BDSM: A History and Brief Review of the Present

Posted by Andrew Schroeder on

Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism — most commonly referred to as BDSM. We are talking about sexual practices and behavior that have been around for centuries. BDSM goes back to ancient times before the very acronyme came to be. And before the popularity of the “50 Shade of Grey” franchise brought the idea of it into the mainstream limelight. (That also may be why a lot of people are getting into it out of curiosity.)

However, it is still a huge mystery to many people out there. It is something that is mostly heard of but not really understood. But, without further ado, let’s dive into the past and present of BDSM to get the curious people up-to-date.

The Origins of BDSM

BDSM can be traced back to Mesopotamia (that is, around modern-day Iraq) about 12,000 years ago. The information was carved in tablets in cuneiform. Based on the book by Anne Nomis titled “The History and Art of the Dominatrix,” these tablets show what could be preserved as the history of BDSM. Namely, they depict ritual fetishization of the goddess Inanna (also known as Ishtar.)

She was the goddess of warfare, fertility, and passion. Plus, some myths describe her as taking more of a dominant role. We are talking about images of men bowing to her, and the idea that she would whip them as they danced, creating sexual pleasure for them. A lot of her stories revolve around the ideas of domination and submission, a stable of BDSM culture.

However, the origins of BDSM are not only in Mesopotamian. They go back to Greece too. The Ancient Greeks made a lot of headway in many fields such as science and art, but one of their fields also included BDSM. Their early BDSM stories were about ritual flagellation according to Nomis’ book.

Around the 9th century, there was a Spartan religious cult that praised the goddess Artemis Orthia. One of their initiation rites was whipping of young men while the priestess acts as the overseer.

A lot of the concepts of modern BDSM can be linked back to these two time periods. They focus on power dynamics, usually between men and women. Nowadays, it seems that BDSM is more focused on sexual practices and pleasure than on religious meanings. Plus, it is no longer only limited to heterosexual panthers and has crossed the seas to all around the globe.

BDSM in Art/Literature

The realm of BDSM has extended its reach into the worlds of art and literature. That makes sense since ancient art preserves a lot of BDSM history. However, there is a lot of literature about BDSM with the most famous and notable one being the Kama Sutra.

The Kama Sutra has sections that go into sexual bites, slaps, and screams, as well as scratching. Some sections also look at bonding positions and whipping activities.

However, there is even more literature that partakes in BDSM themes (besides that of “50 Shades of Grey”). “Justine” by Marquis de Sade and “Venus in Furs” by Leopold von Sacher Masoch are the most famous ones. Many parts of the Western World, such as the United States, always had access to BDSM novels. This was due in part to Anne Rice (under the pseudonym of A. N. Roquelaure) with her “Sleeping Beauty Trilogy.”

Art is not only literature, as we can see on carvings from Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece. Ancient Rome also played a part in the art world of BDSM. There is a work of art in the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii, showing winged beings initiating young women into Greek religions with the use of whips, bondage, and flagellations. A lot of artworks show what BDSM was back in the day and that the modern practices we associate with have deep roots.

More Modern Artworks

Photographs by Catherine Opie, for example, are examples of notable BDSM art. Her work depicted the ‘90s era when the mainstream public misunderstood BDSM, and the HIV hysteria was in full swing. However, her work showed the highly charged sexual intimacy from her subjects with the use of blinding. Her “O Portfolio” collection explores these concepts.

BDSM art is not just pictures and words — it is also performance art. Paul Chan’s “Sade for Sade’s Sake” is a projected piece where shadows move against a white wall.It shows the characters giving and receiving sexual pleasure through punishment for six hours. It seems that they are either in a sex dungeon or a prison. Plus, Chan also had made commentary on libertine desire through this piece.

Another form of BDSM art is film. In particular, Luther Price’s “Sodom.” This short film is shot on Super 8 mm and has a medieval chorus feeling to it with the aid of the soundtrack. The film uses images of queer sex and pornography. Many claim this work is an S&M hardcore porn epic that has a pervasive effect on those who see it.

The more mainstream media accepts it, the more likely it is that BDSM groups will grow with new members discovering this sexual practice. Some of the new members can even be artists. They could be looking for their voice and can use the concepts, themes, even imagery to say something about BDSM or their views on society. Art reflects the era, and it is changing to suit the eras that have gone, are present, and maybe even what will come.

Spread of BDSM in the Modern Period

As we’ve said, even though BDSM may have had a fairly recent surgency in the previous decade, the practice has been around for centuries. However, it was leaking through the cracks of mainstream long before E. L. James threw the idea of it under the curious eyes of couples that knew no different.

