BDSM in culture and media

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Society of Janus' spanking booth at the Folsom Street Fair 2010, San Francisco

BDSM (i.e., bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) is a frequent theme in books, films, television, music, magazines, public performances and online media.

Wikipedia article: BDSM in culture and media

The WikiPedia article has been archived on the talk page for this article

There are several references to BDSM in culture and media. References are found in books, films, television, music, magazines and online media such as podcasts.

Newspapers and magazines

During the last years events and figures related to BDSM were repeatedly spotlighted in the media.

  • In 2002, the Washington Post ran an article revealing that Jack McGeorge, a munitions analyst for the UNMOVIC, was also a leader in the Washington, DC BDSM community. Following this, several commentators compared his BDSM activities repeatedly with the torture techniques used by Saddam Hussein, others compared today's discrimination of BDSM practitioners with the situation of homosexuals in the past.
  • Following the discovery of Armin Meiwes (also known as the "Rotenburg Cannibal" or "Metzgermeister" (The Master Butcher), European yellow press described his case giving hints on "sado-maso-games" between the delinquent and his victim.
  • In Germany EMMA, a well known feminist magazine published by Alice Schwarzer, continued its PorNO campaign against hatred towards women and violent pornography aiming to ban pornography in Germany. In it Schwarzer states among other things that sadomasochistic practices are generally to be equated with violence against women. Her judgment on female sadomasochism ("Female masochism is collaboration!") has often been criticized for implying a state of war between genders. (ref: "Weiblicher Masochismus ist Kollaboration!" from EMMA Heft 2, 1991)

The same magazine tried to bash Helmut Newton, accusing him of "pornografization of fashion photography", and criticized his "therein unrestrainedly realized sadomasochistic obsessions". (An extensive analysis of the magazine and Schwarzer campaigns is available at Papiertiger#Emma (German)

During the last years BDSM support group and publications repeatedly criticized a biased media coverage of BDSM.


Sadomasochism is a perennial in the field of literature and has inspired several classics like The story of O by Anne Declos (under the pseudonym Pauline Réage), Justine by Marquis de Sade, Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch or the comics created by Eric Stanton. A literary curiosity is Martha's letter to Leopold Bloom in Ulysses by James Joyce. The novel Nine and a Half Weeks: A Memoir of a Love Affair published in 1978 by Elizabeth McNeill was the basis of the Hollywood movie 9½ Weeks.

Well-known author Anne Rice published under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure three installments of her Sleeping Beauty Trilogy (The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, 1983), Beauty's Punishment (1984) and Beauty's Release (1985) with explicit BDSM themes. The development shows that today BDSM has reached the middle ground of international literature on a scale which would have been unbelievable just a short time ago.

A nine-volume book series published in July 2006 under the title Bild-Erotik-Bibliothek by Bild-Zeitung, Germany's leading Tabloid and the best-selling newspaper in Europe, in cooperation with Random House gives a clear indication of the commercial potential of the topic. Out of nine installments, three books had a well-defined emphasis on sadomasochism, specifically BDSM. Besides Exit to Eden, also written by Anne Rice under the pseudonym Anne Rampling, it also further featured the sadomasochist classic Story of O. and the explicit novel Topping from Below by Laura Reese.

While it can not be denied that the authors of SM-literature, Sade and Sacher-Masoch, showed a propensity to the sexuality they described, it has to be differentiated between the real sexual activity and the fantasies described in literature. It would be an absurd demand of the literature's authenticity that the author have to practice what he is describing. Diary notes, interviews and the description of experience remain a fictionalization of the described events. While sadomasochistic rituals enacted as theatrical staging might show fetish characteristics, the fetish is not literature. BDSM literature also does not embrace a specific philosophy or morality, instead it represents it, as any other kind of literature aspects of the particular Zeitgeist of its era. (Ref: Compare Arne Hoffmann: In Leder gebunden. Der Sadomasochismus in der Weltliteratur, Ubooks 2007, isbn 3866080786 (German))

Special books

Female bottom in bondage, wearing a leather monoglove
Photo by Robin Roberts

In November 1981 Samois published Coming To Power: Writing and graphics on Lesbian S/M, which reached a world-wide audience the following year when it was reprinted by Alyson Publications. The book combined short stories with basic explanations and safety tips about BDSM practices. It is considered the first introductory books on the subject world wide. Its concept was internationally adopted by many publications in the following decades.

Other than specialized books with strong emphasis on the practice there are a growing number of scientific publications.

  • Jay Wiseman: SM-101: A Realistic Introduction. Greenery Press (CA) 1998, isbn 0-9639763-8-9 (Comprehensive reference book including topics like "BDSM as a lifstyle" and "BDSM during pregnancy")
  • Philip Miller, Molly Devon: Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns: The Romance and Sexual Sorcery of Sadomasochism, Mystic Rose Books, 1995. isbn 0-9645960-0-8. (Showing plenty of graphics the comprehensive reference book gives advise on practices and safety advice)
  • Dossie Easton, Janet W. Hardy: The New Topping Book. Greenery Press (CA) 2002, isbn 1-890159-36-0 (Practical and theoretical introduction for Tops with emphasis on psychological, practical and technological aspects and detailed advice on partner search)
  • Dossie Easton, Janet W. Hardy: The New Bottoming Book. Greenery Press (CA) 1998, isbn 1-890159-35-2 (Practical and theoretical introduction for Bottoms with emphasis on psychological, practical and technological aspects and detailed advice on partner search)
  • [Pat Califia]] (Ed.), Robin Sweeney (Ed.):The Second Coming: A Leatherdyke Reader., Alyson Publications 1996, isbn 1555832814 (Installment to the lesbian-feminist BDSM-classic Coming to Power)
  • Mark Thompson (Ed.): Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice., Alyson Publications 1991, isbn 1555836305, (28 Essays of well known sadomasochistic authors and activists)
  • Lady Green (Ed.), Jaymes Easton (Ed.): Kinky Crafts: 101 Do-It-Yourself S/M Toys, Greenery Press (CA) 1998, isbn 0-9639763-7-0 (Comprehensive Guide to do-it-yourself BDSM-toys)
  • Peggy J. Kleinplatz, Charles Moser: Sadomasochism - Powerful Pleasures, Haworth Press, 2006, isbn 978-1-56023-640-5


