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Adventures of Pleasure: Conceptualising consensual bondage, discipline, dominance & submission, and sadism & masochism (BDSM) as a form of adult play

Turley, EL and Monro, S and King, N (2017) Adventures of Pleasure: Conceptualising consensual bondage, discipline, dominance & submission, and sadism & masochism (BDSM) as a form of adult play. International Journal of Play, 6 (3). pp. 324-334. ISSN 2159-4937

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Abstract

This paper will illustrate how the consensual sexual practice of bondage, discipline, dominance & submission, and sadism & masochism (BDSM) can be interpreted as a form of adult play. Terminology and language used by BDSM practitioners frequently draws upon imagery of play, fun and games, and narratives around BDSM related activities are reflective of this. Drawing upon empirical data along with various psychological and sociological theoretical perspectives, this paper will explore the conceptualisation of consensual BDSM as a form of adult erotic play. Vygotsky proposed that fantasy play is a tool used by children for the purpose of liberating themselves from situational constraints, thus enabling them to explore thoughts, behaviours and emotions that would not otherwise be possible. The current paper argues that this function of fantasy can be applied to adult practitioners of BDSM, and advances this argument by theorising that consensual BDSM is a form of socio-dramatic play for adults, which serves an erotic and/or pleasurable purpose. Play enables experimentation with creativity, language, physical nuances and social roles and conventions; this paper argues that engaging in BDSM allows similar experimentation with gender, social non-conventions and physical and psychological sensations, and proposes that this kind of adult play is signified by an erotic element. Taken from a wider study into the lived experience of consensual BDSM, data were collected via nine in-depth, semi-structured interviews with self-identified BDSM practitioners in the United Kingdom recruited using a snowball sample, and analysed using the template approach within an interpretive phenomenological framework, as described by Merleau-Ponty (1945/1962). The participant experiences elicited in the research reveal commonalities between their engagement as adults in BDSM and typical features of socio-dramatic play in children, such as the role of imagination, the creation and maintenance of a separate reality and a sense of fun.

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