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The art of (good) BDSM

I have been recently asked – for the millionth time – what BDSM is. So I repeated the answer I reached after decades of study and practice: «extreme eroticism is the art of making yourself vulnerable». It sounds good, it’s elegant and it is even true. But maybe it is better to explain that a bit more clearly.
Let’s start with the basics:

‘Art’ is whatever manages to touch your soul and transform you at least a little bit

It doesn’t matter whether it is a painting, a piece of music, a delicious dish or a sexual encounter. The point is to evolve a tad, to understand ourselves a smidgen more, to intuit a world view a wee bit clearer than before.

If you have been following me for a while, you ought to recall my rant about eroticism as the key to transcendence, and against listless BDSM. This is another reason for that: without the will to embark on an adventure, you can do some nice gymnastics and theatre at best, but essentially you are wasting an opportunity

 

To make art, you need to hone the craft first

«You need talent to be a great artist», they say. Which is true, but up to a point. The initial talent can provide the spark to get one or two works right… but it is insufficient by itself. The bulk of the job consists in learning how to use your instruments well – be them paintbrushes, a saxophone, your own body or that curious toy you bought online.

In fact, what enables you to create masterpieces – art, indeed – is so much accumulated experience that you don’t even need to focus on the how anymore, but just the what you are doing. This is also true for eroticism and kinky games, which are often technically and emotionally complex enough to necessarily require lots of practice. Fortunately, there are entire guides to learn the craft!

 

Art needs an audience to work

This is not about exhibitionism: my point is that even the greatest work of art you can conceive of has no effect on those who are lacking interest. I had the perfect proof of this at the Amsterdam Van Gogh Museum, in front of the Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers. My girlfriend almost passed out with emotion… and we hardly found a bench for her to sit down, because they were all packed with high schoolers lost in their smartphones.

When I talk about ‘making yourselves vulnerable’ I am not referring to getting black and blue with whipping bruises, but to being wholly honest with yourself and with your partner, allowing yourselves the opportunity to be really touched by the experience you are living. Needless to say, this also goes for those holding the dominant role.

And here is where things get interesting.

 

Art does not exist without liminality. Eroticism neither

Let’s go back to the Van Gogh museum for a moment. Of course the Sunflowers are just a painting, and fainting for that is nonsensical. Of course chatting with your fiancée (or going for the top score at Candy Crush) impacts our lives more concretely. To be fair, of course all that stuff in porn videos is ludicrous and even somewhat disgusting if you consider it rationally. As a matter of fact, to enjoy art you definitely have to put rationality aside for a while.

In psychology, ‘liminality’ is that perception range between conscious attention and the subconscious; in anthropology it is the disorientation experienced by those undergoing a rite: no longer as they were before entering it, but not yet what they will become once it is completed either. In a pinch, it is exactly that suspension of judgement that allows you to be transformed.
In other words: it is that state for which, under certain conditions, music can give us chills or bring tears to our eyes, or by which we can get genuinely scared when watching a clearly fake horror movie. Or by which the picture of an improbably (un)dressed lady teetering on unreasonably high heels and brandishing a painful riding crop evokes strange and powerful erotic fantasies.

If we were always completely rational, the mere thought of how genitals work or of the risks of contracting infectious diseases would make us lose all sex drive forever. That’s why…

 

The problem is not to “learn BDSM”, but to learn how to activate liminality

Tell me when you last wore just lingerie to welcome the pizza delivery boy. Or you took part to an orgy. Or you seduced your cute cousin.
Doesn’t it stike you as odd how some erotic fantasies are so common they even became cliché, but nobody ever turn them into reality? According to statistics, even BDSM, which actually is rather frequent, is among the desires of one person in six, but is practiced “just” by one in ten. So why do the other four renounce something so arousing to them?

One of the cases I encounter more often as a coach is the difficulty in captivating a partner in one’s fantasies. A person is crazy for some unusual practice, but the other sees nothing interesting in it – or, worse still, is disgusted by it. In those cases the issue has two sides: the client usually cannot articulate their desire well enough, and the partner refuses to open their mind toward new perspectives. Just like those who claim «I’ll never try sushi, because raw fish is gross!»

Even for milder attitudes, the biggest obstacle with eroticism is often an excess of rationality. Very reasonable practical considerations (like the risk of complications with the delivery person), often paired with lots of fear. Maybe reality won’t be as pleasant as the fantasy; maybe I won’t be good enough; she’ll ridicule me; it is not important enough to be worth the effort; maybe we won’t click together; there is too much studying involved… and the list could go on forever.

While improvising as porn star is generally not recommended, you might want to remember what mahatma Gandhi preached: «be the change that you wish to see in the world». Meaning: if you want to turn eroticism into art, in addition to learning the basic skills you must learn how to create that liminal state required to create exceptional experiences.

 

How to set the conditions for a masterwork

Raise your hand if you ever heard – or said – the phrase «no, it’s just… you could try being sexier». Or its kinky variation: «well, I like being dominated». They are absolutely legitimate, and yet they pose a problem: they are meaningless!
Each one of us has a different idea of what “sexy” or “dominant” is. Actually, often we have no clear idea ourselves. Maybe that delivery boy thing isn’t really about pizza, but about being passionately taken by a stranger; maybe those bondage dreams are not about ropes but about having an excuse to finally relinquish control and abandoning yourself to pleasure; maybe the key to cuckolding is not to be cheated on, but the moment when the other man is sent home and you reaffirm your intimacy.

The first requirement for true erotic artists, then, is to nurture your fantasies. By studying their practical aspects, sure. But also by really thinking about them, exploring them, asking yourself questions and savoring the answers. People generally aren’t keen on doing that, especially because it forces them to put themselves into question, and it is objectively exhausting. The reward, however, is not just to understand what we really wish for, but also learning how to articulately explain it to our partners.

In fact, the second element is to propose a clear scene. Not «how would you like it if I spanked you?», but «I would like to put you across my knees and spank you like an old-timey college professor would» – or whatever fantasy you may have. The trick is to relieve the partner of responsibility for the scene, and offer a fantastic situation for them to step into, turn off their rational mind and enjoy the ride. It is not a case if the most arousing trait of them all is consistently found to be determination. Be warned, though: to be determined does not equal abusing the other. More specifically…

The third component of a sensuality masterwork is mutual satisfaction, reached by negotiating the experience. Not on the spot, of course, but earlier and surely not in the creepy style of Fifty Shades-like contracts. Negotiation is simply the in-depth dialogue between two loving persons figuring out what they like and what they don’t.

On the spot, by the way, is when the last piece comes into play – that is managing consent, which is a much more complicated thing than people usually believe. I’ll go out on a limb here to reference what a big expert like Race Bannon says: «the challenge is to continuously seducing consent with your partner», which in the right context has nothing to do with manipulation, but only with love.

I admit that putting these suggestions into practice is far from easy, also because each line could rightfully take years of detailed study. But trust me when I say that craft and liminality make art – and art is always worth it.

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