Every so often, such as last Saturday night, I get to talking with a bunch of people in the BDSM scene. Most of these people are almost always decades older than me. At some point in the conversation, which usually turns into a friendly debate of sorts (because those are the kinds of conversations I enjoy having), I get complimented on my “exceptional” nature.

“Oh, but May, not everyone who is your age has the emotional maturity that you do to handle BDSM,” they’ll say, “You’re exceptional.” And then they’ll go on to tell me countless stories about how they saw some young people totally fuck up their lives by not “being ready” for BDSM play.

Of course, it’s kind of nice to be complimented on my emotional maturity, or my intelligence, or whatever it is they feel will drive their point home the strongest, but the truth of the matter is that it’s total bullshit. I am not that exceptional. Very few people are.

Here’s the lie: to be “ready” for BDSM, you need lots of life experience, commitment, maturity, and intelligence in droves. They say you will need these things so that you won’t freak out over what you’re getting into, so that you can spend the years it’ll take you to find the (increasingly less) underground culture that is the scene, and then enough intelligence to “get it” when you’re finally there.

Here’s the truth: BDSM is just like anything else and you’ll get out of it whatever you put into it. That means if you’re an idiot and you think being kinky is the next bi, you’re going to do stupid shit and you’re going to regret it. But you know what, that holds true if you’re 15 or if you’re 40 years old. Age has nothing to do with it.

It is true that 15 year olds have a lot less life experience than 40 year olds (duh). However, I think it’s just plain dumb to assume that because of this lack of life experience these younger people have less emotional maturity (or intelligence, or what-have-you) than older people. Just because you’re 40 doesn’t mean you’re more mature than me, it could mean you’ve just been acting really immature for 40 years. Come on, you all know the kinds of 40 year olds I’m talking about.

People often use my mere presence in the community as proof that you do need to be exceptional to be a 23 year old with a healthy BDSM lifestyle. “Where are all the other 23 year olds in several year long committed D/s relationships?” they ask. Indeed, I’ve asked that very same thing, too. Since there are so few of us, that must mean people like Eileen and I are exceptional. Right?

Well, maybe in some respects (we do write pretty cool blogs, after all), but what’s exceptional about my being heavily involved in the BDSM community isn’t how exceptional I am, it’s the fact that I’m involved despite the odds. In other words, the circumstances themselves are rather remarkable, but that does not mean that the cause of those remarkable circumstances is solely of my own doing.

Though I could easily take all the credit for being one of the few young people out and about in the scene, most of the credit belongs to the rest of the community that doesn’t see young people like me as capable members in equal standing. With consistent decrees that we need all that largely useless life experience to really be a part of the scene, how could young people ever hope to be engaged?

What’s even more bewildering to me is that this apparent necessity for life experience makes no sense. Not only is that kind of disrespectful (albeit in a good-natured sort of way), it’s also contradictory: more often than not, you’ll hear people tell newbies that they need to “unlearn” lots of cultural and social programming to feel comfortable with BDSM. Well, gosh, unless the unlearning itself is the goal of BDSM (which would make for a really really boring kink if you ask me), then doesn’t that put younger people in a far more advantageous position to be “ready for BDSM”?

The inaccurate representation that BDSM requires some kind of special life journey, different or unique from other, “less intense lifestyles” is really nothing more than the older generation’s self-consoling opinion. “It’s okay that it took me thirty years to come out to the community and start having kinky sex,” they tell themselves, “because I needed all that life experience to be able to handle it now.” On the other hand, for them, maybe that was really true. If I were born in the 60′s instead of the mid-80′s, I also might have needed quite a few more decades to get my head around the fact that masochistic or submissive urges are not sick.

That’s not what I needed as a young boy, though, because with information about sexuality finally freed from the stranglehold of large organizations (such as governments and religions), young people are way more capable of exploring their own sexuality safely than almost anyone gives them credit for. Most of us are also smarter than people give us credit for, and we’re also way more emotionally mature than they think.

As long as people like Miriam Grossman don’t get their way, this means younger people like me (and, hell, even younger people than me—damn, now I feel old) will be able to find our sexual comfort zones at much younger ages than the previous generations. And really, how can that be bad?

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