UNsafe and HARDLY consensual: Arguments not to defend BDSM with

(Warning: Some links and the picture on this blog entry is NSFW. Trigger warnings for rape and other forms of sexual violence also apply to the contents of this blog post, and the links.)

You may have heard of people defending BDSM. Perhaps you have a friend who is into being a sub, and her words make you think she is okay. Perhaps you yourself consider getting involved. But she is most likely not as okay as she claims, and it a dangerous world to be involved in. Please remember that with this article, I do not want to shame bottom partners. I want their friends, and the police, to be willing to help them.

Arguments that are not adequate to defend BDSM

1) “It is consensual”:

a) In a study of the BDSM community, 1 in 3 kinksters reported to having had their consent violated. If that don’t sound so high, remember that this sample includes both dominants and submissives, of both sexes. The amount of consent violations among submissive women is probably a lot higher. Read, for example this testimony from Kitty Stryker: (Bold added, italics hers)

When I start to think of the number of times I have been cajoled, pressured, or forced into sex that I did not want when I came into “the BDSM community”, I can’t actually count them. And I never came out about it before, not publicly, for a variety of reasons- I blamed myself for not negotiating enough, or clearly, or for not sticking to my guns, or I didn’t want to be seen as being a drama queen or kicking up a fuss. Plus, …I didn’t feel traumatized because it happened so bloody often that it was just a fact of being a submissive female

As I reflected on the number of times I’ve had fingers in my cunt that I hadn’t consented to, or been pressured into a situation where saying “no” was either not respected or not an option, or said that I did not want a certain kind of toy used on me which was then used, I’m kind of horrified. When I identified as a submissive female, I was told that using a safeword indicated a lack of trust, or that if I was a “real” submissive I wouldn’t need to have limits… I had multiple times when I took more pain that I could handle because I developed a fear of safewording, since it was so rarely treated with respect.

I never thought of any of it as sexual assault, even though it was all non-consensual, because I blamed myself for attracting the wrong sort of Dominant, for not being good enough at negotiating. Speaking to other women, I discovered how many of them had similar stories that they laughed off, because if we stopped and really took it seriously the community we clung to would no longer feel safe, and we didn’t know where else to go…

How on earth can we possibly say to society at large that BDSM is not abuse when we so carefully hide our abusers and shame our abused into silence?… I can only speak for myself, but as a fat, insecure girl coming into the BDSM scene, whatever rhetoric I was told, actions taught me that my value was in my sexuality and my willingness to give it up. A good submissive, you see, is quiet, passive, and obedient…

Of course [sociopaths walk among us]- we treat that kind of sociopathic behaviour as dangerously sexycool. This creates a situation where predators are allowed to continue to be a part of the community, often an honored part, while past victims keep their mouths shut and hope that it doesn’t happen again to someone else…

… I have yet to meet a female submissive who hasn’t had some sort of sexual assault happen to her.

Other commenters on the linked study give other reasons why the number of violations is probably higher than 33%, namely that the questions did not include things never asked in negotiations and therefore not consented to, while during scenes the sub is physically not in a position to utter a safe word.

Conclusion: BDSM is very often not consensual.

b) Consent is not enough to make something right. Many employees, for example, choose to keep their jobs even though the boss is a bully, thereby consenting to be treated the way the boss treats them. Treating your workers badly is still not morally right. (And many child molesters get the child to “consent”- but the consent do not count as the child is too young.) And some choices that people consent to are bad choices, which can be criticized.

c) International law states that torture and degradation is illegal, regardless of consent:

“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. BDSM violates basic human rights. ).

 

2) “What you described is abuse, not BDSM:”

Here is a definition of domestic abuse:

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members. This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional. Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour. Coercive behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.”

BDSM often include “physical and other forms of violence”. (Participants in this sexual kink may not like the word violence, but per definition it fits.) It is no surprise that it does, because sadism is part of the name of BDSM, and thus a component that may or may not be part of such a relationship/ scene. It includes many types of “acts to make a partner subordinate”, it often includes bondage which obviously “deprive”, for the time of bondage, “of the means for independence, resistance and escape”. psychological methods – telling a (often very young) woman she is no more than an object, and she exists to please her man/ men in general – often deprive women of the mental ability to resist. Dominance often amounts to “regulating the sub’s everyday behaviour”. Much of BDSM include acts to “punish”, and many subs describe feeling fear (being “frightened”) during scenes.

