Life is sometimes painful.
Very few people get through life without being knocked around. Even if you haven’t suffered the death of a loved one, a divorce, or some other major catastrophe, life can be stressful even at the best of times.
That stress and pain wear us down over time. In the world of BDSM there is a term called a ‘Safeword’. When people are engaged in a BDSM scene together, either participant can stop the activity by using a safeword. People use various words to stop a scene, but safewords are discussed prior to ‘play’ and both parties agree to honor the use of the safeword if it is spoken for any reason.
Unfortunately, unlike with BDSM, real life doesn’t give us safewords. We can’t opt out of the pain or stress life throws at us. When a loved one dies, or our marriage is miserable and we are at a loss as to how to make it better, or our boss tells us we have to work ninety hours a week until the end of the quarter, we may or may not be able to do anything to change the situation.
My dad killed himself nine years ago and the pain of that event felt unbearable. That was my pain to bear. You have your pain to bear. These things must be endured because we don’t always get to choose our pain and we can’t control other’s behavior nor can we control many things that happen in the world.
When the pain and stress of life becomes unmanageable, people often turn to drugs, alcohol, shopping, comfort eating, affairs, gambling and all sorts of other destructive behaviors in an attempt to feel better. While these behaviors may provide a temporary endorphin release which eases pain, this is a short lived escape with long-range, sometimes catastrophic consequences. All of these coping mechanisms share a few things in common: They provide temporary relief from pain and they have the potential to mask the underlying issue so that the sufferer can ‘suffer’ over something they feel they have some control over.
Most people believe that BDSM is simply about sex. In fact, I would guess that if you asked a hundred random people on the street this question, “What is BDSM and Kink and who does it?” Almost all of those questioned would say something along the lines of, “It’s a perverted sex game people play with each other where they beat each other and do other stuff. I don’t even want to think about it.”
(Well, unless you asked people in Portland, Oregon which has the reputation for being the United State’s Capital for: Kink, organic food, perversion, strip clubs, micro-brews, marijuana and general badness). In fact, if you asked one hundred random people in Portland about BDSM and Kink, half of them would probably ask you if you knew where the nearest party was being held and if you might, by chance, be able to direct them to a delicious food-cart.
My point is that there is great confusion in the general population concerning what BDSM is all about. Most people don’t understand why kinky people are driven to it and they believe that it is
mostly about perverted sex games. Often times, even kinky people who have never had the opportunity to experience BDSM/Kink won’t know why they need to engage in activities that may seem abhorrent, even to them.
This perception that BDSM is simply perverted sex is mostly inaccurate and highly destructive. BDSM is a part of a person’s sexuality, but the actual act of BDSM practice is typically not overtly sexual in nature. While most kinky people eroticize BDSM, some people engage in BDSM activities separate from sexual engagement while others combine sex with BDSM activities.
Whether or not sex is involved, focused, intense BDSM sessions can provide overwhelming relief from anxiety, depression, and anguish. When you put yourself in a position where you have no choice but to yield to unrelenting, precisely delivered pain, you feel strangely liberated. You aren’t thinking about your kid’s college tuition or the mortgage. You aren’t wondering if your partner loves you or if you’ll lose your job.
*it should be noted that I am talking about a bdsm scene which has been consensually negotiated and where safewords are respected. I am not talking about domestic violence or non-consensual assault*
Within a well orchestrated BDSM session, the world disappears and your immediate experience takes its place. Your mind has no place to run. You simply can’t think about anything except that next lashing, the next needle, or the wax that may burn hot against your skin.
Once you’ve totally let go, and accepted the pain, everything stops hurting. Your mind empties as your body is flooded with endorphins.
This is the moment BDSM practitioners refer to as cathartic bliss.
This moment offers an unexpected benefit for men in particular. From the time they are toddlers, boys are taught not to cry. Our culture is finally evolving past this but the sad truth is that there is still a stigma against men crying. When we cry, we let go of pain. Crying is a necessary way to release painful emotions. Because men are taught, their whole lives, that it’s ‘weak’ to cry, they learn to stuff painful feelings. They stuff them and they learn to compartmentalize their feelings in ways that can be destructive to their interpersonal relationships. It is difficult to completely suppress pain, while still remaining emotionally open and vulnerable in other ways. But despite the stigma against men crying, we are willing to give a man a pass, and even to comfort him, if he is crying because he is in terrible pain. The man who is suffering knows this, and if his suffering is great enough, he can allow himself to release those painful feelings. Not just the pain of the BDSM scene, but life pain he has suffered and suppressed his whole life. Many men will report what they refer to as cathartic release. One client told me that during a BDSM scene he experienced a, “total emotional breakdown, shedding tears I didn’t even know were there, bawling uncontrollably, like a baby, followed by total peace. A kind of peace I had never previously known.”
After a scene, the participant might discover that the things in his or her life that caused so much pain before, are now manageable. They’ll feel better: happier and more hopeful. For many people, this feeling of relief can be intense for up to forty-eight hours. This intense period is often followed by a less intense, but overall decrease in general suffering.
I am not suggesting that BDSM is the cure all for all mental illness and suffering. There are plenty of ills in life that BDSM cannot ameliorate. I am certainly not suggesting that BDSM is for everyone. What I am suggesting is that if you are suffering and you are drawn to BDSM, you may very well find overwhelming relief as a result of fulfillment of this need.
BDSM is not a therapeutic technique. For people who are drawn to it, and who need it, BDSM practice can provide relief from the pain they feel as a result of leaving the need unmet.