Williams Trading article

*Story by Inge Arissen, Shots Marketeer

“Sticks and stones may break my bones/But chains and whips excite me”

Famous words from Rihanna’s 2010 song S&M. The song was deemed too provocative. The videoclip was banned from YouTube and was not allowed to be broadcasted in 11 countries. Nevertheless, it reached number two in the Billboard’s Hot 100 and number one in 10 other countries. Critics might have found the song too sexual and explicit. However, the public clearly did like it.

Only a year later, E.L. James released her novel Fifty Shades of Grey. It has sold over 125 million copies worldwide. In just a year, it turned out that the public didn’t deem BDSM as too provocative anymore. Actually, there are a lot of housewives who like to get a little freaky at times, or at least like the fantasy of it.

BDSM has become more mainstream and this is partly due to the music industry and the book series. Hein Schouten, sales director at SHOTS, still remembers when the first novel was released: “I had some clients in our showroom. They asked for some BDSM items, such as the ben-wa balls. Normally they would do small orders, but now they wanted to buy items in quantities that were ten times as big!” And now, 10 years later, SHOTS’s BDSM line Ouch! has grown out to be one of their best-sellers.

Nevertheless, BDSM is something that has been around for years, centuries even. As a starter for international BDSM day on July 24, it’s interesting to dive deeper into the origin of BDSM and how it went mainstream.

The origin of BDSM
That the four letters stand for Bondage, Dominance/Discipline, Sadism/Submissiveness and Masochism is probably quite well-known. However, the origin of the words ‘sadism’ and ‘masochism’ are way less known. Their background is rather literary. The French Marquis de Sade gave his name to the word ‘sadism’. He wrote the novel Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue in 1791. The story is about a virtuous young woman named Justine who ends up in various unfortunate events in which she is raped, subjected to orgies and other violent sexual acts. She ends up in court, where she is humiliated by the crowd. The story was so explicit and violent, that De Sade was imprisoned at the Bastille by Napoleon.

Masochism sprouts from Austrian writer Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch who wrote Venus in Furs in 1870. It’s a story about a man, Severin, who is so in love with a woman, that he asks her whether he can become her slave. She gives in and dominates him in various ways until she falls in love with another man. She submits to her new lover, and Severin swears to never submit to a woman again. He even calls them cruel and state that women can never be a man’s companion but can only serve them. Juicy detail: Sacher-Masoch found his own life so boring that he forced his wife to live out the plot of the book. They eventually got divorced and he remarried his assistant…

BDSM in fashion
It took a long time before BDSM became more well-known in popular culture. The actual start of recognition for the subculture can be found in fashion. These first features of BDSM fashion are related to the late 1970’s punk culture. Part of the punk aesthetics are safety pins, fishnets, chains, and of course, latex and leather. These aesthetics are still connected with today’s BDSM styles. This doesn’t mean that the style, nor the subculture, was mainstream at all. Punk was a form of anti-movement. The subculture didn’t want to follow the masses. The first collision of BDSM style and popular culture is probably Jean Paul Guiltier who made corsets that stormed the runways in the 1980’s. His idea wasn’t something new. He was just the first one the make it popular. But he didn’t do that on his own. He had some help from Madonna who would wear the corset on stage. She further sexualised the corset and her own style in the 1990’s when her album Erotica and book Sex came out. Versace took his turn on bondage fashion at the same time and came up with a collection that was called Miss S&M.

And now, 30 years later, the style that best describes itself as bondage chic is again found in today’s fashion scene. Most people will recall Kim Kardashian’s latex dress. Every self-respected shoe brand has their own version of the thigh-high boots. And even Madonna has gone back in time. She is wearing a Gaultier corset once again. This time, it’s made of black straps.

For BDSM fetishists, black leather, strapped corsets and latex never went out of style. That’s why, despite the fact the Ouch! items come in various colours and styles, the black ones are still the best-sellers.

BDSM on screen
It was also the 1980’s when BDSM lifestyle became more visible on screen. However, where Gaultier was lauded for his creations on the runway, the on screen BDSM practitioners where not. The BDSM features on characters were mostly a sign to: “Run away!” Especially 80’s horror movies used a lot of black leather and latex. A specific movie franchise that’s worth mentioning is Hellraiser. The main character Pinhead has a head full of, what’s in the name, needles. He wears a black leather rope and he is particularly fond of beautiful women who he can skin alive. The film contains a lot of blood, violence and sex. But it has nothing to do with real BDSM lifestyle.

Halfway through the 90’s, characters with BDSM features would be a little less horrific. Bond Girl Xenia Onatopp is beautiful, sexual, but nevertheless still very deathly committing her sadistic murders. Later in the 2000’s and 2010’s, the chain and leather wearing characters could be found in any popular television show, such as Crime Scene Investigation, Law & Order and House MD. Can you state that this is the turning point for BDSM on screen then? Not really. The characters were always the odd ones out. They represent the ‘underworld’, the one with mental health issues or just the weird ones; not very likeable characteristics you want to be compared with.

Now, in the 2020’s we can carefully start saying that BDSM characters are becoming more mainstream. A lot of these credits go to producer Ryan Murphy who puts several BDSM features in his productions such as American Horror Story and Nip/Tuck. Viewers aren’t shocked by it anymore and the characters are a little less crazy than they used to be.

BDSM in the mainstream
And this journey brings us back to the present. We can see that it wasn’t before the last decade that BDSM went more mainstream. Being visible in popular culture has finally led to BDSM being more accepted than it was before. We fear the unknown, that’s probably why sadomasochistic expressions were kept in the basement, both literally and figuratively. But in modern day times, you have to live with blinders and earplugs to not be exposed to any form of BDSM. It’s almost ironic how things have come full circle: De Sade was imprisoned for his novels whereas E.L. James’s trilogy was received with open arms.

Whether these developments are positive or not, is a point of discussion for a lot of BDSM practitioners. Some are happy that they are not being labelled as ‘freaky’ anymore. Others don’t mind staying in the shadows. Still others believe that BDSM is falsely portrait in popular culture. Most of the time, the depiction of sub/dom relationships is quite toxic, while it should be all about power dynamics and respect. Next to this, one might describe the sexual acts as ‘BDSM – lite’ and therefore not ‘real’ enough.

No matter what your opinion is, the outcome still is that the selling of ropes, hand cuffs, paddles and all those sort of things has gone up. And as with any form of sex, it’s all about what you and your partner(s) want and whether there’s mutual consent. It doesn’t matter if this means you want to try a fluffy handcuff or you want to be flogged with heavy whips. “There’s a market for everything,” knows Leoni, head of the design studio at Shots from experience. “And we want to supply our customers with anything they want. For our Ouch! line, this means that we keep designing new items so we always keep or customers satisfied.”