We are swinging into Show Mode here at the Speakeasy, sorting the whips, untangling the chains, shining up the crosses and scrubbing the dildos in preparation for our pre-Bondage Ball Gala with the Broken Door LA, a benefit for the highly endangered Make-Love-Not-War bonobos, an evening of power exchange performance art and erotic B&D.
Don’t know B&D from an M&M? B&D stands for Bondage & Discipline. Bondage – “ligottage” en français – is the gentle art of tying up your partner, with anything from storm trooper style handcuffs to velvet ropes, from an old pair of nylons to the invisible shackles of your powerful mind over your partner’s malleable matter.
If you’re not “into” bondage, it might amaze you to know how many of your fellow humans are highly aroused by being bound, bonded, tied up, tied down, chained, lashed, shackled, restrained, restricted, controlled, confined, collared, caged, blindfolded, handcuffed, fastened, pierced, knotted, leashed, straitjacketed, stroked, spanked, squeezed or just held, with love.
What’s love got to do with it? What do bondage games have to do with our childhood, our hopes and fears, our guilt feelings, our animal nature, our puritanical society, our religious institutions, our culture, our politics, our destiny, the economy? What is the ecstasy of this agony? Is it dangerous? Is it healthy? Is it necessary? Restrain yourself, my darling reader, from jumping to stereotypical conclusions, as we go down into the dungeons of love, the lower depths of the erotic Theatre of the Mind.
Consensuality is the key to this delicate erotic art, the sensual science of restraint, the grown-up game of power exchange. As they say in the B&D community, all play must be “safe, sane and consensual.” This is what separates the Bondage Ball from Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Twin Towers Jail, where bondage is a terrible fact of everyday life, and totally unsafe, insane and nonconsensual.
Throughout human history, *bondage* has been, for the most part, practiced nonconsensually by criminals – bullies, kidnappers, terrorists – as well as government officials – sheriffs, police, military, prison guards – or a combination. All use brute force as well as controlling techniques to capture and keep their unwilling prisoners in bondage. I’ll never forget Max telling me on the Twin Tower’s phone that he had to “get down on (his) knees” because the deputies were coming through, as though these “noble arms of the law” were really medieval noblemen! If every inmate didn’t get down on his knees before these Dom/deputies, the whole cell block was punished. So the veterans taught the new prisoners to get down on their knees, fast, sometimes by kicking them in the shins. Talk about bondage & discipline…
Of course, being literally forced into bondage and tortured by the LA Sheriff’s Department is generally very depressing, destructive and not at all erotic. At least, it’s usually not erotic for the prisoners, unless they succumb to Stockholm syndrome, where victims actually fall in love with their captors as an emotional survival mechanism. It may well be erotic for the kidnappers and government agents, although they’ll never admit it, as the official purpose of their bondage games and torture is not to enhance excitement, but to overcome resistance and “get the job done,” whether holding the prisoner for ransom, bail, punishment or that grandiose euphemism “protection.”
It’s all rather dangerous and despicable, whether practiced by criminals, police or a combination. This is one reason to support or at least tolerate the exploration of consensual bondage and other BD/SM/Ds (short for Bondage & Discipline, Sado-Masochism and Dominance & Submission) games, where the general idea is to enhance excitement, not to overcome resistance. Channeling the natural violent impulses that course through all our veins into a relatively safe sort of “role-play” is one way to spice up the moveable feast of life.
But don’t sex and love thrive on freedom? Of course, freedom is the greatest aphrodisiac…but restraint is a close second. And it’s not all shackles and chains. Consider the common wedding ring, one of our great romantic symbols of human bondage, a band of gold that restrains the wearer’s sexual freedom. Bonding is a kind of bondage. Commitment is a kind of restraint. Love is a kind of silken rope that ties two people together. Simply being held tight and close in the arms of someone we adore is a kind of restraint we all enjoy. In a way, bondage games take the human bonding experience to the erotic outer limits.
