Book Report: The History of BDSM

As we seek to increase our understanding and knowledge of BDSM, Viktor shared an article with me, which I also sent along to Matt. He was pleased to learn more since he is very new to kink and BDSM. In response to reading the article, he posited the question:

Is [BDSM] a new thing? Did it exist in ancient times? Or is it only a byproduct of the Industrial Age giving rise to leisure time? Because it’s a world full of rules and shared terminology…who’s writing the rules?”

His query piqued my interest and I advised him of my desire to find out. He also expressed interest in pursuing the question and then sharing the information, so I suggested that we write “book reports” which would be due on our next date.

Here is my report:

While the term BDSM, which comprises the activities of Bondage, Discipline, Domination, Submission, Sadism, and Masochism is a more modern acronym, historical evidence through archeology, art and architecture provides proof that BDSM did, in fact, exist in ancient – very ancient – times. In addition, cultural evidence in the guise of books, magazines, comics and movies (and now the Internet) offers up further guidance on how BDSM has evolved and changed as a consequence of human cultural evolution.

HISTORICAL & SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE
Numerous sources, including the historian (and author of The History and Arts of the Dominatrix) Anne O. Nomis who has scholastically documented her research, cite the Mesopotamian Goddess, Inana (aka Ishtar) as the earliest (4000-3100 BCE) example of BDSM behavior as part of human history. The Goddess Inana was the patron deity of the city of Uruk/Warka and “activated sexuality, virility, fertility, bounty and battle success for the benefit of her city.” She held a sacred, erotic power and rituals connected with her involved gender transformation, punishment, pain, lamentation and ecstasy. She held dominion over men, gods and foreign states; they needed to bow down to her in submission.

In Ancient Greece (9th century BCE), the Goddess Artemis Orthia of Sparta is associated with the Cult of Orthia, a preolympic religion. Within this religious practice, ritual flagellation, called diamastigosis, took place as part of initiation rites of young men.

Additionally, early depictions from 730-727 BCE show a whip/flogger as part of ritual and sexual domination in ancient religion. Similar depictions exist on the wall frescos at Pompeii at the Villa of Mysteries. Here, a winged woman or “Whipstress.” Supposedly initiated women into the secret cult of “Mysteries” through techniques like bondage and flagellation.

Such evidence suggests that whipping/flagellation was not an act of punishment, but, rather, was a sacred and sexual act during this time period.

More specifically, graphical evidence of sadomasochism has been found in an Etruscan burial site in Italy. The Tomba della Fustigazione (Flogging grave or Tomb of the Whipping), which dates to the 6th century BCE, portrays two men are flagellating a woman with a cane and a hand during an erotic situation.

Flagellaton is also referred to in the sixth book of the Satires of the ancient Roman Poet Juvenal (1st–2nd century A.D.).

The Kamasutra describes four different kinds of hitting during sex; identifies regions to target safely; mentions the “joyful cries of pain” and squarely places an emphasis on consent. In this regard, “The Kamasutra teaches men to respect women, and women to respect men, because the goal is liberation from this world. Liberation, moksha, is a complex idea, but for some, the use of BDSM in the Sutra is a guide to liberate both sex and gender conformities, based on principles of communication, trust, and consent” (Huntsman).

During the 12th century, the concept of courtly love came into fashion, “based on the idea of extreme passion, undying love, and a man willing to undertake any feat for his lady” (Sartore). Within this context, the “man experiences the extreme pain of never being able to obtain the object of his affection,” which further translated as enslavement in the name of love and devotion.

The focus on flagellation re-emerges during the Middle Ages, both with the purpose of ridding one’s self of sin, as well as that of whipping for pleasure. For example, “In a 15th-century work, Italian philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola comments upon one monk who couldn’t enjoy intercourse unless he was lashed with a whip soaked in vinegar” (Sartore).

By the 1700s, such practices were recognized by the medical profession. In this regard, the “18th-century writer Eulenburg indicates that Arabic doctors recognized the use of flagellation as a sexual stimulant and, in practice, this seems to have been carried out at establishments throughout England” (ibid). These practices were further codified during this period as the medical and legal fields began to categorize sex.

