Hard Core & the Dark Side of BDSM

April 2000
originally written for the Sanctuary of Light website under the name M. Lucis

Imagine the microcosm of the bdsm community reflecting the macrocosm of the general population. Just as you can divide the world into vanilla and bdsm, you can divide bdsm into soft or mainstream and hard core. Defining hard core then becomes a question of cliche: “I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it.” The problem is that very few people get to see it. People who do hard core sessions are gently pressured to keep their play private. We wouldn’t want to scare the newbies, after all. Those delicate sensibilities might be scared away if they saw people bleeding or screaming in genuine pain or being humiliated and degraded in a public dungeon or group party.

When I was a newbie, I was patted on the head and told that bdsm “isn’t that scary at all.” I learned how it is all consensual and for the pleasure of both parties involved. I discovered that “slavery is abuse” and “blood is unsafe” and “humiliation is degrading.” I wonder how different I would be now if I hadn’t tried to suppress the parts of myself that were excited by these taboo activities. Eventually I met those who corrupted me–showed me that all the darker stuff has its own place and can be simply incredible to experience. I began to see that the darkness that enticed me was inhabited by people other than psychotic, dangerous, “bad people.” I remain cautious about raising such subjects in mainstream communities, but I am slowly finding a voice to express my dark needs, and partners to share the journey.

Returning to cliche, we find that what is hard core to one person, is perfectly natural or even tame to another. I like to think of the darkness as that type of bdsm that would “scare away the newbies”–even though I know many newbies are looking for just that sort of intensity. Just stop and think about what is acceptable to the mainstream. What are you allowed to do at public dungeon parties and discuss on heavily populated discussion lists? Turn it around to what is prohibited by the dungeon rules and what is beyond the acceptable limits and you’ve found hard core. People bleeding. Permanent scarring. Intense humiliation. Rape and kidnapping scenarios. Pain that hurts and isn’t about providing pleasure. Control that extends into every aspect of life. Relationships where the dominant is *really* in control. Strangling or suffocating of bottoms. Dominants who don’t care if the sub is enjoying her/himself. Rough sexual intercourse. Playing without limits. Playing under the influence of intoxicants or mood-altering substances. Anything that someone could label anti-SSC or merely “questionable.” For many of us, these are things we practice regularly, part of expressing who we are. Yet, to the mainstream, we are “edge players” or “do hard core” and are discouraged from doing it in group settings or organized events.

Looking at the fantasy of bdsm fiction, it would seem most people are attracted to at least one of these areas, but many are afraid to admit their interest. They fear the SSC-police. They fear being labeled an “unsafe player” or some other negatively judgmental phrase. Newbies are told that the very things that attracted them to the lifestyle, fiction like “The Story of O” and fantasies of force and pain, aren’t really part of SSC. The very community they sought as a place to explore what was too dark for the vanilla world, tells them that there are things that are still too dark to be acceptable. Eventually they learn to soften their fantasies into activities that are acceptable. They may seek out partners who want to experience the rougher, harder, edgier play in private. They learn to keep their dark side out of public venues or to only refer to it in a joking manner so as not to frighten anyone. With any luck, they’ll slowly identify a hidden subculture that practices the hard core stuff and will, at last, attain the support, information, and encouragement they sought from the start.

The soft core world has control of the organized bdsm communities. They will continue to restrict what is acceptable and what is dangerous. They hope to gain acceptance from the very vanilla world they originally sought to escape and if it means leaving behind those of us on the edge, well, that’s just the price we have to pay to obtain a small level of legal and social acceptance. And, in their most secret fantasies that they are too afraid to speak to anyone, most of them will imagine having the freedom to let loose the darker side of themselves and experience the same hard core activities they prohibit. Fortunately, some of us have already created that freedom for ourselves by getting beyond the politically correct “but I’d never actually DO something like that” to actually explore our darkest fantasies.