Last month, I gave a talk as part of an evening called The Truth Behind Fifty Shades of Grey at University of Maryland in College Park. There was a lively audience discussion, and we gave students the opportunity to ask questions anonymously. Here are those questions with my responses. Note: I asked several of my colleagues to chime in and answer a few of the questions. Because several of them inspired longer answers, I will post those separately under Ask Tristan.
Caning was traditional for severe punishment in the Victorian era and in the British school system, so canes can be the center of some great role play opportunities. Because of their perceived severity, canes have developed a reputation as the “scariest” of all BDSM impact toys, but a caning can be light and sensuous or heavy and painful—it’s all about how you wield the cane… Traditional canes are made of rattan, not bamboo or wood, and should be able to bend significantly.
Are there any races/ethnicities/religious groups that are members of the BDSM community?
People of all races and ethnicities practice BSDM, although some people of color have critiqued kink communities for being overwhelmingly white. Mollena Williams writes eloquently and teaches about the challenges of being a person of color in the BDSM community. There are some organizations and groups that cater specifically to kinky people of color including Poly Patao Productions and BlackBEAT.
Does the BDSM community have a higher percentage of LGBT people than mainstream sex?
People who practice BDSM comes from all walks of life and represent a diverse sampling in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, class, age, ability, and sexual orientation. LGBT people have varied sex lives, just as heterosexuals do; some are kinky, some aren’t, and some fall in between.
Do BDSM people date and marry, or just hook up?
BDSM folks are like everyone else in with regards to their sexual, romantic, and emotional relationships: they hook up, they date, they marry, they divorce, they have kids. In my research for my book Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships, I found that there was a lot if overlap between BDSM communities and non-monogamous communities, so I think it might be that a higher percentage of BDSM people practice some form of consensual, ethical non-monogamy than the general population.
Has BDSM been shown to lower divorce rates?
There is limited research about BDSM and the people who practice it. There is no data that I know of that correlates BDSM with lower divorce rates. What I can tell you from personal experience is that many kinky folks have open, expansive views on sex, pleasure, relationships, and love plus above-average communication skills, and those elements can all contribute to the success of a marriage or relationship.
In the book Fifty Shades of Grey, when Christian and Anastasia communicate on a daily basis, Christian is always in charge. Do BDSM couples talk like that normally?
It depends. Some people adopt the roles of dominant and submissive during a scene (a scene is when people practice BDSM), but once the scene is done, they interact without those roles. Others may stay in role for a weekend. In those cases, when they are in role, the dominant takes charge and dictates how things go. Some people have dominant/submissive relationships where the power dynamic is always (or almost always) present. In all cases, as part of the negotiation process, dominants and submissives may agree to certain rules or protocols which dictate behavior. One such protocol could be that the dominant is in charge of what the submissive wears or the dominant decides what they eat for dinner. Another protocol could be that the submissive has to ask permission before speaking or always use an honorific when speaking to the dominant, like Sir. Protocols vary wildly, are particular to the people involved, and make sense to them; they are meant to represent and reinforce the power dynamic.
Is there a book or books that are more accurate to the BDSM community than Fifty Shades of Grey?
The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and The Erotic Edge, 50 Shades of Kink: An Introduction to BDSM, SM 101: A Realistic Introduction, Playing Well With Others: Your Field Guide to Discovering, Exploring, and Navigating The Kink, Leather and BDSM Communities, The New Topping Book, The New Bottoming Book, Screw the Roses, Send Me The Thorns, as well as books by Jack Rinella, Lee Harrington, and Midori.
How do you find kink friendly professionals like doctors or therapists?
Is rape performed by BDSM people?
The word “performed” threw me a little because my interpretation of that word could lead me down two very different roads. On the one hand, are you asking, “Do BDSM people act out consensual rape fantasies?” The answer is yes, and a stellar resource all about those kinds of fantasies is Mollena Williams who wrote the chapter “Digging in the Dirt: The Lure of Taboo Role Play” in in The Ultimate Guide to Kink. But the other interpretation is, “Do BDSM people commit rape?” Unfortunately, the answer to that question is also yes. While the vast majority of folks who practice BDSM consider consent the cornerstone of their kink, that doesn’t mean that every kinky person is immune from sexual coercion, trauma, abuse, and violence. These things are still far too common in our society. For an excellent discussion about consent, sexual assault, and BDSM, I recommend Thomas’ series of posts on the blog Yes Means Yes.
Can BDSM be addictive?
Can it be hard to enjoy “vanilla” sex once you’ve escalated [to BDSM]? I’ve heard porn indulgence can desensitize people until they keep needing to escalate–is this the case with BDSM?
For this one, I asked my friend BDSM educator Felice Shays, and here is her response.