The Foggy Edge of Sexual Consent

THANKS TO: JILLIAN KEENAN

 




Responsible BDSM practitioners realise, perhaps more acutely
than anyone else, that “yes” is not enough. We could all learn
something from this stigmatised community, if only we’d talk more openly.
The first time I learnt about safe words, I’d just been
spanked.
“If we ever do something you don’t like, just say ‘red’ and
I’ll stop,” my boyfriend told me later that night, as I squirmed on a hard
chair during dinner. “You know that, right?”
I did not know that, actually.
“Like red light, yellow light, green light?” I asked.
My boyfriend—let’s call him John—nodded.
“Exactly,” he said.
I was 17 years old. John, my first boyfriend, was 24. (In
the country where we lived at the time, that combination was perfectly legal.)
We were young. We didn’t know anything about responsible BDSM even as we
explored our kinks together. How were we supposed to learn? Neither of us owned
a laptop, and I wasn’t about to research our unusual sexual fixation from a
public Internet cafe. John and I were merely following our impulses into
murky—and potentially dangerous—territory.
Consent is critical in every sexual expression. But those
boundaries and responsibilities are heightened in kink. And they’re not always
obvious. After all, it was only after a spanking—one of many—that John finally
thought to introduce a safe word into our play. Before that, it would have been
entirely possible for our consensual and mutually satisfying encounters to
cross the line into assault. When hurting your partner as he or she cries and
begs you to stop is part of the fun, how do we know where the fun stops? Can
the foggy edge of kink teach us anything about sexual consent in general?
The need to incessantly remind people that kink is not abuse
makes it hard to admit that kinky relationships—just like vanilla
relationships—sometimes do become abusive.
“In BDSM, we know we’re walking on that edge,” says Janet
Hardy, a kink educator and the author of several BDSM books, including When
Someone You Love Is Kinky. “We go there intentionally.”
I started thinking about this after news broke that Jian
Ghomeshi, a host of the popular CBC show Q, was fired. At least nine women and
one man have accused Ghomeshi of assaulting them; he claims that their
interactions were consensual BDSM, citing sadomasochistic text messages and
emails as evidence of consent.
The volume of accusations suggests that even if Ghomeshi is
kinky, he expresses his kink in a habitually and apologetically irresponsible
way. In his analysis, Dan Savage theorized that “Ghomeshi isn’t a safe, sane,
and consensual kinkster. He’s a reckless, abusive, and dangerous one who has
traumatised some women and lucked out with others.”
Despite the trendy appeal of 50 Shades of Grey, BDSM is
widely misunderstood and condemned. Blog posts and articles designed to shame
and humiliate kinksters proliferate online. Those perspectives aren’t rare: In
2013, even Slate, a progressive publication (and one that has been a hospitable
and supportive host for my own work on the subject), ran a series of articles
that argued it is “perfectly normal” to reject BDSM as a healthy point on the
spectrum of human sexuality, and compared consensual BDSM to domestic violence.
In an example that simultaneously promoted unscientific
myths about kinksters and seemed to chuckle at child abuse, Slate’s advice
columnist even joked that kink is formed by childhood trauma. It’s a common
perception, but not a victimless one. There are perfectly healthy BDSM
practitioners who hold major positions in psychiatry as doctors, academics, and
even mainstream psychology textbook authors, but you’ll never hear about them.
(Unless, for the second time in its history, someone decides to shock some
sexual sense into the American Psychiatric Association from behind a mask.)
Meanwhile, that stereotype only sends every other kinkster the message that we
are “messed up”—and therefore shouldn’t be surprised or outraged if messed up
things happen to us.
When irresponsible people smear our community with their
crimes, they perpetuate the stigma that forces us deeper underground. In
hiding, there are few ways for young or inexperienced kinksters to learn how to
explore their orientations safely. Choking and face-hitting, for example, are
widely discouraged and relatively uncommon in real-life BDSM play. But they
appear frequently in two places: Internet pornography and accounts from
Ghomeshi’s victims. Given that, some people within the community have suggested
to me that Ghomeshi’s alleged assaults betray a familiarity with pornography
rather than genuine kink experience. Porn can be great, but it’s a terrible way
to learn safe BDSM practice.
When we do look for education or support, people are always
there to remind us that we can’t have it. This summer, an anti-sex activist (my
description, not hers) posed as a teenager and used a secret camera to record a
Planned Parenthood employee giving advice on how to practise BDSM safely. The
media responded with a predictable torrent of revulsion; even Planned
Parenthood quickly distanced itself from the video and fired the employee. I
watched the controversy unfold from a reporting trip in Madagascar and
wondered, alone on the far side of the world, where I could have sought advice
as a 16-year-old who had never been kissed but hid sadomasochistic fiction
under my mattress.
The isolation of stigma also leaves kinky assault survivors
with few ways to report crimes without exposing themselves to the victim-blaming,
scorn, and condescending pity that are directed at sexual minorities even under
the best of circumstances.
