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How S&M Sex Helped Me Heal from My Rape

Author Jane Devin overcame fear to embrace an unlikely ally.

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The discussions around Fifty Shades and sexual submission often fall short for me, though. On one hand, there are the giggly, gratuitous odes to strong manly men and their bodice-ripping sex appeal. On the other, there’s an outrage that—oh my god, it’s 2012 and women are still being objectified; where the outcry, and why aren’t they rebelling?

My experiences tell me that there are aspects to BDSM that aren’t covered by either of those discussions. Namely, that for a considerable number of women who engage in sexual submission, the practice is an attempt at self-healing.

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My partner in BDSM was an older man named Michael who was, in all ways outside of the bedroom, a gentle spirit. I was in my late 20’s when I met him and had been sexually inactive for a few years. After a short bout of teenage promiscuity, followed by a brief and bad marriage at 19, I found that while I could enjoy the physical part of sex with a man, it always left me feeling empty, like there was something vital missing. The suspicion that I was gay had been growing since puberty, but I truly had no idea what to do with it—it was a different and less accepting era, and I didn’t know anyone else in my small town who was gay. Anyway, when I met Michael, I wasn’t expecting more than friendship, but after months of exchanging confidences our relationship became sexual in that very sweet, vanilla way of mutual comfort.

When Michael originally divulged his history as a BDSM “Master” I was intrigued, but slightly afraid, even of my own curiosity. In my young, repressed, and fractured mind, people who did “those things” were on the other side of some vague, but universally scary, partition of right/wrong. I recalled my rapists, but also every trench coat wearing deviant I’d seen on television in my childhood, who pimped out women, and frequented porn theaters. In that perfectly two-dimensional black and white world, there was only “normal” and perverted, strictly delineated by the level of society’s approval. There was no middle, no “other normal,” and yet here I was—a woman who was attracted to other women, having a relationship with a man who enjoyed sexual domination, and I didn’t feel perverted at all. Where did I fit in this neat schema?

As my black and white world started to turn grey, I found myself growing less anxious and more objective around the subject of sex. Eventually, I asked Michael to be my partner in a new, exploratory journey. Together, we agreed on some initial ground rules (some of which we ended up keeping, while others were quickly abandoned).

We started off slowly, with some light bondage, but it took no time at all to escalate my role as a sub or his as a Dom. It was an amazing thing to me—how easy, and even natural, it felt to hand the reins to someone else in the bedroom—all while knowing that I was the one truly in control. I had a safe word that would instantly stop anything that felt uncomfortable which Michael, by way of our agreement, was obliged to heed. I never used it, though. My trust in him was full and absolutely exquisite. It was that trust, so solidly and completely bonded to our intimate and physical relationship, that allowed me to break through one self-imposed boundary at a time with a confidence I’d never felt before.

Within weeks, the woman who would once only get naked in the dark became a stranger to me. You can’t be consensually tied up, spread-eagle on the bed, having agreed to be submissive to someone else, and keep a sense of self-consciousness—you can’t be that willingly open and vulnerable while harboring years of pent-up shame. At least I found that I couldn’t.

 
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