Think bondage, think domination, think sadomasochism. Think discipline, think submission, leather, whips, and paddles. Be scared, but not too scared. Breathe, feel, want. Sigh. Have you ever been spanked?
Apparently Columbia has a club. Conversio Virium, which apparently means "exchange of power," is an official BDSM discussion group. BDSM, by the way, officially stands for a combination of the acronyms B&D (erotic bondage & discipline), D&S (domination and submission), and S/M (sadomasochism). Over coffee, Jamie, the petite junior who has served as CV president for the last year and makes me feel like I know next to nothing about sex, fills me in on the details: at 11 years old, the club has a great relationship with the administration, about 35 regulars, and meetings smacking of erotic discussion-from rope bondage to boot-blacking to flogging. Safety is at the front of every discussion. One of the best things about CV, Jamie tells me, is its presence in the city: the club has very close ties with The Eulenspiegel Society, or TES. Members of TES, the oldest BDSM education and support organization in New York City, present to CV almost every other week.
Of course, not all of New York feels so welcoming. Even those places that attempt to be BDSM-friendly can feel terrifying. Sex toy shops in the Village are often dark, dingy and difficult to maneuver, never mind the scary lady behind the counter. The media does not help things either-it has long since painted a connection between BDSM and domestic violence. Which, in some sense, Jamie argues, is completely ironic-"consent is stressed so much more in BDSM, and so abuse is rare." Rachel Kramer Bussel, Village Voice sex columnist and spanking-connoisseur extraordinaire, tells me she thinks "a lot of BDSM sounds really scary if you've never thought about it or considered it or just don't understand it. ... You simply can't say, all people into bondage/spanking/hot wax/role playing/etc are one way. There is no set profile of what a kinky person looks like, and I think a big barrier to people exploring interests like spanking is that they think if they bring it up with their lover or engage in the practice, whatever it is, they will automatically be branded a pervert (in a bad way)."
So college students may be a bit intimidated by BDSM. It's not just the scary sex shops and media portrayal. While it would be unfair to say this of all college students, most of us have very short sexual life spans thus far. We are still busy mastering the basics, the right thrusts and rhythms. Maybe we switch up some positions. Have mutual orgasms. Asking a partner to tie you up and whip you, naked, lights on? Yeah, that takes balls.
Spanking, it is said, is the gateway drug of BDSM. You tap someone lightly on the ass mid-sex, they gasp, you do it again this time slightly harder, and so it goes. You don't need any special equipment. Instead, Rachel suggests, "vary [the] ways you cup your hand and how you position the other person. If you pull upward on their ass cheek with your left hand (if you're right-handed) and then hit them with your right, the sensation will be different than if you're not holding their skin taut." And if you do want some equipment aid, start with a simple leather paddle.
In many ways, most of us already experiment with BDSM. Bondage, domination, submission-it all comes down to the same thing: power dynamics. Having sex in the most basic of ways, missionary style, is an exchange of power: the person on the bottom is succumbing to the actions of the person on top. We don't think about it that way because we're socially trained to think of missionary-style sex as the most boring sex ever. And we caricature people like Jamie as "that kinky sex girl" because we don't think about how BDSM is just an exaggerated play on the very same power dynamics.
But when the power exchange goes up, so does the intimacy factor. According to Jamie, people are comfortable at CV because they are among their peers, in every sense. While some people tend to separate BDSM from sex (i.e., practice BDSM with a friend, but not a lover), doing so does not preclude a minimum comfort level, for both parties. And for others, like Rachel, BDSM is all about the lover. "Spanking can be incredibly emotionally intense, sometimes even more so than sex," she says. "For the spank-ee, you're offering your ass and yourself in this very vulnerable position, and you're trusting the other person to hurt you but also take care of you."
The thing is, BDSM is so idiosyncratic, so unpredictable, that it is impossible to generalize about it. Which might also be why the intimacy factor varies so much. Some people have absolutely no interest in practicing BDSM. Some people view it as the ultimate gift, the most erotic opportunity there is to give someone complete, rampant control. Maybe it isn't scary after all.