For the past 13 years Anything for Love (AFL) has presented conventions catering to people looking to expand their erotic horizons.
Although AFL's activities are primarily focused on bondage, discipline and sado-masochism (BDSM), many workshops at its recent convention offered an eye-opening variety of learnings, some even pain-free. The convention, which took place April 20-22 at a Florence hotel, was rounded out by vendors selling BDSM implements and attire along with two evening events: a fetish ball and a play party.
At the convention, it quickly became evident these activities are about trust, a consensual exchange of power and heightened feelings of arousal through alternative methods. The group takes its "play" activities seriously: Their mantra states that all activities must be "safe, sane and consensual."
Negotiation -- discussing in detail what will or will not happen during a play scene -- is standard prior to embarking on a BDSM adventure. It clarifies interests and establishes boundaries. A safe word is determined, a term the "bottom" or submissive can utter to call a halt to the scene if necessary. Aftercare is also important -- think bonding, cuddling, nurturing during the comedown.
Given that people generally seek to avoid pain, BDSM might make some feel uneasy. But if one considers more "ordinary" physical stresses people choose to put themselves through, such as long-distance running (think "runner's high"), eating spicy foods or skydiving, it becomes less of a stretch to imagine endorphin-induced feelings crossing into the erotic arena.
The consensus among AFL participants interviewed is that BDSM is about testing one's limits within a safe, mutually connected framework and experiencing intense corporeal, even spiritual responses, including our body's own natural wonder-drug cocktail to relieve pain and reduce one's perception of it, making people feel better -- something we're all after.
The people next door
Following annual conventions in Columbus and Dayton, AFL moved to Florence, where it's been for seven years. Pixi and Bonnie, who asked that their last names not be used, have run the event for the past two years.
Around 300 couples attend AFL's weekend each year; many travel from beyond the region. Participants come from varied age groups and all walks of life: nurses, engineers, EMTs, college professors, psychologists, teachers, police officers, "computer geeks" and more.
"The people that are here are the people that live next door to you," Bonnie says. "It's very much like family. This is almost like family reunion for pervs."
Bonnie identifies as a masochist, but not a submissive, she hastens to add.
"The difference (is) submission means you like to obey and serve," she says. "I hate that. I'm not into serving anybody."
She enjoys being cropped or flogged.
"I like taking the pain and transferring it to pleasure, and that's one of the neatest things you can do with your body, to change that either into sexual pleasure or the feeling of getting spacey or high," she says.
Pixi whispers, "She's a giggler!"
Bonnie says the "tops" -- dominant partners -- either think her giggling is great or that she needs more flogging or caning.
"Either way I get more," she says. "When I start giggling hysterically, then I'm at the top of my endorphin rush."
But there is another feeling, too.
"There are times when it's very meditative for me," she says.
Pixi, a "sub" or submissive, is into flogging and especially rope bondage.
"Everybody has a favorite," she says. "It's like food."
An AFL couple walk by the morning after the play party.
"Look at them glow!" Bonnie exclaims.
David -- aka Master David, an attorney and seasoned rope-bondage instructor from Lexington, Ky., who teaches rope workshops nationally -- presented two classes at AFL: "BDSM and the Law" (specifically consensual non-consent and its consequences) and "Partial Suspension."
David says his interest in rope bondage arose from his wife Sheila's desire to explore it within their relationship.
"For me, it's hard-wired, definitely," Sheila says. "It fits the classic definition of a fetish for me. I love the feel of the rope on my skin. It's a very sensual material that, when used properly by a top who knows what they're doing, can just create the best tingly feelings all over the body."
David explains, "I enjoy having my partner react to rope mentally. ... Somebody who's interested in rope, who enjoys rope, will mentally slide into a personal space if they're comfortable in their trust when they get into rope. And I enjoy being the one to sort of create that."
David says he enjoys the performance art of rope; it feeds his artistic sense. He prefers the more partner-oriented, collaborative Japanese Shibari technique for rope bondage -- "It's not rough, it flows" -- to Western styles that are more controlling, "damsel-in-distress" scenarios.
At the end of David's hands-on rope bondage session, a woman puts a man in a three-point suspension in a heartbeat. Karen from Columbus is a middle-aged dominant with a fiery personality. The self-described "sensation slut," who is also secretary of the National Leather Association, provides expert supplementary insights during Dan and Dawn's "Sensual Spanking" class, adding a colorful female-topping-male point of view.
"New people deserve the option to learn from people in the know," Karen says.
I wouldn't dare disagree.
Witnessing scenes at the play party, it seems the players might not dig pain just for pain's sake; it's as much about the fantasy context, heightened sensations and connectedness between people, couples or otherwise. It's about sex, too.
"It's not a punishment, it's mutual pleasure," Karen says. "When we all play, it's foreplay for great sex, but we're not supposed to say that. (BDSM) is not something we learn about in the regular world."
She adds, "You're only limited by your own imagination." ©