I got into BDSM to satisfy my self-harm urges when I couldn’t hold back or keep my emotional pain, from decades of bullying, ostracizing and loneliness; in anymore after coming to India five years ago from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), when I was 17.
The self-harm itself started with simple acts of fisting my hand and beating myself up in places where the bruises, if any, couldn’t be seen by others—out of guilt for being emotionally weak. For about a year, I scoured the Internet for anything that would explain my feelings to me. The physical pain I was inflicting on myself felt like chains that kept my emotional pain from wrecking the whole of me. It gave me relief from its weight, helping me to leave it all behind, even if momentarily.
That’s how I came across the possibility of how my desire for physical pain could be linked to BDSM. It allowed me to give up all that control involved in my efforts to keep down my emotional pain and get some warmth (if not love) from someone.
That made me curious about various BDSM toys: riding crops, different kinds of whips, the Wartenburg pinwheel, wax play, blindfolds, bondage, etc. Some of them, especially the crop, were already sounding interesting to me.
As I entered my 20s, I found myself exploring and enjoying different kinds of physical pain such as spanking, nipple clamps (made then of repurposed clothespins) and fantasising about whips and wax play. I felt them sexually arousing me, even when I wasn’t in emotional pain. Of course, I was still doubting myself, “What if it’s just about me and my emotional traumas?”. So, like any other person, I consulted the only known free consultation service around me: Google.
I read a multitude of articles, journals, web comics, erotica and more. Other than those common blog posts which top the Google search results, I found a novel series called the Special Agent by C. P. Mandara. It was incredibly enjoyable and arousing and gave me the insight that though I might not enjoy the extreme kind of portrayal in the series, I definitely enjoyed BDSM/kink. Further, I discovered a site called Mangago where I found comics featuring dom/sub arrangements, which opened my eyes to my underlying interest in queer relationships and their representation in media.
Of course, I wouldn’t advocate these as educational resources but these were the only options I had back then, about three years ago. Things haven’t improved much since then. But when it comes to providing accredited sex education with a balanced pleasure and risk-based focus, I have discovered a lot of experienced and/or licensed sex therapists, sexologists and people who lead the kink lifestyle and are providing better information on social media which is an impressive improvement.
It was this period of research that taught me about sadomasochism, i.e., about how one can be both sadistic and masochistic, at same or different times, just like how I’m a switch. Though I started out on this journey fantasizing about receiving pain and pleasure, as I slowly dealt with my traumas, I could see how I also wanted to pleasure my partner and even torture them, consensually, with ‘too much’ pleasure and sensory deprivation. All these realizations taught me how those two sides of me don't need to be equal in amounts, or always stay the same way. It need not be the same kinks either when one is a sadist or a masochist. Further, I understood that an interest in BDSM isn’t always triggered by past traumas as shown in Fifty Shades of Grey or in my case. It taught me that trauma being the start of an interest in pain, impact play or kink doesn’t invalidate your interest in it, as long as you perform it consensually without permanent or lasting damage.
Through this process of self-discovery, once I had such understanding in place to give me assurance that I’m not doing something wrong, I got more interested in finding people with similar urges and interests. Of course, again, I didn’t know where to do that as I couldn’t go right into it with the people I met in real life, considering the social taboos surrounding sex and anything slightly far from the “seemingly normal” standards.
So, I turned to my online consultant, Google, which guided me into the virtual world of BDSM Tests at bdsmtest.org and kinky dating apps such as Fetlife.com, OKCupid.com, etc. From those apps/sites, I started to find people at different stages of their kink life—beginners, explorers, experienced kinksters.
After much trial and error, online communication (chatting) and some help from the long list of kinks and percentages thanks to bdsmtest.org (100% Switch, 95% Masochist, 94% Rope bunny, 87% Submissive, 75% Experimentalist, 42% Vanilla, 83% Sadist, 76% Dominant, etc.), I started on my BDSM journey, through Telegram, with a straight and mostly vanilla person with whom the only thing I shared was my mother tongue. He was into slightly integrating kink with vanilla sex rather than full-on dominance and submission. This online set-up of Friends with Benefits (FwB) went on for some time before that person suddenly ghosted me because of “academic purposes and relocation”, as informed later.
That made it the right time to restart my journey of exploration of full-on dominance and submission. After some time of repeating the same process as before, I was back to Telegram with a new dominant/sadistic (Dom) partner.