Some warning signs of abusers include: Controlling behaviour, “playful” use of force in sex, verbal abuse; rigid sex roles (man above, woman lower); a sense of entitlement (many doms say they “deserve” the treatment the sub gives them); and hierarchical self-esteem (needing to be “better” than another to feel good about himself). Most of these warning signs of potential abuse are present in what I hear of almost every BDSM relationship.

As such, BDSM and domestic abuse are not mutually exclusive. Also note that the idea of consent and non-consent is not part of the criteria for determining if something is domestic abuse. As such, consent in BDSM does not exclude the relationship from being abusive.

Is it possible to imagine bondage (“depriving of the means needed for resistance and escape”); discipline (punishments); dominance;“submission“; sadism (violence); masochism (taking of violence to fulfill needs); and being a master to a slave; without abuse? The words in italics in this paragraph is the very definition of the BDSM acronym – if any of these things are abusive, BDSM is inherently abusive.

 

3) Sub: “But I do not see it as abuse”:

Many abuse victims do not know they are being abused. Their communities or the abusers tell them that it is not abuse, that they should be thankful for what they have, etc. To quote one abused woman:

Sometimes it takes time away from “normal” to see that it is indeed not normal after all. After 3 months of separation from my husband, I have new insight as to what normal is. When you are in a mentally or emotionally abusive marriage, sometimes you don’t know that your normal is not normal after all.

 

4) “But subs like it/ crave it”

a) Desiring something does not make it good. For example, selling heroin is harmful, even though addicts crave it. It destroys the one who gives in to the craving.

b) It is often not true that the sub enjoys BDSM – for example, a punishment to discipline the sub will pain-and-humiliationbe a punishment precisely because (s)he does not enjoy it. (The goal of such punishments is usually to strengthen the sub-dom roles and show the bottom partner that (s)he does not have the right to freely act as (s)he pleases. In some cases, the sub will even be punished if she brings up a point where the dom did wrong.)

It is not rare for subs to be loaded up with narcotic painkillers at BDSM events – precisely because they do not like the pain. Some even dissociate (subspace) because they need their minds to get out of the horrors of the scene.

Many subs speak of experiencing negative emotions like fear during scenes, and actually like the feeling of relief from getting out of BDSM situations afterwards.

Sometimes subs are truly unhappy in BDSM. See, for example, the photo on the left: BDSM people tend to say that nothing is wrong with this picture, if she consented. They are perfectly fine with scenarios where the bottom partner is visibly unhappy and crying, as long as, for some reason, the unhappy partner is not drawing a line and saying “no” to the unhappiness. If it is evidently true that some BDSM behaviour is experienced very negatively, I cannot see how anyone with a good heart could find BDSM acceptable without any cognitive dissonance.

c) Subs often “want” the opposite of what they want: They actually want kindness, tenderness and reassuring words of encouragement and praise like everyone else, but they feel they will be in a better position to enjoy having these needs met if they start with rough treatment and negative messages. They take that risk, in the hope that a scene, where they live themselves into the bad, will end with the good. When the dom is not good at providing the good part, he can say he did only things the sub “allowed.” But he probably did harm her psychologically.
One dom claims that every sub he ever met was conflicted over her wants, with a part of her that finds her BDSM desires deviant. Between those two conflicting and opposite desires of the sub, the dom chooses to encourage, and act according to, the deviant one. This seem to say a lot about the character of the dominant partner.

d) If it was about the sub’s pleasure, orgasm denial would never be involved.

 

5) “You don’t respect the agency of women who choose this.”

Firstly, multiple testimonies tell that women who are bottom partners experience many things they do not choose. As such, they did not have the “agency to choose” it.

