From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
BDSM is a blanket term referring to the practice of a wide spectrum of activities and forms of interpersonal relationships. While not always overtly sexual in nature, the activities and relationships within a BDSM context are almost always eroticized by the participants in some fashion. Many of these practices fall outside of commonly held social norms regarding sexuality and human relationships.
The historical origins of BDSM are obscure. During the ninth century BC, ritual flagellations were performed in Artemis Orthia, one of the most important religious areas of ancient Sparta, where the Cult of Orthia, a preolympic religion, was practiced. Here ritual flagellation called diamastigosis took place on a regular basis. One of the oldest graphical proofs of sadomasochistic activities is found in an Etruscan burial site in Tarquinia. Inside the Tomba della Fustigazione (Flogging grave), in the latter sixth century b.c., two men are portrayed flagellating a woman with a cane and a hand during an erotic situation. Another reference related to flagellation is to be found in the sixth book of the Satires of the ancient Roman Poet Juvenal (1st - second century ad), further reference can be found in The Satyricon of Petronius where a delinquent is whipped for sexual arousal. Anecdotal narratives related to humans who have had themselves voluntary bound, flagellated or whipped as a substitute for sex or as part of foreplay reach back to the third and fourth century.
The Kama Sutra describes four different kinds of hitting during lovemaking, the allowed regions of the human body to target and different kinds of joyful "cries of pain" practiced by bottoms. The collection of historic texts related to sensuous experiences explicitly emphasizes that impact play, biting and pinching during sexual activities should only be performed consensually since some women do not consider such behavior to be joyful. From this perspective the Kama Sutra can be considered as one of the first written resources dealing with sadomasochistic activities and safety rules. Further texts with sadomasochistic connotation appear worldwide during the following centuries on a regular basis.
There are anecdotal reports of people willingly being bound or whipped, as a prelude to or substitute for sex, during the fourteenth century. The medieval phenomenon of courtly love in all of its slavish devotion and ambivalence has been suggested by some writers to be a precursor of BDSM. Some sources claim that BDSM as a distinct form of sexual behavior originated at the beginning of the eighteenth century when Western civilization began medically and legally categorizing sexual behavior (see Etymology). There are reports of brothels specializing in flagellation as early as 1769, and John Cleland's novel Fanny Hill, published in 1749, mentions a flagellation scene. Other sources give a broader definition, citing BDSM-like behavior in earlier times and other cultures, such as the medieval flagellates and the physical ordeal rituals of some Native American societies.
Although the names of the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch are attached to the terms sadism and masochism respectively, Sade's way of life does not meet modern BDSM standards of informed consent. BDSM ideas and imagery have existed on the fringes of Western culture throughout the twentieth century. Robert Bienvenu attributes the origins of modern BDSM to three sources, which he names as "European Fetish" (from 1928), "American Fetish" (from 1934), and "Gay Leather" (from 1950). Another source are the sexual games played in brothels, which go back into the nineteenth century if not earlier. Irving Klaw, during the 1950s and 1960s, produced some of the first commercial film and photography with a BDSM theme (most notably with Bettie Page) and published comics by the now-iconic bondage artists John Willie and Eric Stanton.
Stanton's model Bettie Page became at the same time one of the first successful models in the area of fetish photography and one of the most famous pin-up girls of American mainstream culture. Italian author and designer Guido Crepax was deeply influenced by him, coining the style and development of European adult comics in the second half of the twentieth century. The artists Helmut Newton and Robert Mapplethorpe are the most prominent examples of the increasing use of BDSM-related motives in modern photography and the public discussions still resulting from this.
Much of the BDSM ethos can be traced back to the gay male leather culture, which formalized itself out of the group of men who were soldiers returning home after World War II (1939-1945). This subculture is epitomized by the Leatherman's Handbook by Larry Townsend, published in 1972, which essentially defined what was later called the "Old Guard leather" culture. This code emphasized strict formality and fixed roles (i.e. no switching), and did not include lesbian women or heterosexuals. In 1981, however, the publication of Coming to Power by lesbian-feminist group Samois led to a greater knowledge and acceptance of BDSM in the lesbian community. They got into conflict with fundamentalist part of the feminist movement which considers BDSM to be the base of misogyny and violent porn.
