Why just do kink when you can do ‘Ecstatic BDSM’? That’s the question London Faerie aims to answer at The Purple Door, a two-day workshop in London, on Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th September.
The workshop provides a comprehensive introduction to Ecstatic BDSM – sometimes also called ‘conscious kink’ – for anyone with any level of experience of kinky practices, from complete beginners to experienced scenesters. Attendees can book for one of the two days, or for both.
But what is Ecstatic BDSM and how is it different from the kind of kink cliches you might find in – for want of a more obvious reference – 50 Shades of Grey?
According to Faerie, Ecstatic BDSM has a kind of transforming power that you might not find in ‘traditional’ kink. I’d be cynical about this, if I hadn’t experienced it first hand.
I’d spent a year trying to get over a breakup and still felt bereft and stuck, but when I bumped into Faerie and his partner Marti in a club and asked if they fancied playing, it certainly wasn’t because I thought a flogging would have any impact on *that*. I’ve been on the London kink scene for over a decade and I have to admit I’m a bit of a pain slut [‘A bit?’ cries everyone who’s ever known me… anyway]. So I’ve had plenty of floggings in clubs and thought I knew what to expect. But I wasn’t prepared for the amount of emotion that came up during the flogging and immediately after (which was fine due to good aftercare from Faerie and Marti). Even more of a surprise was waking up the next morning and realising that it felt as though there was a clear space between myself and my ex that hadn’t been there before. For the first time in a year, I had some freedom to move.
The next day, I set up a date with someone who’d asked me out previously. That quickly turned into something serious. Then I went to a festival and came away with a whole load of new friends and play partners. I went from feeling as though I was at the end, to knowing I was just at the beginning.
I’m not saying that my sudden ability to seek out new relationships was only because of this encounter with Faerie and Marti, but it definitely had a powerful positive effect on me. It was my first experience of BDSM that was about more than just seeking pleasure (although I strongly believe that pleasure seeking is a very valuable activity in itself).
When I mentioned what had happened post-flogging to Faerie, a while later, he just laughed and said, “We’re good, aren’t we?”.
Below, Faerie answers my questions about the power of Ecstatic BDSM and explains what attendees can expect at The Purple Door.
What is Ecstatic BDSM and how is it different from ‘traditional’ kink?
Ecstatic BDSM is my particular flavour of what’s known as ‘conscious kink’. The term ‘kink’ covers a broad spectrum of activities ranging from, say, slight roughness and the odd spank during sex to something like 24/7 collared domination, and lots of things in between. Some kinky activities don’t even fit into that spectrum – like needles, fire play and wax play – but all kink more or less centres on playing with power, strong sensation and restraint.
When you bring the ‘conscious’ part into it, it’s a bit trickier. I’ve always been resistant to making a strong division between ‘conscious’ and ‘regular’ kink anyway, because my background is on the London fetish scene, and on that scene I saw a lot of very good quality, basically conscious, kink. There were people who didn’t have any training in tantra or anything like that but who were doing kink to a very high standard with a lot of awareness. That’s basically what conscious kink is – well-done kink with a lot of awareness.
Can you explain that word awareness more?
I think most of us spend our time kind of fumbling round in the semi-darkness, and awareness is like a light that lets us see who we are in relation to what’s happening. So if we apply awareness to kink we might have a very different experience than if we don’t apply that awareness.
Take someone who likes being flogged on the shoulders. Often we carry a lot of tension and maybe uncleared emotional stuff in our shoulders. Now if you do a shoulder flogging with a certain amount of awareness you will relieve some of that tension, but you won’t get to the bottom of it, so the person may well need to come back for another flogging, and another flogging. Like having a massage that doesn’t quite go deep enough. But if we both bring more awareness to it we might find that after a little while that flogging provokes a very strong emotional release, and it might be that after a few of those floggings the person just isn’t carrying as much in their shoulders and they might start experiencing the flogging differently. I’ve seen that happen a lot, where the person’s ’emotional body’ is no longer holding onto pain and they experience a lot more bliss. Another thing that might happen is they lose interest in flogging altogether, because what they needed was to get to the bottom of what they were holding in their shoulders, and once they get that they no longer have a desire for it. What’s really interesting is that often the journey to experiencing more bliss is through meeting a lot of pain fully. It’s about going deeply, with awareness, into whatever is there, and ecstasy is usually on the other side of that process.
So are you saying that BDSM can be a personal growth path?
