Collaring is one of the biggest things in the BDSM community. It represents different areas of a person’s lifestyle. It can be erotic, romantic, or even degrading, depending on the individuals involved and the boundaries of the relationship itself. From my own research though, it primarily comes across as romantic and fun—but complicated.
BDSM, like so many other things, has made its way, with movies and literature supporting it, into the mainstream. But why would someone get into this into the first place? And in particular, what has put collaring more in the spotlight?
While I’ve touched on what has brought BDSM more attention, I can tell you that I see more and more people not just wearing their collars in private, but in public, in non-BDSM settings as well.
WHAT IS COLLARING & WHERE DID IT START?
So, what is collaring? The shortest answer is nearly self-explanatory. It’s putting a collar around someone’s neck, and keeping it there for short or long duration as representing something in the relationship. There are many different types of collars. Some say you can trace collaring all the way back to Anne Boleyn. In certain uses, it can unfortunately be traced through the various systems of slavery. But most people believe its use began as recently as the 1950s. It’s a time when young girls would wear ankle bracelets indicating their own unavailability. Moving forward from there, we can easily trace it to BDSM supporters in the gay community. Like various other parts of their lives, this sub-community conducted much of their events in secret.
For some, collaring is comparable to marriage. As Annette, a gorgeous dancer and singer, points out: “I had a play partner who I was exploring the lifestyle with, under the watch of my mentor/Domme. We were learning skills and practicing on one another. The more we played, we realized that His role as a Dom was preferred and He wanted me to be his submissive full- time. My Domme gave me to Him much like a father gives away his daughter at a wedding. We had a small collaring ceremony at Her home.”
But the main thing about collaring is that it is a form of consensual ownership between a dominant and a submissive.
Why Would Someone Want To Be Collared?
“I don’t believe you”
“Please, Sir, may I cum”?
“Then he slid his fingers inside me again and pounded them on my g-spot with a fury that buckled my knees from under me.
“After he allowed my climax, I felt something leather around my neck. He told me that he owned me.
“I enjoyed the ownership in the effect of feeling safe and cared for, beyond the physical aspect. He purposely got a pink collar and leash because at the time I despised the color pink. He used it as humiliation.“
Different people want to be collared for different reasons. I spoke to Dr. Tracy Carlson, from her private practice as part of Connections Psychotherapy and Wellness (myconnectionwellness.com) in Kenner. “I am a licensed psychologist, and I’m certified as a sex therapist through the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. So, part of my training is that I have to have knowledge of a number of aspects of sexual health and pleasure, and part of that includes an understanding of diversities and sexual expression and different lifestyles, so that includes, but not necessarily limited to polyamory, BDSM, and that sort of area. So, with my background in training, I did a two-year fellowship at the University of Minnesota’s program in sexuality, and that’s where I received a lot of my post-doctoral education and clinical experience.”
Dr. Carlson treats everyone from individuals to providing therapy for couples including group therapy. Of BDSM, Dr. Carlson says, “Thinking about within the BDSM practice… there are several reasons individuals would engage in collars, and leashes for that matter. So, it can a sensation of having something around the neck, it can be a form of breath play, or a source of restraint as well. So, collars, when you think about it is a symbol of repression, when you think about it, right? So, they’re often used as a way to represent a consensual power exchange. So, some people might use a collar to help them to help get into different experiences, different personas.
“So, for example, a dom might ‘take on’ a ‘sir’ or a ‘master’ persona. Or a sub might take on, a submissive or slave personae when using a collar.
“…But another thing to think about is the reciprocal exchange of that, so that someone who wears a collar might not only be experiencing their own pleasure, of having the collar, and what that role means to them, but they might also experience pleasure by viewing their play with reaction to them wearing the collar as well.”
When wearing a collar some people enter subspace, which can control everything from what they eat to how they sleep, to who they can and cannot sleep with, she says, “Giving that consensual power to the other person. With the dom getting into that headspace, of being confident, of having control, over the other person.”