“There are major figures in the BDSM community who have
multiple restraining orders placed against them. But how would their partners know
that? When everyone uses pseudonyms, criminal histories are easy to hide.”
“There is such a strong stigma against BDSM that even people
within the community are afraid to reach out and learn how to do things
safely,” says Susan Wright, the spokesperson for the National Coalition for
Sexual Freedom. “They’re more afraid of being ‘outed’ than they are of being
assaulted. That stigma creates a haven for predators.”
It’s a cruel and dangerous cycle. To fight prejudice and
misconceptions, we defend ourselves and our community. But the need to
incessantly remind people that kink is not abuse makes it hard to admit that
kinky relationships—just like vanilla relationships—sometimes do become
abusive. When we’re made to feel that we must defend ourselves, we become
afraid to perpetuate the stigma against us by calling out abuse. (Even
FetLife.com, ground zero for sexual fetishists online, has refused to blacklist
known predators in its midst.) One BDSM blogger described abusers in the kink
community as “missing stairs” in a familiar house: people who have lived in the
house for years avoid the gap automatically, but visitors are at risk of
falling through.
A consent advocate and activist for marginalized sexual
communities, who asked not to be named, told me that stigma adds an additional
layer of risk when it forces BDSM practitioners to express our sexualities from
behind the veil of pseudonyms.
“There are major figures in the BDSM community who have
multiple restraining orders against them,” she says. “But how would their
partners know that? When everyone uses pseudonyms, criminal histories are easy
to hide. You can’t look up restraining orders under a fake name.”
In 2005, the National Leather Association
International conducted a survey to gauge “the prevalence and extent of abuse
within the BDSM community.” Its results reflect the degree to which stigma
frightens survivors away from seeking help. Kinky victims of intimate partner
violence reported that they stayed with their abusers because, among other reasons,
the perpetrators threatened to “out” their victims to employers or family
members. Perpetrators also threatened to isolate their victims from the BDSM
community if they sought help—which makes sense, because the survey also found
that kinky abuse victims were more likely to report abuse to a friend within
the community than to police, victim’s services, or friends.
Ron, a kinky man who “switches” between dominant and
submissive roles, already had two decades of experience in the spanking
community, a category of the broader BDSM subculture, when he was assaulted.
Ron knew how to practice responsibly: he met his potential partner for meals
three times before they agreed to play, and described his desires and limits to
her in unflinching detail.
“She seemed like a really good person,” Ron says.
The scene they planned was a standard, over-the-knee
hairbrush spanking—the kind of thing that Ron had experienced hundreds of times
before. But it quickly escalated into something more painful than he could
bear. When Ron said the “slow down” word they had agreed on in advance,
expecting a reprieve, his partner began to beat him with a small handheld cane.
By the time she was done, Ron had bleeding cuts on his butt and thighs.
“Of course I didn’t go to the police,” he says. “If my job
found out I was in this kinky world, they’d find a way to move me out of the
company. And I’m a man. What do you think the police would have said if I tried
to tell them? What would they have said if I had physically pushed her away
from me?”
In our subculture, “no” may not always mean no. But there’s
a flip side to that, and it’s what both consent violators in the BDSM community
and the national debate about vanilla sexual consent have missed: “Yes” doesn’t
always mean yes, either.
Responsible BDSM practitioners realise, perhaps more acutely
than anyone else, that “yes” is not enough. When I consent to a spanking, it
doesn’t necessarily mean that I consent to being flogged with a cane. If a man
consents to being tied up, it doesn’t necessarily mean he consents to sex. If
someone consents to exchanging graphically kinky emails and text messages—this
one is for you, Ghomeshi—it doesn’t necessarily mean that she consents to being
hit in the face. And if someone in a college dorm room explicitly consents to
intercourse, it doesn’t necessarily mean the conversation can end there. It
might mean the conversation has just begun.
But we stigmatise every flavor of human sexuality. We hide
from the details of our desires, or bury them in psychoanalysis and shame. To
truly end our cultures of rape and abuse, both within the BDSM and mainstream
sex communities, we can’t reduce sexual consent to a catchphrase. We have to
talk about sexuality, and all of its tricky details, without evasion,
self-preservation, or censorship.
We think we’re having a national conversation about sexual
consent. But as long as we continue to pretend that consent is binary—a light
switch that goes on or off—those conversations won’t go far. Consent is a fluid
target that can be given, rescinded, re-evaluated, or even seduced. We all know
that, but we’re terrified to talk about it. Safe kinky sex is exactly the same
as safe vanilla sex: we won’t have it if we never learn how. We should be
talking—really talking—about that foggy edge of sexual consent. Instead, we’re
trying to tie sex up with rules and restraints.
It’s a risky game. As some of us know very well, restraints
can be the most dangerous kink of all. And we’re all playing without a safe
word.