I think life done with awareness is a personal growth path. If we bring mindfulness to anything we can learn a lot. So BDSM can be a personal growth path, but so can vanilla sex. So can fly fishing, to be honest, if you bring enough awareness to it. I think things that involve interactions with other people – which allows mirroring – and high levels of energy, such as sexual energy, are quicker and more effective approaches. When we get turned on, cool stuff happens, and when we bring awareness to that it can facilitate personal growth very fast.
You’re not saying people should do BDSM instead of therapy, are you?
I am a big advocate of talking therapy and I think everyone needs to take a multi-faceted approach to personal growth. Also, I’m very much not saying that BDSM should be primarily a form of therapy. For me, it’s primarily a form sexual pleasure and any therapeutic benefits are because you’re bringing a high level of awareness to your pleasure. And it’s the pleasure that’s important, opening a lot of stuff up because it feels good. When we enjoy something we’re more open to its lessons. Personal growth within the framework of a ‘pleasure path’, for me, is more effective than the kind of ‘oh woe is me’ suffering path that we’ve been taught is the way to heal ourselves.
What kind of people do you hope will attend The Purple Door?
The Purple Door takes the approach that teaching people the skills to do BDSM will enable them to explore, so it gives them the building blocks. It’s really aimed at people who don’t have too much experience in kink. However, I’ve had a lot of people come who’ve got a background in kink who say that it feels very different done this way, maybe, for example, because they’ve never looked in the eyes of a submissive before starting to dominate them. In conventional BDSM the sub often looks down. Eye contact is the basic unit of intimacy in my workshops, and meeting someone in eye contact is a great place to start kink. I want to meet someone as an equal before I start dominating them.
How did you end up teaching Ecstatic BDSM?
I didn’t set out on my kinky journey to become a teacher. When I first entered the London fetish scene I was working in corporate HR. Then I worked at an arts charity and then became a performance artist and theatre maker. Kink was a curiosity and a passion and a form of sex I liked.
Then I was lucky enough in 2004 to end up at the feet of a master whose name is Fakir Musafar. He’s not all about BDSM, but body ritual. He brought things like piercings, brandings, tattooings and hook suspensions to the West, but very much from the starting point that these were powerful rituals done by traditional peoples around the world. I was presented to him as a very green 31-year-old, and I ended up learning from him and a group of people who had been practising this mishmash of body ritual, kink and awareness work, in and around San Francisco, for about 25 years. People like Dossie Easton, Cleo Dubois, Joseph Kramer, Barbara Carrellas – all these amazingly powerful, sexually radical, people.
I started bringing them over to the UK for events, and then in 2010 I founded Sacred Pleasures because I realised I was having more fun doing these events than anything else. Then after about six months, I realised that I could teach. My first ever workshop was a 101 of flogging for people who were into tantra who wanted to incorporate stronger sensation into their practice. I’d noticed that tantra people were interested in BDSM but didn’t really know how to do it. Over time I realised that the combination of my skills, background and presence enabled me to hold a deeper space, rather than just teaching the technique. I could make people feel very safe and model deep tolerance and good boundaries. Then Claire Black joined Sacred Pleasures and we did a lot of teaching together.
What happens at the Purple Door?
It’s two one-day workshops over a weekend. People can attend day one, which is an intro to impact and strong sensation, or day two, which is an intro to dominance and submission. Or they can attend both for a comprehensive intro to two of the cornerstones of BDSM.
Day one is a start-to-finish introduction to impact play, which ends with a free-flowing play session where you get to experiment with what you’ve learned. We look at why we do it, how we do it safely, and then practice a lot, first with hands and then toys. We build up these skills so we can do the impact in different ways, with the purpose of giving pleasure, making a person high. We teach basic principles about rhythm and flow, about build-up, about the difference between generating endorphins and adrenalin. How to receive using the breath.
Is making the person ‘high’ the main point of impact play?
I guess with impact there are more or less three things. The first is getting each other high – as a giver you can get really high too. The second is feeling your power, both as giver and receiver; a lot of it is about expanding the body’s capacity and realising, “this fear I had of impact is not necessary, because my body can take a lot more than I thought”. And the third thing is about clearing emotional stuff, as I mentioned before. Often they overlap.
And day two of The Purple Door?
Day two is the same thing but for dominance and submission, taking it back to building blocks. We do a bunch of work on presence, which allows us to read other people very well. Then we go into the absolute basics of the power exchange. We look at willing surrender as the starting point and then we look a lot at consent, negotiation and what you do with the power when you have it. We have a play with things like blindfolds, different ways to hold the body, working with instructions and a little bit on the end weaving in impact and strong sensation. So we end up combining things.
What’s wrong with just buying a flogger and having a go with it as an intro to kink?
Early experiences are often definitive, and with kink many people’s first experiences are negative. Kink is a niche interest which someone might work hard to build themselves up to even asking someone to try with them, and if that first experience is disappointing that can be a real killer for their desire to try it again.
I’ve had a lot of people say they’re not into kink, and I’ve said, “have you really tried it with someone who knows what they’re doing?” And often it turns out they did it with their boyfriend once, but he hit them too hard, or didn’t hit them hard enough, or it triggered a strong emotional response and made them cry, which put their partner off… there are many things that can go wrong.
When it comes to sex and relationships we’ve somehow been told that we should be good at it by default and the reason is because there’s a lot of shame around it. We can’t have an open conversation about these things. It’s a deliberate choice to run my course from 11am till 7pm. I don’t run it from 6pm till midnight because I want to do it in daylight. I want it to be a very open thing.
Marti will be co-teaching The Purple Door with you, so tell me about your partnership.
Martina and I have been together for 20 months, and we handfasted last month, so we made a commitment to each other for a year and a day. We are a kinky, polyamorous couple, and we are primary partners, so our polyamory is based on the fact that our relationship is in the centre of our world.
Marti is a sex worker, so she does conscious kink sessions, tantric massage sessions, and kinky massage sessions, which combine the two. She is very gifted, intuitive and empathic. She’s the kind of person who makes people feel incredibly safe, so she doesn’t have to be so harsh to inspire surrender in a sub. She’s playful and very sexual, so her style is both sensual and nurturing. And she brings a really strong dimension of femininity into the teaching environment and has a presence that’s very different from mine. We have a sort of joint energy that’s very strong, that can hold a lot.
With the 50 Shades of Grey film out soon, mainstream interest in kink is likely to increase even further this year. What do you think of the book’s depiction of kink?
I don’t think it’s very interesting. To me it’s at the more obvious end of kinky sex – it’s kind of close to what I would call rough sex. There’s a fair bit of impact in there, but it’s always geared towards penetration. It doesn’t in any way show the wide range of possibilities within BDSM, but of course it’s not trying to because it’s a novel.
I also read a really interesting article about the issue of consent in 50 Shades. On the surface there is a fair amount of discussion and verbal consent; however there seems to be a continuous coercion by the rich, dominant male figure of the poor, young, weak female figure. Now that to me is an expression of absolutely patriarchal values, where the dominant male is constantly having to coerce the submissive female into acts of sexual pleasure, which she surprisingly enjoys. And in that respect it’s a very offensive book I think because it does nothing to promote the diversity of possibilities beyond patriarchy and the cliché of the male dominant and the female submissive.
What do you think about the common assumption about people who practice BDSM that they’re somehow fucked up, which is also something 50 Shades of Grey suggests?
It seems that the only way some people can justify BDSM is to say, “they must have had a terribly abusive childhood and they’re playing it out in some way”. And statistically there’s just no evidence of that. The evidence is that there are roughly the same number of people who’ve experienced abuse within BDSM and without.
Now again, 50 Shades is a novel. It’s not a book about BDSM. It’s a novel in which some BDSM happens. The problem is it reinforces every stereotype and cliché that’s already out there about BDSM, even stupid things like you have to have a whole room for it, rather than just doing it in your front room. You have to have all these special tools. I’ve seen the trailer of the film. It’s hilarious. “I have unusual tastes…” [does a mock gasp]. And then, the door opens to the red room of pain. Apart from anything, it’s just all so naff.
Do you think society’s attitudes towards kink are changing?
I think they are. It’s like… when I was a kid you couldn’t get houmous in the supermarket. And these days you can get it in absolutely every Tesco Metro – it’s a staple. Houmous has penetrated the mainstream and is a popular foodstuff. At the same time, some more exotic foods from that part of the world have not. And basically it’s the same with BDSM.
Now we’re seeing the infiltration of basic levels of BDSM into people’s sex lives, and that’s a good thing because once they’ve allowed that possibility in, they might find their way to more exotic aspects of BDSM later. Even though I do find 50 Shades to be a load of nonsense, it’s good that it’s done what it’s done and people can now have a more open conversation about kink.