From the French aristocrat Maquis de Sade to Fifty Shades of Grey, humans have been expressing themselves sexually through sadomasochistic play since time eternal. BDSM (and related practices) are also a thriving business in Australia with dungeons, fetish houses and specialist brothels all around the country.
Given the increasing popularity of sadomasochistic practice both in Australia and around the world, one might ask: why do some of us like to be dominated?
Unfortunately, early theories of sadomasochistic pleasure were caught up in medical-moral judgements that non-traditional sexual pleasure was somehow deviant. Sigmund Freud, despite calling the interplay of pain and sexual pleasure “the most common and important of all perversions” felt that masochistic desire resulted from aberrant childhood development.
Whip Me, Spank Me, Put Me on My Knees
Luckily, modern – and shall we say ‘more enlightened’ – psychologists now see submissive fantasies as just another notch on the wonderful spectrum of human sexuality. From a modern perspective, when it comes to an explanation of “why does bondage and discipline feel good?” the answers are likely to be unique to each individual.
Nevertheless, submissive fantasies – despite being quite common – are often misunderstood. This is particularly the case if a session involves the infliction of pain through spanking, whips or clamps.
Feelings of “letting go” and “giving oneself over to pleasure” are often cited as key psychological factors for submissive pleasure.
As for pain: although often viewed as a net negative feeling, pain actually comes with a lot of physiological “perks” than can be quite pleasurable: including increased endorphins and a – still not understood – altered state of consciousness that some practitioners refer to as “sub-space“.
What does “sub-space” feel like? Many submissive practitioners describe it as a feeling of intense, almost spiritual, transcendence from normal sensations. Some describe it as a feeling of ‘floating or flying’.
The biochemical and psychological changes that occur during an S&M session, may explain why some studies have shown BDSM practitioners have more secure relationships, and lower anxiety than the general population.
Yet all of this is probably buying into Freud’s hang up that submissive fantasies are a problem in need of an explanation. Ultimately, when it comes to any sexual practice the question of “why?” is probably far less important than the question of “does it feel good?”.
Written by Jarryd Bartle, follow him on Twitter.