BDSM Relationships For Beginners

"We have a running joke, 'is it OK to hug your dom?' And of course, after the pain, the beatings, the sobbing and orgasms, he always holds me in his arms, until I am put back together."

Jan 10, 2013 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

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Me, trying not to look scared while reading about BDSM in Sex: How to Do Everthing by Em & Lo . And yes, I'm in pyjamas.

Some of you may remember Jemima from her excellent Guide to being Sex Positive, which went up at the end of last year. Inevitably, there was a lot of stuff I had to leave out that interview, and much of it intrigued me.

For one thing, Jemima is married to a man who supports her decision to be a sex worker. He also supports her relationship with Carter, with whom she engages in a BDSM relationship, in which she is the submissive partner and is (willingly) exposed to sexual violence.

“It probably says a lot about our relationship that I met Carter in a chat room for swingers where he made me laugh, rather than sending the standard on your knees bitch message,” she told me by email when we discussed the possibility of this interview about BDSM.

“It was hard for me at first because Carter can be a very busy person, but we both have a lot of commitments in our lives. The relationship works because we manage it simply through honesty. We let each other know what is coming up, what stresses there might be, what life is throwing at us. I submit totally, but there are limits.”

Still intrigued by the nature of this sort of relationship, I was keen to find out more... 

What is meant by BDSM?
Jemima: The acronym stands for Bondage, Domination, Submission, Sadism and Masochism. It has, however, come to mean something more - a lifestyle or indication of wider shared beliefs - instead of just a list of things people might enjoy sexually in the minds of many people.

Carter: We don't know what BDSM means for anyone else, just for us, which is something we address on our blog, It's Just A Hobby. For me, it's a very safe place where I can engage with my desires and reinforce my belief that I'm a safe person to be around – it's a testing ground if you like, but one which is also very enjoyable for all the people involved.

Of course that involves bondage, domination, discipline, submission, sadism, masochism, but then any relationship that was authentically about us would involve those things because those are aspects of our desires and characters.

On It’s Just a Hobby you both talk about BDSM in a lot of detail. Why did you decide to start blogging about this aspect of your lives?
Carter: I realised that there was a significant part of my life which could provide a narrative framework for others to share. The name came about because we had both tired of the pretensions of people who refer to their sexuality and their sexual interactions as a “lifestyle”, or who insist on describing themselves as “swingers” as if that's the most important thing about them, when actually the most important thing about them is that they're repellent right-wing individualists or materially obsessed narcissists.

Jemima: With BDSM, what is simply a list has been elevated into something else. It may be slightly contradictory since it is our sex life that has caused the interview, but for me, being defined by what you do in the bedroom or dungeon is slightly worrying. It is just a hobby.

Carter and I had always enjoyed verbal sparring. Originally, we were both blogging separately but he saw that some of what we wrote might have a wider audience. We couldn’t be the only two people on the planet who enjoyed certain things but did not wish to be defined by them.

Carter: I may be a sadist, sexually, but that doesn't make me a sadist when I'm caring for clients or my family, just as being a submissive and a masochist doesn't stop Jemima being a leader in her communities. We wanted to engage with that audience, and try to have a discussion that didn't start from fixed positions and dogmas.

How did you become involved in the BDSM scene?
Jemima: Short answer: a very sexy lady at a swinging club led me by the hand to a dungeon and said, “you must try this.” I knew nothing of BDSM, I didn’t even know there was a scene! The Dungeon Master asked if I wanted to be flogged. After he promised me it wouldn’t hurt, I said yes. The massive floor-soaking orgasm I had suggested I should find out more. I learnt that that BDSM was not just about the physical but the emotional and mental.

Carter: The idea that there was a BDSM scene really only took root with me once the internet came into my life in the 90s. Before then there were books, and porn, but the majority of it was thoroughly inauthentic. At some point in my late teens I tried tying someone to a bed, and the responsibility and potential of that position crystallized in my head.

