A Treatise

      6 Comments on A Treatise

It’s rare that I wake up in the middle of the night with a vivid dream still running through my head. Rarer still is the dream that leaves me with the outline of a paper practically fully formed.

A Treatise on the Preparatory Foundations of BDSM in Late 20th Century American Youth Culture

I propose there were a variety of games and behaviors common in the youth of my peer group that provided a surprisingly explicit primer into more adult BDSM sex-play.

Some of these activities happened in a context free of overt sexuality, at least for the active participants. For instance, it was common among pre-teens, especially boys, especially siblings, for a repetition of physical violence to be accompanied with demands for a token gesture of submission. For instance, a child twisting another child’s arm repeatedly chants “Say “uncle”!”, and the physical abuse continues and perhaps escalates in intensity until the dominated child capitulates, saying “uncle”. Surely this is no different than the “safeword” that is a key component of contemporary BDSM.

As the child matures into a teen, the “safeword” concept can evolve into pre-sexualized behavior, where a dominant partner escalates a “naughty” behavior until the more restrained player invokes the safeword. “Truth or Dare” is one variation of this; a player is asked “Truth of Dare?” and responds with one category or the other. Once selected, the player is challenged with either a physical act to perform (a “dare”) or a secret to reveal (a “truth”). When one player has satisfied the requirements, he or she in turn presents the challenge to another player in the game. The game naturally escalates during its course, with each act or confession growing more extreme or outrageous as the game progresses. Further, the “Dare” is tacitly acknowledged as the “fun” or “exciting” choice, and players that habitually chose “Truth” are considered to be bad sports. Indeed, if too many players chose “Truth” repeatedly, the game typically ended from a lack of interest. I would suggest that in this context, selecting “Truth” was a form of safeword, allowing the participant to opt out from activity that was in excess of their personal comfort zone.

Even further along the pre-sexual development was a game testing how bold a player was in straying into traditionally forbidden erogenous zones. Played privately in pairs, a dominant player places a hand somewhere on the body of their partner (for instance, on the knee) and asks “Chicken or Brave?” The tested player either asserts their bravery by saying “Brave”, in which case the hand moves some arbitrary distance closer to an erogenous zone and the question is repeated. Or the player selects “Chicken” in which case the hand is moved to a completely different part of the body (for instance, the elbow) and the question is repeated. In this case, there’s no question which is the more bold choice, and indeed, a repeated failure to select the bold choice is a sure way to end the game.

Both of these games also depend heavily on the skill of the dominant, challenging player. Some level of escalation is essential to the dynamics of the game. If the stakes are raised too slowly, players tend to lose interest and pursue other diversions. If the challenges grow too fast, players can be easily frightened away. Again, I would maintain this has considerable parallels to adult BDSM play, where behaviors are advanced fast enough to maintain a sexual and power tension, but slow enough to leave the submissive partner a necessary level of comfort.

From my own experience, I can also remember less structured games of “tie me up and let’s see if I can escape” that have applications to this topic, but I am less certain about how broadly such games existed in other communities of youths.

Good dreams. Good, but weird.

6 thoughts on “A Treatise

  1. magn0lia

    We didn’t play “Chicken or Brave?” but I’m guessing my teen group would have enjoyed that game a lot! Your list of memories is interesting but now I’m really curious what the actual dream was about. 🙂

  2. aanor

    This is simply brilliant! A fascinating insight. It is a rare gift when dreams lead to such productive leaps of the imaginative spark. I have never heard of the “Chicken or Brave” game, but I am now tempted to play it with my partner! I too played the “tie me up and see if i can escape” game, though I assure you there was zero sexual context to it. I was a great way to keep a four-year-old occupied on long hauls on the trimaran. You have to get pretty creative with your entertainment when you live on a sail boat.

    1. browse Post author

      > I assure you there was zero sexual context to it
      That was mostly true in my case. But it was all about the subtext. At a certain age, being restrained and writhing about to get free… okay, maybe that’s just me being a perv. 🙂

      > when you live on a sail boat
      I did not know that about you! Part of me thinks that must have been amazing, but I suspect it was a drag in some ways too. I’d love to hear more about that sometime!

      1. aanor

        >But it was all about the subtext.
        If I’d been a little older, maybe. But at age four sexual subtext wasn’t even a possibility.

        It WAS amazing, actually, living on a sailboat. Of course it wasn’t all sunshine and cherries, but my parents remember it as one of the happiest times of their lives. And as a kid, most of the problems my parents faced along the way went right over my head. The only down side I remember is occasionally worrying about the boat crashing or getting stuck in a storm too big for us to handle. We knew a couple who that happened to before we set sail, and only one of them made it out alive. That said, it always seemed a risk worth taking. It was a great adventure. I’d be happy to tell more about it sometime. Maybe I’ll start a series of journal entries.

        I thought of another game that might fit your topic. In middle school, a game called “mercy” was quite popular. Facing your opponet, you’d hold onto each other’s hands by interlacing your fingers. There’d be some kind of “one two three, go” And then the object was, without breaking the hold, to twist your opponet’s armrs, bend your opponent’s fingers back, or employ any other technique to cause pain (I was fond of digging my fingernails into the backs of their hands) until the other person says “mercy.” Seems kind of like a more ritualized version of your first example.


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