Back in the day, BDSM practitioners were more of an “other” than now, and there was a stigma that people who practiced it had a mental disorder. That is, of course,not true. BDSM is a sexual kink for consenting adults who communicate with each other. There is power play involved, but that does not equate to abuse of power.

BDSM made its way into the queer community due to its being viewed as subversive, and it was all thanks to people society deemed subversive too. Such a view changed with information.

Leather Subculture

However, after World War II, the Leather Subculture came to be, and now leather and BDSM go hand in hand. It is said that many leather lovers started being openly attracted to other leather-loving characters in that time. In fact, after the war, some soldiers would return home from combat and eventually meet up in large cities such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco to share their passion.

During these meet-ups, some members would form Leather Clubs, where they were able to express their kinks with like-minded people. Many members were drawn to what was seen as extreme eroticism, hence the strong link to BDSM.

In the beginning, the Leather Subculture was predominantly male and homosexua, and women joined the subculture in the early ‘80s. Then, the subculture made its way to the spotlight in 1990 after being viewed as an underground culture. It was then that the kink communities even began joining gay pride parades.

Fetish Photography

BDSM was also influential to fetish photographers and the porn industry in the ‘50s. The most popular and well-known model that helped push this was a pin-up model called Bettie Page. She was one of the lead models on the works of the photographer Irving Klaw.

The photos would show her and others reenacting their clients’ desires, usually those in the realm of BDSM. Klaw’s fetish photography did not show explicit nudity. However, many of the models were in fetish wear or engaging bonding, whipping, and playing either the dominant or submissive role, depending on what was required of them. With regards to porn, there is a subgenre for BDSM footage for those into that.

Fetish gear such as clothes, toys, chains, whips, etc. are a growing industry with sex shops selling a bunch of things. Although BDSM is making itself more known, not everyone has accepted it as something normal. But that is often the case when it comes to anything involving sex and sexual fetishes.

BDSM and the Internet

The internet is the information highway for several reasons, with the main one being that it opens up subcultures and BDSM clubs to those that want to be in the know. We could argue that one of the reasons that “50 Shades of Grey” took off when it came out was due to the outrage that the novels and movies did not portray BDSM in the correct light.

That could have prompted people to hop online and see what the difference is and why people that know about BDSM were against the books. The web is a source that can help you learn how to perform BDSM related activities in a safe and healthy way. Plus, people can even find the best-priced gear to reenact their fetishes.

Online, people can learn what exactly BDSM is and what it consists of from the comfort of their own home. They can also watch BDSM porn or check out pictures to see if it is something that gets their juices flowing before they commit to anything more serious. However, porn can make it seem like something that is not entirely realistic. It can create expectations of BDSM that one cannot fulfill in the real world. But it can be a start to see if it is for the new-comer or not.

Forums and Dating Sites

However, the interweb is not only for learning but can also be a place to share information from those with experience to those that want to know more. There are many forums and sites where people can meet others that are into what they are into. These can be a source of knowledge for those that are more curious about the topic and are not sure if it is for them or not. They can ask as many questions as to their body’s desires, and, usually, the more experienced members will answer back politely. It can be a way to see what they could expect from the experience of BDSM. Plus, people are anonymous, so new-comers can be as discreet as they need.

Forums are different from dating sites. They are about sharing and gaining information, while dating sites are mostly for using that information. Dating sites have grown in popularity with particular niches on display. These can be great places to meet other like-minded members as well as search for a particular niche. For example, a submissive person can look for a dominant partner to partake in sex play. A common one is FetLife, a social media platform for those that are into BDSM and other fetish communities. But with any dating site, regardless of the topic, caution should be taken.

BDSM Today

While BDSM has come a long way since its early days and has changed with the times, there is still a lot to learn and be aware of. There are dating sites to meet people, online stores to buy gear from sex toys, and forums to ask questions.

BDSM is a practice that many want to experience, which can be a good thing. However, there is a downside to this in that some people may not know what they are doing. That can result in them hurting themselves or their partners, which is not what BDSM is about. The thing with BDSM is that it is about:

  • Consent
  • Communication (Safewords)
  • Information (how to do choking, bonding, whipping, smacking, slapping, etc. correctly)
  • Being safe
  • Exploration

These should be the basis of any sexual acts and no one should ignore them even if people are merely fooling around. That is why the internet is a useful tool to get the knowledge and advice to not end up in the hospital. There are rules and techniques for a reason, and that reason is safety. There are stories about broken windpipes from choking and slaps being uncalled for, to name a few.

BDSM is becoming less stigmatized and more mainstream with curious people looking into it. However, they should know how to do something before rushing in and hurting each other.

Wrap Up

In conclusion, find people that you trust if this is something you are into and know what and how to do it. Wrap up before you get up since safety is the most important priority and have fun.


Share this post



← Older Post Newer Post →

You Might Also Be Interested In: