This article originally appeared on VICE India
Sex in India is a rather contentious subject. And if you bring up BDSM—or bondage, dominance, submission, and masochism—chances are people will fluctuate between not knowing the abbreviation or referring to Fifty Shades of Grey. There’s a direct correlation with images of chains and whips and handcuffs. There’ll even be some scenes of bondage in Christian Grey’s “red room of pain” playing in your head.
Needless to say, BDSM—a blanket term for various practices that involve consensual exploration of power and pain to derive sexual pleasures—is an uncomfortable conversation that takes place behind closed doors or intimate online spaces. Not to mention the immense stigma and taboo since a lot of sexual imagination in this nook of the world is either vanilla (read: heteronormative) or sanskaari.
However, one of the most complex dynamics in the BDSM lifestyle is that of a dom-sub relationship, especially for those outside the kink community. Dominant (dom) and submissive (sub) are power relations between two persons where each one takes on one of the roles. And this doesn’t have to be just sexual. Dom-sub relationships can be physical, sexual, intimate or even without any physical contact. Just like literally any relationship, dom-subs can be romantically involved, or monogamous, or polyamorous, irrespective of gender or sexuality.
Of the two, female dominatrix dominate popular culture and imagination, be it in the bedroom or professionally. In India, though, a male dominant/dom comes with a power dynamic that already exists in our patriarchal setup. So what does it mean to be one in India? VICE reached out to Shantanu David, a 30-year-old New Delhi resident and writer, who opens up about the misconceptions of BDSM, the catharsis of being a dom in bed, and being able to do it in a country like India.
VICE: Hey Shantanu. Maybe we could start with why you like to dominate.
SHANTANU DAVID: It's probably psychological, because I'm not a very dominating person in my life. But sexually, I like to retain a degree of control.
What led you to exploring the dom lifestyle?
I was 16 years old. My girlfriend, who was 17, and I were having a lot of sex at the time. We would fuck like three-four times a day, like all teenagers do. Then it gradually started to get a bit staid so this one time, I spanked her experimentally while we were fucking and she came immediately, and so did I. And she and I explored that together.
So you never took on the dom role very strictly?
Once I explored both sides, I decided I was more into domming. So I stuck to that.
Do you have a niche preference while domming?
I wouldn't call it a niche. There are different categories. I suppose I would qualify as a sadistic dom. It means that I derive pleasure from being cruel. This manifests more as emotional and lifestyle control. I don't like to physically hurt people. I suppose I enjoy a certain degree of emotional control in bed, rather than spanking.
How does that manifest?
It involves picking outfits, actually more like picking undergarments.
Are there any specific kinds of undergarments?
It's based on the day and what I feel like. I often pick colours depending on my mood. Like there are days when I feel like thongs. I'm a big fan of lingerie so I love stockings and corsets. My aesthetic is very 1920s Hollywood.
Do you buy them and keep them?
Of course. I wouldn't let anyone buy something that I'm asking for. But I don't keep them. I give it to them as soon as they're bought. I don't keep anything except for receipts and broken dreams (laughs). No, but I don't collect women’s undergarments.
In a conservative city like Delhi, how do you seek out sub partners?
So I'm on this website called Fetlife.com, which is essentially Facebook for people who’re into the lifestyle. So you put up your profile, you get people to chat with you, and so on.
Is it safe and easy to reach out to people?
Well, I do use a fake name. Earlier I used to use my real name, but I had some bad experiences with some crazy people. One girl turned up at my house at 2 AM and rang my bell [I live with my parents]. She wanted to see me. She got attached, I suppose. Ever since, I’ve used a fake name.
Do you have any preferences in subs?
It's more about emotional connection, I suppose. I'm superficial as fuck too, but ultimately it's about the connections.
What would you connect with?
Probably damaged people like myself! We end up talking about our lives.
So these are relationships, and not one-off encounters.
If I have an emotional connection with someone, I stand by them. I don't do multiple partners or a one-off thing. I had a long relationship in my mid-20s. Before that, I would only do BDSM stuff with my girlfriends, but after that, I've actively sought sexual partners and not necessarily dating partners. But I can't do a one-time thing. These relationships usually last a while.
Do you go through a transition from this lifestyle to the "regular" one?
I think this lifestyle is a part of life now. After our sessions, we watch Netflix and chill, literally.
Where do you prefer having those sessions?
At my home, her home, or a hotel. My sexual appetites are very expensive!
What does the dom lifestyle involve?
So when it comes to sex, it's just that: Sex. But the rest is all about control. Being called "daddy" is my latest thing, probably because I have daddy issues. I think the most I have physically hurt someone is using a belt with their consent, but I don't really do the whole thing like bondage, etc.
What are the misconceptions people have about the BDSM lifestyle?
BDSM has a lot of nuances. But the first misconception is Fifty Shades of Grey. Everyone in the community hates that book/movie because it's so fucking horrendous. We call that physical abuse and rape. The one rule in the community is that you never do anything without their explicit permission.
Another misconception is around power. Every person who's into BDSM is not on a power trip. It's basically faith, consensual and there's a code of conduct called RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink). The basic tenet is that you don't do anything that you wouldn’t want done to yourself. I mean, sure, you stretch boundaries, but always, always, always, it's consent first. So if you go into a scene and find someone, you first find out what their hard limits and soft limits are. You shouldn't cross them.
Do you see this lifestyle as therapy?
Oh it's very cathartic. For me, since I'm not very domineering in real life, it sort of helps me not be scared of putting my own point and thought across. On the other hand, a lot of the ladies I've been with are very successful in their line of work and they're in positions of power. So they just like to "lose" control, as it were, because it gives them a sense of freedom to not have to decide certain things while in the scenario. Most of the subs I know are super boss-women and are in a position where they have to juggle a career and life. So being able to be told what to do within certain strictures, is freeing for them. And vice versa for someone like me, where I get to let go of my own sense of self.
Does your family know about this?
Do they have any reservations?
They're not the ones having sex, I am.
How did they find out?
We were on a family vacation in Hungary and I went to a sex shop, so I picked up a ball gag, nipple clamps and a riding crop. I kept these in my bag. And my mom and my sister, being the pernicious little sneaky ones that they are, opened them and there was this awkward silence. When I came back from my jaunt, I realised they'd seen it. I said, "You saw what's in the bag, huh?" And they were like, yeah, and my sister said, "Bhaiyya, you're so weird." And I was like, yeah I know. But that was pretty much it.
What all do you keep for your dom sessions?
Handcuffs, nipple clamps and leather blindfolds. But I don’t use the leather blindfolds because I was blindfolded for a meal once and I freaked out. I realised I hated that kind of loss of control. Since then, I have never used the blindfold on anyone because it was so fucking frightening for me that I don't want to do that to anyone else.
Do your subs ever give you any “feedback”?
Three of my subs have told me that I'm too empathetic to be sadistic. So I was like, shut up and bend over, bitch.
If you have to advise anyone who wants to start exploring as a dom, what would it be?
Be a sub first so that you learn about empathy. You'll know exactly what you're going to put the other person through.
Do you think it’s difficult to have this lifestyle in India?
Yeah, because it becomes, for many guys especially, an easy way to hurt women. I’ve heard some horror stories. It’s hard to get people to have that sort of comfort level and potentiality for trust.
Do you ever find it strange to be a dom in a country where patriarchy has essentially not allowed women much control and freedom anyway?
It’s fascinating and sad at the same time, but also an interesting indicator of our society and our social mores. I’ve realised that most women have already experienced some kind of control at home. It's easier for Indian women, rather than those in the West, to get into the mindset of submitting to a male figure.
Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter