This interview was first posted on LadySmut.com.
A few years ago I met the very lovely, very real BDSM lifestyler, AJ Renard, at the BDSM Writers Con in New York. An owned and collared submissive, AJ is an artist, model, executive and many other things — and she loves dispelling misconceptions about kink, as well as making sure people stay safe as they enter and explore the lifestyle. Her shoe and lingerie collection is to die for. And, look! A special jewelry giveaway from AJ below.
February is known as “love month.” It’s also when a certain movie came out.What a perfect time to sit down with AJ and set the record straight on BDSM and all things kinky — especially if you’re ready to go there.
ELIZABETH SAFLEUR: AJ! It’s so great you’re here. Can you tell our readers about your BDSM/Kink lifestyle experience?
AJ RENARD: I have been in the lifestyle since my late teens, although I have always been strongly aware of my inclinations. It’s difficult to pinpoint one aspect of the lifestyle that draws me. I am a 24/7 submissive (the bottom in a Power Exchange relationship, where the submissive partner has willingly and consensually handed over some or all decision-making power in their life to their Dominant), which fulfills a deep need in me to serve and please another, and allows me the freedom to trust someone enough to put my life in their hands. I am also fundamentally a bottom (someone who receives the action during a BDSM scene vs. a Top who does the action to someone) in play and sexual encounters; it is intrinsically a part of me, and something I have never not had in my life.
ELIZABETH SAFLEUR: So you’re “all in.” I imagine that surprises people when they meet you.
AJ RENARD: I think one of the things that surprises most people is simply to learn that I am a submissive. There is a broad misconception that being a submissive makes you weak, or a doormat, when, in reality, most Dominants value submissives who have a mind of their own and use it. Being submissive does not mean that I can’t have a great career as an executive, or that I can’t voice my opinion, or that I can’t allow my sassy and rambunctious personality to shine through. It simply means that I live by a set of rules to please my Dominant, and I trust him to make decisions for my benefit and growth, as well as for the health of our relationship.
ELIZABETH SAFLEUR: Is there anything in the BDSM world that the vanilla world gets wrong, consistently?
AJ RENARD: That the lifestyle is sexually-focused. There are absolutely people, myself included, who express their sexuality through kink, but there are also many people who find satisfaction, sanctuary, healing, love, safety, and security in the lifestyle without it being sexual for them.
One of the things that bugs me the most (besides all the other things I’ve been ranting about!) is the impression many people have that BDSM is in direct conflict with feminism. There is a perception that BDSM is all about men controlling and hurting women, or women being docile and submissive (in a pejorative sense of the word). While there are many PE dynamics with a man in the D/ role and a woman in the /s role, those roles, and their activities, are consented to by both parties.
I consider myself a feminist, and I strongly encourage women to choose the path in life that makes them happy and fulfilled. For some, that might be owning a company or it might mean being a stay at home mom. It might mean being a Dominant, and taking on that D/ role yourself. It might mean handing over your power to another. Regardless, to me, being a feminist means finding what makes you feel good and having the freedom to pursue it, and not judging or condemning other women for how or where they find their own happiness. The BDSM lifestyle is where many people find their freedom, and it allows people to explore desires and parts of themselves that they may have been told they should be ashamed of. I think that is very positive, empowering, and feminist.
ELIZABETH SAFLEUR: My next question could fill a book, but I’m asking anyway! What do you wish people knew about BDSM, in general? There seems to be so much misinformation…
AJ RENARD: Ohhhh my gosh… There’s so much…! One of the biggest things I wish people truly understood is that everything in the lifestyle is based on consent. Consent is discussed, informed, enthusiastic, and can be withdrawn at any time by either partner.
ELIZABETH SAFLEUR: Anytime?
AJ RENARD: Yes. One of the questions I see asked a lot by newcomers (especially by young, inexperienced submissives) is “can my Dominant do X?” My first question back is almost always “did you discuss it and consent to it?” Because that’s what it boils down to. Both parties must consent to what is happening within a relationship or scene.
