What's the link between BDSM—the catchall term for bondage, discipline, domination/ submission, sadism and masochism—and sobriety?
Can you be clean and sober and still engage kinkily? For those who identify as clean and kink-friendly, the answer is a resounding "Yes, please (may I have another?)." The connection is being borne out as supportive communities of like-minded people are springing up around the country.
The issue goes beyond physical safety; as one woman told me, "who wants to be flogged by a drunk guy?" While a number of interviewees reported they have attended play parties—often in private homes—where alcohol and drugs abound, most organized play parties frown on, or explicitly forbid, such substances and often turn away players who show up intoxicated. (This is also a common complaint of professional dominatrices, who often have to turn away drunks.)
Mollena Williams—a BDSM educator and the co-author of the guidebook Playing Well with Others—founded San Francisco's Safeword, which offers a "12-Step modeled approach to recovery for kink-identified people." She began the group in 2007 in response to her lukewarm reception at traditional AA meetings. She recalled that her tastes were considered to be incompatible with her sobriety: "People are often ready to attribute your desires to do kink or BDSM as part of your addiction." She added that many 12-steppers "equated that high you experience within a scene as a result of a dry drunk. I was accused of substituting one drink for another. They didn't see that for me Kink and Leather were the last bastions of my sobriety!"
The majority of interviewees emphasized the positive effect BDSM has had on their sobriety, going far beyond the realm of the dungeon or kinky world. Theener, a 35-year-old New Yorker who's been kinky since she got a birthday spanking in 2004, feels like she had to "learn how to be kinky all over again" after getting sober in 2008.
"You have to learn how to have fun without alcohol and drugs being the center of your fun," she said. "When I wasn't sober, I wasn't interested in spaces like [S&M club] Paddles and [support and information group] Lesbian Sex Mafia meetings because there wasn't booze. I had to appreciate later that those places were alcohol free." ...