Surprising Ways BDSM Can Improve Everyday Life

An exploration into kink and the life skills we can learn there

By Tess Dagger • 11 min read • ENGLISH


There are a lot of traits that are instantly recognized in a generally happy person; relatable, easy-going, willing to listen, willing to compromise, uncomplaining. And, there are traits that are the real zingers of an inspiring person; fearlessness, life experience that’s both broad and deep, unfazability, a tendency to push personal boundaries.

Then, there’s the trait where these two collide; the willingness to say yes to the interesting.

There’s a place where I frequently see these traits gather and meet in the guise of tight latex, leather corsets, and sometimes decorative rope bondage.

That’s right, I’m talking about BDSM play spaces.

I’ve done some of my best personal growth with whips and chains and things that I wouldn’t mention in polite company. There are lots to be learned acts of deviance, and not all are sexual; in fact, a great deal of what I’ve picked up from being ball-gagged and blindfolded have helped me in ways I had never anticipated, from job interviews, friendships, relationships, and big life events.

Every aspect of my life has benefitted from a journey that started as a spanking and has ended up being the wildest ride of them yet.


There are often many layers of nuance to kinky pastimes that may take a while to explain, and for the uninitiated, there are more kinks out there to explore than flavors of ice cream, and the terminology can be baffling. Let’s break down a few of the basics:

Dominance and submission | Simply said, the dominant is the one calling the shots, and the submissive is the one following instructions (or sometimes, being subdued to do so).

Sadism and masochism | A sadist enjoys inflicting suffering and a masochist enjoys receiving it. Mind here that I said suffering— there are myriads of ways to explore the emotional and mental aspects of masochism—physical pain is only one side of it.

Topping and bottoming | Often confused with dominance and submission, the top is the one giving sensation or stimulation and the bottom is the one receiving. While most think of the common definition of dominance as coupled with sadism and topping, that’s not always the case.

Playing and scenes | Because of its inherent theatrics, one can think of a scene as the duration of time in which one plays or engages in BDSM. It’s important for all involved to know exactly when to expect what. A scene can last from minutes to the entirety of a relationship, but the time within one is mutually agreed upon.

Through these elements, I’ve lost and found myself again countless times in ways that I never imagined when I first felt the sting of a whip. Some lessons were learned the hard way, while others were discovered with joy and delight.

I’d love to share a few ways that they’ve helped me, and countless people I know, with their overall quality of life:


There’s a common saying in the community that submission is a gift that must be earned. There’s a beautiful subtlety in that statement that I adore. Not only does it elevate submission out of the unfortunate association with weakness, but it highlights the work that’s put behind the roles.

What I’ve learned from D/s, topping and bottoming

Foremost, bottoming and submission have taught me trust. I’ve played with people I’ve just met, and with those I have known for years. My internal gauge of whether I can trust someone has altered greatly with time and experience.

Within this trust is the feeling of being held, both physically and emotionally. While there’s the temporary idea of my decisions being removed from me, the capability to let go and be in the moment increases.

In the end, the ultimate decision is mine, and the importance of that does not escape me either — that is of part of my safety net that allows me to surrender so utterly.

I’ve found that my boundaries are willing to melt a little when trust is high, and allowing a partner to bring me shrieking from the edge of my personal madness and back to solid ground has given me internal tools for exactly how much I can extend this trust, whether it be temporary or permanent.

From the outside, one might be tempted to call this trauma bonding, an association I strongly reject. In trauma bonding, people are subjected to things they did not ask for with the resulting outcome being a tight grasp on whatever — or whoever — brought them any sort of comfort at the time.

In submission, we willingly seek the thrill of fear, uncertainty, and perhaps even pain from our partner, thus we are opening our minds to exploring these things within ourselves with their help. This is an immense thing to ask, and I wasn’t always comfortable asking for the push that I needed. I found over time that the more I asked, the more bolstered I felt by my partners’ willingness to accommodate me through difficult experiences. I realized that this could apply to my other leaps in life, such as moving to a new country or pursuing a new job. And all this while, my relationships have deepened through these interactions.

This benefit may seem limited to those one plays with, but I realized that asking for support and trusting that it would be there has served as the foundation for some of my weightiest and impactful life decisions.


A metal display of BDSM tools and toys. Ropes, canes, and spanking tools.

Another one of my favorite skills that come from all aspects of play is the learning of negotiation and boundaries. Throughout my relationships in life, my unwillingness to make those I loved uncomfortable led to neglecting things that needed addressing and negotiation. Had I had this skill earlier on, I likely would have saved myself quite a bit of heartache.

If your partner can’t trust you to say no (or banana, or whatever safe word you’ve decided on), this may not only disrupt the flow but risk hazardous play. So it also is in life.

The assertion of our wants and needs is a highly undervalued trait that often gets misinterpreted as being petty, bitchy, or bossy. We’ve seen a lot of social fallout from this one (ahem, glass ceiling anyone?) but rarely address training that assertion-muscle in our brains to ensure we’re valued and safe. When I’m in a play space, however, I don’t see people hesitate to use these words when needed. Quite the contrary, they use them in ways that are clear and firm, yet respectful.

A jarring lesson learned early in my explorations was that tops could (and should) use safewords too. I’ve pushed from the bottom in ways that brought people beyond their skills or into activities that ventured beyond their soft limits. In these instances, it was a revelation to hear these tops safeword out. There have been cases of caning or whipping that resulted in unwanted broken skin where blood was not negotiated for, and play piercing sessions that have moved into the realms of flesh pulls with which the piercer had no experience. Was I grateful that they called the scene? Absolutely.

