BDSM: IRL

by Jayne Yerrick

Nathan Hammerle and some of the BDSM toys he teaches about during his programs. Photo by Jayne Yerrick

Handcuffs, rope, blindfolds and whips. All of these are essential instructional tools for Nathan Hammerle. 

Hammerle, an OU senior studying to be a history teacher, is a member of Power/Gamma, an organization whose mission is to educate people on health and lifestyle issues, including, but not limited to, sexual health, alcohol use, tobacco use and nutrition. One of Hammerle’s main roles in Power/Gamma is teaching people about BDSM.

It’s not every day that you meet someone who openly talks about liking BDSM, let alone someone who teaches others about it. Talking about BDSM is typically reserved for either the bedroom or dark corners of the web. But Hammerle thinks that this shouldn’t always be the case, as he advocates for “normalizing the conversation” about BDSM.

“We are trying to make sure that we’re making these conversations normal, and trying to make sure that people are understanding that it’s okay to talk about this,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be in every setting though. It can be private or it can be more public if that’s what they’re okay with doing.”

So what is BDSM exactly? According to sex educator Lola Jean, BDSM includes three categories: bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and sadism/masochism. Many people do not even know how BDSM is defined because it seems too taboo to even talk about.

Even though people aren’t talking about it, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t desiring it. A study conducted by Northern Illinois University professor Dr. Brad Sagarin found that the endorphins released during BDSM acts are similar to a runner’s high. It turns out more people are chasing this “high” than society tends to let on. 

In fact, in a 2015 study, 64.6 percent of women and 53.3 percent of men revealed that they fantasized about being dominated. In the same study, 46.7 percent of women and 59.6 percent of men reported that they had sexual fantasies about dominating their partner. If this many people fantasize about BDSM, why is it kept so hush-hush?

Part of the reason that BDSM is considered taboo is because of the types of acts that people tend to associate with this type of sex. Incorporating handcuffs and whips into sex can ring alarm bells in some people’s minds.

“People think of being tied up and they immediately think of kidnap and they think of rape,” Hammerle said. “A lot of these things have negative connotations to it that people don’t want to think of in a pleasure sense.”

Another reason that BDSM is considered taboo is because of the negative stereotypes that exist about people who enjoy BDSM. Hammerle likes to think that he breaks the mold.

“I like to think that I don’t fit the assumed version of the dominant,” he said. “Because when people think of like ‘Fifty Shades’ they think of dark, brooding people, but it’s not the case.”

Hammerle certainly isn’t brooding. Overall, Hammerle comes across as a normal, friendly guy. He is quite talkative, and he loves to teach others. 

Contrary to popular belief, BDSM is a whole lot more than just handcuffs and rope.

“If I had to sum it all into like a couple sentences, I would say that [BDSM] is a lot more than anyone would expect,” he said. “There are aspects of it that people don’t consider.”

Hammerle mentions how he has noticed BDSM pages on TikTok popping up recently. For example, he will often see TikTok tutorials on tying certain knots. However, these videos are leaving out a vital part of BDSM: safety.

“With rope, you want to make sure that you have some sort of knife or scissors nearby to be able to cut the rope off your partner if they don’t want it anymore,” he said. “This is like at a moment’s notice, and that’s not something that people talk about. They don’t see that as the sexy side of videos.”

Even though safety can be left out of the BDSM conversation, Hammerle says that it is a crucial part of the community. He also emphasizes that BDSM relationships need a strong line of communication between partners. 

“The amount of communication that’s going into it is super, super, super important,” he said. “And there’s a lot of trust between partners that if you just saw things as it happened, you wouldn’t think that there is.”

Above safety, trust and communication, consent reigns the most important in BDSM. As with all sexual acts, consent is mandatory and needs to be established every step of the way. 

Since the general public remains stuck on the pain and pleasure aspects of BDSM, it is easy for the deeper elements to go unnoticed. It’s possible that if more people begin to follow Hammerle’s advice about normalizing the BDSM conversation, it’s possible that maybe the stigma will start to go away (and more people can live out their fantasies). 

Nathan Hammerle teaching about BDSM at the 2020 Safe and Sexy event. Photo provided by Nathan Hammerle

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