The Spiritual Dimension Of S/M
Part Two: Going Deep: Topspace, Bottomspace, and Sado-erotic Ecstacy

Author: ChrisM © 1998-2002

Used With Author(s) Permission


"A knight should be bold, fair, courteous and well-mannered, generous and loyal, not foolish or rash, and should speak fairly without discourtesy. A knight should be all this, and also proud and fierce to his enemies, and kind to his friends." -Durmart

Let's begin our discussion of SM spirituality on something of a tangent: the people you have surely met at community functions who claim to have been "trained" in some sort of "ancient order." Some say they are "old guard" which actually means something. Others claim to be "the old school" or in "Classic style" which means nothing, or, more accurately, means whatever you want it to mean. Some describe Roissy-like training academies in Europe, Japan, or other exotic locales, and often stress secrecy and exclusivity in their lengthy, impromptu descriptions.

So far as I know, none of these ancient domination training academies really exist. No historical literature, no websites, no consistency in the stories told by "graduates" are ever provided. No pictorials in "Shiny" or "Skin Two" whose lifeblood is publicizing all things fetish. None of my gay brothers, who have a longer continuous heritage than us hets, has evidence of ancient SM academies (though some do find it a hot fantasy). Its true that in recent years, SM training academies like Butchmans in Las Vegas, have opened their doors to students. And For the past ten years, GMSMA has been teaching a fifteen session tops school for its members. The training of couples have long been part of the dominitrix's trade. And there have always been, clusters and communities where sex and sado-erotic activities were shared. Pompeii has frescoes testifying to this. Even our venerable Ben Franklin was a member of London's infamous hellfire club, an exclusive SM brothel, catering to the well heeled and exotic of taste. But if Knightly Orders of SM do exist, they do a good job of pretending they do not. Still I meet two or three people a year who give varying claims of having been through them. These purported students often speak in a hodgepodge of martial arts lingo, Gor Novels, and Jedi-knighthood which itself was a 1970's hodgepodge of Tolkein, King Arthur, and John Wayne Westerns. This sense of pomp carries over into the moody elevator music like "Enigma" so ubiquitous at SM functions, and use of prenominals like "Sir" which, in times past, signified knighthood. You see it in their solemn, deportment and in the Halloween-like outfits worn without a shred of humor or irony.

While its hard not to grin at such pretensions, they actually form the tip of a very interesting iceberg. What do people hope to convey when they rather grandly claim to have studied "in France" or to have been trained in a Zen bondage school in Tibet? What impression is intended when some nice guy named Larry introduces himself as "Sir" Larry? While this doesn't convince me of the reality of Secret SM societies of Olde, it does convince me of something more tangible: the yearning many feel for this activity we share - SM, BD, BDSM, CP, whatever you want to call it - to be about more than merely smacking ass. These boasts and fabrications (who knows? One may prove genuine someday!) show a desire for a practice of SM with a deeper reality transcending mere sexual hedonism, and providing access to hidden mysteries. People want meaning, want sacredness, want lives lived abundantly. Many are looking for more than a way to get their rocks off but the kinds of intangibles we associate with the martial arts of the far east. A discipline teaching not only physical skill but also discipline, integrity, awareness, with the validation of an ancient and continuous tradition. The people who spin these yarns can feel that there's more to a flogging than hammering away at someone like a wood chopper hacking at a pile of logs. But it's a hard thing to put into words. And truthfully, they are right in their recognition; there is an eternal quality to this great art form, something that's been here since life on earth began, something that will be here until the world's end.