ELIZABETH SAFLEUR: A certain book (clears throat before saying it includes the words “Fifty” and “Shades”) opened the door to many to the world of BDSM. Yet, many real-world BDSM community members were upset about how BDSM was characterized. What would you tell someone whose only exposure was that movie or series?
AJ RENARD: If someone discovers their kinky side through a work of fiction, I think that’s great! The important thing to remember is that it’s fantasy. Real life is always different, and especially in BDSM (or any other “culture” steeped in protocols and traditions), if you don’t live the lifestyle day to day, it’s difficult to portray it accurately.
A lot of what rubbed the BDSM community the wrong way with that particular book goes back to one of the misconceptions I spoke about earlier – the idea that consent is paramount in this lifestyle. The main character was uninformed about the lifestyle in general, the dynamic she was entering into, and even the types of play they would engage in. How can you consent to something you don’t know will happen? She didn’t consent to the amount of control he took over her life, and when there isn’t consent, what is left is a violation.
I think that erotic fiction and the BDSM genre has made some conversations about sexuality and kinks slightly more acceptable (I say slightly because many of the people I know in the lifestyle would still lose their jobs, friends, and even their family if they were outed- there is still a tremendous amount of fear and bias surrounding the BDSM community), but it has also created a desire for many people to learn about and participate in kink, even when they’re not sure where to start.
ELIZABETH SAFLEUR: So how should someone start?
AJ RENARD: If someone finds their interest piqued by something they read in a BDSM novel and they want to explore more, I would encourage them to start by reading nonfiction. There are some great books and websites out there that will help you get a better idea of what the lifestyle is about, and what you might be interested in.
For many people, fantasizing and reading is as far as they want to go, and that’s perfectly fine! For those who want to experiment, I always always always encourage them to find in-person education. Most medium cities have a local scene, and you usually don’t have to look very far away to find an event, class, party, or munch.
Munches are low-pressure social gatherings, usually in a private space at a restaurant or other non-kink venue. There is no play, or kinky activity. From the outside it looks like any other social gathering, and it’s an opportunity for kinksters to meet, socialize, and be amongst like-minded people. Many munches have an appointed person who greets and introduces newcomers to people, so you don’t feel so alone or out of place! You don’t have to be intimidated even if you’re not sure what you’ll talk about, a lot of the time most of the conversations have nothing to do with kink!
Another great way to meet people and dip your toe into the scene is through classes. Many clubs and groups (especially TNG groups- “The Next Generation” groups, for people under 35) will offer skills classes like BDSM 101, intro to impact play, etc. and those are another way to educate yourself and meet new people. Fetlife.com and FindAMunch.com can help you find a local munch, and classes in your area.
ELIZABETH SAFLEUR: Since BDSM has come out of the closet, so to speak, education seems very important right now.
AJ RENARD: I always believe in the power of education! Traditions, skills, safety practices, and knowledge are all highly regarded in the BDSM community, and most of these are not learned overnight, and not instilled in someone without effort.
BDSM education, in my opinion, is incredibly important for two main reasons: Safety and Respect.
The first, and most obvious, is safety. As a bottom, you are often putting your physical and emotional safety in someone else’s hands, as a Top, you are often responsible for them. That is not something to be taken lightly, and even deceptively simple types of play (how hard can it be to tie someone’s hands with some clothesline you have lying around, right?) can often carry risk that you don’t know about. To play safely, you must be informed, about yourself, your partner, and the play in which you are engaging.
ELIZABETH SAFLEUR: So true, so true. I’ve seen some “live experimentation” on a person before and it made me cringe.
AJ RENARD: Many skills also require practice and are techniques that must be learned. If you can’t aim that flogger and hit the spot you intend to, every time, with the intensity and force you want, you need more practice before aiming it at a human being. Additionally, you need to learn how to vet your potential partners, keep yourself safe, asses their skill level, negotiate and set limits for scenes, etc. If you’re completely new to kink, those are things that you will need to learn- in classes, from experienced kinksters, from a mentor, etc.
