Book: Religion and Touch
Chapter: 9. 'I am broken, I am remade. And I am held tightly through all that comes between.' - BDSM and Religioning on the Edge
Touching and being touched is the foundation of most BDSM practice (play) as sensations are deliberately created by one person for another. Many of the sensations involved could be categorised as pain, and many of the techniques used to create the sensations themselves and the scenes built upon them could be said to carry significant physical and/or emotional risks. Factors like these, as well as other sensory and situational elements and the emotional weight attached to the activities contribute to the synaesthetic whole that is BDSM play, resulting in a multivalent experience of an ‘other’ world. These worlds are co-constructed through an iterative and relational process of sensation and response. A chosen form of touch is applied and experienced by both the person touching and the person who is touched; each responds, and each reaction is responded to in its turn; the same sensation may be repeated, adjusted or contrasted with a new one, which garners a new set of responses, interwoven with the first. These continual loops of sensation and response shape an ambiguous space within which practitioners can walk the edge between fidelity and betrayal, form and formlessness, order and chaos, integrity and violation in order to discover and rediscover new ways of being, knowing and relating. I will use my research conversations with BDSM practitioners to consider how they deliberately engage with touch sensations, including pain, and the synaesthetic and relational experiences that result from these engagements. I will suggest that through the powerful potential of these sensations and their foundation engagement with the edges of integrity/violation and fidelity/betrayal BDSM play can be considered a form of ‘spiritual edgework’: a deliberate process of creating and approaching the edge, through which practitioners seek transcend the everyday world and its perceived limits and controls and to utilise those experiences in personal processes of world-, meaning- and/or story-making.