When Is A BDSM Environment Actually a Cult?

by  Master Tatu

(c)March 2006 All rights reserved ~ This article is the sole intellectual property of the author and CAN NOT be reprinted any any format without the express written permission of the author. 

Back around 1999 there was a movie that came out called, “Eyes Wide Shut” starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Cruise stumbles upon a sex cult of sorts in some palatial setting, complete with beautiful vestal virgins everywhere doing the catwalk down the staircases and across the rooms. So I was in a chat room one night discussing this wonderful fantasy with a few friends when I declared, “I want a cult, a sex cult like the one in ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and want to be a cult leader”. So that night I introduced The “Cult of Consensual Kink” or C.O.C.K. for short. I declared a few lady friends official vestal virgins and I was set. We had a lot of fun with that in the chat rooms for a while.

Then one day I was out at our local BDSM-Fetish Club. An announcement was made by the DJ that it was my birthday and I was quickly escorted to the stage and given a chair in which to to sit. The next thing I hear is that Gregorian Chant music.. wwwwaaaaaa….. and I look across the club and here comes these naked vestal virgins in long hooded capes, and masks, sashaying in high heals to the stage. They arrived, kneeled and bowed down before me and there I was given a gift of a ball cap complete with custom inscription that said, “Master C.O.C.K”. Fun memories. with good friends. It was a cult -like fantasy.

In the world of BDSM, Leather, or Fetish various groupings crop up from time to time which we affectionately call “families”, but are they truly “families”; or are they in reality nothing more than a cult?

I have a Master of Divinity (1979) and did some specific studies in the area of “cults” years ago, as well as professionally counseled people for some 20 years; so I have been watching the formation of these groupings for the past 10-15 years with some interest. These “families” are not a new phenomenon among our kinky tribe. They have been around for decades. It is nothing new that people desire to belong to some kind of community as we all want a sense of family, people with whom we hold common beliefs with which we can share and have fellowship.

What has me somewhat bothered are some of the traits that I see manifest in a few of these so-called “Lifestyle Families”. Now this is not a blanket indictment of all, but there are a few however, that are very troubling. Additionally, it is not just “families”, but also some individual Dom / sub partnerings that take on the characteristics of being cult-like.

By definition a cult is:

1) “A group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea…”. There are many groups that are centered around a particular charismatic leader from Billy Graham to Bill Gates or to and idea or movement such as the concept no less of American freedom, or feeding the hungry, or belonging to a Bettie Page Fan Club. People will become quite emotionally attached to someone or something they truly believe in or have a great affection for. This in and of itself is not unusual or all that troubling.

2) “….and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control”. The fact is people in this world fall prey to manipulative individuals. I have found myself in that boat, being manipulated and used by someone I thought I was a friend I could trust. When in reality I was just a means to what they wanted. Not a fun place to wake up one day and realize you’ve been duped. I blame myself for being too caring and trusting, trying to always think the best in others, when in reality all people are just not as wonderful and good, or “ethical” as I would like to believe in my mind.

What is frightening are certain people within the lifestyle who lack in the “personal empowerment” department and are easily persuaded either by need or fantasy to have a strong leader in their lives. Submission is a wonderful thing, but lived out in terms of a need rather than a self-empowered choice is a very dangerous thing. They are easy prey for the domineering jerks with control issues.

So, what do I mean by self-empowered? I mean that for a D/s or M/s relationship to be a healthy one, both Top and bottom need to be in possession of their personal power and comfortable with that. In other words, they don’t “need” someone else to make them feel complete. A self-empowered submissive consensually grants the leadership of her life to a loving Dominant. I have witnessed a number of submissives over the years who lost that personal power either because they weren’t in a healthy position to grant it to another in the first place; or a “serial bully” masquerading as a lifestyle Dominant took advantage of this and manipulated them in to a position of submission without true healthy mutual consent.

The same is true of Dominant’s. A truly healthy self-empowered Dominant does not “need” a submissive to make him feel whole, but is complete first as an individual, and then chooses to share his dominant energy with another. If not the Dominant can be manipulated by the submissive just as easily.

Isolation

One way the serial bully manipulates a bottom is by isolation. This is a very common textbook technique in all cults. I have seen this happen many times in the D/s lifestyle community. A Dominant and submissive hook up and the first thing he does is isolate her from all of her friends and family. He does this of course because he knows he cannot exercise the control he wants and he would soon be exposed for what he is if he let her continue to interact with her friends. Her friends would see all the warning signs and probably intervene. The cultic con artist is not stupid, he is very smart. It takes great skill to lie and manipulate.

The submissive being at a loss for personal power, is therefore acutely needy and attracted to the “bad boy” she sees in her new dream Dom.

