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Beyond your edge

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Ella Stern

For most of her adult life, Ella Stern had dreamed about being dominated in the bedroom. This did not only surprise herself but also left men feeling uneasy when confronted with her fantasy. One day, she finally saw only one way out of this dilemma – she registered for a BDSM beginners’ class.

  • Text: Ella Stern
    Images: Alexandra Siering, Caritia Abell, Isabelle Hanikamu

I lie on my back, blindfolded, my wrists tied with a rope against my boobs. I don’t know the person who is painstakingly slowly clipping a clothespin onto my right nipple. I can feel his physical strength, his breath on my skin. As soon as the pin is in place, something pokes my cheek. Ouch. I turn my head away, a hand turns it gently but determinedly back. Playful fingers wander slowly over my lips. Then they force them open and resolutely thrust something inside. It feels like a short, fat rubber plug. A warm sensation spreads between my legs …

A few seconds later someone removes the blindfold, the light goes on and I can see the person I have to thank for this pleasant feeling. A blond woman of about 40 smiles at me contently.

Six other couples sit around us in a spacious, light-flooded loft talking about their experiences. We are at Schwelle 7, a well-known studio in Berlin for experimental workshops, performances, and parties related to bodywork, art and, most of all, BDSM.

BDSM officially stands for bondage & discipline, dominance & submission, and sadism & masochism. It’s a catch-all phrase covering a wide range of sexual practices I have so far only heard of in theory but have dreamed about intensely.

The workshop we all participate in is enigmatically called “BDSM – Borders DO/N’T speak to me” and is a type of beginners’ class for people interested in BDSM but who don’t know exactly where or how to start and which aspects of their fantasies they want to live out. Just the thing for people like me. It took me a long time to realize that waiting for Mr. Right (“Honey, would you mind dominating me a bit when we do it, I mean would you be o.k. with that?) would be futile. I had to find a place that offered me what I need.

At the door to the studio, I almost chickened out, but luckily I pushed myself inside, because this step truly changed my life. I’m not kidding.

My fear of having to deal with strange people subsided the moment I entered the place. Everybody around me could just as well be working out at a yoga studio. The group is diverse with people ranging from 20 to 50 years old. From the hipster graphic design major to the successful manager of a medium-sized company to a mother of three young children. I soon realize that I’m not the only one sitting here extremely nervous, full of fear and questions.

For many people, desire and fear are twin emotions when it comes to sexuality. This is especially true when it comes to BDSM. That’s why the two workshop coaches tell us at the very beginning of the class what BSDM should be – a game based on mutual respect, appreciation and mindful communication. The goal while playing is to learn more about yourself, explore your limits, rid yourself of feelings of shame and fear. But the most important message that we hear over and over again during the four-day workshop is this: You never have to do anything you don’t want to do. Respect your limits and communicate them clearly and unambiguously.

The two women who introduce us to BDSM in a masterly fashion are called Caritia and Mara. They quickly prove they know what they are talking about as both have long-standing experience practicing BDSM. Caritia used to work as a professional dominatrix and Mara is a certified sexological bodyworker, a profession that is officially recognized in the U.S. Now both work as coaches teaching and promoting conscious BDSM and free sexuality. They regularly teach classes and help people like me to approach the subject in a conscious way and in a safe environment.

For both, the impact of their work in the BDSM field reaches far beyond the physical level: “Every human being has a unique complex personality of which we often only allow ourselves to live a mere fraction,” Mara explains to the group. “I see BDSM as a wonderful playground where you can discover these aspects of yourself without trying to make sense of it or needing to find an explanation. At the same time you work intensely with your body, mind, and soul to reconcile light and darkness.”

This monumental task makes us sweat time and again during the next four days of the workshop ...

The complete article is to be read in Séparée International No.1.

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