Are you kinky? It might be good for you

A fifth-century BC painting depicting what looks like BDSM found at an Etruscan burial site. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons.) Photograph:( Others )

WION New Delhi, Delhi, India Feb 22, 2017, 10.37 AM (IST) Parakram Rautela

I met a few days ago with a husband and wife to talk about kinky sex. 

The two of them were members of the Kinky Collective, a group of people looking to raise awareness, understanding, and acceptance of BDSM and kink in India. He was called Abhay, she Poonam. 

What were they like? Well, they were “normal”. Like any other nice couple – polite, gracious, intelligent. The sort of people it would be easy to make friends with. He was a business owner, she a medical professional. They had met online. 

Or, you could look at them as a polyamorous couple. 

Either way, our discussion was enjoyable. 

It is surprising how few of us are willing to accept that we might like non-typical sex, even if that sex should be thoroughly enjoyable
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Abhay said he grew up in a small town in Rajasthan, and that his Marwari family was conservative. He was initiated into the world of BDSM by a family friend twenty years older than him. He was 18 at the time, she was married and had two children. 

“But I had this bond with her,” he says. And that he loved pressing, massaging her feet. “You know, foot worship.” 

I suppose I can picture Abhay as an 18 year old eager to explore his sexuality. In some ways he is still like that – eager to pass on what he has learnt – and it is refreshing to hear a north Indian man talk about sex, without the need to boast or, in the case of the kinky variant, feel shame. 

It is surprising how few of us are willing to accept that we might like non-typical sex, even if that sex should be thoroughly enjoyable. 

Which is what got the collective going in 2011. “We didn't want people going through what we had to,” says Abhay. 

You can't tell your family, he says. You can't tell your friends because they'll laugh at you. So whom do you tell? 

“It's a nightmare coming out,” says his wife. “I tell my friends that I like this sort of thing and they say, 'You're in an abusive relationship'. I tell them I'm polyamorous and they say, 'Oh my god. You're sleeping around'.” 

“So many people go through their lives thinking there's something wrong with them, feeling guilty. We'd just like to tell them that they're normal.” 

In the public eye though, BDSM is the exact opposite of “normal”. And it continues to be thought of as violent, as abuse, or even as a disease. A large part of that blame can be placed on Freud who in his 1905 essay “Three Essays on Sexuality” defined sadism and masochism as “diseases” caused by the incorrect development of the psyche during childhood. That pretty much is how the scientists have looked at S&M (and therefore BDSM) ever since. 

Even today, says senior consultant psychiatrist Dr PS Das, psychiatry continues to think of BDSM as “pathological”, or “not normal”. 

Which is unfair, says the BDSM community. This stuff comes very “naturally” to us. Plus, they say, Freud was observing people with mental health problems, not people with healthy sexual appetites. 

In her presentation Kink and Mental Health, which she recently made to mental health professionals in Mumbai, the psychologist, human rights activist, and Kinky Collective member Pompi Banerjee wrote: “Practices and activities closely resembling what we know today as BDSM, do not necessarily have a common origin point. 

“What this suggests... is that the practices involved with BDSM have a very natural (emphasis mine) place in the sexually exploratory realm of the human psyche.” 

Even the ancients, she says, did it. 

For proof, she proffered a fifth-century BC painting found at an Etruscan burial site. The painting shows two men engaged in sex with a woman (see photo above). One of them holds a cane in one hand, the other holds up a hand as if to, ahem, spank the woman. 

Pompi also drew from the Kama Sutra which, she said, “is known to have contained at least four different types of prescribed hitting methods that are designed to be used during lovemaking”. 

BDSM, she said in her presentation, might even be good for us. 

A large part of the blame for BDSM's bad reputation falls on Freud. (WION)

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In his 1905 essay 'Three Essays on Sexuality', Freud defined sadism and masochism as 'diseases' caused by the incorrect development of the psyche during childhood. (WION)

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“BDSM participants as a group are, compared with non-BDSM participants, less neurotic, more extroverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, yet less agreeable (meaning they are more likely to do wthat they think is right). 

“BDSM participants... were less rejection sensitive... female BDSM participants had more confidence in their relationships, had a lower need for approval, and were less anxiously attached compared with non-BDSM participants.

“Finally, the subjective well-being of BDSM participants was higher than that of the control group.” 