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What do you think of this statement: BDSM is Violence Against Women – Share your views

Here is a quote taken from the Liberation Collective:

“The existence of male submissives in BDSM practice does
nothing to excuse, nullify, or disprove the fact that BDSM is violence against
women. We know that liberated sexuality does not follow the patriarchal model
of dominance and submission, and that BDSM is the normalization of domestic
violence.”

What do you think???

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What do you think of this statement: BDSM is Violence Against Women – Share your views

BDSM is Violence Against Women

Here is a quote taken from the Liberation Collective:

“The existence of male submissives in BDSM practice does nothing to excuse, nullify, or disprove the fact that BDSM is violence against women. We know that liberated sexuality does not follow the patriarchal model of dominance and submission, and that BDSM is the normalization of domestic violence.”

What do you think???

Erotic power and pain. Sexuality & BDSM. A therapists point of view

When Power and Pain Are Eroticized: Working with BDSM
Sexuality
 Kirsten Beuthin, LMFT
http://baytherapy.com/ baytherapy.com
There is a troubled history in the mental health profession
of misunderstanding alternative sexual practices, which has had the unfortunate
effect of marginalizing those who engage in consensual BDSM erotic play. For
all of us, sexuality is a profoundly vulnerable part of our identities. For
those who engage in non-mainstream sexual practices, the risks involved in
revealing their sexual proclivities are much greater given the tendency in our
field, and in society, to link “kinky” sex with perversion, abuse, and
sociopathy.
My passion for this subject stems from my extensive clinical
work with people who identify as “kinky.” My desire is to help clinicians
thoughtfully consider the idiosyncratic nature of sexuality and to recognize
the unexamined biases that may interfere with our ability to think clearly
about a client’s affinity for unconventional sexual practices. In order for
clients to bring all aspects of themselves to therapy, it is imperative that we
strive to understand their unique experience oferoticization of power and pain.