It was a realization that the power relationships could be explicit – you could say 'I'm going to make you powerless', and do it, with objects and tools rather than just with force, or words, or the implicit power that that particular relationship might contain.

To be a dominant is, for me, about being aware of disparities of power and the possibility that that might be desirable. I mean power relationships in the widest possible sense, not just the physical – if an older man is having sex with someone younger, or a stronger person is having a relationship with someone weaker or more needy, and using them just for his pleasure, there's a power relationship there, even if it's implicit, because he's taking advantage of the other person's need for affection, or to be desired.

How would you define your relationship?
Jemima: I’m a Christian and have been described by my pastor as “servant-hearted”, which I think is true. My personality is one that likes to please, likes to serve others and gets great pleasure from doing so.

There is sometimes a trope around BDSM of submissives being powerful people in real life acting out something very different through BDSM. I have always found this problematic, as it suggests that dominants are weak people in their day-to-day lives and are using BDSM to overcome it (which is, of course, what people who believe BDSM is abuse often claim). So being submissive does completely affect my everyday life because that is who I am.

However, there is no contract between us, no obsession with the minute details that readers of Fifty Shades Of Grey might be expecting. I cannot imagine Carter caring what I ate or who I spoke to. He hopes I’m happy and safe because he knows that has an impact on my behavior.

Over the period of our relationship I have grown into the person I want to be, the person that he believes I am. Respect is a cornerstone of what we do.

What would you say to people who claim that violence has no part in a caring relationship?
Jemima: I would say it is none of their business. Furthermore, they ignore the primacy of consent, and once you do that you are on a dangerous road. The words “she was asking for it” have too long been used as an excuse by abusers, those opposed to the idea of consensual BDSM actually side with them by not understanding why consent is so important.

Another argument I have heard is that “people will copy things they have seen or read.” The Ted Bundy defence, as it were. This allows abusers to excuse their behavior. No-one rapes or assaults because they are made to by something they have seen. It is a choice, and society needs fewer excuses not more. We discussed our boundaries and set them in all the most important ways before we had even met.

What did you make of the Fifty Shades of Grey books, and the way the main characters relationship was depicted?
Jemima: I only read the first book. As far as I can see, it was nothing to do with BDSM. It depicts an abusive relationship. There is no parity or equality between them, no enthusiastic or informed consent and the idea of Christian being dominant because of childhood abuse was insulting to survivors and dominants alike.

I think the books did so well because they did not challenge perceived norms. Anna rescues Christian, they stop doing the naughty stuff and live happily ever after in heteronormative bliss. What more do Daily Mail readers looking for porn want?

Finally, does being in a BDSM relationship ever mean you feel emotionally neglected? What happens at times when just want a hug?
Jemima: We have a running joke, “is it OK to hug your dom?”

Carter: I have a support network who do a wonderful job of taking the strain, both formally and informally. My supervisor and my “office wife” (she laughs when I call her that) take up their share, and my family give back far more than they demand, often just by reminding me of my value to them.

Jemima: I’m married [not to Carter but to another man who knows about our relationship] so much of my emotional support comes that way. However, if I want a hug, I simply ask. If I think Carter needs one, I offer.

And of course, after the pain, the beatings, the sobbing and orgasms, he always holds me in his arms, until I am put back together. There is nothing wrong with hugs.

What’s your view on BDSM - a matter for consenting adults, a way for abusers to get away with it, or something you’ve never even considered (the first two are opposing feminist theories)? Is this the kind of sex and relationship piece you’d like to see more of on xoJane? Let us know in the comments!

Jemima and Carter are tweeting about the issues discussed here @itsjustahobby  and @the101club. They also blog at It’s Just A Hobby (NSFW).

Alisande has no plans to read Fifty Shades of Grey. Tweet her @AlisandeF.

Posted in Sex, bdsm, fetish, Q&A, sex positive