As for the things that are chosen, here are the words of Diana E. H. Russell, Ph.D., Founding Board Member of AntiPornography.org:

The defense that sadomasochism is consensual behavior does not make it feminist. Women have been reared to be submissive, to anticipate and even want domination by men. But wanting or consenting to domination and humiliation does not make it nonoppressive. It merely demonstrates how deep and profound the oppression is. Many young Brahmin women in the nineteenth century “voluntarily” jumped into the funeral pyres of their dead husbands. What feminist would argue that these women were not oppressed? It is not unusual for patients to consent to sexual relationships with their psychotherapists, or employees with their employers, or students with their teachers. But such consent does not mean that power has not been abused.

 

6) “But this is safe and sane!”:

Safe is free from the possibility of getting harmed or hurt. If you want me to believe that BDSM is safe, you have to convince me that bondage, discipline, domination/ submission, and sadism/ masochism does no damage or pain of any kind to the self-image, the image of other people, the body, the interpersonal relationships, the mind, or the acknowledgement of real moral values, or the chance to get justice in a rape case, or the general image of women’s place in society, of the submissive, or the dominant, or the reader of BDSM blogs and websites, or the broader society. The BDSM community themselves say it is not safe. This post has a lot of links to where kinksters themselves talk of consent violations, cover-ups for abusers, and how the BDSM scene draws abusive types.

If you want to tell me it is sane, you have to convince me it is totally sane to want bondage instead of freedom, domination instead of you and others each getting their will, or pain (I don’t just mean physical pain, but also the mental pain of being degraded and treated as less than) -in yourself or your partner – instead of wanting yourself and others to have a healthy, non-hurting, autonomous body. mind and heart. And sane things could still harm someone. I can think why a sane man would want to hijack a luxury car, but that does not make hijacking right.

 

7) “All communities has abusers”

True, but the BDSM community is the only one …:

a) with “sadism” in the acronym;

b) which brings together as a feature and not a bug (i) very submissive people – people who would struggle to refuse mistreatment (for example those who allow unjust punishments they dislike) – with (ii) people who like to treat others as slaves and objects;

c) where you know, from the fact that someone is a member, he approves of “playful” use of force in sex (using force “playfully” in sex is one of the qualities by which abusers are recognised);

d) which tells some of its participants that they exist to please, that a “true submissive” does not assert her own will, that using a safeword indicates lack of trust, etc.

 

8) “The sub holds all the power”

(a) One partner holding all the power is exactly what makes BDSM problematic. It is the power imbalance that makes society frown on sexual relationships between bosses and employees, teachers and students, and therapists and patients. The power difference is even a large part of the problem with pedophilia. If the BDSM community uses one partner holding all the power as a defense, they don’t even understand, much less share, the values of the broader community.

(b) What they literally mean, of course, is that subs have the right to say “no”, or a safeword that stands in for “no.” But bodily autonomy is a basic human right. If the BDSM community sees this as a special and generous power privilege given by BDSM, they don’t see bodily autonomy as a human right. These words convey the message to subs that the right to refuse is almost too much power, something they should use sparingly.

 

9) “BDSM is based on trust”

Trust is not always a good thing. If you trust the wrong person with your money, you end up bankrupt. If you climb into a car with someone whom you wrongly trust to bring you home safe, you could end up dead. And vanilla people who can be trusted to not even start doling out pain and degradation is more trustworthy than sadists who can be trusted only to stop somewhere in doling out pain and degradation.

 

10) “It is relaxing to sometimes leave decision-making to your partner”

Many people outside the kink community agree. But you could also leave decision-making to someone who would never dream of tying up, hitting, punishing or objectifying, in which case it would not be BDSM.

 

11) “I don’t feel like this is something bad”:

I will quote CS. Lewis on this:

When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly: while you are making them you cannot see them. You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both bad and evil: bad people do not know about either.

People do not regard these things as morally bad, because their souls become used to how BDSM ritually breaks down some of its participants.

 

12) “You don’t understand BDSM/ you should talk to more BDSM people/ read more about BDSM.”

The more I hear about BDSM, the more I know about the dangers of the scene. (Here, here, here, here, here, here and here, for example. ) I think it is the participants who don’t understand.

The map of a forest is better understood by riding in a small plane over it, than by standing inside the forest looking at the trees around you. Similarly, it is sometimes easier to believe how tragically broken the pain and degradation in BDSM is when looking at it from the outside, if you are not trying to get acceptance from that community.

13) “It takes strength to submit.”

