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Safe Words in Subspace: BDSM as Therapy

Only the ones that hurt you, can make you feel better; only the ones that inflict the pain, can take it away -Madonna

The deeper truth might lie in those Madonna lyrics. Sure, her flirtation with BDSM was another persona used to market her Sex book and the Erotica album, but as a teenager it made me more curious about BDSM. Having always been attracted to the imagery that adorned heavy metal album covers and that was a part of comic book characters like CatWoman, it took going to a goth club on the right night to take the plunge. As a survivor of childhood abuse both sexual and physical, BDSM felt empowering, though it took many years of self work and sobriety before this became a more intentional process of healing – up until that point, I felt more connected to the lyrics of the Tool song “Prison Sex”: “….do unto others what has been done to you.”

From its earliest roots, BDSM has been more than just something that is fun or feels good. This can be traced back to the Roman Festival Lupercalia – young men used thongs made from the hide of a sacrificial goat to run through the streets and flog women who wished to conceive and put themselves in the way of receiving the blows. Greco-Roman mystery schools used ritual flagellation as a form of initiation into their Dionysian orders. We know it invokes altered states. The dominants find themselves in a flow and the submissives end up in the euphoric meditation of sub-space. So it’s no secret that those invocations of energy can be used in a healing capacity – but what we want to look at here is how to approach it with the intent to heal, rather than it be a by-product of BDSM.

The objective is to activate repressed emotions in order to process them in a safe and supportive environment. Commonly called “Light/ Dark,” it is a form of exposure therapy like other ancient traditions, such as suspension. To approach it with this intention requires a slight shift in the conventional roles. The dominant has always held responsibility. This was once a title that was learned in the old guard leather days. Nowadays just because you have a fet-life profile you are some how qualified. So the responsibility of the Dominant would be almost more of a service role, but in a shamanistic sense. Yes, we are going to get a little metaphysical here, so I know I am going to lose some of you, so go find my article on Frolicon if you just want something to fap to. The role of the submissive would be to find their journey – the surrender to this possibility of becoming a healthy whole again. So the submissive would be in control, not topping from the bottom, but dictating the pace set by protocol.

Protocol is a once traditional form of agreement that has gone by the wayside. The structure of this agreement would provide some security to know that there are safe boundaries to something that might have at one time been overwhelming. With most subs, I used casual protocol, having someone call me “sir” or “master” always makes me feel like I am playing Vampire the Masquerade, and adds a more flowery theatrical element than I need for that ritual. When I first began brainstorming this as a real investment of time and energy, I began discussions with more enlightened professional dominatrixes and open-minded college professors who expressed interest in the research. For me the surrender would have more of a patient/doctor feel – and no, the latex nurses’ outfits can stay at home, as I am not referring to medical play here, but how the protocol would be handled.

When the discussion began as to what protocol would be when using BDSM in a therapeutic arena, I think it would be somewhat more formal, yet only dressed in the “masters” and “sirs” if the client needed that to form the separation of their identity inside versus outside the dungeon, as this would be a very contained experiment rather than an ongoing d/s relationship that may or may not have a sexual component. Those who have discussed going into this as a participant have expressed desires such as being able to become comfortable with their bodies again or a return to their sexual selves because of feeling broken after being separated from a long term relationship.

In the planning stages for design of the space, I brought up that it should feel more like a yoga studio than a dungeon. For my personal use, I prefer darker, more harsh and classically dungeon-like environments, but in creating a safe healing space, things like natural lighting and planets seem to create a better flow for the energy we would be working with in this context. Things like sensory deprivation, bondage and even impact would still be employed, just with a different slant to how they are used. The submissive who has had issues with intimate touch or body image issues could be blindfolded to separate themselves from the ego mind of their body, to allow them to experience these things with a safe detachment from their senses, which would be gradually re-introduced rather than progressively restricted.

 

Yes this is soft-core BDSM or BDSM lite, and it is coming from a guy who hates to see people using a flogger like the are dusting the furniture, and likes to hear the slap of skin pop in a way that turns heads from across the dungeon – but with different intention comes different actions. This is shoe-gaze, not black metal – sorry Deafheaven fans. Rather than start hard requiring a safe word to dial the intensity back, submissives would call “beige” to ask for more intense touch as they felt safer and wanted a fuller immersion into the experience.

While from an emotional standpoint, this might be considered edgeplay to a certain extent, it still adheres to the creed of “safe, sane and consensual,” as the person would knowingly enter into a safe place where they were intentionally working on the issue being addressed in protocol. I think this is in fact truer to creed, as it seeks to expand one’s sanity, while the more mainstream “kink” community who uses BDSM for the purpose of play and an extension of partying has more issues with the sanity part of the creed, as they would rather espouse hedonism and continue to unconsciously self medicate  – though I have nothing against indulgence, as long as it’s self aware.

 

Dutch studies continue to show that practitioners of BDSM are – despite stigma – often more well adjusted than their vanilla counterparts. They suffer less from anxiety and form more intimate relationships, thanks to exercising trust and increased communication during sessions. It is this embrace of their shadow side that allows them to feel more comfortable in their own skin, as that side is embraced rather than repressed. So the use of these tools alone shows great benefit, allowing one to assume that in an even more controlled environment with even greater dedication to personal wellness, the results would increase. While this should not be a replacement for work with a licensed therapist or support group, it shows potential to provide a powerfully fulfilling supplement to self-work in this regard. The interest and support I have received from the Psychology community has been very encouraging, and I’m hoping by bringing this awareness to larger forums, others might benefit from the the potential for growth here.

For further information feel free to contact:

https://www.facebook.com/Sub-Space-Station-1759769510981466/

Written By

Wil spouts his thoughts and theories on metal / goth/ post-punk/ and darker indie rock on blogs like Abysmal Hymns,No Clean Singing, Geekinthings, Treblezine etc... He is very passionate about horror movies, comic books, the occult and Morrissey , though David Bowie will live on in his heart forever

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