How BDSM Taught Me to Love My Body and Gave Me Ownership of My Own Sexuality
*Note: I’d like to make a disclaimer about the anonymous status of this post. I have a lot of pride in discussing sex openly, and I am in almost all spaces and forums an open, sex-positive, kink-positive person. However, I’m not interested in coming out of the kink closet, so to speak, to my family, so I’m keeping this anonymous. But I’m a firm believer that in most forums, sex should be talked about, kink should be talked about. We need to continue to create a space where these things are discussed without shame. I’m an avid supporter of that. I guess I just wanted to make that clear.
This is hard for me to write, in a lot of ways, because I identify as a feminist, and I hope that I have an understanding of how harmful traditional and stereotypical gender roles are. But what follows here is the truth of my experience, and the journey of coming through it. Understanding these roles and expectations and how they have influenced and affected my perception of my body and myself as a woman and a sexual being is tremendously important, and so I’m writing about it, comfort be damned.
Like many women I know, I have struggled with accepting my body for years. Since I hit puberty, I have never been comfortable in it. This discomfort went beyond a lack of body-confidence – it was rooted in a deep discomfort of my specific body shape and the fact that it was becoming a body which was very visibly womanly. As a teenager, I hated my body, convinced I could never be the person I wanted to be in it, because it was too womanly. I always wanted to be perceived as cool and low-maintenance, and I associated that with masculinity. I wanted a skinny boy’s body, but I had C-cup boobs and a soft stomach and hips that made jeans fit strangely. It’s not that I wanted to be a boy, but I wanted to be these things that I associated only with boys – cool, detached, and powerful; these things that we are taught in this society are typically masculine. My body didn’t fit that image, and as a result, I was never completely comfortable in it, and for many years truly resented it. I struggled with disordered eating for years, quietly hiding it from everyone who knew me, because caring about my body was another thing I associated with weakness, and I desperately wanted to be strong.
I have always been fascinated with power dynamics in relationships, but I pursued power in ways I perceived as typically masculine: trying to be “cool,” trying to be “one of the guys.” Don’t get too emotional. Be straightforward. Socially, this always worked for me, but it never permeated my sexuality, where I felt deeply uncomfortable being anything but submissive. I felt the only way I could have power was to deny my womanhood and my womanly body, and pursue control in ways that were typically masculine, because I was uncomfortable with being a “girly” girl. When I became sexually active, I never felt comfortable being in control in sex because I didn’t understand how to feel powerful naked, when all my soft parts were on display, when my woman-ness was undeniable because it was all there, exposed. I preferred being submissive as a default, because I couldn’t wrap my head around the alternative. I could assert myself in “masculine” ways outside of sex, but when I was naked, soft and curvy with a body that was anything but masculine, I felt like I could never feel powerful. Anytime I tried to be dominant in sex, it felt like play-acting, and I was uncomfortable with it, relieved when the tables turned and I could be submissive again.
I wasn’t aware at the time, but in retrospect, I realized that my last long-term relationship had a very particular power dynamic that was fueled by my discomfort with being a fully-realized sexual being as a woman. This dynamic played a crucial role in our sex life. My partner was open to all things, but almost before we even became involved our dynamic was set in this certain way; my partner in the position of power, and I the submissive. This is not to say we were not equals in each others’ eyes, and it was through no fault of my partner, who was supportive and loving in all the ways one wishes a partner to be, but I fell into this dynamic because it was the only thing that made sense to me.
My partner was open to trying the opposite, but still I could never get comfortable being the more aggressive one in our sex life. More than that, I was still deeply unhappy with my body in ways I rarely discussed – more importantly, ways I had yet to come to terms with myself. My partner found my body beautiful, loved all the soft parts and the curves, but I didn’t. Any feeling I had of being sexy was external, any validation that I was a sexy, sexual person came from my partner, and never felt secure and grounded from anywhere inside me. Not only was I uncomfortable being aggressive or dominant in sex, I could never feel certain that I was sexy or desirable in any kind of truly womanly, developed way.
