”Shiny shiny, shiny boots of leather, whiplash girl child in the dark. Comes in bells, your servant, don’t forsake him strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart…” the song is Venus in Furs and its words are recited, like in a liturgy of therapeutic perdition, by the immortal voice of Lou Reed, who created an eternal album together with the Velvet Underground in 1967: Velvet Underground and Nico. An LP that defined a generation, cover by Andy Warhol, a milestone in the history of rock, so much so that it was listed at 13 in the list of the 500 best albums in the history of music by the Rolling Stones magazine. A masterpiece containing a song, Venus in Furs, that is an hymn to one of the most obscure but heavily discussed erotic subcultures: sadomasochism. It is a song’s name is derived from the romance novella of the same name written by Leopold Von Sacher Masoch at the end of the XIX century, a literary work that, together with the work of Marquess De Sade, put sadomasochism (term created by merging the two authors’ names: Sade e Masoch) under the spotlight, giving it a name, an identity and a few tangible characteristics. However still today this cultural and erotic passion, essentially based on role playing, on a relationship between a dominant and a submissive figure, generates prejudice and scandal, curiosity and sensationalism, condemnation and questions. It is still hidden behind a cloud of doubt, gossip, imagination and filmography that makes it a mystery to most. That is the motivation for journeying through this world, without any stereotypes, made just of words, confessions, looks and also of the contradictions of those who populate this particular world.
The November mist, surrounding and hiding the outskirts of Milan, is the first curtain to pull back to enter the Bdsm world (bondage, domination and sadomasochism). A club sign not far from the subway station: this is the entrance of the Sadika, the only Italian club dedicated to sadomasochism. They ask for our documents and check our age, since only adults are allowed to enter, then the doors open. A club with soft lights, sofas, a bar, some themed objects such as whips and collars hung to the walls and finally stairs leading tho the area where the game, the show, the piéce of the sadomasochism takes place. A Saint Andrew’s cross, a cage, a stockade, a table with some cords: torture instruments you would say but, this is the key to enter the dungeons of the sadomasochism, they are necessary to give and receive pleasure instead. But this is still pain! Well, for the adepts pain is pleasure.
”This club is the only one in Italy where sadomasochism is practiced. Every weekend, 50 up to 100 people each day come here to participate in and practice bdsm s.s.c: safe, secure and consensual”. Diego, the club manager explains: ”Defining with one word what sadomasochism is probably impossible. It is a subculture, a passion including many different disciplines that have in common a key concept: domination and submission. In this club for example we practice the femdom (female domination), in which women dominate men”.
Then Diego goes on: ”First of all, those who practice the bondage or use instruments of pain are experienced professionals, nothing is left to chance and there are strict rules. Everything here is made for consensual and reciprocated pleasure, if someone does not want to do something he does not do it, and when someone says stop everything stops”. After this introduction Diego talks about one of the most delicate issues of this microcosm: ”Many people think that those who come to a club like the Sadika are depraved perverts. I do not agree. Those practicing bdsm are exactly the same people that you meet in your daily life; many of them, however, hide this passion to avoid the stigmatisation. Hence a club like this is a place dedicated to these kind of people, who can find here a space and the instruments to satisfy their desires without any prejudice. There are many rules here, but the most important is: to respect each other. So, are we perverts? In my opinion the real perversion is the sexual harassment on the subway, it’s imposing your will on someone who has not given consent, and who is acting in an inappropriate way. I do not think that sharing a common passion in a place dedicated for this purpose is at all depraved”.
Meanwhile, some dominatrixes (the term used to identify the dominant women in the bdsm) start preparing themselves: gloves and high heels, bustiers and laces; also the slaves (the submissive figures in bdsm), with their collars, play their role and the game can start. Strokes of the whip on the back, feet adoringly massaged, high heels stepping on men laying at the feet of the women.
Pain and humiliation, inflicted and received, the concept of the sadomasochism. The obvious question in the mind of a bystander then is: how all of this can be considered pleasurable? Here is the answer, given by the protagonists of this show: ”I am a slave, thus I have a role of submission”, Luca explains, then he adds: ”I am the miserable one in the couple, but I chose this role for myself and I like it because being humiliated, derided, being at the mercy of a woman who can do whatever she wants to me, is something that excites me, that satisfies me, because it pushes me beyond my limits and allows me to play, as if I were on a stage, a role that arouses me. Then, when the game is over, my role ends and I can return to who I really am, a man with a job, friends and people who love me. It is a game that gives men an adrenaline rush, as if I were an actor, allowing me to play this role for a given time”.
Claire Delacroix, a renowned Italian mistress, plays the opposite role: ”It is true that I am a little bit sadistic. But it is limiting to just describe me like this. I started practicing bdsm with my ex-boyfriend, and that is when I began to interpret a dominant and powerful role. The emotions really drove me crazy. So I started attending courses and dedicating time to bdsm in a more professional way. However it is not easy the first time you use a whip: you have a lot of questions, you are afraid of hurting someone and you wonder why you crave for pleasure in this way. But in the end the answer is self evident, and it is: I am not hurting anyone. To hurt means to inflict pain with the aim of causing another person to suffer. On the contrary, I use pain to give pleasure. They say that somehow through the physical pain I give inner wellness. I feel satisfied with my role, I am happy and I am fine. And it is the same for the submitted person who plays with me. We are two grown-ups with a common passion which we satisfy it in a consensual way. If we didn’t like it, we wouldn’t do it”.
The games go on and Kalamos, a former erotic comics author who is now well known in the world of bdsm, performs what he calls “his art”, the erotic tickle. Another participant acts like a footrest for his mistress but the lights are about to go down, the games are almost over and, like in any other club, among toasts and the chit chat everybody says goodbye until next time.
The night draws to a close, and with the rising sun comes more questions are able to be given proper answers. Having observed without prejudice or sensationalism, seeing it for what it really is. Before turning off the club sign Diego concludes our conversation with something to consider: ”One woman out of three is victim of violence in her own house. Brutal violence, submission imposed through either physical or psychological violence upon someone weaker. So I ask you: should sadomasochism still be viewed as something so scandalous, when it is an practiced by adults, consensually, with the aim of experiencing pleasure for both people?”