The historical origins of BDSM are obscure. There are anecdotal reports of people willingly being bound or whipped, as a prelude to or substitute for sex, going back to the fourteenth century. The medieval phenomenon of courtly love in all of its slavish devotion and ambivalence has been suggested by some writers to be a precursor of BDSM. Some sources claim that BDSM as a distinct form of sexual behaviour originated at the beginning of the eighteenth century when Western civilization began medically and legally categorizing sexual behaviour. There are reports of brothels specializing in flagellation as early as 1769, and John Cleland's novel Fanny Hill, published in 1749, mentions a flagellation scene. Other sources give a broader definition citing BDSM-like behavior in earlier times and other cultures, such as the medieval flagellants and the physical ordeal rituals of some Native American societies.
Although the names of the Marquis de Sade and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch are attached to the terms sadism and masochism respectively, the question remains as to whether their ways of life would meet with modern BDSM standards of informed consent.
BDSM ideas and imagery have existed on the fringes of Western culture throughout the twentieth century. Robert Bienvenu attributes the origins of modern BDSM to three sources, which he names as "European Fetish" (from 1928), "American Fetish" (from 1934), and "Gay Leather" (from 1950). Another source is the sexual games played in brothels, which go back into the nineteenth century if not earlier. Irving Klaw, during the 1950s and 1960s, produced some of the first commercial film and photography with a BDSM theme (most notably with Bettie Page) and published comics by the now-iconic bondage artists John Willie and Eric Stanton.
There are numerous BDSM emblems in use but the one that may be most recognized is a circle with 3 divisions that resemble the Yin-Yang symbol. It can be worn anywhere without attracting...
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