It’s over brunch with my girlfriend, just as my pancakes arrive, that I hear news of her engagement. I instantly jump up and grab her hand to examine. “Oh no,” she pulls her hand away, laughing, “There’s no ring – he bought me a collar.”
My friend is in a BDSM relationship, which consists of a dominant partner and a submissive partner. She’s the “sub,” which means she is ready to submit to the authority of the “dom,” or in her case, her fianceé. While the term BDSM (which stands for bondage, discipline, submission and masochism) often raises eyebrows, they’re one of the happiest, most committed couples I know. And her collar is stunning.
In light of the cultural phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey and the upcoming premiere of TLC’s latest controversial show Submissive Wives, it seems that BDSM relationships are all the rage. While BDSM may be making news, the act itself is nothing new. The dom-sub relationship has been referenced in the oldest book of all time, the Bible (Ephesians 5:22-33) and brought to light time and time again from Mapplethorpe to Madonna. It’s no doubt that Fifty Shades thrust the topic into the modern spotlight, and despite its critics, it undoubtedly sparked a much-needed conversation.
“I have a joyful home because I am a submissive wife,” says Tara Furman, one of TLC’s submissive wives, on camera. She believes that sacrificing her right to be part of making important decisions (both personal and familial) will benefit her family. “Kristin is not to deprive her man physically,” Tara says, referring to one of her married girlfriends. “It doesn’t matter the way she feels. She has to do it anyway. She has to suck it up and do it anyway.” Statements like these are among the most alarming aspects of the show. When it comes to BDSM, consent is a matter of personal interest and that’s all there is to it.
The Jian Ghomeshi scandal is a prime example of the blurred lines around BDSM. In practice, consent is the key to knowing how far is too far. Ghomeshi is facing a slew of charges for his aggressive behaviour in the bedroom. Claims of his degrading dirty talk and non-consensual rough play are alarming. But even if consent was involved, the courts may not care; Canadian laws don’t say anything about permitting your partner to choke you. If that’s Ghomeshi’s defence, he may be on thin ice.
Normally, BDSM couples are experts at “hot and cold” territory. They practice safe words, and have regular open discussions on their adventurous sexual practices. But for those of us not in such relationships, when it comes to dirty talk and rough play, it can be hard to gauge how far is too far. Does your boyfriend still respect you if he calls you a slut or forces you to bend over? Does willingly performing oral sex when your partner demands it mean you’re a submissive partner? These are personal decisions but ones worth thinking about, seeing as you don’t always react the way you wish you had in the heat of the moment.
While BDSM is popular among a fringe of people, dirty talk and rough play, a tenet of BDSM, is widely practiced outside of the BDSM culture. “I know that he respects me, and I respect him. If we’re playing in the bedroom and he calls me a whore, I don’t take it personally,” she says. “We’re just playing.”
The next time I meet my friend for lunch her head is shaved. “Are you okay?” I’m baffled. “It looks good.” It does. She explains that they got a little carried away in the bedroom. “He gets riled up by the dominance he has with a razor to my head.” I ask her if she’s okay with him shaving her head in the heat of the moment. She laughs off my concern.
“I trust him,” she says, running a hand over her new fuzz.
What are your thoughts on BDSM and rough play? How much do you think is too much? In the comments below, share us your thoughts or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.