On 19 April 2003, the partly decomposed body of special needs teacher Jane Longhurst was found still burning in woodlands near her house. On 4 July 2007, Graham Coutts, a man she had just begun dating, was found guilty of murdering her. The day before Jane’s death, Coutts admitted to downloading large quantities of BDSM pornography showing graphic strangulation images which, the prosecution argued, worked Coutts into such a frenzy that he then lured Longhurst back to his flat, where he strangled her with her own tights.
Such a tragic death led to the rushed and highly controversial ‘extreme pornography act’ which, from 26 January 2009, made possession of pornography which was deemed to be “grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character” illegal. This effectively made any BDSM (Bondage, Dominance Sadism/Submission and Masochism) pornography illegal too, with BDSM followers painted as “sick”, “twisted” and “mentally ill” by Britons on the BBC website.
So, how does it feel to be on the receiving end? “I’ve been accused of being a paedophile. I’d never do that, that’s awful”, says Rascal, a second year student and BDSM follower. “Tabloids are very hysterical about things,” she continues. “People don’t understand that some BDSM stuff is just fantasy – it’s never going to happen.”
Indeed, whilst particular BDSM fetishes can certainly be labelled as nothing more than imagination, the reality of BDSM can be seen as just as shocking. Followers use pain and control, or the lack of, to obtain sexual pleasure. Usually consisting of “dominant” and “submissive” parters, strangulation, flagellation, suffocation and electrocution are all common to differing degrees.
Rascal’s personal fetish is “knife-play,” part of a larger, more extreme area known as “blood sports”. This includes a practice called “cutting”, a definition on a BDSM website stating that “cuts are made in the submissive’s skin to produce an aesthetically pleasing pattern and stimulation.”
Rascal bluntly admits: “I enjoy knives in sex. People think it’s really bad domestic abuse, but it’s not, because I like it; I ask him to do it.”
Brought up by BDSM parents, Rascal sees her submissive preferences as just the same as a sexual orientation: “I had my first BDSM fantasy when I was 10 years old,” she claims, “and then later my mum gave me a book about it. I said to her, “I think I’m a submissive’ and she was like ‘I know. I’ve known since you were 12’.”
Rascal claims that whilst her parents are much more conservative than her, BDSM is something she’s always grown up with. “It’s always been a subtle undercurrent” she states, “something that’s there but never really mentioned. Mum said to me ‘I’m quite dominant with your dad in the bedroom’ before but that’s as far as it’s ever gone. No one wants to hear about their parents having sex, and they don’t want to hear that their daughter’s boyfriend beats them up.”
In fact, roughly three quarters of ‘normal’ couples are believed to experiment with much milder forms of BDSM in the bedroom. Yet despite this, and growing up into an accepting family, Rascal claims her time at school and “coming out” as BDSM has often been traumatic. “When you were discovering boys, I was discovering boys and wishing they were holding whips,” she says, “which made relationships at 13, 14, 15 very difficult.
“Kids are really cruel about this stuff,” she continues. “I remember I told this one guy I want to try this, and he was like ‘that’s so weird’. I found it very hard. I wanted things to be a certain way, and nothing around me was like that. I couldn’t understand it. I wanted everyone else to be talking about it around me, the way I wanted to; I wanted to feel like everything was ok. But it just wasn’t.”
As well as difficulties amongst her peers, Rascal also realises the dangers of entering a highly secretive and underground scene. She describes how vulnerable young teenagers can become victimes of mental or sexual abuse. Using online forums and Facebook, Rascal met her first partner when she was 16. “I got into it far too young, I know that now. I got into some stupid situations because I couldn’t talk to people about it,” she says, looking embarrassed. She adds: “People are definitely out there to abuse you at.”
Throughout her A-levels, Rascal states that she was in constant contact with a woman from Canada, her “dominant”, who gradually took control of her life. “She didn’t exactly give me the opportunity of being very private” Rascal states, and seems about to go into more detail before she cuts herself off. “Let’s just say she was very abusive. She insisted on things like webcams, which made me feel quite uncomfortable. I thought I was doing the right thing at the time. I thought things were normal, but I almost failed my A-levels and it made me really unhappy.”