During the next century, the German psychologist, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, published Psychopathia Sexualis, which coined the terms “sadism” and “masochism.” Within his book, he describes these as sexual disorders in which acts of cruelty and bodily punishment become sexually pleasurable. However, while he is responsible for coming up with these terms, they are actually associated with two different men who wrote on the topic. In particular, the term sadism stems from the Marquis de Sade, a nobleman who lived from 1740 to 1814, and wrote of aggressive, violent sex scenes, which involved beatings, forced orgasms, humiliation, group sex, rope play and cutting. His novels emphasize arousal from the infliction of pain. It should be noted that as a member of the upper class, his writings do not include any mention of consent.

Similarly, the word masochism is derived from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1836-1895), a journalist and author who wrote Legacy of Cain and Venus in Furs. In the latter book, the protagonist requests his wife to enslave him, placing an emphasis on spanking and equating the receipt of pain with joy. The author actually enacted the book with his wife in real life.

Not surprisingly, psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud gave credence to these two terms and, like Krafft-Ebing, attributed both sadism and masochism as medical disorders. However, in 1929,  British psychologist and founder of sexology Havelock Ellis, argued that the two were actually two sides of the same coin, “creat[ing] the modern conception of SM, noting that sadomasochists use pain to create pleasure and violence to express love” (Lowrey).

Further pushing sadomasochism into the medical lexicon, in his Kinsey Report, Alfred C. Kinsey found that “12 percent of female and 22 percent of male respondents say they experience an erotic response to a sadomasochistic story, and 55 percent of females and 50 percent of males report having responded sexually to being bitten” (ibid)

CULTURAL EVIDENCE
While some of the above discussion relates to cultural evidence with regard to religious and artistic evidence, a more anecdotal, leisure discussion relates to BDSM of the 20th and 21s centuries.

Interestingly, the term BDSM dates to the 1950s or 60s, with one source attributing Kinsey collaborator, Paul Gebhard, with having coined the term in 1969 in his essay “Fetishism and Sadomasochism.”

With regard to books and other printed materials, seminal works on the topic include underground papers and writings such as those documented by Henry Spencer Ashbee in his Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Prohibited Books) as well as more public works such as those discussed above by the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Similarly, John Cleland’s novel Fanny Hill, published in 1749 (and also known as Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure), “is considered to be England’s first explicit novel and is rife with details about 18th-century sexual culture” (Sartore).

More recently, Pauline Rage’s L’Histoire d’O (The Story of O), “a fantasy of female submission to unknown sexual dominators” won the French literary prize Le Prix des Deux Magots and spawned a resurgence of popular sadomasochistic fiction (Lowrey). It was among the first to portray submission as a lifestyle choice.

Socially, post-World War I Germany saw the creation of clubs to “express [one’s] homosexuality, bisexuality, and transsexuality, and to simply have fun” (Huntsman). Unfortunately, these clubs were destroyed by fascism, forcing such activities underground.

Although it is clear that the development of BDSM does not coincide with the Industrial Age, aspects of the Industrial Revolution significantly influenced its modernity through the creation of “new materials to incorporate during intimate relations” (Sartore). Assistant Research Professor, Dr. Robert V. Bienvenu, PhD., of the University of Maryland, studied the modern origins of fetishism and sadomasochism and traces them to three sources: “European Fetish” (1928), “American Fetish” (1934) and “Gay Leather” (1950). These were all “studies of the types of costumes and props fashioned out of industrial materials like PVC, leather, and metal [which were… photographed] and passed around in underground but very popular magazines” (ibid).

It was during this latter period that America saw the rise of “sex” magazines such as Bizarre in which “Irving Klaw published the first black and white photography and film with famous pin-up girl, Bettie Page” (ibid). Thanks to the iconic photography of these publications, the “contemporary look of BDSM: the leather, high heeled shoes, latex dresses, corsets, and the binding of hands and arms together by rope” was immortalized (Huntsman).

Also during this time, within the larger gay male culture, the Gay Leather subculture as described by Larry Townsend in the popular book The Leatherman’s Handbook put forth formal rules and roles, while also transforming ideas about homosexuality away from the “limp-wristed, fastidiously clean, sissy and sassy, simply weak men” image (ibid). Capturing this aesthetic, artist “Tom of Finland created strong, powerful, sexy, and self-assured men.”

