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50 Shades of Submission: An Interview with a Real-Life Submissive, Madison Young

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I love rough sex.

Or at least I thought I did. Lately I've been struggling with my role in the bedroom. Do I really like getting spanked because it feels good, or have I internalized my abusive past?

I went searching for answers from the gorgeous Madison Young. I met Madison when I cast her in my first movie, Taxi. To be perfectly blunt, she and I did not always get along. She scared me a little. I think I was intimidated by her sexual strength.

However, over the years I have gained a tremendous amount of respect for Madison's fearless pursuit of her sensual pleasures. Watching Madison has helped me in my journey toward sexual empowerment. Seeing this strong, courageous woman give up control because she wants to opens a space for my inner dialogue about boundaries. I'm curious to understand more about her mental landscape and the psychology behind the submission.

Madison, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

First and foremost I'm an artist and activist dedicated to creating space for individuals to explore and celebrate their identity and desire. On a professional level I run two businesses, Madison Bound Productions and the nonprofit arts organization Femina Potens Art Gallery.

I'm a feminist erotic filmmaker, sex educator, and curator of LGBT art programming in San Francisco. Madison Bound Productions is a sex-positive production company that creates films and websites that are focused on pleasure, connection, and communication. It's a pretty amazing job. I get to facilitate making women, men, and persons of all gender identities realize their most decadent erotic fantasies on film. I've been working in the adult industry for the past decade and first started directing in 2005.

I started my art gallery, Femina Potens, in 2000. I had just moved to San Francisco from my home in Southern Ohio and was determined to create a physical space to celebrate the artistic expression of identity, specifically among women and the transgender community. At the time there just wasn't anything like that. The queer and women's communities had bars and club nights, but there wasn't a sober, all-ages space where our community could have in-depth dialogue, art exhibitions, and performances that pushed boundaries and expressed the complexity of our lives through artistic expression. Femina Potens gave permission and space for all that emotion and rage and beauty and love to make an explosive statement. Now 10 years and over 500 art events later, we have expanded our programming to L.A., N.Y.C., and Austin and have developed an incredible board of directors that includes incredible activists and feminists such as Violet Blue and Margaret Cho.

How do you identify sexually?

Sexually I identify as a kinky, queer, femme feminist. I feel that my sexuality and sexual identity are very fluid. When I was younger, I identified as more of a tomboy or a femme tomboy. When I first started discovering my sexuality, I was unaware of the word queer. I first came out as a lesbian, then bisexual, then pansexual, then queer.

What is BDSM/kink?

BDSM is a hearty acronym that packs a whole lot of meaning and potential for different relationship dynamics and types of sexual play. BDSM can include anything from a light spanking during sex to 24/7 master/slave relationship dynamics.

Kink is a type of relationship structure which, through communication, consent, trust, intimacy, and energy exchange, can create space to explore different physical and physiological aspects of our erotic desires.

Have you always been submissive? How did you discover that you liked BDSM?

I've always been kinky and enjoyed a greater level of sensation and energy exchange than the average person. I've also always found small spaces and bondage to be comforting and secure. I explored a lot of different elements of my kinky identity before I fully embraced my submissive self.

I didn't realize that the type of sex that I was having was kinky. I just happened to have my first sexual relationships with people who were kinky and were willing to indulge me in my fantasies. I think it wasn't actually until I started performing in front of the camera and discussing with producers and coworkers the kind of sex that I enjoyed that I realized that I was kinky. That realization made so much sense and really opened a whole new world for me.

As a young woman growing up in a conservative small town in Ohio, I was not encouraged to discuss or explore my body or my sexual self. I grew up with a lot of shame around my body, my desire, and the knowledge that I was different. That's key impetus for everything that I do. I want for people to know that difference is something to celebrate, not shame, that our bodies are a vessel for love, connection, energy, and pleasure that is meant to be explored by ourselves and shared with others.

Before I was ever sexually active, many of my erotic fantasies were kink-focused. I'd have fantasies that involved bondage, leather, power play, and public sex. After leaving for college, I finally started exploring my fantasies outside my head. I was lucky in finding sexually adventurous partners. Public sex, spanking, fisting, and handcuffs were my first foray into kinky sex with my first girlfriend.

