BDSM: Beyond Those Exciting Chains and Whips

It’s Not Just Men Like Christian Grey Who Find Acceptance in Submission

Graphic Madeleine Gendreau

The popularity of 50 Shades of Grey, with its dominant male protagonist, has not only thrust BDSM and its taboos into the spotlight of popular culture, but has also reinforced traditional gender roles and male sexual domination along with an extreme version of BDSM—which wasn’t exactly handled well in the film by director Sam Taylor-Johnson.

Reality, however, offers an alternative to the prevailing mode of thought promoted by 50 Shades of Grey and indeed the supermajority of pornographic BDSM videos on the Internet, which present BDSM as male-domination crazed.

Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber gave me my first insight into BDSM at the age of 17, yet also reinforced these manufactured assumptions of male domination.

BDSM—which doesn’t necessarily demand a sexual encounter—allows people to escape the confines of contemporary society’s gender roles, which aren’t as fluid as one might presume, and the omnipresence of power dynamics in all walks of life.

At the grassroots of BDSM, I have found male domination to be far less of a reality than the untrained eye may observe.

Pornhub reported that since the premiere of the male-dominatrix-promoting 50 Shades of Grey, people searching for terms like “submission” and “bdsm” on the site have risen by 55 and 42 per cent respectively, along with a 200 per cent increase in women searching for BDSM-related terms.

Within the first 24 bondage videos on Pornhub’s site, there were no videos featuring female domination, but several with male domination and female humiliation. This only serves to perpetuate a distorted conception of BDSM.

I interviewed several men and women, including Alura, Oliver and George, for this article. Alura, who is listed as a Domina and the “Original Femme Fatale” on her website, told me how one must look beyond the mainstream depictions of BDSM acts to “learn the truth and pleasure” behind it.

George has embraced BDSM because he finds the idea of a female sexual counterpart assuming the dominant role as a more “comfortable prospect” in our patriarchal modern society.

This is just what initially led Christian Grey in 50 Shades of Grey towards BDSM—“by giving up control, I felt free from responsibility, from making decisions, I felt safe”— although the film generally focuses on his domination of his female partner.

Oliver also found himself during his seminal moments of sexual arousal “realizing the empowering quality of submission.” There are certainly many psychological pathways to an often-benign bashing, but these two men seemed to be escaping traditional relationships.

The patriarchy of our society—demonstrated in the seemingly ubiquitous male-dominant pornography on the web, the majority of CEOs and politicians who are male in Canada and social conventions like men paying for the first drink on a date—has clearly led many men to seek solace in female domination away from the prescribed onuses of society.

Another misconception, however, is the necessity of ultraviolence in BDSM, which often simply does not exist. I went to a party on Friday and broached the topic on several occasions only to be met with squirms and “gee’s.”

“Just blindfolding your partner, pulling them into the bedroom by their tie or a little hair pulling during sex is B&D [bondage and discipline],” said Alura. “I would think a lot of people do this in the throngs of passion and don’t put any label on it.”

Oliver echoed these sentiments. “A sizeable majority of my sexual partners enjoy rough sex,” he said. The lines between BDSM and rough sex are very blurry, but many people are simply afraid of the label.

Alura invited me to her dungeon, but unfortunately I couldn’t attend, leaving me to only imagine what goes on inside.

Her dungeon is the home of some of the Alternative Lifestyles Community Centre’s workshops, where “like-minded individuals can meet, build and create meaningful relationships, discover, and seek information without fear of judgement,” according to its website.

The presumed violence and sexual deviance of BDSM has undoubtedly contributed towards its taboo status today, which leads BDSMers underground for fear of alienation or perhaps sacking from work.

Alura believes that the guilt and shame BDSMers experience is a product of the ostracization and degradation that outted gays and trans* people also experience.

However, events such as the Japanese Rope workshop George attended last week; the Hurt Me Plenty downloadable game, a snippet of which has over 1,700,000 loops on creator Robert Yang’s Vine; and last week’s (In)Famous Women event at Café Cleopatra on St. Laurent Blvd. are at the vanguard of the beginnings of a paradigm shift which so far has only affected sub- and not-so-popular cultures.

Despite its underground nature, BDSM, according to a Kinsey Institute study referenced in a recent CBC article, is regularly practiced by 5 per cent of Canada’s adult population.

So at the ripe old age of 21, I decided to sign up to FetLife and see what’s up. A brief browse of shows users (including “louisguy,” a.k.a. yours truly, who surfed for two days) are enjoying an active if not thriving Montreal scene.

A particularly popular location for informational events and hangouts is “The Center,” at 9 Ste. Catherine St. E., Studio 101, where workshops this week included naked yoga, electroplay and rough body play.

Whiplr—a messenger service with kinks—is a new app released several weeks ago that offers location services similar to Tinder and fosters potential meetups for the fetish community. It’s another example of BDSM branching out into other social media mediums—although there were only 23 users within 2 km of me when I first logged in.

Eventually the taboo on BDSM will be lifted, but in the interim the subculture shall have to continue to reside in the shadows—albeit shadows which have been partly illuminated by a certain book whose film did little to challenge mainstream perceptions of leather, male domination and female innocence.

If you want to reach support, you can contact the Alternative Lifestyles Community Centre at