When I first found BDSM I had many misconceptions about the potential of the lifestyle. I was under the impression BDSM was just a fun bedroom activity to escape the real world and that it could be a place to connect with other “freaks” like myself. While there is a level of truth to that, the more I leaned into the lifestyle, the more I discovered it’s true potential. Because the BDSM world is so steeped in vulnerability, connection, and communication, it serves as the perfect arena for growth and personal development.
When I came to this conclusion, it delved deeper into experimenting with different elements of BDSM and whether or not it could transform my life. While I would never suggest that BDSM is the solution to mental health issues, as someone who has to be very careful with her mental health, I’ve found many benefits from adding kink into my wellness plan. I’ve found that while it’s easy to use kink as an escape from your problems, it’s equally easy to use it to address those problems head on.
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Stability & Order
One of the benefits of having a dynamic is that there is a sense of stability. My Dominant makes the rules and I follow them. If things are uncomfortable for me, I’ll speak up about it and he’ll formulate a solution so that we are both comfortable. Having regular rules and obligations not only gives me something to look forward too but it also gives me something to fall back on if I’ve had a rough day. During depressive episodes, I may not do much at work or even leave my bed so sometimes just completing my meditation task is something I can be proud of before bed — a small win.
Being in a variety of dynamics, I realized that stability is very important to me and when I was in dynamics that didn’t have that, I felt frustrated. Upon reflecting, I realized that stability, in general, was essential to my ability to function. For example, while I could adapt to an unstable environment (and have done so my whole life), what I grew to realize is that I experience less burnout with a regular schedule versus a rotating schedule. As part of my dynamic, my Dominant teaches me Japanese and having regularly scheduled class together, helps with my retention. Having a plan of action makes me feel safe and he is very good at providing that safety for me.
Tasks & Protocol Establishes Order
Having protocol helps the dynamic run smoothly and thus mimicking that order in my day to day life will help my life run smoother. At least in theory. Protocols also offer another benefit: connection. When I serve him tea, I feel connected. When I kneel to prepare for meditation, I feel so much closer to him because I am doing things his way. I loved feeling connected and at some point in my journey I had an epiphany and thought “wow, this feels good. What would it feel like if I felt this way about myself?” so I started incorporating rituals and protocol for myself. From the way I prepare my food to the way I prepare myself a special treat, I try to do things in a more intentional way for my own pleasure and comfort.
I also feel connected to my Dominant whenever I complete a task. A majority of my tasks are during the weekday so I’ve adopted a “week days are for building, weekends are for creating” sort of set up. So during the week, I’ll work hard at my job, do my workouts, and eat my scheduled meals then on the weekends I get to relax, write, cook, and do all the things that make me feel good.
I will admit that things I plan out for myself don’t always go smoothly so I’ll often ask my Dominant for direction. However, I always have goals to strive for and he is there to support my efforts when I need it. By doing this, we’ve cultivated tools for me to use and I’m learning how to better handle other areas of my life.
Headspaces & Aftercare
While it’s fine to become the perfect slut in a sex-based scene or an obedient pup in a pet-play scene, I obviously have other things I want to do, responsibilities to attend to, cats to feed, etc. The same can be said of my partner so getting back into a functional headspace is important. That’s where aftercare comes in. Aftercare is something that I’ve had to put thought into. My first impression of it was a bit surface level—cuddles after a scene. However, I’ve come to understand that aftercare can involve many agreed upon activities in order to bring both parties out of the headspace of their role and “back to the real world” so to speak.
Learning what makes me get into and out of a submissive headspace has been incredibly helpful because I am able to share that knowledge with my Dominant. As well, I applied that concept to other scenarios—addressing sub-drop and having shorter depressive episodes.
My personal aftercare routine begins with a home-cooked meal. I am developing a personal menu so I will often choose a dish from that. While I eat, I watch something light and often geared towards little me. This helps calm me down and afterwards, I’ll spend time journaling my feelings. I may do meditation, take a shower, or go for a walk depending on the types of feelings I felt.
Using Aftercare to Develop a Self-Care Routine
I used to experience subdrop a lot after scenes. Even if we did all the play I wanted and even with exceptional aftercare, sometimes I would become very sad after departing. I would become frustrated with myself because I felt my feelings were unreasonable and made me selfish and ungrateful. My Dominant told me that sub-drop was normal and would take extra time for aftercare. I spent a lot of time reflecting about why I might feel those things and where those feelings came from. I stumbled upon the idea of giving myself additional aftercare on my own and it turned into a self-care routine.
Following a scene, I’ll:
Aftercare Develops Self-Compassion
If aftercare helps me get out of a submissive headspace I had the idea of using aftercare to get out of a depressive episode. The way I figured, when I’m in “a depressed headspace” I do think and behave differently so why couldn’t I try to use aftercare to ease myself into a functional headspace.