Finding someone offline wasn’t an option at that point, especially in Kerala culture. To add to it, I didn’t know where in my district would I even be able explore these things. Moreover, my first FwB was in a different district. My second FwB was in a different state altogether. Thus, making physical proximity with the right people, an in-person reality, a practical challenge.
The only similarities I shared with this new online dom was that we lived in the same country and our overlapping interests in BDSM. Other than that, we had miles between us. Some time of detailed communication about kinks, fetishes, consent, limits, safewords, aftercare and more, as detailed as it can be between FwBs, slowly progressed to late night sessions through video/audio calls, disappearing photos and end-to-end encrypted chats. Those rendezvous helped us discover more about each other, our tastes, wants and likes such as anal, being addressed as ‘sir’, etc., though I wasn’t fully capable/confident yet to voice it all.
As enjoyable as it all was, I was at an exploratory stage of discovering my desires, interests and what bodily autonomy meant to me. Simultaneously, I could also feel something uncomfortable piling up after each of our late-night sessions but I didn’t know what exactly yet, especially since master wasn’t doing anything beyond what I consented to and neither did he force me to do anything, which meant that I didn’t talk about that to my master yet.
Back then, I chose to ignore this unclear inner voice of mine and agree to master’s prompt to try out neglect play, without humiliation/degradation or pet play, since those are absolute NOs to me. Though I hung on till that session ended, I absolutely broke down after that.
“But why? Everything seemed to be going well.” Well, in those hours of me crying alone from the breakdown, I realized that the structured setups of BDSM, combined with the limitations online chatting/calls put on the whole experience was bringing the pain from years and years of loneliness, and lack of warmth, back up. The neglect play seemed to be the nail in the coffin, triggering childhood traumas. It brought back memories from my childhood when I wanted to share my feelings of sadness due to being ostracised by the same classmates I studied with for 13 years, repeatedly. Contrary to my hope, it was a long and hard journey to navigate before and sometimes even after I had someone to share all those feelings with before becoming numb in some ways and taking advantage of it in other ways. It brought back the extreme loneliness that threatened to break me, thanks to my mom working hard to make me independent as I’m now and dad being unavailable, and if available, invalidating. It left me a crying mess which caused me to withdraw from my master and end things between us because back then, I still didn’t know how to handle such matters or situations, other than escaping. Now that I look back, I can see how wrong it was both to me and my master.
Taking some time off from the BDSM world and sexual/physical exploration gave me some insights on what that “uncomfortable” thing that had been piling up was and how that might have subconsciously contributed to the unfortunate but very much needed ending.
Be it due to the influence of my traumas or because I’m a writer focused on words and communication, the aftercare I needed, be it the time, amount and/or kind, was different from that of my partner's, just like how people’s love languages or learning methods might be different. My partner was more focused on the physical aspects of aftercare while it was more about the emotional aspects of it for me. Further, I also understood that as much as I enjoy the main BDSM session, aftercare is a heavily important part of the process and has added importance for people like me with emotional scars. Moreover, it signified how a lot of the aftercare part meant ‘detailed’ communication to me, no matter how long it takes and how later it is after the play session.
Additionally, it brought to me the significance of aftercare even in vanilla relationships and how I might prefer integration of kink/sadomasochism into vanilla relationships rather than full-on sir/ma’am/madam/master, i.e., structured dominance and submission (D/S dynamics). Another insight was how my first experience with the ghosting guy might have been a bit too softcore for me like how the second one was slightly too hardcore for me which was both funny to know and enlightening.
Today, physical pain during sex/foreplay, in certain amounts in certain body parts while not in others, is a fetish of mine that I indulge in with my partners in-person and rope play, wax play, blindfolding, edging, polyamory, etc., are more kinks to me. Of course, even among these and beyond, there's a lot more for me to explore and understand my likes and preferences. But one thing I definitely understand is how important detailed communication and honesty towards myself and my partner before, after and later is to me and after the implementation of those insights into my ongoing relationships, be it sexual, romantic or platonic, I can see how positively it impacts them and lasts longer with transparency and practicality, if it works for all those involved. It taught me how honest communication can be a tool or sometimes a weapon that I can leverage, in my work, to diplomatically create problems which are the catalysts for change, to create a better tomorrow.
Reshma Anil Kumar (they/them) is a queer neurodivergent Gender Equity, LGBTQ+ Rights and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Activist, Speaker and Writer from Kerala. They are also a Youth Policy Champion at the Youth Ke Bol collective, while doing their postgraduation in Gender and Development Studies.