A much-ballyhooed 2013 study conducted at Tilburg University claimed people in BDSM relationships have “higher subjective well‐being” than those who identified as vanilla.
Journalists and kinky people around the world soon began citing it as scientific evidence for the psychological health benefits of BDSM. Unfortunately.
As is often the case with this kind of research, the public at-large (mostly) got it wrong. The study actually concluded little more than that “BDSM may be thought of as a recreational leisure, rather than the expression of psychopathological processes.”
Rather than indicate practitioners of BDSM had somehow figured out a secret path to better mental health, the study simply showed that people with hobbies tend to be better off than those who languish in boredom, and that BDSM wasn’t any more dangerous than most “recreational leisure.”
In fact, the methodology alone shows how limited the scope of the study was. According to the research paper:
For this aim, 902 BDSM and 434 control participants completely filled out online questionnaires. Associations were examined using χ2 tests of independence with φ and Cramer’s V as effect size measures and eta or Pearson’s correlation. Group differences were tested using analysis of covariance, with partial η2 as effect size measure. A priori contrasts were tested using α = 0.01 to correct for multiple testing; for all other tests we used α = 0.05, two tailed.
That may seem complicated, but it basically breaks down to: The team conducted a personality profile on 1336 people, most of whom identified as being involved in BDSM.
How much information can a scientist possibly glean about the Dominant/submissive relationship dynamic from a questionnaire?
I’ll leave you to answer that for yourself.
But the important thing is this: the scientific world doesn’t know very much about BDSM. Somewhere between 2 and 65 percent of people practice BDSM, seriously, and no that’s not a typo. There’s just not enough data.
And that’s why you’d be stupid to take anyone’s word when it comes to sexual or relationship practices that involve physical pain. If you’re a top, listen to your bottom. If you’re a bottom: listen to yourself.
Go slow, be smart, and play safe.
That being said, let’s get into some anecdotal evidence for including impact play in your D/s relationship as a ritualistic celebration.
Another way to put that would be: here’s what my experience as a Dom, working with the same sub for more than six years, has taught me.
We don’t treat spanking as a punishment in our dynamic. As a top, I’ve developed a taste for impact play. And, as a masochist, she delights in it. But, because we don’t pull out the flogger to address rules infractions, or reserve it for roleplay, it tends to be relegated to scheduled sessions. We think of it as a reward.
About a year and a half ago we decided to bring a bit of pomp and circumstance to our impact play sessions. They were always sexy, hot, and intimate but they lacked the gravitas I felt they should have. So we added mindfulness exercises and a theme.
The theme, of course, is “Church.” We treat the 30 minutes or so we spend on these sessions as holy. Church is a special place we can go, together, inside of our own heads.
We begin sitting in a dimly lit room, cross-legged, apart from one another. Talking is allowed, but often we sit quietly. We take deep breaths, stretch, yawn, and try to shake off the day’s energy so we can transition into a calmer state of mind.
Drinks help, within reason, as does cannabis if it’s legal in your area. These sessions involve light-medium impact play, so caution is important.
Once I feel we’ve calmed ourselves and the level of tension is low enough to begin, I’ll beckon her to stand up. I do this so that I can take a moment to look her over, and, being honest, it’s a personal moment for me to ogle her. She closes her eyes and stands in a submissive pose, legs apart and arms crossed behind her back.
I’ll often have her hold her dress up so that I can see her panties beneath it. Other times I simply marvel at the way it falls over her frame. There aren’t any rules, but I do prefer a level of consistency that gives me a place to surprise her from – it’s hard to jilt someone’s expectations if you don’t take the time to cultivate them.
Clothing is an important part of Church. Just like the religious, we take pride in our appearance. I could ask her to stand naked and collared and she’d be fine, but that would be removing a layer of interactivity and lessening the ritual. In a few minutes I’ll yank those panties down from her waist, but first I take a final moment to clear my head.
Mindfulness is method for getting out of your head so you can be completely in the moment. There’s nothing special about it, you don’t need training to learn how to do it, but you do have to practice.
As a top, it’s important for me to be hyper-aware of my submissive’s breathing and other physiological responses during impact play sessions. I’m not just worried about an errant strike causing injury, I’m also concerned about secondary trauma and my bottom’s mental well-being.
If she’s not in the moment, right there with me – if she’s escaping the physical pain sensations – then we’re not playing together. That’s why Church officially begins with mindfulness.
I put her in the position she’ll be during the spanking. For us, it’s bending her over the couch (though, I look forward to getting furniture specific to the task).
Once she’s settled, I start talking.
I begin the mindfulness exercise by telling her to breathe. If she seems agitated we’ll begin with normal breaths, then move on to deeper ones. Next I bring her attention to the sounds around us.
The background noise during our sessions can become borderline-cacophony. Rather than allow a barking dog or passing train to distract us, I tell her to focus on the sounds around her and to be aware of where they are in her space.
I remind her that it’s okay to let her mind wander as long as she recognizes it and comes back. Her job is to be in the moment, right there with me. If her mind wanders, I explain, she can count her breaths. Odd numbers on the way in, even numbers on the way out. She can listen to the ceiling fan. And, when she’s back with me, she can focus on the physical sensations I’m giving her.
For this reason, I tend to avoid using music. White noise is good, and we have used Gregorian chanting, but I find music distracting — instead of focusing on her breathing I end up listening to the song’s rhythm. Your mileage may vary.
There’s no scientific basis for most of this, but I try to ‘warm up’ her skin. I rub my hands along her back and ass, I touch her everywhere I might strike her during the session. It starts as a gentle caress, but turns into a rough and rapid rubbing (literally trying to warm her up) pretty quickly. Sometimes I’ll scratch at her, it depends on her mood.
I do this because it prepares her for pain. I don’t want to immerse her in impact play like someone being tossed into a freezing pool, I want her to savor every lash. A few minutes of touch, in my experience, helps a lot.
During this part of our session I’ll wait until I get a sense of connection. Her breathing levels out and becomes a little more shallow as I touch her. She goes from tense, to relaxed, to ‘present.’
And our mindfulness exercise is complete.
If you enjoyed reading this, I can’t wait for you to read the next part. Follow me on Twitter, @TristanPGP, and you’ll be among the first to know when we publish it.