BDSM - a mash-up acronym for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism - is the kinky stuff you do behind closed doors but did you ever wonder where it got its start?
The history of BDSM is complicated. Combining crazy sex positions, whips and chains, pain and pleasure, and power relationships, it has been around as long as sex itself. BDSM is more than sex, however, and its origins come out of cultural, personal, and erotic preferences converging. With the written word and artistic rendering, sexual desires and practices found representation and expression, offering a voice to participants, comfort to adherents, and even a sense of refuge to people seeking to understand. Over time, this all came together to form modern BDSM subculture.
Whips Were All Over The Ancient World
In Mesopotamia, the fertility goddess Inanna would whip her subjects so they would become sexually aroused. She adorned herself in jewels, riled the people up into a sex-crazed dance, and cracked her whip until they started having intercourse. In Greek art, flagellation was common and Plutarch wrote about Spartan whipping competitions.
"The boys in Sparta were lashed with whips during the entire day at the altar of Artemis Orthia, frequently to the point of death, and they bravely endured this, cheerful and proud, vying with one another for the supremacy as to which one of them could endure being beaten for the longer time and the greater number of blows. And the one who was victorious was held in especial repute."
The Ancient Greeks Were Into Bondage
The story of Andromeda, the beautiful daughter of the Greek King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia of Joppa, is one of the first featuring bondage. Andromeda's mother, Cassiopeia, bragged about her daughter's appearance so much that it offended the sea nymphs who then enlisted Poseidon to send a sea monster to wreak havoc on Joppa.
The oracle told King Cepheus that the only way to make the chaos stop was to sacrifice Andromeda to the sea monster. King Cepheus had Andromeda chained to a rock but Greek hero Perseus intervened and saved her. Perseus fell in love with her, killed the monster, married her, and she later bore him seven children.
Other stories from the ancient world that intermingle love and physical bonds. In Euripides' Hippolytus, Aphrodite orders Theseus to tie up his son, Hippolytus.
The Kama Sutra Contains Instructions On Passionate Slapping
According to the Kama Sutra, there are six appropriate places to strike a person with passion and four ways to do it:
"The place of striking with passion is the body, and on the body the special places are: The shoulders, the head, the space between the breasts, the back, the jaghana, or middle part of the body, the sides...striking is of four kinds: Striking with the back of the hand, striking with the fingers a little contracted, striking with the fist, striking with the open palm of the hand."
The lines between pain, pleasure, and passion are often intertwined given the Kama Sutra also mentions that,
"sometimes carried away by passion a woman puts aside her natural temperament and and acts the part of the man by slapping and beating him or play fighting with him...she at the height of excitation becomes hard and fearless and dominates...."
The Kama Sutra Teaches How To Bite, Nip, And Gnaw Too
Much like advice on love pats, the Kama Sutra lists appropriate places to bite and ways to do it. For example, the "line of jewels," a bite using all of one's teeth, should be used when biting the throat, armpit, or thighs.
The Kama Sutra also provides instructions on how a couple should use mouth-play to foster the passion in their relationship. A woman should,
"take hold of her lover by the hair, and bend his head down, and kiss his lower lip, and then, being intoxicated with love, she should shut her eyes and bite him in various places... when her lover shows her any mark that she may have inflicted on his body, she should smile at the sight of it, and turning her face as if she were going to chide him, she should show him with an angry look the marks on her own body that have been made by him. Thus if men and women act according to each other's liking, their love for each other will not be lessened even in one hundred years."