In my opinion, clinicians need not be experts to work with
BDSM but do need to consider how their reactions to their clients’ disclosure
of non-mainstream sexuality impact the treatment. A recent study (Kolmes,
Stock, & Moser, 2006) which investigated therapist bias in working with a
BDSM -identified population found that, among clients who perceived their care
to be “inadequate” or “inappropriate,” the most commonly cited complaints were
having to educate their therapist, being told that their sexual practices were
unhealthy, having the therapist confuse BDSM sex with abuse, and/or requiring
them to stop the behavior as a condition of treatment. Such professional biases
have the unfortunate effect of increasing the likelihood of clients concealing
aspects of their sexuality and/or avoiding therapy altogether.
What Is BDSM?
BDSM is the polymorphic acronym encompassing variations on
bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism. In BDSM
erotic play, it is through fantasy and symbolism that communication and
negotiation produce collaboration, the illusion of control, and a careful focus
on erotic actions and responses by each participant. For the purposes of this
article, BDSM is defined as the consensual, thoughtful, controlled, ritualized
expression of adult sexuality where there is a power exchange dynamic
encompassing the use of restraint, role play, and/ or the infliction of pain or
intense sensation in erotic play.
In an erotic power exchange dynamic, there is consensual
playing with the roles of “top” and “bottom,” where fantasy is enacted through
assuming and yielding control respectively. The dominant participant
demonstrates through the power of authority and control the value and
desirability of the one who submits, and the submissive demonstrates
desirability through surrender to the power and control of the dominant. Power
and authority are often more important than pain in establishing and maintaining
the power differential.
In bondage and discipline, constraint and/or restraint are
used to enhance erotic experience. With bondage, the constraint is physical and
power is used to restrict the other’s movements or functions. With discipline,
the constraint may be physical or psychological; power and control may be used
to inflict pain or restrict movement. For example, physical discipline could
involve the use of hands or rope, whereas psychological discipline could
involve the denial of privileges and humiliation. In humiliation, the goal is a
desired exposure of one’s vulnerability and helplessness that is strictly
situational so does not diminish self-esteem. In sadism and masochism, there is
a consensual giving and receiving of pain. Those who engage in BDSM may be
involved in one or several aspects; therefore, not all dominants are sadists
and not all submissives are masochists, and there can be bondage without
discipline or pain.
While there is relatively little research on the prevalence
of BDSM, there are enough people who identify as having experienced it, or
having had fantasies about it, that clinicians are likely to encounter it in
their work at some point. Janus and Janus (1993) found that 14% of men and 11%
of women have had some experience with SM, and an Australian population
prevalence study found that 1.8% had engaged in BDSM activity in previous 12
months (Richters, de Visser, Rissel, Grulich, & Smith, 2008). The Kinsey
Institute New Report on Sex (Reinisch & Beasley, 1990) indicates that
researchers estimate that from 5% to 10% of the US population occasionally
engages in SM, and an older study by Kinsey, Martin, and Gebhard (1953) found
that 12% of women and 22% of men reported an erotic response to an SM story.
Why BDSM?
In healthy BDSM, mutuality is the focus, where being attuned
to the other enhances intimacy and encourages flexibility and responsiveness.
Erotic engagement in BDSM is often called “play” because of the explicit
communication and negotiation that are involved in setting up the experience of
scripted “scenes” that are imagined and then enacted.
It is difficult to generalize about the motivations for BDSM
practice because of its idiosyncratic nature. Just as with any information
gleaned from our clinical work, the focus should be on the individual meaning
of the behavior and the purposes it serves. Generally speaking, power and pain
are contextualized as emotionally liberating experiences of seeing and being
seen, of giving to oneself and another in intimate ways, where trust lies in
understanding and being understood through consensual access to each other’s
minds and bodies. Simultaneously, there is the opportunity to learn about one’s
limits and boundaries which expands the shared sense of interconnectedness and
mutuality. Submitting to another allows one to temporarily give up control and
serve, while dominating another allows for feelings of competence and
generosity. Both positions promote feelings of efficacy, devotion to the other,
and strength in their roles of caring for and being taken care of. Erotic
experience can be intensified by pain, so much so that the perception of pain
is altered by sexual arousal. The meaning of pain and suffering in BDSM is
symbolic of power and surrender, so that they are recast into what is pleasurable
and determined by the individual’s conceptualization as not hurtful.
The intensity of emotions in any sexual play is often a
profound experience, and in those practicing healthy BDSM, these experiences
are taken quite seriously. There is a reverence given to recognizing and taking
care of the other in this context. In these ways, playing with power and pain
can be a deeply transcendent experience for participants such that serving and
being served, asserting and ceding control, performed within negotiated
