Take a deep breath.
“I understand everything,” she said, right before she orgasmed in my arms. I held this woman close, speaking in long strokes of soothing words while a man whom we both trusted was pleasuring her with his tongue. Zoom out from this moment and you’d see a group of people sprawled on a bed like an oil painting—drinking, fucking, cuddling—at a private play party in a mansion somewhere north of Toronto. The next morning I received a message that expressed gratitude for the opportunity to surrender into that moment and reaching something like revelatory clarity about life because of it. The feelings were mutual.
This ability to tap into one’s inner truth while teetering on the edge of orgasm can be meditative. Reaching that euphoric mental utopia tends to reside on the other side of a challenge—physical or emotional. It is complete release into discomfort or uncertainty. It takes work.
Cannabis does not differ from BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) as a tool to transport one emotionally and spiritually through the physical experience.
Beyond cannabis’s physical benefits as it pertains to sex (alleviation of vaginal or muscular pain and increasing blood flow to the genitals for arousal) mentally, it can act as a facilitator of introspection, an altered state of consciousness, and disolution of anxiety in its many forms. BDSM, similarly, is the permission you give yourself to be seen and experienced in ways that you might otherwise be incapable or hesitant to share in your everyday life. The lifestyle, although increasingly less secretive or secluded, is as much a state of mind as it is an exhibition. One can be whipped by words and words alone; not all collars are visible; and psychological domination is often about building labyrinthian behavioural structures that orients someone towards an expression of their true selves. Shame, humiliation, financial dominance—again, when consensually and responsibly established—transcend the physical. Restraint or penetration, pushing the perceived limits of one’s body and flirting with the edges of pain can also induce an introspective, euphoric state not dissimilar to a runner’s high.
How are these things comparable: a runner’s high, being high-high, and say, literally hanging by tenterhooks from your back skin?
A small study in the journal Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice found participants described practicing BDSM as feeling like “the rest of the world drops away.”
That state has a name: transient hypofrontality.
(Transient means temporary; “hypo” is a prefix meaning “less”; frontality refers to the frontal lobes of our brains where much of our structured, systematic thinking and decision-making comes from.)
I stood by the floor-to-ceiling window in my friend’s highrise apartment and looked down at the city. Behind me, the floor is covered in mattresses and pillows; the lights are streaming across half-naked bodies like celestial fingers; there is a DJ wearing puppy ears. My eyes come upon a woman lying on a large plank of wood that looks like a door; thick metal wiring is across her torso and drilled down on either side, another is restraining her hands, and her ankles are firmly secured too; legs open. I walked over to the small group gathered around her, all of whom were showering her with love—telling her how strong she is; stroking her hair; checking in—while a man coats a dildo with lube—but not just any dildo!—one that is attached to what I can best describe as a mid-sized jackhammer. The woman is laughing; giddy with anticipation. In that moment, everyone is unshakeably present; her, the recipient of the focus and the most beautiful thing we’ve ever seen because she is free.
In a BDSM scene, the person who is bound, receiving stimulations and/or following orders is called the bottom or submissive. The person providing the stimulation, orders or behavioral structure is called the top or dominant. There are also switches who alter between both roles. Transient hypofrontality, coined by Arne Dietrich—a professor at the American University of Beirut—suggested that it was possibly analogous to meditation, and other mind states, such dreaming, hypnosis, and various drug highs that allows one to think differently to develop creative solutions to problems. Dominants and submissives experience meditative states while in a pleasure-trance quite differently.
Researchers found that bottoms’ cortisol levels went up as their bodies responded to stress but their self-reported levels of stress went down. People in such an altered state (called a “subspace” in BDSM communities) report effects of time distortion, disinhibition from social constraints, reductions in pain, feelings of floating, feelings of peacefulness and feelings of being present. Tops, in contrast, entered “flow” state—a highly pleasurable mental/spiritual equilibrium associated with intense focus (hyper-awareness) and a loss of self-consciousness (increased confidence).
Cannabis can distort our concept of time and help us ground in the moment, lower societally-imposed barriers to self, and serve as a painkiller. On that note, it should be mentioned that loss of pain sensations can be dangerous during any form of impact play, leading someone to think they can handle more than they would otherwise. “Negotiate before you medicate” (as touted by sex and relationship coach, Ashley Manta) and if you are engaging with someone new, it’s best that you both remain completely sober. When it comes to consent, the acronym F.R.I.E.S is a good one to keep in mind because fries are delicious. It means that consent is Freely Given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, Specific.
The truly beautiful thing about flow state or transient hypofrontality, besides that neither require drugs or alcohol to access, is that once you know it, it becomes easier to tap into while in the moment, and even evoke outside of it.
Rarely do we seek out experiences that intentionally disrupt our comfort or make us feel uncertain. We are rarely cold without access to heat, famished without access to options, and physically exhausted beyond the hour-long workout class. In times of prolonged comfort substantiated by relatively superficial challenges (to walk or uber; to upgrade or not), it’s no wonder people begin to question whether their lives have meaning; rather, if the things they do are meaningful. There is a rising sense that meaningfulness flourishes through profound human interaction and shared experience. We want to feel something.
The wonderous, intoxicating nature of play parties as a sex-positive, safe space is the eroticism in the air, like you’re being steeped in sexuality. It becomes an atmosphere sizzling with the potentiality of self-actualization where you can participate as little or as much as you desire. All the while, your basic senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch) and your extrasensory perception (energetic and intuitive sensitivity) are all forms of communication put into practice, especially when the success of the space is predicated on the presence of constant consent, expressed in various ways. To communicate what you want, you need to know what you want, meaning that everyone is required to be aware and open about where they’re at in their sexual journey. When you aren’t dispersing your energy questioning the intentions of others within the ambiguity of silence or wondering how you’re perceived for your appearance or desires, you can completely immerse yourself in—and contribute to—the beauty and fluidity of human dynamics. When you leave the party that night or the next morning, you take that feeling with you into the world. You walk down the street like you have a secret; you wonder how you got lucky enough to find others just like you—and that gratitude alone can keep you sane in a world that often feels like one long and hollow scream.
It was 4 a.m. by the time I got home from the mansion party. I hung the whip on the wall, put my fur shoulder pads on the shelf, lit a joint, and crawled into bed naked. It feels good to be yourself—or experiment with who your self is. In a sense, you can breathe.
Sexual Freedom Philosopher + Journalist
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Whatever. We. Fucking. Want.
It’s expensive. It’s impractical. It makes everything photographed on it look like it took place in the 1970s. So why bother with film?
A few years ago I planned a solo road trip to Haida Gwaii. I drove up in my admittedly unequipped Toyota Echo (thankfully the weather cooperated on my 16-hour drive) and spent the days around my spring birthday staying with a friend in the village of Skidegate.
I took four cameras: two digital SLRs, an instant camera, and a Canon AE-1, circa 1976. It had been my dad’s, and was the first camera I’d ever used. I’d shot hundreds of rolls of black-and-white film with it in high school but for several years it had joined the other vintage cameras I’d collected on a shelf in my bedroom. I figured a trip which I intended to photograph heavily required a little bit of variety, so I dusted it off and shelled out $50 for five rolls of Fujicolor Pro 400H 35mm film for the first time since I’d studied photography in college.
“The more important thing is, we wanted to give people access to the psilocybin experience—and to confirm, or not—that all these things that had happened to us were really happening to us; that it really did seem to open up the doorways to some very strange places. We were looking for affirmation or confirmation of our own experiences.”