The second biggest reason I think education is important is respect. I often compare it to moving to a foreign country. There is a new culture, language, customs, way of relating, and to respect and honor it you must understand it. I see many newcomers complain (mostly in online groups) that they don’t feel as immediately welcomed as they thought they should have been. What many people fail to realize is that to people who are deeply into the lifestyle, new people can present a potential threat.
To people in the community, newcomers can often mean someone who wants to pass by all the education, safety knowledge, and wisdom experienced players have to offer, and get right to the “exciting (i.e. dangerous) stuff.” It can mean that someone may not take the time to learn the traditions and culture of the community, and may deeply offend someone because they haven’t made the effort to understand the lifestyle, even if they don’t practice it in the same way. There is also the very real danger that someone who doesn’t understand the need for privacy and discretion, who is caught up in the excitement of getting involved in kink, may inadvertently “out” someone- as I mentioned earlier, while some aspects of kink are becoming more socially acceptable, there are serious, real world consequences if some people were to be outed.
When you enter this community, you will come across people who live their lives in ways you might have never imagined. The kink community is an accepting place where they have found a home, and educating yourself about different lifestyles, types of play and relationships will help you navigate the waters and remain respectful.
ELIZABETH SAFLEUR: Is there anything that erotic fiction authors “get wrong” a lot…or a little?
AJ RENARD: One of my biggest peeves with a lot of BDSM fiction is that most scenes seem to be foreplay for sex. For a huge swath of kinksters, the majority of their scenes do not involve intercourse, and many scenes are not even sexual in nature. It may be a rope scene that is much more about the ties and positions and suspension. It might be fireplay for the sensation and relaxation, it might be a bootblacking scene for the appreciation of the leather and the act of service, and there are PE dynamics that are service-based, with no sexual interaction. Now, I understand the space between a rock and a hard place in which authors find themselves. Yes, they want to accurately portray the lifestyle, but their readers also want to pick up something sexy to read!
The other issue I usually have is the sped up timeline. BDSM takes time. Skills take time to learn, it takes time to build trust, it takes time to vet someone and negotiate. Again, I understand that these are vastly less exciting to read about than someone jumping in and discovering themselves through hot, kinky sex with someone who they instinctively know is safe and skilled and knowledgeable.
ELIZABETH SAFLEUR: Do you believe BDSM is “coming into its own” in the world now? Like we’ve reached a critical mass and there’s greater understanding and acceptance than in decades past? (Is this a stupid question? LOL)
AJ RENARD: Kink, as far as the more generic perception of kink (maybe some leather cuffs, a blindfold, running an ice cube over the body, spanking, maybe some butt stuff), is getting slightly more acceptable. In the same way that Kinsey’s studies found evidence that homosexual acts and behavior were too prevalent in the general population to be considered truly “abnormal,” people are starting to realize that the desire for some level of kink in the bedroom is far more common than we used to think.
However, many kinks, things like ageplay, more extreme Sadism and masochism, consensual slavery, CNC (consensual non-consent, like rape and kidnapping play), and even D/s relationships like the one I have, amongst many, many others, are still looked at with suspicion and derision. People can lose their jobs, custody of their children, and rape cases because of their lifestyle, plus facing discrimination and potential loss of friends, family, and community. Someone might understand giving your spouse a spanking, but it’s still a far leap for many of those people to understand that I truly like being hurt and terrified, to the point that I am sobbing and begging, or that a rape victim can find catharsis and comfort in CNC scenes where they might be able to feel as if they’re rewriting their attack under their own power and control.
BDSM was only recently removed from the DSM (in the DSM V, published in 2013), and the law has not yet caught up- many activities in BDSM are considered illegal (in the United States you cannot consent to your own bodily harm). De-stigmatizing kink, and no longer classifying it as a mental illness is a start, but there is still a long and difficult road ahead before most of us might be able to live without fear of the consequences of how we express our need to serve, our sexuality, and our love.
(The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, NCSFreedom.org, has been instrumental in many of these advancements. It is a great organization to be involved with or donate to!)
ELIZABETH SAFLEUR: Thanks, AJ. You certainly have given us a lot to think about!