It wasn't until I was 21 that I started experimenting with rope bondage, floggers, canes, whips, and elements of dominance and submission. I welcomed the intensity and journey that my BDSM experiences opened up for me. Personally I'm a control freak in my non-kink life, so being in a safe, negotiated space where I can be completely present in the moment and completely connected to my partner, rather than my mind running circles around my action list, gives my pschye room to breathe and is similar to a meditation. It's a meditation that leaves me overflowing with a rush of endorphins and a deep open connection with my partner.

Was there a point in time that you actively decided to pursue your interest in BDSM/ kink?

I naturally tended to date folks who were kinky or at least open to kink. There was never a time in which I had to look for BDSM or kink outside my relationship. I really feel lucky that my first partners were open and welcoming of my desires rather than projecting shame.

By the time I was engaging in BDSM scenes on film, I did find that my partner at the time became intimidated and hesitant to engage in BDSM with me. They were worried that they would be compared to the folks that I was working with on camera. There is really no comparison, though. The intensity or pleasure derived from a BDSM scene is not dependent on the technical flogging skills of an individual; it's dependent on the intimate emotional journey.

For folks who are searching for a partner with the same kinks or opportunities to further explore their personal interest in kink, I highly recommend connecting with your local BDSM community organizations. Volunteering at BDSM events and workshops, attending BDSM munches, connecting with your community and individuals in person allows you time to get to know your community and your kinky self.

How do you decide to let someone dominate or top you?

Before I engage in kink of any kind with another person, we talk: communication and negotiation around limits, turn-ons, physical assessment and ability, an assessment of the level of trust and intimacy that I'm willing to share with the individual. If I've never played with an individual before, but a trusted friend who is an excellent rope artists introduces me to the individual complimenting their rope skills, then I will be more likely to feel comfortable playing with the individual. I don't really play with individuals who haven't been recommended by someone I know and respect. It's rare these days that I play with anyone new. I have a circle of people and community that I love and adore playing and performing with, and right now I don't really have any desire to expand that circle. My life is very intimate right now. I'm enjoying that intimacy and having a tight-knit circle.

Can you have a satisfying sexual experience when you are not in a submissive role?

Sex can absolutely be satisfying for me outside a submissive role. I enjoy lots of different kinds of erotic energy exchange. In fact, sometimes I even enjoy being in a dominant role. I can have an erotically transcendental experience directing bolts of energy through my body as I'm receiving 500 strikes with a bamboo cane. I also can have just-as-delicious orgasms by spooning or receiving an erotic massage from my partner of seven years.

While I was pregnant, the amount of sensation and the way in which I wanted to be touched was constantly in flux from one moment to the next. But it largely put me in touch with my femme, goddess self that loves to be served and worshipped as much as I love to serve and worship others.

Does BDSM translate into your relationships outside the bedroom, as well? If so, how do you draw the line?

As a performer in both film and live fetish performance, BDSM and kink do bleed into my non-personal life. Often the performances that I do live on stage involve elements of bondage suspension and very physically demanding performances with a great deal of intimacy with the rope artist, in which I'm performing. If you watch couples' ballet or aerial work and performance such as Cirque du Soleil, you see a great deal of closeness and intimacy and trust between the performers. We believe their intimacy and trust them, because they trust one another. As a performer, it's my job to create that intimacy and trust between me and my stage partners or film partners, but also to have the capacity to compartmentalize the performance. It's a relationship, a working relationship that is true and lives in that time and space but doesn't affect my personal life.

How do you maintain your safety during intense sessions? How do you guarantee that you will not get hurt?

One of the ways in which I maintain safety during very intense sessions is by communicating about what is going to happen beforehand. There is communication going on before, during and then processing after. Communication about your needs, limits, emotional head space that day, recent injuries, and expectations are all things that I communicate with my partner about before we ever step into our play space.

There is an extensive trust level in place between myself and anyone that I decide to engage with on an intense journey. I've really limited my circle as far as who I'm comfortable with doing intense sessions or edge play. Edge play is BDSM play that inherently carries greater physical risk.

There really aren't any guarantees in life that we won't get hurt. Certain BDSM and kink activities carry greater risk than others. Bondage suspensions carry a higher risk of accident than being tied up with silk scarves on the floor. Knife play can have a higher risk of accident than an over-the-knee spanking.

Anytime that we make ourselves open and vulnerable in a relationship, we risk emotional pain and hurt. But what do we risk if we never fully explore our desires? What do we risk if we never take risks and open ourselves up whole to the ones that we love?