Today the Leather Movement is generally seen as a part of the BDSM-culture instead as a development deriving from gay subculture, even if a huge part of the BDSM-subculture was gay in the past. In the 1990s the so called New Guard leather subculture evolved as a reaction to the Old Guard's restrictions. This new orientation embraced switching and started to integrate psychological aspects into their play and to diminish the old rigid distinction of roles and the exclusion of heterosexuals and women which was widely considered a basic principle of the Old Guard.
In the mid-nineties, the Internet provided a way of finding people with specialized interests around the world as well as on a local level, and communicating with them anonymously. This brought about an explosion of interest and knowledge of BDSM, particularly on the usenet group alt.sex.bondage. When that group became too cluttered with spam, the focus moved to soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm.
In addition to traditional "brick and mortar" sex shops, which sell sex paraphernalia, there has also been an explosive growth of online adult toy companies that specialize in leather/latex gear and BDSM toys. Once a very niche market, there are now very few sex toy companies that do not offer some sort of BDSM or fetish gear in their catalog. Kinky elements seem to have worked their way into "vanilla" markets. The former niche expanded to an important pillar of the business with adult accessories. Today practically all suppliers of sex toys do offer items which originally found usage in the BDSM subculture. Padded handcuffs, latex- and leather garments, as well as more exotic items like soft whips for fondling and TENS for erotic electro stimulation can be found in catalog aiming on classical vanilla target groups, indicating that former boundaries increasingly seem to shift.
During the last years the Internet also provides a central platform for networking among individuals who are interested in the subject. Besides countless private and commercial choices there is an increasing number of local networks and support groups emerging. These groups often offer comprehensive background and health related information for people who have been unwillingly outed as well as contact lists with information on psychologists, physicians and lawyers who are familiar with BDSM related topics.
The terms "Sadism" and "Masochism" are derived from the names of the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, based on the content of the authors' works. In 1843 the Hungarian physician Heinrich Kaan published Psychopathia sexualis ("Psychopathy of Sex"), a writing in which he converts the sin conceptions of Christianity into medical diagnoses. With his work the originally theological terms "perversion", "aberration" and "deviation" became part of the scientific terminology for the first time. The German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft Ebing introduced the terms "Sadism" and "Masochism" into the medical terminology in his work Neue Forschungen auf dem Gebiet der Psychopathia sexualis ("New research in the area of Psychopathy of Sex") in 1890.
In 1905 Sigmund Freud described "Sadism" and "Masochism" in his Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie ("Three papers on Sexualtheory") as diseases developing from an incorrect development of the child psyche and laid the groundwork for the scientific perspective on the subject in the following decades. This lead to the first time use of the compound term Sado-Masochism (German "Sado-Masochismus")) by the Viennese Psychoanalytic Isidor Isaak Sadger in its work Über den sado-masochistischen Komplex ("Regarding the sadomasochistic complex") in 1913.
In the past BDSM activists turned repeatedly against these conceptual models, originally deriving from singular historical figures and implying a clear pathological connotation. They argued that there is no common sense in attributing a phenomenon as complex as BDSM to two individual humans, as well one might speak of "Leonardism" instead of Homosexuality. The BDSM scene tried to distinguish themselves with the expression "B&D" for bondage and discipline from the sometimes pejorative connotations of the term "S&M". The abbreviation BDSM itself was probably coined in the early 1990s in the subculture connected with the Usenet newsgroup alt.sex.bondage. The earliest posting with the term which is now preserved in Google Groups dates from June 1991. Later the dominance and submission dimension was integrated into the connotation of BDSM, creating the multilevel acronym common today.