Over the course of this relationship, we played around with power dynamics in sex. We played around with scarves and mild restraints. For years, we explored more and more, but it always came back to this – I was comfortable with my partner in the position of power. Even in my submission, however, there was a lack of comfort, because it was still a default. I was always second-guessing my sexuality. I always felt in one way or another that I was imitating some level of confidence and sexual certainty I was supposed to feel.
After that relationship ended, and after a series of mediocre dating experiences one can expect because most people – let’s be honest – are kind of boring and shitty, I got involved with this one man for a few months. Very quickly, it became clear that he was involved in the BDSM community. We began exploring a dom/sub sexual relationship. The second time I went over to his apartment, we were fooling around and getting pretty aggressive with one another. Then, he rolled off of me and asked if he could show me something. He pulled out a large trunk from under his bed and took out a set of leather cuffs with thick straps attached to them. “Can I put these on you?” he asked. I wanted to ask what else was in the trunk, but I was kind of distracted by the offer at hand. That was the first time. The next time I saw him, be brought a flogger, some clamps, and a cane to my apartment. It escalated pretty quickly from there. We pushed my boundaries far beyond anything I had ever experienced before.
I became fascinated with taking ownership of this new exciting side of my sexuality. He had some books on BDSM and I spent hours in his room reading through all of them, learning all this lingo, all these ideas and rules and concepts. I would email him with things I wanted to try, suggesting things even he had never tried before, and we would discuss them and decide on limits and try them together. If you had asked me two years before if I would have been confident suggesting and taking ownership of the kinds of experiences I was having, I would have laughed in your face uncomfortably. During this period that I was with this person, I was fascinated by BDSM. I couldn’t get enough of it. It was like living in a strange, hazy sex dream I never wanted to wake up from. We would put on doom metal albums and get high and fuck on and off for hours in his weird, sparse apartment, with just his bed and this one Dopethrone album poster, framed and hanging just a little crooked on one peeling wall.
When I was submissive in my last relationship, I felt purely, only submissive, in this way that simply felt inevitable. It all came back to my body; my curvy, soft body with the big breasts and the big hips and the soft stomach, and to me how that had always represented weakness and uncertainty. And here, of course, is where the feminist in me is cringing, and doesn’t want to continue, so ashamed that this is the perspective I had for so long. But it’s important to acknowledge this place that I was for so long, so I can understand the significance of coming out of it.
In this new d/s relationship, where I was pushing physical and emotional boundaries in sex I had never pushed before, something strange and incredibly beautiful began to happen to me. Being submissive made me feel powerful. I looked at this man while he was in total control of my body, but I could see the awe in his eyes, completed entranced in watching me play this submissive role. Even if I literally couldn’t move, I still felt so powerful, more than powerful, I felt huge, a fucking goddess, and a god. I felt so masculine and so feminine, and the feelings worked together. But most of all, I felt sexiest in my woman-ness, which was something I had never experienced before. I could really feel how my body looked and felt to him, and for the first time I was truly convinced of its power. I didn’t feel weird about my stomach, its soft parts that fold over when I bend. Sometimes he put clothes pins on my breasts and stomach, grabbing the folds of skin with the little wooden teeth. Everything I had never been comfortable with now made me feel powerful. In this relationship, I could truly grasp that this body I could never identify with before was part of what made me a sexual person. My absolute physical and emotional submission allowed me to let go and believe in my body in a way I had never been able to before. I had never felt so genuinely like a woman, and happy about it. I had never felt so genuinely sexy. The feeling was so intense it could almost bring me to tears. I felt like I was drowning in it. This acceptance of my genuine woman-ness, lying strapped motionless on a bed and looking at my partner who was looking at me in awe, made me feel incredibly magnetic. It gave me this new and undeniable feeling of true comfort in my identity as a woman, and with that, true power in myself.
Because here’s the thing about subbing that I would never have imagined – of course to the dom, to your partner, you are the object of sexual desire. You are who they are watching, and you are the source of their pleasure. But it’s you who is brave enough to give yourself over completely. It’s you who is brave enough to open your body and your mind and utterly submit yourself to another’s will. This makes you brave. It makes you amazing, it makes you terrifying. It gives you power – really, it gives you all the power.
