Universal Pictures

The Catharsis Of BDSM: How I Stopped Judging And Took A Chance

I stared into the eyes of a woman I had just met and sucked in my breath.

Her face was soft and kind. She smiled at me.

The wrinkles around her eyes indicated she smiled often.

Her gentle demeanor should have made this easier, but it didn't.

I opened my mouth to speak, but the words got stuck.

They had been buried for too long, and were struggling to come out. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes.

Oh, God. I was going cry. How embarrassing.

Finally, I said, "I feel ashamed of ...."

Then, I told a perfect stranger everything I felt ashamed of.

It's definitely not what I thought I was going to be doing when I signed up for a BDSM class.

Rewind: It's the day before class and I'm freaking out.

Not only am I going to a dom-sub class, I also have no idea what to wear.

I'm imagining whips and handcuffs over my tan, cowl neck sweater. I'm not even sure I want to be going to this class at all.

Actually, I know I don't want to go.

I'm a pretty strong feminist, and I don't see this fitting in with my beliefs.

I'm trying to do things differently in 2016.

The only reason I'm going is because my friend challenged me (you can read about that here), and because it was free.

I pull out my leather pants (a bold purchase made to celebrate a month of butt exercises) and a black sweater.

Searching for social media support, I post about the class.

Within the hour, I get three messages from friends who, unbeknownst to me, enjoy BDSM.

BDSM stands for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism.

"Don't wear leather or too much black," they all advise.

Well, sh*t.

I wake up the next morning and throw on a pair of jeans and some high boots. Almost everything I own is black, so I try to offset the outfit with a floral blazer.

Thanks to my terrible sense of direction, I arrive 15 minutes late.

My tardiness lands me a seat dead in the front.

(This is something I'll pay for later, during the spanking demo when someone's ass is bouncing 12 inches from my face.)

The instructor is named Om Rupani, and he's surprisingly normal.

I'm not sure what I was expecting: a class in a dungeon facilitated by some creepwad dude wearing too much eyeliner?

I was wrong.

The space is clean and cozy.

Om goes around the room and asks all of the people why they're in class.

I'm hoping I can avoid speaking by doing the good ol' no-eye-contact trick.

I listen while other people speak, but avoid Om Rupani's gaze.

He asks them questions intently but softly, trying to encourage them to speak their truth.

"This is a good exercise. I want to hear from all of you," Om Rupani says.

Damn it.

All that careful eye avoidance is a waste. I debate what to say.

I debate telling the truth.

"I'm a writer, and my friend challenged me to come for my next book."

I don't want to say that. I don't want the other people to think I'm judging them.

I don't want them to think there's a distinction between me and them because this is their world. I'm just visiting.

Om looks at me.

"Um, well, I didn't have sex for a long time. I'm trying to do things differently in 2016."

"Why didn't you have sex?"

He's pushing me to be honest.

He pushes everyone to say three more things than they feel comfortable saying.

Ultimately, it's his way of stripping away the lies.

"I have this need to be in control when it comes to sex," I say, my mouth getting dry.

"There's plenty of men in here who would love that. Raise your hand if you want her to be in control of you."

Five guys raise their hands. I smile, but my face turns red.

"Why is that a problem?" Om asks.

"Sometimes, I need to be too in control. Like, I make rules, and sometimes, I'm afraid to be out of control."

"Oh, I see. You make laws about sex. And if someone doesn't do and say all the right things, or follow the rules you've made up, you won't sleep with that person."

"Yeah. Something like that."

"That's going to hurt you."

"I know. That's why I'm here. Like I said, I'm trying to do things differently."

Om moves on to someone else, leaving me thinking about all this.

While one of the men talks about how he wants to ravage his wife, I'm thinking about writing.

I've chosen to be vulnerable and exposed in a very public way.

Even though it's a choice I've made, it can be really f*cking hard sometimes.

I consider sugar-coating my article about this class, or not even writing it all.

But I know I won't do either.

That's a betrayal of the art.

Om finally has a chance to talk to everyone.

"I've noticed a common theme here: shame and guilt.

So, for our first exercise, you're going to tell some people everything you're ashamed of. They will put their fingers in their ears, so they won't really hear you.

It's about saying it out loud. Maintain eye contact the entire time.

Listeners, your face should be neutral. Give them space and allow them to be vulnerable."

For the first round, I was a listener. I placed my fingers in my ears.

Within the first five seconds, I realized I could hear everything my partner was saying, but he didn't know it.

I tried really hard not to listen because the things he was saying were scary.

Really scary.

He smiled maniacally.

There was something psychotic in his eyes that terrified me, but I refused to show it.

"Keep your face neutral," I thought.

After two minutes, we switched partners. I placed my fingers in my ears and looked directly into the eyes of a sweet and wonderfully handsome man in his mid-20s.

"I feel ashamed of the color of my skin. I feel ashamed that I'm here today. I feel like I'm letting my family down. I'm ashamed that I'm not making more money. I'm ashamed that I'm not further along in my life," he said.

For two minutes, he listed everything. There was nothing psychotic or scary about his gaze.

He was just a man, standing before me. Exposed.

More than anything, I felt deep compassion and love for this person.

In two minutes, I probably knew more about him than anyone else in his life. I wanted to grab his face gently and say, "Your skin is beautiful, and so are you. It's okay that you're here. You're not hurting anyone."

But I couldn't because I wasn't supposed to hear any of it. So I just smiled and moved on.

Soon, it was my turn to speak my shame.

I tried to avoid my first partner. I didn't want to do any more exercises with him.

I wound up with an exotic-looking and friendly woman.

I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. I knew she was going to hear everything.

Even with her fingers in her ears, she would hear.

"I feel ashamed of..."

I stopped.

It was too hard.

"It's okay," she said.

I started over, "I feel ashamed of..."

Two minutes later, I had told her things I didn't even know I was ashamed of.

I told her about things that had happened years ago, things I didn't realize were somehow still festering inside of me and shame that I had somehow allowed to become my story.

A tear rolled down my face.

In all sincerity, I think this is one of the hardest things I've ever done. There's a weird sort of power in saying things aloud.

In some ways, it released me from a lot of sh*t.

That's a good thing, as I'm trying to evolve as a person.

We all sat down.

"That is exactly what BDSM is," Om Rupani says.

What?

I'm confused.

"Being the dom is about creating space for someone to be that level of vulnerable. It's about making someone feel safe enough to trust you with his or her body.

Being a sub is about being so trusting and vulnerable that you literally give your body to someone else.

Dominance and discipline is about consent, feeling safe and vulnerability. It's beautiful, isn't it?"

It actually was.

Wow, my mind was blown.

"Alright, we're gonna break for lunch. But when we get back, we're going to start on role-play."