Isolation is the first step in his program of brainwashing. He will usually be critical of others in the community for not being “real lifestylers” or “real S&M-ers”. He cuts off her online contact with her friends, because now he is going to give her “real time”. If she is caught chatting with anyone he has not approved of, she is punished severely. He wants to create something so special in her mind and so unique that the submissive feels she has tapped into something more real that she ever dreamed of while reading those slave fictions. He wants you to buy into the illusion that he is the only one who really loves you. Your family really never loved you, or they would understand your need for submission, pain or bondage.

Debilitation

Debilitation is to attack or sap the sources of energy one may have. What are our sources of energy? Family and Friends we mentioned, but also any meaningful relationship. Let’s say you enjoy a circle of friends and participate in a bowling league, or you believe in a god and that belief has been a source of strength for you, the Dominant may criticize or by contract forbid you to hang out with “those people” anymore. I have seen it with those who have addictions and the so-called Dominant, with control issues, ultimately wants to control his bottom’s recovery as well. The dominant could not deal with his submissive going off to “meetings” and someone else (their sponsor) having influence upon “his property”. So he ends up not allowing the submissive to attend her meetings as she should, and eventually without the proper support system the recovering addict or alcoholic “falls off the wagon” and “picks up”.

When I became president of our local BDSM support and education group, I initiated the effort to get our lifestylers who were in recovery to form a special interest group to hold meetings for themselves prior to our group meetings. It has been a huge success and has expanded to other groups and conventions.

Subservience – Group Pressure – Information Management – Suspension of Individuality – Fear

Dominant serial bullies “use special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, with powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it, etc.”

Group Pressure

Not only does this happen with couples or tribes, but also with local BDSM support groups, where there is one strong leader who for one reason or another holds a particular power over the group as a whole and without this person there would probably be no group. He might have a super charismatic personality and everyone enjoys his or her gatherings, because he is fun to be around. He might use the devices of inclusion or exclusion in order to maintain his power. In other words, ‘either play by my rules or you can’t come and play with us’. This of course is an abuse of power and a tragic thing to take place in the name of a support and education group. This might happen in small towns where the only game in town in at Grand Master Poobah’s house, because he has a dungeon in his basement. Or in certain commercial settings where Mistress GotPain4U owns the only dungeon in 100 miles. So you either become a part of the group, tribe or family; or you find yourself shunned with no one or place to play.

Subservience

He may play up the difference in roles for Dominants and submissives, and not allow submissives in on any decision-making board or committee, as that would be totally inappropriate in terms of his lifestyle protocol. After all a submissive is of no real value except to serve the serial bully. Doms should make all the “real” decisions.

Information Management

Often the control and manipulation of information is at the heart of cultic environments. All information must be approved and come through Grand Master Dom Sir Lord Poobah. Open discussion forums are not allowed for the group or the individual submissives in the household. It is a well established fact that if one disagrees with the Poobah, your days could be numbered in terms of belonging.

Submissives are basically regarded as pieces of meat to be obedient and used. Their intellect, experiences and personal power does not exist , much less be respected in the minds of the cultic Dominants.

Suspension of Individuality

Freedom of thought is not allowed by the dominant cultic structure. Submissives are not to think for themselves, but to just act in response to the great one.

The promotion of a total dependency is at the heart of these lifestyle bullies. Eventually in order to be a part of the group, one must forsake all others, surrender control of all assets, so that if you wanted to leave you are griped by fear that you could not; all in the name of being a “true slave” or a “real submissive”.

This road to becoming a “lifestyle cult” all started with the loss of personal power due to the lack of a healthy self-esteem. This is particularly true for the submissive woman who has a greater than normal need to be protected and taken care of.

Fear

Finally, the use of fear is a component of the cultic environment. In religion it is the fear of displeasing god or his special representative (prophet). They fear rejection, isolation, punishment, and yes, even non-consensual physical pain, should they fall short of expectations.

Since I retired from the professional world of counseling in 1993, I seem to have taken up from time to time, the role of “crisis counselor” in the lifestyle community. Over the years I have held the hand of a number of non-consensually abused or assaulted individuals. I have heard the stories of powerless women, yet trying to escape to a safe place. The victims of abuse are all the same. They are fearful of the repercussions in the community should the abuse become commonly known.

I hate to say it, but there is much more of this cover-up behavior in our community than I think anyone wants to admit.

I have listened to a number of submissives who made excuses about how they don’t want their dominant / serial bully to get into trouble with the law, only to find out that due to the non-consensual bruises or the broken bones observed on their trip to the ER, you really don’t have a choice. So empty of personal power the submissive still wants to maintain the fantasy and protect the cultic abuser. Be absolutely assured that when these cult leaders seriously harm someone it ceases to be a lifestyle issue, but now a matter for the state. Under most jurisdictions it is a matter of the state filing charges, not you. I have heard so called lifestylers try to BS the court by saying that “we don’t talk about our lifestyle” outside of our own realm, and then have to rethink that stand while facing contempt charges.

“Lifestyle Families”, “Tribes”, “BDSM”, “Leather”, or “Fetish Groups” that take on the essence of a cult are non-consensual in nature and abusive in their end. Stop and take stock of the environment you are in and ask yourself some very important questions.

