These days, thanks largely to the popularity of "Fifty Shades of Grey," a lot more folks are talking BDSM. What was once regarded as a sick perversion (and is still listed in the DSM-5 as an "unusual sexual fixation") is becoming more commonplace. What’s more, a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in May concluded that BDSM practitioners may be "more psychologically healthy" than their vanilla counterparts. The study found that, among other things, those who practiced BDSM reported more "secure feeling of attachment in their relationships." Surprised? I'm not. In fact, I believe it wholeheartedly. Why? Because BDSM made my own relationships way better. Here's what BDSM taught me to do.

Advocate for Myself

When I got into BDSM, I very quickly became of aware of how reluctant I was to use my safeword. Why? I didn’t want to interrupt. I don't like conflict. My tendency in life is to keep quiet, to avoid speaking up, to be accommodating. I usually just wait for other people to notice my needs. (Note: This almost never works) The result is that I'm often left resenting others for being oblivious to what I need. When I carried this tendency into the bedroom it was extremely unsatisfying (who wants to resent their partner?) and ultimately, dangerous. That’s an unpleasant place for me to be and an unfair place to put my partners.

BDSM taught me to be more honest, open and upfront about my needs. Trust me, it makes for a much more enjoyable experience for everyone involved. (Get more communication tips in Talk Dirty to Me: The Whys and Hows of Hot Aural Sex.)

Take Responsibility

I love the sound of being a "sub". As someone who has always worked in jobs where I told people what to do, the idea of letting someone else handle all of the decisions appealed to me greatly. What I quickly realized was that that’s not how it works. There needs to be communication and boundaries need to be established. In other words, even a sub has to put in some work. In the past, I did a lot of waiting for my partners to figure out what worked for me. I figured they never told me what worked for them and they seemed to have a good time. So I just expected them to deliver the same for me. Guess how well that worked.

BDSM taught me that it’s not my partner’s job to do all the heavy lifting. I have a responsibility too. (Learn more about what being a sub really means in A Beginner's Guide to Submission.)

Live in the Present

I taught and practiced yoga for years and never stopped making grocery lists in my head during meditation. I just never got the whole being "present" thing. So, when I started engaging in BDSM I would occasionally check out, especially when things got challenging. Until a partner called me on it.

"When you do that it becomes less a thing we’re doing together and more a thing I’m doing to you, and that feels wrong," he said.
Ouch. Whether you're playing naughty or just talking at the kitchen table, it’s important to stay present and aware. That's called a relationship.

Trust

I have never really trusted other people to be careful with my body. I am not someone who does well with trust falls, partnered yoga or (tragically) massages. I’m the person to whom the masseuse needs to repeatedly say, "you don’t have to hold your arm up, I’ve got it." When I started engaging in BDSM, partners would notice that I would work the whole time, and never really hand over control of the scene. One finally said, "you know I won’t hurt you and if you safeword I’ll stop, right?"

Even though we had talked about what we were into and set a safeword beforehand, I was still protecting myself. That was my instinct. Once I realized this and let my guard down a bit, my experience with BDSM became much richer. And I learned to only play with people I really trust.

BDSM taught me that trusting a partner is necessary to have a rich, mutually satisfying experience. That applies outside the bedroom too. (Read more about how BDSM works in Why BDSM Might Be The Sanest Sex Out There.)

Sex as Therapy?

So, let’s take a look at the things I learned from engaging in BDSM:

  • When I am forthright about my needs everyone has a much more enjoyable experience.
  • It’s not my partner’s job to do all the heavy lifting; I have a responsibility too.
  • It’s important to stay present and aware so relationships don’t feel one-sided.
  • Trusting a partner is necessary to have a rich, mutually satisfying experience.

Noticing anything here? This isn’t just a list of things that make BDSM successful, it’s a list of things that make relationships successful. On "Sex and the City," Carrie said, "who you are in bed is who you are in life." I believe that's true. Speaking up, taking responsibility, staying present and trusting are all things I’ve struggled with in relationships. Learning to do those things has made my relationships so much more satisfying.

I don’t know that I would advise everyone who struggles in relationships to go get a paddle and some restraints. In fact, it's up to you to find the best way to learn about yourself and how you can bring a better you to your relationships. What I can say is this: BDSM made me a way better partner - both in and out of the bedroom.