What do you think of when you think of BDSM? Whips and chains? A dungeon somewhere, with someone who cannot get out? Chapter 3 of Fifty Shades of Grey?
Chances are what you are imagining is a little wrong and probably a lot scary.
Let us start off by defining ‘kink’. Kink is any form of sex that is outside the realms of ‘vanilla sex’. What is termed ‘kinkiness’ is any unconventional sexual practice, concept or fantasy. This means that anything outside of the realms of the classics, such as the missionary position, can count as kink. When you think of it in this way, and considering the array of sexual preferences people have, more people are kinkier than they think. Like having your hair pulled a little? Kink. Like being spanked just before you come? Kink. Like to be called a certain name in bed? Kink. Like that time when someone tied you up with your/their work tie? Kink. As you can see, kink goes far wider than most people think – and BDSM is the sub-category that most people get most wrong.
Let us start off with the basics: BDSM stands for Bondage, Discipline/Dominance, Sadism/Submission and Masochism. BDSM is not a space for taking out your anger issues. It is also not a space where you get beaten up like you are in some sort of sexual Fight Club. BDSM requires careful consideration, and there are a lot of moving parts.
I read a Twitter thread once by that week’s curator on @CurateSex_Ke, where he recounted how his girlfriend snuck a BDSM session on him. In actual fact, what she had done was sneak a sexually fuelled ass whipping on him because what he described was so not a BDSM/Kink session. To use his words, “This was my worst sexual experience, fam.” He went on to blame the (very bad) novel Fifty Shades of Grey and the effect it had on ‘getting the chicks worked up’. (By the way, this series of books must be one of the worst ever depictions of the BDSM lifestyle!)
This is not how this type of sex is supposed to go! At the core of BDSM (and kink) is the concept of ‘explicit consent’. You cannot simply sneak up behind someone with a wooden spoon and start spanking their butt and thighs. In fact, the whole thing can get so intense that there are examples of pages-long contracts, entered into by kinksters, laying out what people are willing to do, what they are willing to try and what is a no-go zone. Consent, openness, transparency, trust and safe words are key elements of BDSM – not sneaking up on your partner with a whip and blindfold, screaming “Submit!”
There is a lot more to kink – whole plains of possible pleasure – that will have you conceptualising and verbalising what it is that you want, even if you do not end up becoming a kinkster.
The thing about sex is that people often attempt to make sex good by relying on their past skills to carry them. In kink, the fact that you are conceptualising what you are going to do beforehand means that you and your partner are less likely to just stumble into bed and ‘try things out’. These explicit and frank conversations do not take away the sexiness of a sexual interaction; in fact, it enhances it because your partner knows exactly what you want in advance. Think of the number of sexual experiences that you have had where the person had no idea what they were doing and how awkward that was. Often, a lack of conversation about sex leads to uncomfortable or even painful sex.
To find out why people would engage in BDSM, I asked some African women for their thoughts.
Muthoni expressed a sense of freedom: “It is liberating to give up power in a trusting space. [Kink] can help heal a history of non-consensual sex by tackling ideas of a woman’s place in sex as a recipient; that the sole purpose is a man’s pleasure. BDSM gives the woman the agency to clearly define and negotiate her power.”
Tshegofatso mirrored this opinion: “Without the kink world I do not think I would be as open and comfortable with discussing, learning and experiencing things, even those not about kink.”
Thabile said, “There is so much freedom in venturing into new worlds –that is what kink does for me.”
Kgothatso, who is based in Cape Town, speaks about her love of Kinbaku-bi, or Japanese rope play. Its origins date back to the 13th century and the term means ‘the beauty of tight binding’. She says, “Whenever I see rope, I actually get fuzzy inside. Rope represents a lot of things for me [and] playing with it is that therapeutic thing I do to ease my anxiety. The repetition in the patterns is calming and centres my thoughts.” Kgothatso describes rope as “that hug or cuddle I can wear under my clothes while I do my chores or go about my day. The tell-tale signs on my skin are pleasant reminders of last night’s affairs.”
“Rope is also the start of the build-up during a play session,” she continues. “The feeling is always the same: silence in the room, tension in the air, hearing my play partner breathing, my own heart thudding against my chest from nerves and excitement, the familiar sound of the rope as it gets pulled over and through itself. I watch the handy work – the motion almost hypnotising, readying my mind for what is to come.”
Clearly, kink, and more specifically BDSM, is a lot more than whipping someone in a black and red room. It has sensual elements, power considerations and serious set-ups that make sure you are enjoying what you are doing all the time. No chancing, no guessing, no misunderstandings. Just consent, conversation and coitus that you’ll probably crave again.
Kink and BDSM are means by which you can explore various aspects of sex not previously open to you. Participants can properly state what their pleasure is and how that can be given.
Even if you do not engage in kink practices, the lessons learnt from engaging in sex in this way are golden. After all, it teaches you to ask yourself, “What do I really want?”
The article is part of a series of articles under This is Africa’s collection titled, Flame, Fever and Fantasy – A collection of African desire and pleasure.