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'Like nothing I’ve ever felt before’: understanding consensual BDSM as embodied experience

Turley, EL (2016) 'Like nothing I’ve ever felt before’: understanding consensual BDSM as embodied experience. Psychology & Sexuality, 7 (2). pp. 149-162. ISSN 1941-9902

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Abstract

This paper aims to illustrate how the consensual sexual practice of BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance and submission and sadism and masochism) can be interpreted as a method of embodied exploration. It will detail the various ways that engaging in BDSM, either as the dominant/top or submissive/bottom partner, is able to enhance feelings of corporeality and explore bodily relationships with the world and with other people. For many practitioners, BDSM places the body into central focus, and this work will elucidate the ways that this can be conceptualised as ‘embodied exploration’. Taken from a project examining the erotic experience of BDSM, this research adopted an existential phenomenological approach. Existential philosopher Merleau-Ponty argued that the body is not simply another object in the world, but that people are inextricably linked to the world through their bodies as body-subjects. Nine participants were recruited for the study, and variation in self-identified sexual role, gender, sexual orientation and age was deliberately sought for the sample. Template analysis, a method of hierarchically organising and structuring thematic findings, was used to analyse the interview data of the research participants. The salient themes relating to BDSM as embodied exploration are discussed in this paper with particular reference to unfamiliar physical and emotional sensations, imposed corporeal limitations and experience a sense of embodied liberation.

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