In her 20-plus years of kinky experience, Ms. Cleo Dubois has studied ritual piercings among various tribes-people, acquired expertise in rope bondage, and developed her own special fire at the end of a whip. Her international reputation for intense workshops has made her a favorite guest presenter at major leather conferences throughout the country. Ms. Dubois has produced two powerful docu-videos designed to help people fully enjoy erotic pain and power exchange (safely). She regularly teaches a 4-day intensive workshop for women in San Francisco.
ALT: Each individual has his or her own reasons for going to BDSM. But people just beginning their explorations may not be aware of the many flavors it can have -- for example, erotic BDSM, spiritual BDSM, BDSM for personal growth, BDSM as art, and so forth. How do all these aspects of BDSM fit in with your own approach to BDSM play?
DUBOIS: For me, BDSM is about hot erotic explorations, personal growth, healing, connecting with others and spirituality. We need big pleasure that connects us to ourselves and to the Divine. That pleasure (or should I call it pain/pleasure/surrender) I have found in the erotic rituals we call S/M. Doing a scene with trust and mutual respect, can not only increase intimacy with our partner(s), but also open the door to our inner spaces and allow our spirits to soar.
ALT: Say someone's trying something for the first time --whipping, bondage, whatever -- and they don't have the benefit of a mentor, how can they approach it safely or how can a person know their boundaries before trying something?
DUBOIS: First look into your fantasies, and follow your intuition. Decide what you are willing to actualize. So, you want to be a little brat and be spanked by "Daddy," or you, Mr. Businessman, want to be a lipstick lesbian for the evening tied up and teased by your girlfriend? If you think that the time is right bring it up in loving conversation with your partner and listen their response. If someone paints a picture and you don’t feel you fit it, say so. The only one who can tell if the idea of doing something kinky turns you on or turns you off is you. Listen to yourself. Start slow whether you are the top or the bottom. It is a real good idea to leave your partner wanting just a little more, but it can be devastating for both to hurt him/her by pushing yourself or them, whether you are the bottom wanting more or the top wanting more.
In this day of the Internet it is certainly much easier than it was before Leather folks started coming out en masse to get informed. Today you can just put BDSM into your search engine and find an enormous amount of material from sound advice to the wrong advice. It can be truly overwhelming. Another alternative is to join your local community. Most metropolitan areas have educational/social leather groups as well as munches where kinky folks can meet around a meal in a public restaurant. It is a good idea to email the group leader/organizer first and ask some questions to get a comfort level about what to expect, who attends etc. Many non-fiction BDSM books are available from a number of sources. San Francisco Greenery Press specializes in books for the sexually adventurous (http://www.greenerypress.com).
ALT: What are some things that people may not be aware of when it comes to learning one's own or a partner's boundaries?
DUBOIS: People are not aware that boundaries can come up very unexpectedly and be triggered by multiple missteps: the wrong tone of voice, wrapping the whip and not being aware of it, bad timing on the part of the Dominant, fear of hurting your partner, fear of not pleasing your partner and many more. It is always important to keep in mind that it is the submissive who enables the power exchange. A satisfying, sexy balance needs to be found to make it work for both partners. A good thing to keep in mind is to go slowly.
ALT: Is it possible that a sub goes along with something, not really aware of their personal boundaries, only to have after-shocks or repercussions?
DUBOIS: Of course it's possible. Any scene could go wrong or need to be cut short. We are playing with sex and power. Even a Top can hit one of His / Her limits and push themselves beyond it, only to regret it later. Play involving embarrassment and slapping, for instance, can bring up bad memories and by surprise, take the players out of the erotic realm. With open and honest communication, people can face difficult repercussions with a loving and caring attitude. Guilt and resentment, that's what gets in the way of healing, and keeps us from being as adventurous as we might otherwise want to be.
Leave your partner wanting more rather than taking them to an edge too fast. Again go slowly.
ALT: Can you keep your play purely recreational so that issues like these do not come up?