If any or all of this is true, then why in the world are we so straitjacketed when it comes to lovemaking? Or talking about it? 

Pompi says the answer to that question takes us all the way back to the Christian idea of sin. In her presentation she writes that “in 1843, the Ruthenian physician Heinrich Kaan published his Psychopathia Sexualis (Psychopathy of Sex), in which he converted the sin conceptions of Christianity into medical diagnoses. With his work, the originally theological terms 'perversion', 'aberration' and 'deviation' became part of the scientific terminology for the first time.” 

So, says Pompi, the church came up with the idea of sin. The scientific community borrowed terms like “perversion” from the church, these “perversions” then made their way into the DSM – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association – and once there, were treated as “diseases”. 

It might however be possible that we are quite happy having non-typical sex, but not so much talking about it. 

According to Pompi's presentation, the available studies say anywhere between 5 to 60% of test populations have practised BDSM or fantasised about practising it. 

What is thought of as a “disease” also depends on pushback. 

Dr Das for example chuckles over how homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973 after protests from the gay and lesbian community. The other major health organisations followed – the World Health Organisation doing so in 1990 – and with it declassified, homosexuality stopped being a “disease”. Nothing else about homosexuality had changed. 

That, in the end, is what the Kinky Collective aims for. 

“We just want to spread awareness,” says Abhay. “That something like kink, it's not abuse, it's not a disease.” 

“We are,” says Abhay, “where LGBT people were 30 years ago.” Today, you can tell people that you are lesbian, or gay, bisexual, or transgender. “But you still can't tell people that you are kinky.” 

Not necessarily everywhere though. In 1995, Denmark became the first European Union country to remove sadomasochism from its national classification of diseases. It was followed by Sweden in 2009, Norway in 2010, and Finland in 2011. 

In the six years that they've been around, the Kinky Collective have put up a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter handle, held a photo exhibition (2013) of Kinky Collective members being “kinky”, they stage a film festival each year, they have held “playshops” at which BDSM techniques have been demonstrated, held workshops with mental health professionals, and branched out to other Indian cities. 

Why mental health professionals? 

“When you can't tell your family, when you can't tell your friends, the next person you think of going to is a counsellor,” says Poonam. “And if the counsellor makes a face, then it shuts up the person trying to do the talking.” 

The numbers to the counsellors and other (kink-friendly) professionals like doctors and lawyers will be kept for reference, and given to people from the BDSM community who might need them. 

Doctors, says Poonam, because if you've been flogged (consensually) black and blue and need a doctor, you'll want to go to one who can tell the difference between pleasure and abuse. 

Lawyers? “Because kink is not always nice and rosy,” says Poonam. And when it becomes abuse, then the person complaining of it will want to go to a lawyer who understands what he or she is talking about. 

It must be remembered that BDSM can at times turn into abuse. (As can any other type of relationship.) 

It happened with Abhay. You remember that woman who was 20 years older than him and whose feet he was so fond of? Their relationship finally began to unravel after she stubbed burning cigarettes out on the back of his hand. 

This part may be difficult to get but Abhay says it was not the “physical pain” that hurt so much but the “emotional distress”. As a submissive, he says, he derived pleasure from the pleasure his dominant got from hurting him physically. “But she didn't take care of me emotionally,” he says. “She should have.” 


If it's not consensual, it's abuse

One of the first things Abhay had talked to me about that day was consent. “If it is not consensual,” he had said, “it is abuse.” 

The collective too spends phenomenal amounts of time talking about the concept. Not only do they talk about consent, says Poonam, but they also talk about “negotiating” it – or how two people (or lovers) agree on, after discussing it, what they can and cannot do to each other. “That's something we don't really know how to do.”

Pompi, in her presentation, said the Kama Sutra does something similar. That it “makes the ethical point that hitting and other kinds of BDSM-oriented sexual manoeuvring  should only be performed on those participants who understand what is happening, and are willing to submit themselves to such treatment.” 

Funny how we should have forgotten. 

Funny too how something that is seen as “violent” and “abusive”, a “disease”, should be reminding us. 

(WION)

if you would like to contact the Kinky Collective, you can email them at thekinkygroup@gmail.com

Their website is kinkycollective.com

They also have a Twitter handle and a Facebook page