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S. Nicole Lane
April 25, 2017 10:03 am

Every 98 seconds, an American becomes a survivor of sexual assault. In 2007, I was one of them. In the years that followed, I wasn’t able to acknowledge my experience as an assault. Of course, I noted it and remembered it, but did not dwell on the memory.

In 2009, I began to suffer from vaginismus, an involuntary muscle spasm that made sex painful, unavailable, and unimaginably oppressive. As a result, I began to write about women’s health and sexual wellness, but I didn’t connect my vaginismus to my assault as a teenager until much later. Once I made that rational realization, I dedicated my recovery to healing, repairing, and restoring my psyche.

Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I hope to incorporate my writing as a form of constant resistance and recovery from my own sexual assault. I have found a safe space in the online community—I now use writing as coping, writing as rehabilitating, writing as reclaiming my identity. But that’s not the only thing I use to heal myself.

After leaving a toxic and abusive relationship earlier this year, I began to experiment with kink and BDSM. Whipping and slapping, dominance and submissiveness, power and control—these are all types of therapy for me. In a way, incorporating BDSM into my sexual experience itches a particular scratch. I am in control, and I dominate the situation.

What exactly is BDSM?

Bondage, dominance, submission, and masochism. BDSM is a lifestyle where individuals choose to incorporate power, pain, pleasure, and release into their sexual experience. Specifically, there is a Dominant and a Submissive who consensually participate. I am currently a Switch, someone who plays both roles.

This is not to say that my experimentation with BDSM is solely in response to my trauma. But my recovery did begin when I decided to be a dominant. This sexual practice is revolutionary for my mind and body.

How does BDSM fit into the lives of women who have been sexually assaulted?

The aftereffects of sexual assault typically include anxiety, depression, sensitivity to touch, pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Feelings of isolation and shame are common. 94 percent of women who are raped experience PTSD up to two weeks after their assault. Moreover, 70 percent of assault survivors experience distress. 33 percent contemplate suicide.

Recommended wellness techniques for trauma are yoga and meditation. However, recent studies have found that BDSM can result in altered states of consciousness. Similar to yogic or meditation based sessions, BDSM provides a type of therapeutic quality.

Ellen Lee, a graduate student at Northern Illinois University, her advisor Brad Sagarin, and a research team studied the rituals performed by the BDSM community.

"We think this may be indicative of the types of altered states of consciousness people might be seeking," Sagarin told Live Science.

Less blood flow to the brain, which occurs during painful experiences, can result in a “feeling of oneness.” The physical and the psychological are linked in the cognizant experience of consensual sadomasochism.

Characteristics of a “bottoms” experience in an altered state are floating, peacefulness, and time distortion. Comparatively, a dominant’s response is the Csikszentmihalyi Nine Dimensions of Flow, which includes: a feeling of balance between the demands; total absorption; knowing exactly what is needed in the situation; clear feedback; totally focused and concentrated; being in control and being free of fear of failure; loss of self-consciousness; transformation of the self; an intrinsic reward. The BDSM community calls this “topspace.”

How does BDSM contribute to healing?

Many people who have experienced sexual assault feel as if they have no control, so BDSM gives them the chance to reclaim power. Furthermore, my relationships after my abuse were unhealthy and emotionally manipulative, and I consider the vanilla sex I was having with them to be more abusive than the consensual kinky sex that I’m having now. My role as the dominant and the submissive allows me to wield the power.

Here’s how I have re-written my own sexual script thanks to my kink lifestyle.

Building trust

During my role as the dominant, I am able to safely release anger. The trust that I have built with my partner has given me the ability to unleash any repressed feelings. Similarly, my partner must trust me and my actions during my role as the dominant. “Safety, Consensuality, and Mutuality” are at the core of BDSM partnerships.

Reclaiming my body

The emotional connection to my body by dominating my partner has eradicated anxieties and insecurities. As a result, reclaiming my body and owning my identity encourages strength and confidence. Moreover, I choose where I want my body to go. I do not allow my partner to dictate when we climax, where we move, what types of positions we get into. I call the shots, I direct the motions.

The takeaway?

Clearly, this isn’t to say that all survivors of sexual assault are drawn to kink because of their past. Nevertheless, kink has served as a vehicle for my recovery. It has become an empowering mechanism for me to control my sexual environment. Utilizing kink in a holistic way, such as spanking, slapping, and controlling movement, creates an environment where I put my needs first. In comparison, my heteronormative and vanilla past are more problematic and triggering for me. It’s also important to note that people who participate in sadomasochism are no more likely to be abused than people who have more “normal” sex lives.

Experimentation and communication are at the center of BDSM. There is a beauty in personal exploration that you can achieve while toying with new and alternative sexual lifestyles. Leanna Custer, an AIDS Counselor once said, “I can explore aspects of myself that I don’t get a chance to explore otherwise. So even though I’m playing a role, I feel more connected with myself.”

The BDSM community remains in a constant push back against stigmas and stereotypes. Nevertheless, my body, my recovery, and above all, my sanity, are embracing this kinky world by pulling on one boot strap at a time.

BDSM is loving and warm. It isn’t harmful or shameful. It’s safe, secure, and it’s mine.

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