Play and Safety: by Tanonymous
Playing With Power: The Art of Slavery
The art of slavery is a fine one. Its tools and trappings, black leather, whips, chains, manacles of steel, may seem crude and obvious to an outsider, but the dynamics of S&M are much more complex than they appear.
The basic, underlying dynamic in any kind of S&M play is power exchange. One partner assumes an all-powerful role, and the other partner gives up all of his or her power - at least for the duration of the ceremony. The rituals of abasement and submission serve to play up the power difference between the two partners.
The dominant partner chooses how and where to inflict varying sensations on the body of the submissive, from intense pain to erotic pleasure. To further emphasize the fact that the submissive partner is powerless, he or she may be restrained either physically, behaviorally, or both. He may be tied tightly in a harness of leather or ropes, unable to move or even struggle. She may be forced to remain on her knees and address the dominant as "Master" or "Mistress."
Humiliation is another common tool in the repertoire of an dominant. It is frequently used to emphasize the lowly status of a submissive. It may be of a sexual nature ("You little slut"), or simply verbal abuse ("You groveling worm, you miserable turd"). However, there remains an essential and underlying respect between partners that transforms this apparently harsh and brutal act into one of mutual exploration and psychodrama.
While there is nothing wrong with SM as a playful erotic activity, those who wish to delve deeper into its mysteries will find that there is much more to it than whips and chains and fetish leathers. Just as physical restraints such as collars and bonds emphasize the submissive role and work toward achieving a total giving up of control to the dominant, psychological restraints attempt the same end.
The acronym "SM" can stand for a number of things. "Sadist and Masochist" and "Slave and Master" are probably the two most commonly used interpretations. I would add a third - "Stage Management." The art of taking control, and to a lesser extent, giving up control, is a delicate and precise one, though never exactly the same when used on different subjects.
A good parallel is the Japanese art of ikebana, a meditative art that uses elements of nature to compose a meaningful picture. While each arrangement is subtly different, they all conform to strict and ancient disciplines.
Light and shadow, background colors and the carefully asymmetrical curve of a tiny leaf are all taken into consideration. Beauty is created by arranging the ritual elements and symbols in a fresh and meaningful way while remaining within a framework of rigid conformity.
Tall stems of water lilies, a spray of green, the curving fronds of fern against a bed of moss and stones and water. The symbols are ancient and well-known, yet the subtle and skillful arrangement causes them to combine with new meaning. Next to such an ikebana, a bouquet of roses looks garish and simple, and evokes a single note of emotion rather than a complex melody.
Kneel, kiss the whip, bow your head to recieve the heavy collar. Black leather, blindfold, hard paddle, riding crop and corset. Shame, helplessness, fear and finally surrender. Pain, sharp or throbbing, and contrasting erotic sensation. Verbal abuse, lovingly harsh.
Like a fine ikebana, the SM scene is a creative arrangement of the elements and dynamics of power and trust, meant to create a thing of beauty. In this artistic form, it transcends the brute physical fact of the whip, the crop and the black leather to become a spiritually powerful and transformational picture.