I’m happy to report that it is a work in progress, but something that I’m happy I thought of. When I was in a happier space, I made a list of things that made me feel good, safe, happy, and whole. When I’m in that dark place, I can refer to the list, or at the very least my Dominant can use that list to instruct me if I’m in such a low point, I can not do things on my own. While I have many other resources to support my mental health, viewing it this way has made it much more manageable and less scary for me.
Boundaries and Limits
Even when I was new to the lifestyle, people would ask “what are your hard limits?” and early on, I had none but as I developed and learned what all was out there, I was able to identify both hard and soft limits. While not every limit crossed is a malicious act from an evil-doer, I learned not having boundaries and the ability to communicate them is a set up for disaster. That led me to the conclusion that I can’t communicate what I need or what soothes me if I don’t know myself.
I started reflecting on things I liked and disliked as well as why I felt those things. For example I knew I liked choking but I was afraid of a certain chokehold (at first) but didn’t want to be afraid anymore. By getting to know myself, I can work together with my Dominant to help me move past my fears and help me explore even deeper.
The other thing I learned is that boundaries are needed in all relationships. In a similar fashion, life has a way of crossing all your boundaries if you have none. I’ve had many relationships (platonic, romantic, and professional) that would take too much of me. I had a bad habit of saying “yes” too much, being guilted into giving in, and spreading myself too thin. As a result, I was severely stressed and yet trapped by my obligations and good girl sensibilities. Learning how to say “no” and be honest about what I could or could not do, has helped me reclaim my life. I don’t think I would have learned that at this stage in life had I not found BDSM.
Open Communication For Setting Boundaries
Communication is a core element of my dynamic and unlearning my tendency to “grin and bear it” has been one of the greatest benefits that kink has given me. Too be transparent, this is something I struggle with the most due to being so accustomed to burying my feelings. However, my honesty is always rewarded and I’m learning that it is okay and encouraged to be truthful. The purpose of the dynamic I’m in isn’t for me to suffer in silence, it’s to thrive and that can’t happen if I’m burying everything.
In the same vein, I’ve come to believe that my life no longer has to be about suffering in silence. I reach out for help more at work and let them know when a project is too much for me to handle. I’ve been practicing saying no to social events I’m not super excited about or communicate when my desire to attend changes.
Soft Limits Challenging The Present Self
Holding Myself Accountable
Something that I hear a lot when talking with lifestyle people is that when you’re in a dynamic, you need to be able to “hold yourself accountable”. For your emotions, baggage, actions, etc. At first, I didn’t understand what all that entailed. Initially, it sounded like all you had to do was tell yourself a hard truth and that was it. As I delved a little deeper, I realized that holding myself accountable was a series of actions—an ongoing process that permeates every area of a dynamic. While I am still learning how to do this, I make a serious effort. While I’ve never had a problem admitting I am wrong, I think accountability for me means getting the sleep I need rather than powering through a task because I know when I don’t get sleep, it makes it hard to function the next day. Or, making sure I don’t say “yes” too much at work when I know I get overwhelmed. Things like that are how I keep myself accountable for my own mental health since I know it’s something I struggle with.
In addition to doing self-analysis, in order to keep myself accountable, I verbalize to my partners when something has triggered me. Especially if my feelings have made me change my actions. If I’ve been less responsive that day or just going through the motions, once I am aware of it, I let them know and we have a discussion about it so that we can move forward together. I’m also much better at verbalizing to my partners “I am not able to do this”, “this is too much for me”, or “I need help” so that I’m not getting stretched too thin or pushed past my emotional, physical, or mental limit. Outside of scenes, this skill has been incredibly useful in my professional life, and I find things much less stressful.
What I’ve Learned From Kink
Having been in the lifestyle a couple of years now, I’ve gotten much better at these abilities and what I’ve found is that the tools I’ve gained make kink safe and healthy for me and those I play with. By extension, applying these tools to my day-to-day has allowed me to cultivate that safe space all around me. Being able to take full stock of where I am in life and what my limits are as well as my real and perceived obstacles allowed me to formulate plans to improve my life.
Adulting can be incredibly difficult and having emotional baggage as well as mental health issues can make regular things much more difficult. I feel very fortunate that I’ve learned so many practical things by exploring the kink world. The level of acceptance, communication, and growth-mindset needed to flourish in scenes have set a great example for me to follow in my vanilla-adjacent life.
By Scarlette Hemsworth
Scarlette is a polyamorous kinkster, freelance writer, sex worker, and indie author based out of California. She was introduced to the kink world in 2018 and identifies as a 24/7 little, sub, and ABDL. Scarlette enjoys watching anime, playing video games, and building terrariums in her spare time.
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