The altar is set: candles, ritual objects, a sacred blade, a chalice. A devotee awaits on their knees. Another figure appears, delivering instructions: expectations for behavior, consequences for misdeeds, a code of ethics that must be upheld at all times. The ritual begins…

What does this sound like to you? A religious ceremony? A fraternal initiation? A pagan rite? Some sort of cultish activity? Perhaps something… kinky?

As sexologists, we know that BDSM is often misunderstood and maligned in the mainstream, but did you know that exploring the taboo fringes of sexuality can create a space for deep intimacy and spiritual connection?

Wait, what? Spiritual? Yep, you read that right!

At Sex Coach U, we acknowledge the importance of Spirit in sexuality inside Dr. Patti’s MEBES© model. Spirit is a person’s essence, their spiritual belief system (not always the same as religion), or their inner self (Britton, The Art of Sex Coaching, p. 88). If we approach sexuality with this in mind, we can also conceive of Spirit as that place where we meet ourselves and our lover(s) in bliss.

We can reach that state of blissful communion in many ways: through conventional spiritual practices, sacred sexuality, or by incorporating elements of BDSM. There is, in fact, quite a bit of overlap between BDSM behaviors and spiritual practices. Rituals involving rhythmic drumming, ecstatic movement, experiencing physical stress or pain, and giving the self over to another being are present in multiple traditions. So are rituals of service, communion, worship, and adoration.

A well-planned and executed BDSM scene typically begins with negotiation: each partner names and shares their desires and limits. Together they come to an agreement on an experience to co-create. This conversation is also an opportunity to work a little magic: to set an intention for the scene and invoke release, transformation, or deep spiritual connection with each other.

Sacred Release

a-person-practices-a-ritual

Photo by Luz Mendoza on Unsplash

Through these rituals of ecstatic intensity and/or power exchange, partners can help each other experience a different realm of existence or state of mind, commonly called Top/bottom/sub-space. In this mindset, partners experience a sense of release from the restraints of daily life and possibly even awareness of their physical bodies. One Dominant describes this space as “opening my eyes twice” to explain his heightened senses and awareness. Bottoms talk about feeling a sense of flying or a release from ego. Some describe ethereal visions.

This is the space where players find freedom and release. It is where spirit can be welcomed and explored. Some players may choose to practice their spirituality in terms of a higher power here, others may experience it as the bonding of their souls with their partner’s. It is up to each to choose.

Transformative Aspects of BDSM

BDSM can also be employed as a means to release, transform, heal, or reclaim power through the enactment of a specific experience. It is not unheard of for a person to request an experience they feel they need to break down emotional walls, move beyond a trauma, or reclaim their bodies and/or voice. 

There can also be an intention to call something in—a celebration, empowerment, love. In these cases, partners can be romantic or regular playmates, or someone specifically sought for their ability to create the desired experience.

Bonding

person-practices-bdsm-by-wearing-ankle-cuffs

Photo by Artem Labunsky on Unsplash

Similar to conventional marriage involving a declaration of commitment, ceremonies such as collaring affirm the bond between practitioners. Other ceremonies commemorate rites of passage inside a hierarchy to which one is devoted. These rituals vary according to the preferences and expressions of the participants, and many may be similar to what you could witness in a church or temple. Vows are exchanged as well as tokens signifying the commitments made. The spiritual significance is powerful and deeply felt.

In a less formal sense, the intimacy and bond between BDSM partners is profound. The depth of trust needed to express the deepest desires for power exchange or intense sensation (both giving and receiving) requires extraordinary vulnerability. 

Imagine telling someone you’ve just met that you want to be tied up and suspended or that you have a burning desire to whip them until they cry for mercy. This is not a conversation you have with just anyone—what might they think of you? You might fear social, or even legal, repercussions. However, these are exactly the sorts of conversations people who practice BDSM have with one another on a regular basis. New partners need to agree to the field of play, but committed partners do, as well. Every. Single. Time.

When partners go to these dark places of expression and desire together, they (ideally) do so holding each other with the greatest care and respect. They allow themselves to be seen raw, without pretense or “public” face. They are vulnerable. The stripping away of the veneers worn for daily life allows a deeper knowing of one another, nurtures trust, and creates a powerful, spiritual union.

So, the next time you come across BDSM on TV or IRL, if your first thought is “freak show,” maybe consider the spirit of this practice and the boldness of the practitioners to allow themselves to be thus seen. 


Continue the Conversation

Are you familiar with the idea of spiritual BDSM? If so, how do you practice it? What recommendations do you make to your clients? Do you have ant experiences or tips on spiritual BDSM to share that we didn’t include in this essay? We would love to hear your thoughts! Join our Facebook discussion group, Sex Matters, and get in on this exciting conversation today. We hope to see you there soon!