Have you ever, as a little kid, submitted to what your parents make you wear/ where your parents made you go/ what your parents wanted you to eat? Did you start doing it only after you developed strength of your own, while never submitting as a baby? Have you ever submitted to the goverment asking you for taxes you do not want to pay? Did you only submit/ yield to those taxes because you are at least as strong as the goverment? Did you yield to someone cutting ahead of you in traffic, or being pinned to the ground in an informal wrestling match? Did you only yield because your car is stronger than the car cutting in ahead (you’ll never yield to a big truck), and because you are stronger than the person pinning you down in wrestling?

Conclusion: Submission does not take strength.

14) “You (who oppose BDSM) are judgmental!”

This red herring tries to take the attention from BDSM to the person who dislike it.

a) Judgement is not, in itself, a bad thing: Judgment of a dangerous criminal can keep him out of society, judgment in a civil case can lead to retribution, judging a certain act as dangerous could keep you safe, judging some acts – for example child molestation – as bad could help you to protect your loved ones.

b) This accusation is hypocritical: Not only does the BDSM community use judgmental terms like “wh*re” and “sl*t” for subs, doms go as far as actually doling out real punishment (“discipline”). To punish someone is the ultimate form of judging.

15) “BDSM sadism is not the same as clinical sadism”

a) Everyday sadists, who do not qualify for Sadistic Personality Disorder (what kinksters mean with clinical sadism) should not be trusted, warns psychologists:

“Within their own families and in the workplace these people cannot be trusted, No one can ever feel safe with them. Therefore, they do not have real relationships. They engage by exploiting, manipulating, and using other people as a means to their own end. The best thing to do is keep reasonable distance from these people… Never do business or get close to one of these people. They will always take you down.” – psychologist Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a family therapist and author in Beverly Hills, Calif.

b) By the clinical definition of sadism, a BDSM sadist can be as bad as a sadist with Sadistic Personality Disorder, but the mere fact that the violence, cruelty, etc. was for sexual reasons will put him out of the Sadistic Personality Disorder diagnosis. See this list with the diagnostic criteria on the page I link to, and concentrate on the last point:

Sadistic Personality Disorder Diagnostic Criteria
The DSM-III-R criteria for diagnosing SPD are presented below:
A pervasive model of cruel, aggressive and demeaning behavior that begins by early adulthood, and indicated by repeated occurrence of a minimum of 4 of the following:
Have used violence or physical cruelty for establishing dominance within a relationship, not just to achieve some non-interpersonal goal, like striking someone for robbing him or her
Humiliated or demeaned people in front of others
Has behaved with someone under his supervision unusually harshly in the name of discipline (for example, a child, prisoner, student or patient)
Takes pleasure in or is amused by the physical or psychological suffering of others, even including animals
Lied to other people for causing harm or inflicting pain on them, not just to achieve a definite goal
Uses intimidation or terror to make other people do things that he or she wants them to do
Restricting the autonomy of the other people within a close relationship
Has a fascination towards violence, martial arts, weapons, injuries, and/or torture
The behavioral patterns listed under A have not been directed towards only one person and has not been solely done for achieving sexual arousal (i.e., sexual sadism).

But violence, physical cruelty, domination, humiliation, suffering, etc. does not become harmless just because the context is sexual. It just stops to be defined by the term “Sadistic Personality Disorder”.

16) “This is a matter of personal taste. I like it, you do not, what is the issue?”

If sexual violence is a matter of personal taste, these two people are equally right:

She: “I want to be treated with love and respect, and treat my partner the same way.” He: “I want to choke you, beat you black and blue, treat you like a slave and an object, while you call me master.”

tumblr_o65g9zyrsd1qivt32o1_500

Personal taste, right? If she thinks he is being kinky she should compromise on this, right?

If their desires are mere personal taste, they should compromise in a relationship: She should accept being beaten and choked half as much, or half as often, as he would like to do it.
There are women – and perhaps even men – who are tolerating violence today because they feel it would be bigoted to protest against the “personal taste” of their partners.

17) “All BDSM is not like that! Master and me …[details of mild BDSM scene]”

Arsenic is not proven to be healthy when you tell me of someone who got in a microscopic amount and survived. Ditto BDSM.