Imagine if more people in power could feel emboldened to pump the brakes when things went past what they were comfortable with. How would the world be different now?


If we flip the scene and look at topping and dominance, where people are allowed to explore empowerment in a safe space. It’s not always possible for them to exert themselves with such confidence in their vanilla lives, but that can change over time. On the other side comes an even bigger lesson, however: The Peter Parker Principle goes that, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and the responsibility of domination is immense.

One of my most terrifying instances in play was the moment my Domme handed me nitrile gloves and a box of needles and told me to pierce her until she said otherwise. I was frozen in fear. I realized the control she was handing me and wasn’t certain if I could rise to it. She had been doing me a kindness, although I was probably too nervous to realize it. In her non-judgmental way, she’d given me a safe space to explore a type of power that I had yet to break into but had always wanted to try. In the end, I wound up enjoying both that experience and all other instances of switching to a dominant role, but I’ve never forgotten the sheer amount of trust I’d been given and the immensity of it.

My confidence grew both in and out of this play, when assigned tasks I feel ready to assess whether or not I can adequately perform. This knowledge of self helped develop an assertive and reasonable mindset in which I could feel good about being in the driver’s seat. Knowing that stepping away once I’d found my limit was acceptable also helped immensely.


On playing and scenes, and their gentle daily reminders

The exploration of pain would not be complete without looking at the spaces in which we can play with it.

The scene, or the time together in which we indulge in our fantasies, is the place where we bring ourselves fully to experience something altogether different with our partner. It begins as soon as the players enter that mental space together and ends when one or more say they are done. It’s as much a safe space as it is a sexy and thrillingly dangerous one.

While scenes provide a contained environment in which we can explore giving and receiving pain, there are peripheral lessons from which we can benefit as well.

A scene helps us learn how to disassociate our acts and accept that what may be appropriate in one space does not always apply to the others. This may seem like an obvious lesson, but it’s one that we as a society sometimes need reminding of. Being in a foreign country, uncertain of all customs and norms, and unsure of what you can and cannot do, is a prime example. Something as simple as wearing your shoes indoors could be horribly offensive. So we observe and ask questions, and even educate ourselves beforehand. This is the old traveler’s credo, “When in Rome…”

The differences may be clear between play spaces and public spaces — I wouldn’t roam the streets in fetish wear putting on a spanking show with my partner — but sometimes the context is much more understated. There are instances of dominance and submission that extend to the indirect and subtle, and knowing which mental space you are inhabiting can be important. Perhaps a dom sends his sub out for the day under strict orders to wear a butt plug and rope body harness all day under their clothes. That dominant would still have to hold space for when the sub has to shut off their influence to focus on work, or family. Sometimes these lines can blur.

There was a man at the dungeon I frequented who was known and respected but always seemed a little blunt and odd. It wasn’t until months after I met him that he explained that his autism frequently affected his ability to socialize. He explained further that the dungeon space, with its crystal clear rules of consent and communication, gave him a safe boundary that he could understand, and the patience of others was helping him learn the rest. I realized at that moment what an important resource that kind of communication and space was for him. And in a scene he was brilliant, playing exactly to the limits given. The clarity of a scene being over was an indicator he could seize on, and he was overjoyed to have it.

Lastly, this is the space in which the culmination of our lessons come to collide. Why is this possible? Because this space is safe. There is no amount of emphasis I can put on this word that can impart its importance. Safe spaces are paramount to healing and growth. Without them, we could never fully unwind in a way that allows for personal reflection.

Would we permit ourselves to explore the depth of our strength in suffering if we couldn’t rely on our surroundings? I think not.

Our lives have many safe spaces. Our homes may be one of them, although that is not always true for everybody. Our friends and family can hold safe mental spaces for us as well. But very rarely do we see safe public spaces where this level of ourselves can be exposed and all judgment withheld. Both our physical and mental safeties are cared for in a scene and a play space.


What about Sadism and Masochism?

I have a lot to say about what can arise from the exploration of sadomasochism. Pain and I have a long and enduring relationship — one so precious to me that indeed I felt it better to give it its own consideration in another work.

The aspects of masochism, ranging from the cathartic to the meditative, are ones that I can wax on about for ages. And the exchange to be found between a masochist and a sadist can be deeply profound—as deep as any love or desire I’ve known.

For the sadist seeking to know themselves, I will always encourage doing so within the structure of a BDSM exchange, where one can receive positive feedback and learn the boundaries of their internal desires safely.


There you have it; (nearly) all I’ve extracted from my BDSM experience and the ways I’ve applied it to other places in my life. The amount of freedom, self-confidence, and understanding I’ve found in these exchanges have been immeasurably beneficial and I wish there were a tidy way to wrap up all these little tidbits with a bow and present them to every person in need of a boost in the pants, spirits, or anywhere in between.

Rarely have I heard anyone (who isn’t already kinky) recommend a trip to the local sex-positive event or play space for a fresh outlook, and I’m not meaning to suggest that solutions to every problem can be found here. I’m also sure that for many, these lessons are found elsewhere, in ways that that better fit their tastes. Still, there’s much to take away from these spaces.

The ability to be honest and open about sexuality is a gift, one that not everyone is lucky to have access to in a sexually polarized world. For inherently sexual beings seeking connection, mankind has managed to find many ways to close the doors to socializing and sexuality, thus, when we find ourselves able to contemplate exploring our kinks, we can be grateful that we can even consider such things in the first place.

So while there are things we can learn from individual acts, the first step will always be acknowledging what we desire. Sometimes, daring ourselves to seek our desires is all it takes to change our lives.

Sincerely,

Tess Dagger | Writer for SPNKD

BDSM enthusiast and former sex worker
@tessdagger

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