In the last decades publishing houses specializing in BDSM and LGBT fiction and nonfiction have been founded in many western countries. Some of the them are:

Movies and TV

While BDSM activity appeared initially quasi "subliminal" in some movies, in the 1960s famous works of literature like the Story of O and Venus in Furs were filmed, partly in very explicit form. Most recently, with the production of 9½ Weeks, the topic of BDSM was transferred to broader audiences with high impact and notable commercial success. Since the late 1990s movies like Preaching to the Perverted, a movie generally considered a reaction to Operation Spanner, and Secretary started to increasingly reconcile financial demands with authenticity.

With the development of documentary productions like SICK: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist, Bound for Pleasure and Wir leben ... SM! an increasingly broader approach to the subject matter is developing, targeting on wider audiences.

During the last four decades, the spectrum of productions has been greatly enlarged, showing the topic has arrived in mainstream movies:

Besides these mainstream movies, there is a huge market of sadomasochistic Pornography, mainly in form of Pornographic films.[1] The Spanish director Jess Franco developed several typical examples of the Exploitation-genres' approach, often based on the works of the Marquis de Sade and censored in many countries worldwide.

In recent years, movies like 9½ Weeks, Tokyo Decadence and Secretary have been shown on television in several countries. In 2001 the Canadian documentary KinK was the first television series on the topic worldwide. It has yet not been broadcast in Europe. Other example of BDSM in television and film are:

  • Lady Heather, a professional dominatrix who is a recurring character in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
  • Pearl, a dominatrix and hit woman for the Chinese mafia as played by Lucy Liu in the movie Payback
  • In the "Love Hurts" episode of the TV series House, Dr. House treats a patient who has a dominatrix.
  • In the TV series Desperate Housewives, the character Bree Van De Kamp's husband Rex had an illicit affair with a woman who was able to please him sexually as a dominatrix.
  • Mistress DarkPain, a professional dominatrix who is a recurring character in Nip/Tuck


Since the beginning of the 1990s, BDSM motives have been regularly used in the framework of larger Marketing campaigns in continental Europe. Widely known examples in Germany are billboards of the cigarette brands Camels and West. Camels show a camel dressed in "typical" leather outfit, and West depict a dominatrix with a whip. While West had to withdraw the ad due to "offense against morality", BDSM motifs were utilized in the following years on a regular basis. In March 2007 the Swedish clothing company H&M promoted the sale of a collection compiled by Madonna with television commercials in Germany. The commercials showed the artist, who has been repeatedly criticized for the use of sadomasochistic subjects in the past, as a dominant lifestyle-ikon teaching a lesson to a "inappropriately" dressed female pupil under the cracking of a crop, redesigning her outfit while giving fashion statements like "Don't think it – you need to know it".

In Canada Mini (BMW) presented the winter package 2005/2005 of the Mini-Cooper in form of an interactive BDSM-session, in which the user, supported by a dominatrix, can test different kinds of spanking tools on the automobile in order to get the optional equipment explained. The claim was "Dominate winter".

German manufacturer of fasteners Fischer used a persiflage (banter) of the sadomasochistic objectc in a video spot in order to demonstrate its product's quality.

In the USA, Anheuser-Busch was repeatedly active as a sponsor of the Folsom Street Fair and the jeans brand Diesel ran several sadomasochistic advertisements in fashion magazines. The basic strategy in this field is to use a persiflage of widespread clichés, generating a higher level of public awareness by an adumbrate breaking of taboos while branding the image as unconventional and sharp.


"The Velvet Underground" song "Venus in Furs" (from the 1967 album The Velvet Underground and Nico) is based on the Venus in Furs book by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch of the same title; the name of the band itself comes from a The Velvet Underground a book about paraphilias (including BDSM) in the United States. Other Famous songs/bands with BDSM song are Green Day Blood Sex and Booze and Dominated Love Slave. Puddle of Mud, Control, Nickelback "Figured You Out"


The possibilities of the Internet were promptly adopted in order to offer information services on BDSM. Since mid 2005 there is are a growing number of podcasts dealing with the topic of BDSM. The increasing grow of video platforms like YouTube set the technological base for a still growing number of self produced information clips on video dealing with the subject.


During the last decades a wide variety of periodical publication were published dealing with BDSM. Besides small independent publishing companies, organized groups were active in this field. Many have stopped publishing or transferred operations to the Internet.

The German language Schlagzeilen magazine started in 1988 as a group's internal newspaper and is the most important BDSM publication in German speaking countries today.


  1. for further details see Linda Williams: Power, Pleasure and Perversion: Sadomasochistic Film Pornography, Representations, Nr.27 (Summer), 1989, P.37-65, University of California Press
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