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Dancing Along the Sexual Fringe and Returning Safely Home: How America’s search for individual pleasure has helped make BDSM less scary.

Dancing Along the Sexual Fringe and Returning Safely Home: How America’s search for individual pleasure has helped make BDSM less scary.

An irony in both personal and human development is that by the time we realize how stupid something we’ve been doing is, we’ve been doing it for so long that we’re not sure what else to do. Hindsight, as my father often told me, is 20/20. Fortunately, sometimes the solution to the big questions is to be found when addressing the small questions.

Once upon a time, humans tended to band together in nervous alliances, primarily interested in stabilizing natural resources and neutralizing physical threats in such a way that they could eventually take a couple days off, buy an RV, and never need to shoot at anything more dangerous than an alien bad guy menacing them from an Xbox.

While working toward this laudable goal, the species managed to get along well enough that many of its members engaged in sexual intercourse. Some of this resulted in successful pregnancies and children who also lived long enough to reproduce. Given modern freeway congestion, I think it’s safe to say we got the successful reproduction part figured out pretty quickly.

During the passing millennia, the human race experimented with all manner of things: foods; beverages; sounds; architectural styles; modes of transportation; political, religious, and philosophical theories; ways to hurt, harm, and kill one another—and, during its initially infrequent spare time, it even managed to identify a wide range of ways to feel very, very good while wearing very little. Over time, those who did well in any of these pursuits developed codes of conduct, standards and practices, and penalties for violations of said codes. For better or worse, as nervous alliances became more stable, the lives of those within them became more uniform, more established, more concerned about appearances and decorum—including, but not limited to, perceptions about proper forms of love and sexual contact.

Somewhere along the way, individuals began to feel guilty about their pleasures, which belonged increasingly to categories that were often off limits due to associations with those considered unsavory. For some men, this meant resisting the delights that their nipples experienced when touched because of negative associations with such an indulgence being “gay.” For many women, the discomfort with being orgasmic and therefore labeled “slut” kept them locked within their bodies. Shame surrounding the genitals discouraged “good” people from oral and manual contact with areas deemed “dirty” and “disgusting.”

According to Dr. Marty Klein, a licensed marriage and family counselor and sex therapist located in Palo Alto, Calif., “One of the things that’s been happening since the ’60s is that people are more willing to admit that they like what they like, that something feels good even if they don’t understand it or don’t have a name for it.”

Even as the religious right desperately seeks to force the cork back into the bottle, it acknowledges that the genie previously inside of it is officially out and about, encouraging an intimacy- and pleasure-seeking populace to think of itself as a collection of individuals instead of as a collective.

Along with more men allowing their nipples to be touched, more women relaxing into orgasm, and more people rubbing, sucking, and licking one another to ecstasy, more people have become comfortable engaging in behavior that was previously taboo due to its association with “perverts” and “S&M.”

“The category of BDSM has gotten bigger and bigger, as we have realized that there are more and more activities that share certain qualities that make them part of the category,” suggests Klein. “There are people who do stuff that 10 or 20 years ago they would not have called SM-ey kinds of things that now we recognize that they are.”

Whether it consists of teasingly denying a lover physical affection, participating in tickling games, playfully holding a partner down by the wrists while he or she squirms in mock protest, spanking a partner on the bottom, or dressing up in erotic garments and acting out fantasies, everyday people increasingly are acknowledging that these erotic power games are fun, emotionally connecting, and very sexually satisfying.

With the accessibility of the Internet and a copious body of BDSM videos on the market, even someone who doesn’t consider himself or herself to be part of any kind of sexual underground or revolution easily finds that he or she is not the only person who has enjoyed such sexual play and, in fact, that by becoming more in touch with their genuine pleasures and desires, they may well have been able to find another category in which to place themselves: satisfied.

Theresa "Darklady" Reed is an assistant editor for YNOT.com, as well as CEO of Darklady Productions, specializing in the adult industry and alternative sexualities. In 2004, she was Ms. Oregon State Leather, and in 2005 she competed for the Ms. World Leather title. She is liaison to the adult industry for Woodhull Freedom Foundation and the mastermind behind the Portland Masurbate-a-thon. Learn more about her and her plans for world domination at Darklady.com.

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