Or, as Emily says, “When I met my fiancé, I didn’t know about the BDSM lifestyle at all. He showed me all of it and it sounded awesome to me. I knew I wanted him right away and I was willing to do anything. After a few months of being together he told me how collaring works and if I’d be willing to wear a collar for him and that’s it’s a big step. I was instantly ready to wear a collar for him and be his. I actually had my collar made by one of our friends. As soon as we started getting a little more serious, he explained to me that if I wanted to be his sub that I could, but that it was very important and I had to be sure it’s what I wanted. When I gave him an answer that’s when we got ahold of our friend to make my collar.”
In another instance, as Amanda puts it, a collar can be a form of protection, “Back in…2009 I believe…I became part of a family. There were two Alphas with their own submissives/slaves. I ended up bonding with them as a family and submitted myself to both Alphas, but was never technically owned by them
“I would be a demo model for them, a liaison when we were at our usual dungeon space. I was in service to them as they needed, excluding anything sexual.
“Both Alphas gave me a collar of protection. A collar I would wear when with them in our spaces together. Either one of them would put it on me when…and it would show that I belonged to them and the pack.”
How does it feel to be collared?
Annette thinks it’s wonderful, “I’m not an expert on mental health but I am an expert on my own feelings. When I get anxious, I find that touching my collar (I wear it 24/7) helps remind me that I have someone on my team who cares for me deeply, that I’m not alone. It can be quite comforting.”
As far as other psychological benefits, Dr. Carlson explains, “Some people, it varies, so there could be a cathartic, to a spiritual, to a therapeutic benefit.” She adds, “Some individuals might experience a sense of freedom from social approved sexual practices. She continues, “So while they might be playing or in a scene some part of them could feel an increase of self-confidence, feel powerful, wanted. They might feel more attractive.” She adds, “It can also be a source of an increased sense of intimacy and connection in couples as well.”
How can a relationship change afterward?
Kelly, a magic shop owner and a submissive says, “I honestly felt and feel completely free. Like there’s no fear or rejection between us. He accepted me. And I’m home when he puts my collar on me.”
Jacob, who describes himself as a casual dom says, “The relationship for us changed. She felt protected, and freer. In my case, I felt more in control, and responsible for not just her well-being, but mine, too.”
What are the negatives?
The negatives associated with collaring have very little to do with the collaring itself and more to do with society, especially religion, Dr. Carlson says, “There can be shame associated with engaging in these practices if they’re in conflict with religious beliefs.”
What would you tell someone who is new but interested in it?
Annette says, “Research! Read all you can. Talk. That 100% transparency with your partner, it is so very important. Doms can’t read minds and neither can subs. If you’re feeling some type of way, discuss it. Work through it. Collaring is not for everyone, make sure you both discuss boundaries and what you expect out of the collar BEFORE you lock it. Just like with sex, marriage or other big decisions, you do not have to rush. Don’t feel pressured on either side. You’ll appreciate that later on.”
Kevin, an artist and Dom gives this advice, “Don’t rush into it. This is the BDSM version of a wedding. People rush into things like this and in the process, they get hurt, and they hurt others. Take time and you’ll find that you end up happier.”
And most importantly, Dr. Carlson reminds us of the value of consent, “That’s the pillar of this, right? Safety and consent are priorities for practitioners of BDSM, that’s why they have the slogan, ‘Stay safe and consensual.’ The big part of this is being able to communicate that, and understanding each other’s needs and their ‘nos’–definite behaviors and experiences they are not open to. And there’s got to be that trust with the person who has the power in that temporary exchange. There has to be the trust that they’re gonna know what the sub is open to and what they are not open to.”
For those interested in learning more, there’s “The Ultimate Guide to Kink” By Tristan Taormino, “BDSM 101” by Rev. Jen, and also the Coalition for Sexual Freedom, along with the sex shop Dynamo which provides tons of sexual education information.
Michael David Raso has worked as a writer, editor, and journalist for several different publications since graduating from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. If you like this piece, you can read more of his work here.