DUBOIS: If by "purely recreational" you mean only light and fun play, then you must try to negotiate only light and fun things to do and keep your play to only those activities. A couple of examples are a simple role reversal scene where the woman is the leader in sex play and says, "Do this; now, do that," and the man asks, "Please tie me up, Honey and do sexy things to me." These "purely recreational" scenes can awaken deeper desires in both participants. And then you cross over into the world of ritual intensity and real power exchange where buttons can easily get pushed. This is not "kindergarten" sex. This is sophisticated sex/power play.
The secret of successful kinky play is open and honest communication. It is difficult for many of us to communicate our erotic needs. If issues should arise between two consenting partners, do not blame the other for the scene not working. Stop and take a break. It is extremely important to just listen to each other rather than pointing the finger for either pushing too hard, being insensitive, not reading your body language right, not playing the game right, etc. After all, we're not mind readers. Taking risks is part of play.
ALT: You are attracted to ritual elements of BDSM going back to your trips to Malaysia for the Thaipussan Festival where you studied tribal rituals first hand. You have tribal tattoos and in your videos, you create elaborate ritualistic piercings. For you, what are the important connections between BDSM and ritual or what does ritual do to improve your understanding of BDSM?
DUBOIS: Ram Das said, "There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but once you reach the top, the view is the same." Shamanic body ritual practices borrowed from Hindu culture, such as the Thaipussam or the Native American Sun Dance, are ancient and sacred rites.
I too find that by challenging my body to embrace intense input I reach a place of stillness where I am bigger than my everyday reality. In such rituals I am both the Top and the bottom, pushing myself to feel more until I surrender under the guidance of archetypal spirits. In a way, it is very similar to SM Play. In fact, I often consider the reality of the Dungeon experience sacred space. I have now identified as a ritualist for many years. In that space burdens of my busy mind stop and I experience a feeling of oneness with life.
It is an honor to mentor others on their journeys. Just a few weeks ago, my partner, Fakir [www.bodyplay.com] and I participated in Leather Pride where we presented a Piercing Workshop and a Spirit + Flesh Ritual [see the bodyplay.com web site for more on this ritual]. It was connecting, empowering, and so sexy as the group came together in a dance that resonated with huge erotic energy. Just beautiful!
ALT: You often speak about the intense energy that a long scene or a ritual might stir up. What is your role with respect to these energies?
DUBOIS: When I am in charge of a scene, the power exchange makes me feel powerful. I stay in control and hold the space. I sometimes find myself stepping out of my ego and tuning into archetypal energies. Let me give you one example. In my first video, "The Pain Game" the connection between Creed (my beautiful masochist) and me allowed both of us to fly in shamanic S/M play. When I pulled the feathered zipper off her back, big energy was running through me. I felt the destructive energy, which is also loving. I felt very empowered as the sadist, very blessed by her gift, and not afraid to show her my vulnerability while still being totally in charge. As the Sadist, I am Kali's servant. And when I am in sync with someone I am whipping, caning, or piercing, I often feel a shift of energy. The room becomes electric. I let my intuition guide me to provide the biggest possible experience for my bottom. Of course, I pay attention to my bottom's body language. That's the way the energy works. We both go on the journey.
ALT: I believe you've mentioned that women exploring dominance often tend to be hesitant about seizing their power. (For example, in one of your demonstrations you worked with a woman who was timid with the whip). What advice or coaching might help someone get over this?
DUBOIS: I encourage folks to breathe, breathe, breathe and practice on an inanimate target, say a couch for a few minutes. Flogging is a dance and the whip’s a mere extension of our energy. When I guide a couple I encourage both partners to be fully present and to let go of their fear of not doing it just right. I am there as their safety net. It's a liberating, exhilarating experience once they get into the groove.
Since negotiation is so important, I listen a lot. Even those who are able to word their fantasies clearly come with concerns, fears and expectations. I work on guiding their play towards a hot and often quite sexy, connected time for both.
You can find out more about Ms. Dubois and her schedule at http://www.sm-arts.com
Kiss of Leather, Tongues of Fire by ALT Editors: Cleo Dubois
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