Creating Meaningful Rituals
BDSM is filled with ritual. We use it to create an erotic atmosphere, to show respect, to honor our history, to provide guidelines for social interactions and to help make our experiences personal and unique. When we enter into a formal relationship, including Dominant/submissive or Top/Bottom, we often find that engaging in some sort of ritual helps bring the meaning of what we do home to us and set the mood for future interactions.
For instance, if I’m playing with a submissive, we can symbolically transition from the Outside World into our shared Inner Worlds when I carefully unwrap the collar and hold it ready for the neck. When it is time to return to the Outside World, the removal of the collar serves as a gateway back to what most people would call Reality.
During play we engage in ritual as well. Ritual that reinforces the dream while providing comfort and security to those involved. The use of hierarchical terms such as Mistress, Master, slave or pet; the process of applying restraints or the ceremony of presenting a flogger or bowing the head – these are all part of the symbolic mystery dance of BDSM. By implementing these formalized elements into our scenes we provide a reassuring structure that can be missing in our daily interactions with non-Scene folks.
But what happens if things change and BDSM activities are no longer comfortable within the relationship? Perhaps one partner needs to take a break for a time in order to focus on other matters or perhaps those involved have grown apart. At times like this, when emotions are often high, feelings easily bruised and reactions sometimes irrational, it can be easy to behave in ways that do not bring honor to ourselves, our community or the intimacies we have shared. Because we are human, we can bungle our good-byes with too much confrontation or not enough communication. Just as in “vanilla” break-ups, we can part in a way that leaves each partner feeling wounded and unresolved. What can we do to avoid this? One possible solution might be returning one last time to the structure of ritual.
Even if all parties involved agree that parting is for the best, feelings of rejection and insecurity can be difficult to avoid, especially if the separation is the result of some indiscretion or perceived violation of the relationship’s code of behavior. In such a case, communication can suffer or break down completely. If things have reached that point, a private observance of transition or one with close friends or family may provide some feeling of closure. If communication still exists or can be re-established, there are a number of ways in which each person can leave the relationship feeling a greater sense of balance and hope. A final act of service may provide a submissive with an opportunity to show continued respect or appreciation for what has gone before. A final act of authority may provide a Dominant with the chance to feel more secure by directing the manner in which each partner is released from their previous obligations and honoring the new, individual experiences to come for each of them.
Ultimately, the goal is to find a way in which to honor the BDSM connection once shared and provide a healthy foundation for each new path being entered upon. If we embrace our pain and hurt and refuse to transcend it and see what lessons we can learn from it, then we are condemned to carry that wound within ourselves and into our next relationship.
Surely we carry enough awkward baggage with us through life that we don’t want to add to it, especially not within the context of our BDSM lives, where communication, respect and personal growth are promoted and encouraged. Whether we are Dominant or submissive, Top, Bottom or Switch, our BDSM activities are precious, as are the human connections we share through them.
By creating personally meaningful rituals to help us through the rockier aspects of our interactions as well as the more pleasurable ones, we create a safe and reassuring structure within which to explore and experience profound intimacy and personal growth. And maybe we learn a few things about ourselves and others that will make our future relationships increasingly healthy and meaningful. And perhaps even a bit more humane.