SM is music using the human body as both instrument and audience. It is a dance in which one partner leads another through a ritual of sensation, movement, shared beauty and physical skill. It is method acting in which you act out roles far more real than the face you show the outside world. It is the near Olympian challenge of finding out what you can take, how far you can go and discovering the joy in that endeavor. SM is alchemy: the art of creating bliss from the base palette of humiliation, physical pain, suffering, cruelty, and deprivation. It's the seeming paradoxes of people seeking freedom through submission, pleasure through pain, serenity, humility and vision, through the naked exercise of power, illumination and spiritual apotheosis through physical engagement. Though SM isn't always sexual it shares Tantric yoga's sanctification of sex and bodily experience. Like the chivalric codes which taught bloodthirsty medieval knights to be lovers and philosophers, the martial arts which transform combat into a kind of meditative practice or even the mock mortal combat of house cats at play, SM takes the physical vocabulary of aggression and cruelty and reshapes it into a shared activity that creates closeness, joy, and wonder, while inflicting no lasting or intentional harm. Even those with no personal interest in SM must concede that the practical realities of living the SM life encourages self knowledge, the pursuit of individual happiness, the sacrosanct importance of others, and respect for human diversity and tolerance for human peculiarity

SM is inexhaustible in its range of expression. It's quiet women in librarian shades who duck into dark closets and change into something else. It can manifest itself as a fetishistic love for fur, feet, stockings, lace, leather or a trillion other delights. It can manifest itself as a delight in power, wielded in love instead of hatred and with the aim of making the participants feel good, whatever feeling good means to them. It can manifest itself as feelings of worship, service, atonement or physical ordeal, ranging from the comparatively mild to incredibly heavy. It spans anal, bondage, branding, cock & ball torture (C.B.T.), electricity (static and direct current), fisting, feminization, flogging, fire play, sexual penetration, spanking, tickling, tactile play and countless others. Some find cigars to be the most erotic things in the world.

Its root proclivities are largely unknown. Some therapists conjecture that SM interest is sparked by childhood trauma, since many scenes - spankings, infantilism, and enemas - echo with themes of childhood. Some of SM is surely cultural (caning fetishes are popular in Great Britain where caning is part of school discipline). Some appear archetypal, like the big-breasted fertility goddesses depicted in Paleolithic sculpture to the contemporary pages of "D-Cup." Diane Hanson, publisher of "Leg Show" theorizes that the submissive desire for dominant women has its roots in the "Tower of Mommy" that toddlers see looming above them (Hansen sees foot and leg fetishism as having a similar genealogy due to their proximity to the toddler's vantage point). The mounting evidence that gayness might have genetic roots suggests that kink might also be hereditary. But no one knows. It's like food: some people love Thai cooking, others can't stand it. No reason, they just can't. For any individual, SM interests are probably a mix of nature and nurture, personal, social and primal.

Throughout this text I will highlight what I believe to be the core tenants of SM. Here is the first: the purpose of SM and the scene community is the responsible quest for personal bliss, fulfillment and growth. Involvement in SM can make you stronger, wiser, happier, more fulfilled, more enlivened, more generous and more healed, if you do it the right way. The activities you engage in, and what sort of bliss fulfillment and growth you and your partners find in them are entirely up to you. It may mean wearing a dress and makeup, worshiping the feet of someone you find beautiful, the erotic enslavement of someone else or submitting personally to hard physical ordeal. This first principal has several important aspects to it: that joy, like beauty, is in the eyes, heart and groin of the beholder, and that even as we pursue and share these delights with our loved ones, we do it with responsible and ethical intent. SM's famous rubric declaring that SM should be "safe, sane and consensual" is prudent advice, but really describes 'how' to conduct SM responsibly.

SM is a sophisticated erotic game and like any game there are guidelines for 'play', generally involving measures to make sure both participants get enough of what they want from the SM encounter. SM uses 'toys', incorporates 'role play', and has much in common with high adrenaline sports. With its emphasis on heightened sexuality and ritualized rebellion, SM is similar to the rock and roll experience, in that people are looking for a powerful ecstatic physical connection to something greater than themselves. It is a craft that both demands and rewards excellence.

Previous: Going Deep: Topspace, Bottomspace and Sado-erotic Ecstacy Introduction

Next: Top and Bottom

Return To: Domination

Return To: Submission

Return to: General BDSM





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