Saturday 26 May 2018

BDSM community fear they will be demonised

Elaine O'Hara
Elaine O'Hara
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

From the beginning, it was apparent this was a court case like no other.

The jury was informed on the first day that "acts of stabbing" were an "essential part" of Graham Dwyer and Elaine O'Hara's sexual relationship.

For many, "knife play" and "blood play" were foreign terms.

It seemed surprising such an extreme sexual sub-culture could exist in Ireland.

Bondage and sadomasochism are not common terms in the eminently respectable suburbs of Blackrock and Foxrock.

But as details of the trial emerged, it became apparent a thriving Irish BDSM (Bondage, Dominance and Submission, and Sadomasochism) community existed.

The BDSM sex dating site O'Hara and Dwyer met on, alt.com, claims that more than 28,000 Irish swingers, singles and couples avail of its services. Fet life - a sort of Facebook for 'kinksters' - has a 10,000-strong following in Ireland.

There are also regular BDSM master classes run around the country, suspension stage shows in Temple Bar, erotic arts festivals in County Down, fetish nights in Cork.

Despite the details that have emerged during the court case, a degree of mystery continues to surround the BDSM world.

This is partially due to the term BDSM itself - a clumsy umbrella phrase that encompasses a huge range of sexual preferences and persuasions.

It refers to anything from wearing a pair of novelty handcuffs to being hoisted into the air on hooks, or stabbed with retractable blades.

"There is huge variety within BDSM," Beth Wallace, founder of Sex Festival Bliss Ireland, explained.

"It means very different things to different people. For some, it can be a once-off thing they try at the weekend. For others, it's a 24/7 lifestyle choice."

Complex

Sexological bodyworker Kai Helmich told the Irish Independent: "People tend to jump to the most extreme examples.

"But BDSM is not just about whips. It is more complex."

The clandestine nature of the community also has a more pragmatic bent; for many practitioners, there lies a genuine fear of being "outed".

"Discretion is important because people can lose their jobs," 'Fig' - the co-founder of monthly fetish and BDSM nightclub 'Nimhneach' explained. "Judges take a dim view of 'kinksters' in custody cases and employers in certain care industries are wary of fetish.

"Society's attitude to kinksters nowadays is similar to society's attitude towards gay people in the 1960s."

As a result, many 'kinksters' refrain from giving out details of their personal life, such as phone numbers, professions and surnames.

"Asking what someone does is a faux pas," Fig said. "But we are very conscious of safety and consent."

Consent and boundaries seem to be the most defining features of BDSM.

"There is a huge amount of talk before individuals take part in BDSM," Beth Wallace said.

In light of the Dwyer case, many in the BDSM community fear that they will be demonised and the public debate will suggest those who seek it out are in need of therapy.

However, they argue that this sort of armchair psychology is counter-productive and only forces the culture further underground.

Ms Wallace believes it is unfair to "pathologise" BDSM. "It is a deeply misunderstood," she said. "For the most part, this is a respectful community."

Irish Independent

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