Pick your pleasure

Pick your pleasure

Kelly Miller

Many people like to spice up their sex lives every now and then.

It’s not uncommon for couples to experiment in the bedroom, from tying a partner up with a fuzzy pair of handcuffs to wearing a costume for role-play – especially in college.

Still, many don’t want to think that their bedroom antics may fall into the category of bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism (BDSM), which is not seen as common bedroom behavior.

Scott Marshall, a business management senior, doesn’t like to think using handcuffs with his partner during sex is a form of bondage.

“”I think of BDSM as black leather and handcuffs in like a small room,”” Marshall said. “”Ball-in-mouth type of thing – violent.””

From using simple restraints like handcuffs and scarves to spanking, BDSM consists of a wide range of activities usually involving one partner giving up control and submitting to the requests of his or her partner. The payoff is pleasure – whether comfortable or not.

Like any sexual activity, however, the satisfaction of participating in BDSM activities is more than meets the eye.

Sweet misery

Justine Pigott likes to be the submissive partner during sexual play and often finds herself tied up.

“”Being submissive means that you get treated like shit,”” said Pigott, a psychology senior. “”The dominant partner tells you what to do and how to do it. You theoretically have absolutely no control over what happens with your own body.””

For many like Pigott who experiment with BDSM, the pain can be just as pleasurable as sex.

“”It’s like when you get a piecing or tattoo; there’s an adrenaline rush,”” Pigott said. “”It’s the same thing. You feel alive.””

In the world of BDSM, Pigott said that she is a “”switch,”” which means that she can take the dominant or submissive role. Still, she said the biggest issue is not whether she is in control but whether she is comfortable with her partner.

“”It depends how much you trust your partner,”” Pigott said. “”If I don’t trust someone very much then I’ll do light bondage – handcuffs, whatever – but if it’s someone you really trust, then there really aren’t any limits.””

At Desert Dominion, a Tucson BDSM club, the mind is the only limitation when it comes to pleasure, something that’s evident by the furniture scattered around their clubhouse. From the variety of cages throughout the room to the coffin resting against a wall, members participate in a wide range of play to help each other fulfill their innermost fantasies.

For many members, BDSM means nothing more than using simple restraints such as handcuffs or role-play. But to some Desert Dominion members, BDSM allows them to engage in activities that are seldom discussed in public, such as play that involves fear or pain. It is not unusual for members to use props and tools such as whips and needles during BDSM activities to give each other pleasure.

Jefferson James, a Tucson resident and Desert Dominion’s BDSM education director, said the biggest challenge for people unfamiliar with BDSM is to accept that pleasure can be derived from activities that are not sexual in nature.

“”A lot of people don’t understand how pain can give you pleasure,”” James said. “”I resisted needles and hooks for the longest time because I didn’t get it. Then I tried it. One of the analogies we use is like it’s trying to describe sex to a virgin. You don’t know what it is and what it does to you. That is the biggest obstacle to overcome. There are people out there that the idea that pain can be pleasurable is such an oxymoron that they can’t understand it. It’s a specific, erotized pain in an (intended) way.””

While some BDSM participants will seek out situations that cause some sort of discomfort or pain in their quest for pleasure, many agree BDSM is about much more than physical satisfaction.

For James and Pigott, the greatest pleasure often comes from helping their partners – not themselves.

“”When I am required to be dominant, it has nothing to do with my control,”” Pigott said. “”I could care less about the amount of control I have. It’s about your partner not wanting to have control … even though dominance has been a very kind of looked-down-upon thing. People view it as a problem and that you just want to control other people but it’s not about that – at least for me. For me, it’s about giving that person what they need.””

Dr. Annie B. Stericker, a Tucson clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist, said there are many different reasons people choose to participate in BDSM activities.

“”From what I understand, there are a lot of different types of fulfillment that people get out of BDSM,”” Stericker said. “”The fulfillment may be emotional. It may be sexual. Some people even talk about it being spiritually fulfilling.””

At Desert Dominion, members often experiment with BDSM to confront their fears and test their physical and emotional limits, James said.

“”People come here for that kind of acid test,”” James said. “”They really want to be challenged by someone who cares for them, to challenge them to see how far they can go. I have seen some amazing things in this lifestyle. People have confronted a fear they had and they no longer have that fear because they have actually turned that fear around to where it’s something they like and enjoy.””

Looks can be deceiving

Some people may have extreme ideas about those who participate in BDSM activities because of how they are seen on television and in movies. But BDSM is seldom portrayed accurately in the media, Stericker said.

“”The misconception that I feel that probably the majority of people have about BDSM is seeing it as being reflective of mental illness,”” Stericker said. “”When you think about the portrayals we see in movies and television, the characters (involved with BDSM) are shown to be really nuts – pretty sick people. What we find is that people who get involved with BDSM are pretty well balanced.””

At Desert Dominion, members come from all walks of life, from lawyers to UA students. BDSM participants are normal people who just have some kinks in the bedroom, James said.

Still, many people may believe that wanting to participate BDSM is a sign that a participant may have been physically or sexually abused as a child.

A woman who was a victim of molestation told the Wildcat she doesn’t necessarily think her interest in BDSM is tied to the abuse she suffered as a child – at least on the surface.

“”Usually abuse is the first thing people hypothesize when they try to figure out what’s going on,”” Stericker said. “”(People think) they must of have been sexually abused or violently abused in childhood, but the research just doesn’t bear that out. It is probably true in some cases, but we don’t find that BDSM participants have higher incidents of childhood abuse than people in general. We do find that some of the preferences that people have, like being tied up, that some participants did start doing that in childhood – like tying up their friends. But it wasn’t necessarily a traumatic experience in childhood, but it was something they discovered early and continued to find it exciting.””

Safe, sane and consensual

Pigott first learned of BDSM from her friends in high school when she was 17. She soon began experimenting with what it means to be submissive.

“”The first time was really intimidating,”” Pigott said. “”But fortunately, I did it with someone I really trusted. There was absolutely no way I would have gotten into it if I didn’t trust that person completely. I think that because it was such an open and honest relationship, I was able to experiment and test boundaries to see how far I could go.””

One of the most important things with BDSM is to let the other person know your limits, especially when experimenting in unfamiliar territory, Pigott added.

“”It can be really dangerous, especially if you don’t trust the person you’re with,”” Pigott said. “”I mean, you read in newspaper articles that people die from getting tied up and left (alone). And it’s happened. If you’re not careful about who you do this with, then you can find yourself in a really shady position.””

Besides supporting members who chose to participate in the BDSM lifestyle, one of Desert Dominion’s main responsibilities is to educate people about how to practice BDSM safely. One of the most common methods to ensure safe BDSM play is to determine a “”safeword”” to use if the activity gets out of hand. Desert Dominion uses the traffic-light system of “”red, yellow, green”” for communication among partners, especially when pain is involved. If a partner uses the safeword during BDSM play, then all activities are stopped immediately.

At their weekly Saturday night play parties, Desert Dominion also has a dungeon monitor who watches over the event to ensure there is no foul play. Members must use a form of protection – or barrier – when participating in activities that involve penetration such as gloves, a condom or a dental dam.

“”Most of what this club is about is teaching people not to harm each other,”” James said. “”We know that people do kinky stuff. They do it at home in their bedrooms without joining clubs and stuff. But they’re the ones that make the headlines and give us all a bad name because they’re doing really risky stuff, and they don’t know how to do it right.””


If you decide to try BDSM, know what you are comfortable with before you start. A handy checklist, like the one from
http://www.soulshaven.f2s.com, can help you realize your limits.