BDSM, or bondage domination sadomasochism, has had a bad rap from the vanillas since the whole Judeo-Christian thing came into fashion and it became de rigeur for citizens to polarise life, the universe and everything into Good and Evil and copulate only in the missionary position.

And while times they may be a-changing, most of us would still shuffle in our seats if someone mentioned that they were a sub who got off on being being collared, tied up and whipped.

It's just not 'normal' you know. Dis net nie 'reg' nie. It just doesn't quite fit into the majority bracket of what we believe 'healthy sex' is. Which, if Hollywood is to be believed, seems still only to exist between young, beautiful, heterosexual couples in vanilla relationships.

Everything else is deviant, perverse, left of centre and therefore unhealthy.

It was an issue I was discussing with BurningLash, Dom father of the SA BDSM community,, at Cape Town’s recent Sexpo before he gave me a good spanking for poking an elephantine dildo too hard.

It was a pretty surreal moment. The spanking that is, not the dildo (although, my God it was huge). For one thing I had something of an audience. And while I do enjoy a little bondage and spanking now and then, it's always been strictly private. Being spanked in public – and by an authoritative hand no less – felt like how it must feel to come out of the closet if you're gay (and living with a strong support system of friends and family in an industry that welcomes homosexuality...but you get my drift).

Waving what would be considered my small freak flag felt more than good. It felt liberating. It was challenging, fun and exciting. I walked around the rest of the afternoon with my bottom stinging just a little, my face flushed and feeling like a million bucks.

To BL this is hardly news.

'Not all flowers are yellow,' he told me me sagely. 'Once you accept that you don't have to be yellow it's very empowering.'

When it comes to sex and relationships, we've grown up believing – for whatever reason – that there's only one kind of good and healthy. For a lot of people this just doesn't include BDSM. In fact, it hardly includes homosexuality or simple leather fetishes, let alone S&M play.

And this raises a lot of problems.

If you don't know what it's all about it's easy to fall into the usual line-up of stereotypes: BDSM is abuse, BDSM is not consensual and subs are slaves that have no choice in the matter, BDSM is a consequence of a sad childhood where mommy didn't hug you enough, BDSM is misogynistic and that it's a dark, dangerous road to some twisted never-never-land of sexual psychosis. (Funnily, the assumption is that all 'normal' sex is devoid of power plays, untainted by emotional screw-ups and never veers into abuse.)

If you're a vanilla, the worst these sorts of stereotypes could mean for you is that you become a judgmental prick.

But what it means for anyone with a kink towards BDSM is that they can get themselves into a spot of bother with Doms who don't play nice or aren't suited to them, and believe that that's just the way things are. And by not playing nice, by the way, I mean Doms who don't respect trust boundaries, haven't agreed to a carefully set up game play, don't pay attention to safe words or simply don't know what they're doing when it comes to tying their subs up.

Communities like provide a framework and a support system for subs and Doms alike – across the sexual smorgasbord – not to mention learning workshops where kinks can find out about everything from power plays and aftercare to who to avoid and how to set up a rig for suspension ('You know, it's just a real party killer when the whole lot pulls out the roof.' BL).

People can slam events like the Sexpo as much as they like but, ultimately, it introduces people – consenting adults – to avenues they might never have thought possible for themselves, throwing a little light on what they might consider a part of their 'dark nature'. And that's healthy.

I'll be going to a play party soon I think. Just for a little looksee, you know. Just a little poke around and maybe, if I'm lucky, if I ask very, very nicely I'll get another spank from BurningLash.

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