BDSM: Bondage / Discipline / Dominance / Submission / Sadism / Masochism – a Brief History.

Okay, so if you’re reading this, I’m willing to wager that you’ve a strong grip on what the mash-up acronym ‘BDSM, stands for, and what it entails as a practice. But, what about the history of it. How long have we been using powerplay in the bedroom? When did torture devices make their way into the bedrooms of the ordinary citizens? Who do we have to thank for such a game-changing move? Was it the Romans? Unfortunately, they didn’t teach me any of this stuff in history class in school, so off I went trawling the internet for the answers to these questions and more. Hope you find the facts as interesting (and sometimes funny/shocking) as I did!

The worlds first Dominatrix?

So – I would have thought initially that the development of BDSM would have corresponded to the usage of torture devices in Europe. We often see imagery of people being whipped and stretched out and the like in films set not that long ago. But I was way off track with that assumption. In fact, I was millennia away from being right! As it turns out the first attested acts that resemble BDSM date from Mesopotamian (where modern day Iraq, Syria, Turkey are now) culture, in the 4th century BCE. In their polytheistic mythology, a rather steamy orgy-like situation occurs when their fertility goddess, Inanna, whips her slaves for the purpose of sexually stimulating them. Dressed head to toe in jewels, she would march into a public scene and literally whip people into a sexual frenzy until they were so aroused a full-blown orgy broke out. Wow! Even by modern standards that’s pretty far up there on the kink scale, right?

What have the Romans ever given us?

Naturally, as I had expected, the Roman’s also got a bit adventurous when it came to their sexuality. They had a building especially for that purpose, in fact – the Tomb of the Flogging. In this venue, women would gather to flog each other as a celebration of the god of fertility and wine, Dionysus. I’m beginning to think that these fertility gods were just calling themselves such to get a glimpse of the real action!

So, there’s definitely a historical precedent which is even quasi-religious at points (which is pretty weird, but hey), but what I was really drawn to is the point when it all became that little bit more graphic, and where you can begin to see real similarities between the ways of old and what we do now. So verily, onward we march into the last millennium.

Hardcore erotic literature, anyone?

England, France and indeed Germany had somewhat of a sexual awakening from the period of the 16th to the 19th Century, with erotic literature discreetly working its way through the underground of an outwardly very refined and modest society. Tales and artwork of chamber maids whipping their masters, and vice versa circulated. The implications of power turned backwards, or just emphasised, tantalised a broad range of readers – each of whom was hidden firmly behind closed doors, of course. Then in the late 1700’s, the boundaries of contemporarily ‘acceptable’ behaviour were pushed even further with the advent of the Marquis de Sade’s erotic novel, ‘120 Days of Sodom’. Even by modern standards this work is graphic; portraying group sex, beatings, rope play, forced orgasms and even some cutting. Though this particular work didn’t hold too much significance at the time, it did however play a large part in the development of what we came to know as BDSM. But it did so in a pretty unlikely way.

The 1920s. Post WWI Germany was a place in need of a boost – a spark to reinvigorate the war-torn country. It’s people, frustrated at the old ways of living which brought little in the way of gratification, began to seek out something more – something ‘dangerous’. They found their kick in dated erotica. Copies of de Sade’s work thus began to circulate and began to give people new ideas, and for a while (before Hitler) people began to express their unique sexualities – either via exploring BDSM, their bisexuality, transsexuality, or otherwise.

Bizarre happenings in the 20th century

Further on in the 20th Century, we begin to see the origins of the distinctive BDSM-style wear that we’re all so familiar with now. America in the 40’s and 50’s wasn’t all as rigid and conservative as the older generations would have you believe, it seems! They’ve been hiding their secrets from us! During this era, you get loads of underground magazine publishers putting out stuff with strong links to BDSM – my favourite of which is Bizarre magazine. For those of you who haven’t seen any imagery from Bizarre, it is essentially softcore BDSM allusions which you could just buy in a shop. It’d have rope-play, handcuffs, leather gear, whips – the whole lot! Some pictures would even portray beating or struggling to get out of restraints. I would say it was ahead of its time, but, ya know – the Mesopotamians got there first! Nevertheless, from here we see the almost fully evolved BDSM – and a society on the cusp of sexual revolution; the poster girl of which was none other than Bettie Page, the Queen of Pin-ups, and the Queen of BDSM. On her Bizarre work’s effect on the sexual revolution of the 60’s, Bettie famously quipped: “they claimed I opened up the sexual revolution, but I was just doing my job – and I loved every moment of it”

The term BDSM itself came into being in 1969, and well – here we are! If you would like me to do a country or century specific evolution of BDSM, please let me know in the comments as I had a lot of fun researching this!

Written exclusively for Female Fetish Federation

3 responses to “BDSM: Bondage / Discipline / Dominance / Submission / Sadism / Masochism – a Brief History.”

  1. Surely there’s gotta be a Domme out there who’s studied her history going by the name of Goddess Inanna? If not, I might take the title for myself!

  2. There was way too much to go into for an article this size, but I’ll keep that in mind as something to look at soon – it’d be fun to research. I didn’t even get to talk about the vinegar soaked whips of the 15th Century this time out, so there’s definitely room for more!

  3. Wow!! So basically if I can ever time travel I want to go back to the Mesopotamian era!

    I’d love to learn more about the history of BDSM. Like when did these kind of practices go underground and why? Because originally it was public and common.

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