“He can cane me to orgasm, or he can cane me to hysterical tears”: The Co-Construction of BDSM Experience

  • Alison Robertson


The potential of BDSM (Bondage, Domination, Sadism and Masochism) activity to create powerful, transformative or profound experiences is well known within BDSM communities. Academic discourse has also recognised that experiences of transcendence can be created by BDSM, but these have usually been presented within an essentialised framework that draws primarily on Christian mysticism to identify elements which are then presented as the core of all religious experience. This supports a common understanding of such experiences as wholly private and subjective internal states, separate from matters pertaining to the body of the experiencer or their inherent bodily relationality. It also creates an additional limitation to understanding BDSM experience, because it supports the assumption that such mystical-type experiences are only available to people taking the bottom/submissive role in a BDSM scene. By contrast my research suggests that transcendence is only one of a range of possible peaks of experience. The qualities that have been used by scholars to identify (and categorise as spiritual) exceptional BDSM experiences are actually common in any successful play and are shared by all players. Such successful play involves the forging and expression of relationship, intimacy and connection between play partners as they co-create a shared as-if reality and become immersed, together, within it. A successful BDSM scene is therefore a complementary and relational experience. This paper will explore those processes of co-creation, examining BDSM as a deliberate process of creating profound experiences that explore the boundaries of fantasy and reality in ways which are necessarily co-constructed and shared.