Then, one night when we were together, he asked me to top him. So I did – the restraints, and I used the cane, everything he had ever used on me. Even in our interactions, our voices during the ‘scene’, it was me in power. I had all the control. But there was something remarkably different than when I had tried to be in control with my ex-partner. Then, I had always felt insecure, not quite right in it, because I didn’t have the confidence in my own sexuality to pull it off. But with this man, I liked it. I liked it just as much as being a bottom. Perhaps I even liked it more. It was incredibly intense for both of us. Afterwards we just held each other, and he listened to me talk about how it felt.
Topping my dom felt different than being submissive, but in a way it was also the same. It gave me this new sense of power that was incredibly genuine and real. When both parties are truly committing, the feeling of total control over someone else is addictive. When I was topping him, I used my body and its curves and all its soft parts and I saw how it affected him and it was contagious. Most of all, I didn’t feel uncertain or undeserving of this power. I felt so at home with my body and myself as a woman – a woman who has identity, certainty and pride in herself. For the first time, I felt powerful not through denying or trying to work around my woman-ness, but by embracing it, by embracing my body, by feeling true love for it.
I was twenty-five and I had never had that feeling before. It’s incredibly sad to realize this. I didn’t even know it could exist. I had not felt the absence of it in my past relationship or past sexual experiences. I didn’t even know I was missing it, until I was topping this man I had known for three months and the feeling of love for my own body and comfort in being a grown woman with agency and pride in my sexuality was so surprising it almost overwhelmed me.
Eventually, for reasons entirely unrelated to the BDSM piece, I ended this relationship and moved on. Still, the experience was invaluable to me. Some months after I ended it, I realized that my recent sexual experiences had been making me feel different in a way that was extending beyond the sex itself. I’m sure part of it was just exploring something new with a new person. But it was more than that. By being submissive in sex, I was feeling stronger otherwise, more able to be dominant, assertive, and sure of myself in my regular, non-sexual life. I was feeling more comfortable not being a people-pleaser, which I have always been, often to the detriment of my own long-term happiness. I still am this way – in my heart, I know it’s what I’m like, and in part I’ll always be like that. But I felt more comfortable saying no. If I didn’t want to do something (not even in sex, just in my regular life), I said no. I didn’t feel bad doing it. And I was standing up for myself more. And I believed it. That was the big thing – it didn’t feel put on. It felt true.
This past year, my sexuality has changed and grown immensely, and with it, my perception of my own body has changed as well. I feel more secure in and more love for my body now than I ever have – including when I was twenty pounds lighter, closer to that coveted “cool” “masculine” and “straight down” look I always wanted. I feel strong and capable and soft and womanly in the body I have, and it all belongs to me.
As strange as it may sound, BDSM helped me fall in love with my body and truly possess my own sexuality for the first time. For the first time, in a specific, recognizable way, I knew that my woman-ness gave me incredible power. Instead of being the thing that I was always trying to get around, to hide, and to deny, it became the thing that defined me, that made me powerful and proud. Exploring BDSM in this way, however briefly, helped me become more firm in my regular life. It’s easier now for me to assert myself. And my sexuality, along with my comfort with it and my body, has grown and changed exponentially. I no longer want to shed my soft womanly layer. I love how it feels with my muscles and the rest of me. I feel the sexiest, the strongest, the most grounded in my identity and my sexuality that I have ever felt.
The thing I want to get at here is that when I feel powerful now, and that power comes from femininity, from my woman self, it’s something else. It’s something more. It stakes me, through my submissiveness and assertiveness and softness and strength, to something. It stakes me to the earth. My sexuality and my sense of power and confidence in who I am no longer feels like a jacket, comfortable and molded to me as it was, that I slip on. It feels, now, more like a tree, firmly rooted in my stomach and with branches that reach out through my body to my fingertips, down through my thighs, up to my heart. This power is different because it comes without external validations. It comes from in me, and for the first time it is truly mine.
How has your sexuality developed as you’ve grown older? Have you ever had an experience that felt memorably significant to your perception of yourself as a sexual being? How does your relationship with your body affect your sexuality?