BDSM culture became similarly associated with lesbian culture when lesbian feminists in San Francisco founded Samois in 1978. The organization and its publications gained national recognition during the 1970s and 80s.

BDSM also played an increased role during the AIDS Crisis, which activists suggested was linked to a “reduce[d] risk of disease by providing an alternative to actual intercourse” (Lowrey).

Finally, the emergence of the Internet, with its easy access, anonymity, quick dissemination of information and low cost has permitted people to learn, connect and explore a range of sexual interests, dramatically changing the culture to become more inclusive and less secretive” (ibid).

A Word about Rope
From: https://dominationsubmission.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/bdsm-history-a-research-in-the-human-sexuality-and-the-bdsm-culture/
“As an erotic art, bondage in Japan is no older than 200 years. Shibari, or, more correctly known as Kinbaku, is an ancient Japanese artistic form of rope bondage that has many styles and uses. Within this practice of tying someone up, “the rope artist (Master in BDSM terms) creates almost geometric shapes that contrast with the female body’s natural curves and recesses. The submissive is like a canvas to the hands of a skillful rope Master.”

From: https://www.kinkly.com/bdsm-is-older-than-you-think-way-older/2/17777
“The roots of Kinbaku stem from the fact that: “Japan was largely isolated from much of the rest of the world until the mid-1800s, missing out on metalworking, which led to the creation of an martial art called hojojitsu sometime in the 1500s. Hojojitsu was the art of rope restraint. When capturing or punishing criminals, samurai or other law enforcement would bind prisoners using elaborate rope configurations and secret knots in order to prevent escape.

Beyond restraint, a lot of consideration also went into the aesthetics of hojojitsu. A major tenet of the practice declared that in addition to restricting movement, the ties must be pleasing to the eye. This led to many innovative arrangements that remained guarded secretly by individual clans.

While rope bondage wasn’t sexualized in Japan until the early 20th century, current practices continue to take inspiration from ancient hojojitsu ties. So, while the art of hojojitsu sadly faded away (Japan was eventually introduced to handcuffs), the art lives on in a new form.”

In Answer to: Who’s Writing the Rules?
From: https://haenfler.sites.grinnell.edu/subcultures-and-scenes/bdsm/

BDSM often involves the pursuit of artistry, excellence, and technique rather than explicit sexuality
Several members of the BDSM subculture report an interest more associated with artistry, excellence, and mastering a craft than sexuality. In fact, explicit sexual acts rarely become involved during sessions. Similar to any other skill, dominants must learn to stimulate and excite within the agreed-upon boundaries. One dominatrix claimed, “to me it’s an art form. I have to know that I can step on a person without breaking a rib. I know that I have to be incredibly careful and delicate because something could bruise when it’s not supposed to and do real damage when it’s not supposed to” (Lindemann 2010:593). Dominatrices and submissives alike have the opportunity to explore the strengths of their bodies, how they respond to certain behaviors, and what allows them to empower themselves in a manner almost comparable to athletics, dance, or theater (Turley 2016:149). Members learn to operate under a moral code of “communicating needs, wants, and desires to partners and open dialogues with self and community, the notion of responsibility and transparency among community members, and safety and ensuring protection from harm” (Holt 2016:922).


BIBLIOGRPAPHY

A. A Tale as Old as Time: BDSM Throughout History. Slutty Girl Problems. 

Grinnell College. BDSM – Subcultures and Sociology. 

How far back in history do BDSM and other forms of kink go?

Huntsman, Skyeler. The Extended History of BDSM. Montana State University, April 2017.

Larsen, Brooke. BDSM Is Older Than You Think. Way Older. Kinkly.com, March 2019.

Lowrey, Anne M. From Freud to America: A short history of sadomasochism. The Crimson. October 2004.

Master P. BDSM history. A research in the human sexuality and the BDSM culture. Domination and Submission, July 2013.

Nomis, Anne O. The History & Arts of the Dominatrix. Anna Nomis, December 2013.

Sartore, Melissa. Where Did BDSM Come From? Ranker.com

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Jeannie

While happily married to my soulmate for 20+ years, after years of body shame and sexual shutdown, I am ready to step into my sexual power as we open up our relationship and explore the possibilities.

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