BDSM Is a Place We Go

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“Sex isn’t something you do; it’s a place you go.” —Esther Perel, Couples Therapist and Author

In my past long-term vanilla relationships, the sex and desire always faded, and in some cases dwindled to almost nothing, usually around the same time the guy and I moved in together. There were myriad reasons for this: physical ailments, depression, lack of communication, mismatched libidos, lack of true chemistry. But the heart of the matter was, well, the heart. The familiarity and affectionate routines that inevitably developed over time, and were enhanced by living together, encroached on eroticism and eventually smothered it. Metaphorically, sex wasn’t a place we went because there was nowhere to go. The people we were during sex were the same people we were in the rest of life. Sex wasn’t a departure from ourselves; it was merely a continuation.

My first relationship that hasn’t involved some level of bed death is the one I’m in now with Vagabond. Our chemistry was off the charts from the get go—to a much greater degree than any past relationship—but I kept expecting it to diminish as the months went by because it seemed unlikely that such an intense level of attraction could be sustainable. If anything, it grew stronger. As time went on, we talked about moving in together, but I was wary because I didn’t want to jinx a good thing with the introduction of domesticity. Been there, done that. Eventually, however, the pros of living together far outweighed the cons, so we made the move at the two-year mark, and much to my relief, nothing has changed as a result. Why? BDSM.

Couples therapist Esther Perel has spent decades exploring why desire fades even when love endures and has concluded that much of what fuels erotic desire is in opposition to what fosters love. In love, we seek to reduce differences and close the gap between ourselves and our partners in order to gain closeness and intimacy. But desire is fueled by distance and otherness—by having a place to go. Couples who maintain fulfilling sex lives in the long run know this and work to create a figurative erotic space where they can escape to act out their fantasies and become other people for a while. For us, BDSM is the perfect way to create this space.

Perel talks about how modern relationships are expected to meet seemingly contradictory needs: the predictability and reliability of love on the one hand and the adventure and risk we associate with desire on the other. For us, cohabitation and its attendant stability perfectly fulfill the first need, and BDSM fulfills the second. One of the reasons we enjoy being bedroom players (as opposed to having a dynamic that extends beyond the bedroom) is precisely because the line between our regular lives and our sex life is so bright. While the familiarity and routine of living together squelched erotic energy in past vanilla relationships because they bled into the bedroom, these same qualities now help our sex life thrive because they’re in direct opposition to what we do in bed. The people we are “in scene” bear little resemblance to the people we are the rest of the time, and that contrast is partly what makes it so hot. The fact that we have to mentally travel to this erotic space where we get to be other versions of ourselves makes it that much more of an escape and automatically creates a kind of distance and longing that allows us to miss it—and each other—when we’re not there.

Having this kinky erotic space also helps delineate the boundary between affection and eroticism, which I feel is crucial to maintaining desire. In past vanilla relationships, affection—hair stroking, hugging, snuggling, etc.—often outweighed sex and, in some cases, displaced it entirely. With Vagabond, this is never a problem because affection doesn’t cross the bridge into BDSM. This is not to say that our sex life isn’t suffused with love. On the contrary, every time Vagabond hits me, ties me up, or calls me a whore, I know he does so because he loves me. But affection is reserved for other times and places so that our erotic life stays distinct.

Creating an erotic space may not come naturally to some people—it obviously didn’t for me for many years—but once I left vanilla sex behind, it made total sense. It remains to be seen whether Vagabond and I will be able to maintain it for the long haul, but the fact that we’ve already been successful past the point at which desire died in past relationships is a good sign. BDSM isn’t only a place we go; it’s a journey.             

 

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