I ask her if she thinks she was ever sexually abused. After a long pause, she answers: “Yes.
“There were definitely lots of people who wouldn’t let me do stuff safely, and it’s hard at that age to say no. When I look back on it, I think I’m very lucky. Some of the stuff I was doing could have led to big accidents, I could have got myself killed.” How does she feel now? “I’m angry that I fell for it, that I just gave in and let people do the things that they did.”
Rascal is now engaged to her dominant, Lord Viperblade, who she met at an underground BDSM night. “He was at the bar,” she explains, “and we started chatting. We went out for dinner at Frankie and Benny’s, and then we went back to a hotel.” Rascal states that despite their BDSM activities, the couple didn’t sleep with each other that night. “We just shared a bed, but I felt so safe. Everything about him just felt right. I moved in the next day.”
Rascal is due to marry her fiancée on October 29th 2010. “He proposed to me in bed. I wasn’t expecting it but I was so happy. We got the ring that day. We’d only been together for three or four months, so it was very quick. BDSM relationships don’t seem to last very long though, lots of them fall apart and break down.”
Yet both Rascal and her partner sleep with other people, perhaps unsuprising as she works as a “professional submissive”. “I’m a prostitute”, she states frankly, explaining that she doesn’t need the money, but that “when there’s not a recession, I make a lot.” Rascal makes up to £500 a week in the profession.
“But it’s all very carefully regulated,” she stresses, “because I don’t know these people, I don’t trust them.” Rascal states that the majority of her clients are respectful with wives and children, and they’re just frightened.”
“They don’t have anyone to tell about it,” she explains sympathetically. Yet despite making out that her prostitution is a hobby, she states that, “there are instances. There was this one guy who just kept pushing and pushing it. I have a panic alarm for times like that.”
Rascal seems to talk so openly about her sexual experiences, yet prostitution is one of the few things she doesn’t like to discuss. “I don’t tell people because of the stigma about prostitution. It’s not the kind of job you talk about. Would you go round telling everyone you were a whore?” she asks. “I don’t want to embarrass my friends, I don’t want people to be uncomfortable.” I ask her if her parents know. She bursts out laughing: “My dad’s a lawyer! Of course he’d mind!”
Yet despite her shyness over prostitution, Rascal states that she regularly wears her silver “slave” collar around campus, when her boyfriend screws it on her. He had it custom made from a jewelers in London as an engagement present and decides and controls when she should wear it. “I had a job interview, and I didn’t get the job because I had my collar on,” she says, and explains that people regularly bark at her when she wears a leash and walks around with her fiancée.
Whilst she says that this upsets her, Rascal explains that unlike her parents, she’s happy to let people see her BDSM lifestyle in public. She states that they, like many people, “aren’t and can’t be as public about it as I can,” adding, “I think they wish they could be.”
Considering her parents’ reluctance, I ask Rascal if she thinks other factors can explain why she has chosen to live a BDSM lifestyle. “A lot of submissives say that the reason they’re into BDSM is because they were bullied,” she says, adding, “to a certain extent I agree. Sometimes these things just get muddled up in the brain.”
I comment that whilst she seems sane, many people have branded sado-masochists as mentally ill. “Im not sane,” she replies instantly, “I have a mental disorder, I suffer from manic depression.” She continues to say, “I don’t think many of my friends are entirely sane. We joke that you can’t be sane to be doing BDSM, but I think there’s an element of truth in it.”
Given her traumatic journey into coming out as a “submissive”, my final question is: if she had children, would she bring them into the world of BDSM, as her parents did to her? “Not until their old enough,” she states, “but yes, BDSM is my life”.
“It’s not fair to put that kind of stuff on them,” she explains. “I wouldn’t want to make their lives more difficult.”