In the oft-played video “Bad Romance,” right around the 2-minute 20-second mark, Lady Gaga is thrown onto the white tiled floor, her head swaying with the weight of her lavish headpiece. She crawls a few steps toward her master as we watch, while slithering across the floor, before rising up between his black slacks. She quickly scrambles up from the ground and strikes a pose, grabbing her virgin-white leotard crotch as she stares back boldly at her master.
While this scene may earn its coy yet creepy qualities from Gaga’s leather boots and love for self-flagellation (“I want your revenge” sounds like a line from a cheesy stalker film), her costume and propping are tame in comparison to the offerings of the Sins Center in Chicago, Ill., which provides customers an adjustable spanking bench and medical play center — in case they aren’t feeling “good” tonight.
What makes this bondage parlor different from the other seedy offerings of urban America? The Sins Center mostly provides its services to folks of the older generations — ages 55 and up — and has become a veritable hangout spot for those who changed their sexual play very late in life (I know this is the point in the article in which you are considering turning the page. I will beg on my hands and knees if I have to: Please stick around for the finale!).
But what would drive an older person to take up such a drastic pastime? Wasn’t Monday night bridge group enough? As researchers note, bondage (called BDSM by its practitioners, an abbreviation of the lengthy term “bondage, discipline, domination/submission, sadism/masochism”) focuses the mind on the body’s capabilities –– in this case, to withstand pain and provide service. BDSM also emphasizes keen communication skills: These skills often diminish as older generations become further distanced from subsequent ones.
Right now, however, the Masters of Sin Center don’t give a damn about these therapeutic benefits. Right now they just want to know who’s licking their boots clean and how to best use the new St. Andrew’s Cross, which, from the looks of it, is terrifying. It’s some sort of wooden X-shaped contraption with special holes in it for wrist and leg strapping. It looks like it’s made of dark cherry wood. Fancy shmancy, aye?
The club’s owner, the shadowy Master Z, prefers the retirement age group because, he argues, older enthusiasts are better at pushing the envelope without risking serious bodily harm and newer practitioners often are less skilled. As a result, half of his clientele are above 50 and two of his shop managers are 75 and 80 years old. So much for old dogs and new tricks! (Groan.)
But even within a culture that stresses unconventionality, Sin City’s followers are uncommonly old. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom conducted a study in 1999, revealing that BDSM devotees are mostly middle-aged adults, comprising a whopping 80 percent of the total practicing population. Only 2 percent are over the age of 65, which makes Peaches, a grandmother who belongs to Master R, a hot commodity in a culture that prizes experience and respect.
Peaches discovered bondage after exploring several websites dedicated to body art. Though she hails from a native Louisiana hometown with limited alternative lifestyle resources, Peaches was able to locate others like her on the web — others who suggested she try role-playing as the submissive player. A handful of floggings later, Peaches knew she was hooked. She now credits bondage for both recharging her sex drive and providing kinky new partners.
And, yes, thanks to the Internet we’ve all seen the provocative “Bad Romance” video. But I didn’t consciously think about Lady Gaga’s studded boots until I was sitting here at my desk, distractedly exploring YouTube, wondering how the hell I was going to open an article on bondage and the elderly (I don’t have experience with either). But congratulations are in order to you, dear reader: You’ve successfully made it to the final line of this week’s column. And good for you; you didn’t even flinch.
Titus is a member of the class of 2011.