The lust for power is easy to understand. But what about the desire for surrender? The ancient Taoist masters had a saying, “In yielding, there is strength.” In restraint, there can be freedom. If you’re a horny but guilt-ridden submissive, being tied up might allow you to relax and release, without feeling so guilty about the sex that you naturally enjoy. After all, what can you do? You’re all tied up! It’s not your fault. At least, you’re roleplaying that it’s not your fault. The idea of sexual pleasure without responsibility is a big reason many people are turned on by being restrained, being “forced” to surrender control.
As such, bondage can diminish male performance anxiety. After all, if you can’t move, you can’t perform, so what’s there to be anxious about? Some love to have the tables turned; the powerful CEO longs to be the helpless prisoner of his own secretary. Others love the physical struggle against the restraints, building a rush of adrenaline. Some men are much stronger than their partners, but still want a passionate exchange of physical power, and they enjoy being restrained so they can feel that rush of being overcome. Women also get aroused by that feeling of being overwhelmed; it can trigger a tremendously pleasurable release which is partly chemical, as a host of endorphins bubble up in the bloodstream to help the individual “combat” the pain.
Unfortunately, this causes many women and some men to allow themselves to be seriously hurt – both physically and mentally – by abusive partners. They would be better off developing a BD/SM/DS relationship that is “safe, sane and consensual” than just hooking up with another violent jerk of a lover. BD/SM/DS can lead the way out of such abusive, out-of-control relationships. Many couples can resolve their issues with rage and peacefully channel sadomasochistic impulses through playing responsible erotic bondage games together. It’s the Bonobo Way. Indeed, bonobos seem to play a kind of sexual dominance and submission game, where sometimes the loser rewards the victor with sex, and other times, the victor comforts the loser… with sex, which somehow seems to keep them from killing each other.
In human B&D, bondage is accompanied by “discipline.” The Mistress or Master is an erotic disciplinarian who “trains” the slave or submissive through rewards and punishments. There is often something rather ironic about this “training,” as many slaves enjoy their punishments so much that they never really “learn.” To a great extent, the Dominant partner is the one who must be “disciplined,” in order to keep things focused, fun, respectful and safe, even while wielding all that physical and mental power over his or her vulnerable, loving sub.
The joys of bondage often stem from childhood games of Cowboys and Indians, Perils of Pauline, Doctor and Patient, Soldier and Terrorist, Interrogator and Prisoner. And then there’s the all too real, often traumatic “game” of Bully and Victim. Childhood is a common source of BDSM desires in other ways. Some bondage lovers were very sick as children, confined to bed and strapped down for medical procedures, so they learned to associate restraint with love, health, comfort and attention.
Just being a child, restrained by your parents’ and teachers’ rules, is a form of bondage. Children and teenagers tend to feel sexual desires long before society says it’s “okay” to engage in sexual activity, making adolescence into an extended period of often agonizing restraint, the effects of which may linger for a lifetime in the form of kinky fetishes for bondage, spanking, humiliation and more.
There are so many reasons we are drawn to restraint, even as we yearn to be free. So, what about you? How do the dynamics of freedom and restraint, power and surrender figure into your sexuality? Arousing images may spring to mind immediately. Then again, you might strongly believe that all of this bondage stuff is perverse, subversive, dangerous, evil and even more wrong than bondage of the nonconsensual kind.
This doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy thinking about it. Indeed, people who are vociferously against consensual BD/SM/DS activities or the depiction of such activities – the puritanical preachers, prosecutors, pundits and other anti-sex police like the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force (formed during the Bush years, but still lurking in the U.S. Department of Justice) – are often unconsciously acting out a little bondage fantasy of their own, as they restrain or attempt to restrain people who are more open about it.
It’s all a game of Capture the Flag, ironic and kind of hilarious, except that often innocent people’s real lives are destroyed in the name of “decency” and restraint. That’s why we who are relatively free must continue to speak out against injustice, oppose nonconsensual bondage unless necessary to protect others, practice the Bonobo Way and celebrate “safe, sane and consensual” bondage with awesome balls like we’re having this weekend.
Dr. SUSAN BLOCK is a sex educator, cable TV personality, author of The 10 Commandments of Pleasure and hostess of Dr. Suzy’s Speakeasy. Commit Bloggamy with her at http://www.drsusanblock.com/blog/ Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org