conflated with true BDSM.

Observing the kinks of other patrons and weaving them into scenes was a highlight. Tickling, cross-dressing, and suspension by ropes were all things I’d seen before, but meeting a “pup,” a person in a dog mask who embodies canine behavior, was a first for me. The man and I were close in age, and his friendly and curious spirit led to another adventure with the St. Andrew’s Cross. I worked in tandem with a dominant who had an arsenal of toys, and the communication between the three of us couldn’t have been more fluid. The pup responded to a variety of instruments and sensations, but relished the feel of leather in particular. Any contact with his “tail” was a treat for him, as it was an extension of an anal plug.

I didn’t expect to see actual sex that night, but there was a fair amount of it. A woman sat on a chair and fellated a man, while her arms were bound behind her with ropes. At the other end of the dungeon, a couple went at it on the bed, and there I was in the center of the play area, catching up with the Sybian, the grande dame of sex toys, who made an unexpected cameo. The attendant, who was off-duty and free to play, was gracious enough to bring it out for me, and I declined the appendage so I could sit directly on the saddle and feel the vibrations through my pants.

I immersed myself in the music, the erotic imagery of my mind’s creation, and the feel of the attendant’s soft hands moving over my back and breasts. In the distance, there was a handsome man observing from behind a velvet rope, which I’d given him permission to do in advance. The quiet intensity of his gaze belied an otherwise expressionless face. I was galvanized to swivel my hips and buck against the rumbling Sybian, not just for my pleasure, but the men in my proximity. I delayed going over the edge until I absolutely couldn’t anymore.

“Do you need aftercare?” The attendant asked, as the tingling in my limbs subsided. “How about water?”

I shook my head and snickered because my goodness, it was masturbation not a marathon. But I truly respected his attentiveness, and the fact that he didn’t take liberties, which hasn’t always been my experience when navigating the real world.

I live in New York, and prefer to travel to other liberal-leaning cities, so that I’m spoiled for choice when looking for events outside of the mainstream. I’ve noticed that segments of the Lifestyle community often overlap; for instance, a swinger event might make provisions for people with BDSM interests, or a nudist retreat might have a designated area for swingers. The willingness to be accommodating is what keeps me coming back, eager for more adventures with people unafraid to be true to themselves. We aren’t all interested in the same things, but we are bound by a sense of community and mutual respect.

I expect pushback when talking to some people outside of the Lifestyle, but the older I get, the less I care. There’s a stark difference between explaining my activities to somebody who is curious, and defending them, which I have no obligation to do. I have no desire to coddle anybody’s hang-ups, misplaced outrage, and unsolicited opinions about how I spend my time. It took me years to get to this point, but I’m proud to be here, and within reason, I’ll continue to push the envelope, and live as I see fit. 

Spencer Jones is a Renaissance woman who loves to write, read, draw, study languages, and interact with freethinking people. Follow her adventures on Instagram @dismantledthenovel.

From our Sponsors

READER COMMENTS ()