There are ways to be smart and minimize risk during BDSM play. I know I've said it several times, but don't be afraid to communicate. Communication is key to fulfilling and safe kink play. Expand your knowledge base before jumping into the BDSM pool. Attend workshops on elements of BDSM that you might want to introduce into your relationship. Go with your partner to the workshop. Admit when you are scared or don't know something. This goes for both tops and bottoms. If a very hot submissive approaches you and says they really would love to have you use a whip on them and you have never used a whip before, don't try it now. It doesn't make you less of a top to say, "I'm not really comfortable with that right now. But if you'd like to sit down and chat, I'd love to negotiate a scene that would be hot for both of us." It also doesn't make you less of a submissive if you see something dangerous happening and you communicate that to your dominant.

Always negotiate a safeword before hand. A safeword is a word that you can call out to your dominant that ends the scene immediately without question. Feeling safe and secure is essential to a well-connected and successful erotic exchange of power and energy between persons in a BDSM scene.

Have you ever gone too far?

I don't feel like I've ever gone to far. I've definitely opened myself up into some very intense emotions and pushed myself physically to my absolute limit. It's beautiful to discover the immense capabilities of our psyche and body. I've been able to push and pull and stretch the capacity of my body for processing energy and love and emotion. It's been a transformative element in my life, an element of great power and belief in myself.

How do you respond to people who say that women who engage in BDSM are acting out some sort of abuse cycle? Do you think this ever happens?

There are many misconceptions around BDSM. Women and men outside the BDSM community often mistake and speak vocally about there perceptions of consenting adults engaging in energy and power play with the misuse of words like "abuse," "rape," and "torture." As an educator and a part of the BDSM community, this is disheartening. Abuse, rape, and torture are non-consenting acts in which someone is being violated. Persons of all gender identities and sexual orientations enjoy and engage in BDSM and do so with great intention and consent.

When engaging in BDSM, an individual is opening themselves up, making themselves vulnerable and ready to receive and gift energy. Imagine a time in which you were vulnerable with your partner and revealed something intimate about yourself. In BDSM you are creating that level of trust, intimacy, and vulnerability with your partner and then creating space for the receipt of energy and the flow of energy back to your partner.

To illustrate, if you are interested in receiving a spanking from your partner, you have negotiated and communicated about your limits and are ready to receive a spanking. You lean over the bed, and when your partner's hand or paddle comes in contact with your flesh, there is a huge rush of energy that enters your body at the point of contact. The bottom receives this energy, visualizes its swelling energy, and breathes the radiating ball of erotic energy out in a deep exhale or note of gratitude to his or her partner. It is similar to how you breathe and allow for the movement of energy during a massage, which can either be very light and soft and surface or can move some major energy during a deep-tissue massage. Some individuals crave a greater level of sensation and energy than others.

How do you determine your limits? Do they change?

I've determined my limits through experience. I know my body and what I enjoy and how and who I want to engage with in different kinky scenarios. But before I ever engage in a scene, even with my partner of seven years, I do a self-assessment. I take a moment by myself to assess my emotional state, my physical state, my erotic desires, my expectations for the scene, and then I sit down to discuss this with my partner and check in on his self-assessment.

When I was pregnant, I was constantly self-assessing, not just before a scene but constantly throughout the scene. My limits do change. The physical, emotional, hormonal, and situational all play into my limits for any given scene.

Do you think that your involvement in BDSM and kink will change now that you are a mother?

My entire world has changed now that I'm a mother, but the intricate parts of my identity remain the same. Like any couple after having a baby, we struggle to find moments to nourish our romance and relationship. You just have to make time. You put the date night on the calendar and give it the same weight as a business meeting with your boss. It's really necessary to schedule in time for one another. The fact that we can incorporate moments of our kinky sex life into my production company helps.

If people want to learn more about BDSM and kink, where can they look?

I recently wrote an essay entitled "Submissive: A Manifesto," which was published in The Ultimate Guide to Kink by Cleis Press, edited by Tristan Taormino. It's an amazing book with a bevy of talented writers and educators in the kink community. I highly recommend it.

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A huge thanks to Madison for her honesty. As I suspected, I learned so much from this interview, and I still have a lot of exploring to do! I'll be sure to bring you along for the ride.

Did you notice I skipped a column? I did! Next time I'm going to make good on my promise to share my most embarrassing bedroom moments.