Why am I where I am? Is this relationship based on unconditional devotion and mutual respect? Or are there always conditions being placed on my loyalty. Am I always made to feel that I can never be good enough, or do enough to be truly respected and accepted?

Is my personal power respected and honored, or am I allowing myself to be manipulated so that I might be thought of as a “true submissive or slave” and worthy of a position in his or her household in the group?. So why am I allowing this to happen? Do I have self esteem problems? Do I really enjoy the pain or the humiliation, or am I just doing it to be a part of something that I feel I need in order to feel safe, and yes even loved in a relationship or a family? Do I participate in things I truly do not like just because I am rarely touched and I am willing to sacrifice my core values in order to be held or even hit?

Do I need to be with this person or group? Do I somehow not feel complete without him or her? Or do I have a sense of well being as a whole person? Am I voluntarily and in a healthy manner surrendering my personal power to a respectful and loving Dominant or is he a control freak or serial bully?

Are your leaders espousing a special knowledge or wisdom? That they received something special of the “real” lifestyle handed down from generations form old school training houses that in reality never existed?

Are bogus titles being granted to special devotes of the cult in order to distinguish the group or family from the rest of the “posers and wannabes” out there?

Is there a very rigid doctrine, dogma, or as we say in the lifestyle “protocol” that must be adhered to, lest one suffer extreme punishment or isolation until you conform or you face rejection from the group? Shunning is another classic textbook tool that is used by groups that are cultic in nature.

Does your Dominant or group leader have you out there recruiting for him? Are you on the prowl for “newbies” or “fresh meat” at the local BDSM clubs?

Is your sexuality being abused? Are you expected to be something you are not? Are you participating in bisexual encounters even though you are heterosexual, all just to please Master? Are you expected to be sexual with someone you do not have a desire to be with? Are you being given away to be used sexually.

Are you truly self empowered and consensually participated in a surrender of that power or have you been dis-empowered by the serial bullies on the block?

Conclusion

So how do we address this? Unfortunately there is no mechanical fix for the cultic mindset. It may already be firmly entrenched, has taken over and influences the masses.

The only real option we have is “awareness”.

When you decide to enter the lifestyle community, don’t check your common sense at the door.

Realize that communities have histories. What you might hear from one person may not be all there is to understand. The criticism you may be hearing from someone, even from a “so called” leader in the community could be coming from people with a cultic mindset just trying to work you and to get you on their side, if not a devotee of their way. ‘If they or the leader(s) are “judging” someone in the community and that person is not there to speak for themselves, you should ask yourself, ‘why do they feel the need to be judgmental? What are they fearing? Why are they so insecure that they have to spout trash and slander another? Use your own best wisdom as you interact with people and realize that all kinds of personal agendas are at work.

Don’t just believe something because someone who seems nice and friendly told you something. Check it out for yourself. Ask many people. Don’t write someone off because someone told you they were a bad person. They may be telling you that because that person is a healthy self actuated person and is a threat to their sick cultic mindset.

Be aware of the characteristics of the cultic environment and mentality. Take steps to stay fully self-empowered by surrounding yourself with honest people with no agendas. Never exchange your power out of simply a need, but only as the result of a healthy consensual decision.

Finally, I recently read a very disturbing recount of a woman who professed to have been involved in the world of commercial BDSM pornography. It was a sad commentary. She obviously had made different decisions for herself since those days, but she was now blaming everyone, except herself. Unfortunately she had never taken ownership of her adult decisions she has made and was now playing the blame game. We have no one to blame, but ourselves in whatever we choose to do in life. We all make mistakes or unwise decisions at times. When we realize such, own them or else you will never get past them and you will always be haunted by your past.

Tatu… Harmony, Purity, Respect, Tranquility

References:
1 West & Langone, 1986, pp. 119-120.

6 Responses to When Is A BDSM Environment Actually a Cult?

  1. SW says:

    You should check out the so called scene in Baltimore. I affectionately refer to it as Cultimore, because that’s all it is. This may be one of the most borken “scenes” in the entire country, and I aim to do my best to expose it for the crap that it is.

  2. Anon says:

    Same in Atlanta.

  3. Becky says:

    I need help and I don’t know how to get it.

  4. Elizabeth Follmer says:

    A young woman who I have known for 18 years and have been a surrogate mother to is in a community that she wants to leave. Her problem is that she believes members are sabotaging her efforts to be independent in her living and working environments. Since she is autistic and an orphan her abilities to make sound judgements about what is going on is compromised. She loses jobs a few weeks or days after getting them, becomes frightened and paranoid about her living situations and allows herself to be transported (often 1st class) to a new area. In the past year she has been in Columbus, indianapolis , portland,or, alaska, toledo, new orleans, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. Any advice?

    • admin says:

      I am not a professional counselor but as a lay person, it sounds like your friend needs the help of professional therapists. I would encourage her to get help and get her in touch with social services.

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