Historical Origins of BDSM


The historical origins of BDSM are obscure.


During the ninth century BC, ritual flagellations were performed in Artemis Orthia, one of the most important religious areas of ancient Sparta, where the Cult of Orthia, a preolympic religion, was practiced. Here, ritual flagellation called diamastigosis took place on a regular basis.


One of the oldest graphical proofs of sadomasochistic activities is found in an Etruscan burial site in Tarquinia (Italy). Inside the Tomba della Fustigazione (Flogging grave or Tomb of the Whipping), in the latter sixth century b.c., two men are portrayed flagellating a woman with a cane and a hand during an erotic situation. Another reference related to flagellation is found in the sixth book of the Satires of the ancient Roman Poet Juvenal (1st–2nd century A.D.). Anecdotal narratives related to humans who have had themselves voluntary bound, flagellated or whipped as a substitute for sex or as part of foreplay reach back to the third and fourth century.


The Kama Sutra describes four different kinds of hitting during lovemaking, the allowed regions of the human body to target and different kinds of 'joyful cries of pain' practiced by bottoms. The collection of historical texts related to sensuous experiences explicitly emphasizes that impact play, biting and pinching during sexual activities should only be performed consensually since only some women consider such behavior to be joyful. From this perspective, the Kama Sutra can be considered as one of the first written resources dealing with sadomasochistic activities and safety rules. Additional texts with sadomasochistic connotation appear worldwide during the following centuries on a regular basis.


There are reports of people willingly being bound or whipped, as a prelude or substitute for sex, during the fourteenth century. Some sources claim that BDSM as a distinct form of sexual behavior originated at the beginning of the eighteenth century when Western civilization began medically and legally categorizing sexual behavior. There are reports of brothels specializing in flagellation as early as 1769. John Cleland's novel Fanny Hill, published in 1749, mentions a flagellation scene. Other sources give a broader definition, citing BDSM-like behavior in earlier times and other cultures, such as the medieval flagellates and the physical ordeal rituals of some Native American societies.


 Although the names of the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch are attached to the terms sadism and masochism respectively, Sade's way of life does not meet modern BDSM standards of informed consent. BDSM ideas and imagery have existed on the fringes of Western culture throughout the twentieth century. Robert Bienvenu attributes the origins of modern BDSM to three sources, which he names as "European Fetish" (from 1928), "American Fetish" (from 1934), and "Gay Leather" (from 1950).


Another source are the sexual games played in brothels, which go back into the nineteenth century if not earlier. Irving Klaw, during the 1950s and 1960s, produced some of the first commercial film and photography with a BDSM theme (most notably with Bettie Page) and published comics by the now-iconic bondage artists John Willie and Eric Stanton.

© 2018 by Michelle Fegatofi