 

nolot

 

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Note:

I used to have this blog entry open for comments. I changed that, because the majority of BDSM commenters do not stay within my commenting guidelines, and I often had to delete them. In other words, they disrespect boundaries.

3 thoughts on “UNsafe and HARDLY consensual: Arguments not to defend BDSM with

  1. Phoenixasubbie, your comment (your name) linked to your BDSM blog from your name, as I asked not to do. That is why it was left unpublished.
    But I will quote from it:

    My Daddy, My Dom, is nothing but good to me and for me. Period. End of story. Anything else we do is semantics.

    On your blog, I scrolled down for the first interaction between you and your master that I could find. It was him punishing you for not calling him “Daddy Sir.”
    If you call everything he does “good to you and for you”, then insisting to be called by an exalted title (while you are not called by any exalted title) is good for you and to you, and being punished for not calling him one-sidedly by an exalted title is good for/to you.
    When I read of what he did, I associate it with someone egotistically throwing his weight around, and you allowing him to feed his ego. You see what he did as good, I see it as unhealthy relationship dynamics.
    Now, if I see unhealthy dynamics in this and you see only goodness, one of us miss something about it. If you can show something redeeming in this behavior, something that puts you calling him by a title more respectful than he uses for you, and him punishing you for forgetting, in a light that makes this healthy, then I will admit I misunderstood. So, explain a context by which this is doing you good, and doing the real him (not a selfish ego, but his character) good.
    You see, the point of an open mind, like an open mouth, is to close it on something solid. Right now, the negative aspect (egotism) looks more solid to me, based on my own experience of when people feel that strongly about titles, than anything good. But show to me how this is good, and goodness will feel more solid.
    That is generally the problem with BDSM people commenting on my blog: They insist it is good while not tying their behavior to anything that an objective person can see as good/ healthy. I judge (not judge as in want to condemn, but judge as in see what kind of people they are) people by their actions. Can you explain his goodness, using this action as an example?
    (I keep on asking these questions, even though nobody ever answers with a mention of any good aspect. Because I would love to feel calmer about the seeming negativity some people allow in their lives.)

  2. I would just like to say that an abusive relationship and an S&M relationship are much different. If I saw one or the other for long enough, I’d be able to tell.
    (Retha: If you need to look “for long enough” it imply they are much the same at first glance.)
    Here’s why: The abuser in an abusive relationship is motivated by selfishness, anger, and the desire to control his victim.
    The victim stays with her abuser because the abuse might seem normal, she feels that she needs him, or she thinks things will get better.
    (Retha: BDSM people also feel their relationships are normal, feel they need their partners, and many scenes feel negative, but the sub thinks she will feel better afterwards.)
    In an S&M relationship, the sadist (don’t mistake this term for the psychological disorder of a psychopathic sadist) is motivated by a desire to please their partner.
    (Retha: So, a BDSM sadist have utterly no sadistic desires or fantasies except when in a relationship with a masochist, as pleasing a partner is their sole motivation? Sorry, evidence do not bear this out. This relates to your comment “ The abuser in an abusive relationship is motivated by selfishness” Also see argument 5, sub-points 2 and 3 for how evidence shows that BDSM sadists actually continue when their partners dislike something.)
    If I saw a sadist who was hurting their submissive out of real anger, I would get worried and I’d call someone. You just don’t take out anger in scenes.
    (Retha: A sadist who hurt others even when not angry is even worse, IMO.)
    That’s being a bad dominant, and it shows that you’re dangerous and untrustworthy. Sadists in a BDSM relationship care about what happens to their partner. Where the masochist draws the line, they stop. They will ask their subs often if they are ok. In an abusive relationship, the abuser won’t stop when the victim asks them to.
    (Retha: See argument 1 in blog post: “It is consensual.” And you are still redefining abuse.)
    There is no escape for the victim, and they have no control. In BDSM, it is the submissive who has the control.
    (Retha: Yeah, right. See argument 8: “The sub holds all the power.”)

    I speak from experience.
    ( Retha: People who are lost in the woods also have more experience of the woods than the pilot with the aerial view, who can see the direction out.)

  3. Pingback: The popularity of “50 Shades of Grey” does not mean that women want to be below men | Biblical Personhood

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