• LoveSexAndGenderCenter

5 BDSM Myths Debunked

Updated: Aug 26, 2018

BDSM is an acronym that stands for “Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, and Sadomasochism.” Myths about BDSM often keep people from considering it as a practice they would like to engage in. It is all too common that the initial thought when it comes to BDSM is to imagine a group of people wearing leather and masks whipping each other (not that this isn’t one potential scenario). However, the reality is that BDSM is as varied in practices, as the people who engage in it. In fact, most people practice elements of BDSM with their partners and don’t even realize it.


Let’s start by addressing some of the common myths and stigmas which contribute to the wide-spread misunderstanding of BDSM as a practice of pleasure and self-growth. I will also share how BDSM has personally helped shape me as a person and changed my life.


Myth 1: BDSM is for those weird, freaky, "abnormal" folks

Many people practice elements of BDSM in their sex lives without even being aware of it. BDSM casts a wide net, encompassing many sensory exchanges that do not always involve inflicting or receiving pain. Bondage and discipline are the more acceptable expressions of BDSM which are practiced by many who would firmly state they are against BDSM. If you have ever used fluffy handcuffs, tied your partner’s hands up, or engaged in dirty talk telling your partner what to do, you have dipped your toes into BDSM.


Myth 2: BDSM is all about sex

At the heart of this practice is a kind of role-playing where the people act out fantasies that involve the taking or giving up of power in some way. Sex, while sometimes involved, is not always a part of BDSM practice contrary to popular belief.


Myth 3: BDSM is both an abusive and dangerous practice.

Author Franklin Veaux explains that “people who are practicing BDSM in any of its trillions of forms are doing it voluntarily, for fun. It's a way to explore. Everything that happens in a BDSM relationship is consensual, holding no parallels or effects related to that of abuse.”


Ethical BDSM is a huge proponent of explicit and enthusiastic consent practices. In response to the myth of BDSM being an abusive practice, Veaux explains how in fact, for the most part, people who practice BDSM regularly are well-adjusted individuals without a history of abuse. He also points out how, in fact, people with trauma backgrounds aren't likely to sexually gravitate towards this kind of power play. This isn’t to say that BDSM relationships are immune to being abusive or dangerous since no form of human interaction is. The misunderstanding regarding BDSM is widespread and yields a plethora of subjective assumptions that have little, if nothing to do, with the ethics held by the BDSM community.


Myth 4: BDSM curtails to the dominant getting their way at the expense of the submissive’s well-being

Contrary to popular belief, it is the submissive who holds most of the control in any given exchange. Traditionally, BDSM scenes are negotiated with the submissive playing out a fantasy, and the dominant stepping in as a facilitator. In this way, the dominant is continuously monitoring the submissive’s feelings, needs, and limits. A safe-word is another tool that the submissive can use as a means of controlling the dominant in any given scene and pacing it accordingly. Veaux steps in and adds that “dominants need to be highly in-tune with their submissive."


Myth 5: Dominants don't care

Veaux notes that "Generally, people who are self-centered make poor dominants, they lack the empathy required to be able to read and judge their partner's reactions, and bring their partner where that person wants to go.” Dominants who do not show up in this attuned way quickly find that nobody wants to “play” with them, naturally excluding them from the community.


All the real outstanding and reputable dominants I've ever met in my community, without exception, were incredibly trustworthy, empathetic people. Many of the myths associated with BDSM are perpetuated, not only by the misunderstanding of individuals but by the inaccurate portrayals generated by the industry of pornography and erotic literature.


About the author: Sophia O'Connor, MA, is a psychotherapist at the Love, Sex and Gender Center in Boulder, CO. She provides a culturally sensitive, sex-positive therapy to individuals living and couples. She graduated from Naropa University with a Master’s Degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy and Buddhist Psychology. Her mission is to bring mindfulness to the understanding of human sexuality and the non-normative. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality at The California Institute of Integral Studies.


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