parameters, allows for an experience of mutual discovery.
Consent and negotiation are crucial to delineate erotic play
from abuse in the practice of healthy BDSM. In the BDSM community, there is a
fundamental ethical standard called Safe, Sane, and Consensual (SSC). The
community code of SSC ensures physical and psychological safety through the
communication and negotiation of limits, where empathy and respect are
paramount. Though BDSM and violence share a transgression of boundaries, the
literal and symbolic use of force in BDSM is at the core consensual and therefore
not truly coercive or antagonistic.
BDSM erotic play may seem to be about destruction,
aggression, and omnipotent control, but if we consider what could be generative
about this, it is that the other needs to survive for mutual recognition to
occur, in that “the other receives and recognizes the subject’s acts including
his acts of destruction” and survives (Benjamin, 1988, p. 73). With the tenets
of consent and negotiation as central factors in healthy BDSM play, the
experience of symbolically destroying the other in fantasy enactment and having
him or her survive to recognize us is key. Benjamin also speaks of the
differentiation of self and other as important so that there is a balance
between recognition of the other and an assertion of the self, where each has agency
while impacting the other.
In all sexual encounters, there is both initiating and
receiving, which in essence is what a dominant (or “top”) and submissive (or
“bottom”) are doing when in role. In BDSM erotic play, this is more formalized
and scripted, and the couple may prefer either private scenarios or more public
performances or some combination of the two.
Consider the private play of a couple who decides to
experiment with BDSM, where the one who is typically in the more passive,
receptive role realizes a desire to play a more dominant role in their sexual
play. Once this fantasy has been communicated, the couple would negotiate and
agree on various aspects of how to enact this encounter. For the partner taking
on the dominant role, this may include dressing up in clothing that signifies
fierceness and the use of bondage to restrain the partner’s body while using
various accoutrements to apply intense sensation in the service of eroticism
and pleasure. During such an encounter, each partner would carefully attend to
the other’s responses. The intention is to have an erotically charged,
pleasurable experience where both partners experience their power and their
vulnerability and feel taken care of and seen by the other.
Contrast this with the public play of a couple where one
person wishes to be flogged or whipped in front of an audience. Beforehand,
they would discuss the fantasy and agree on the limits. The bottom in this
scenario gets an erotic charge from being at the mercy of the top and from
being seen by others as able to withstand the intense sensation. Meanwhile, the
top derives pleasure from being in control while caring for the bottom’s
well-being and pleasure. The taboo of making something that is usually private
a public spectacle further enhances their pleasure.
Is BDSM Pathological?
Historically, psychiatric theory has pathologized aspects of
sexual sadomasochism in a cultural context where anything but procreative sex
was deemed deviant (Krafft-Ebbing, 1886). Contemporary definitions in the DSM
(American Psychiatric Association, 2013) categorize the paraphilias of Sexual
Masochism and Sexual Sadism as “fantasies, sexual urges or behaviors that
involve pain and suffering,” where one is either “undergoing or inflicting
humiliation, bondage, or suffering” without consent. Those who meet these
criteria are typically the outliers of the population due to a clinical focus
on criminal behavior. Given that we are focused on therapy with clients who
engage in consensual BDSM practices, we need not concern ourselves with such
extreme theories of pathology. We should instead be focused on what is generative
and creative in their sexuality while paying attention to the ways that their
fears of being judged or pathologized may inhibit them.
The construct of “perversion,” defined as “sexual behavior
or desire that is considered abnormal or unacceptable” (Oxford Dictionary
Online, 2014), is often used to describe problematic intrapsychic and
interpersonal dynamics that get attributed to sexual sadomasochism, leaving us
to believe that it must be pathological. Many psychological theories apply the
dynamics of perversion to rigidly contextualize BDSM as misogynistic, as used
to combat powerlessness and helplessness, or as misplaced guilt and shame. They
also claim that it is self-destructive, rooted in childhood humiliation, an
adaptation to a disturbed early environment, a defense against aggression, or
an avoidance of intimacy (Bach, 1991; Novick & Novick, 1996; Stoller,
1985).
In contrast, more nuanced views of perversion claim that all
of “human sexuality is inherently traumatic” (McDougall, 1995, p. ix) and that
the perverse roots of sexuality are determined by sociological, familial, and
intrapsychic experiences (Kaplan, 1991). All psychological theory argues that
the origin of sexual desire and behavior is shaped by childhood’s inevitable
“traumas,” but the distinction of what is “perverse” resides in the context of
society’s values and conventions regarding what is normal or acceptable sexual
behavior. Therefore, a more effective approach to working with BDSM sexuality
would include the thoughtful investigation of a client’s unformulated
experience to promote insight into the fundamental truths of infantile wishes
and destructive impulses inherent in all sexuality.
Working with BDSM Sexuality
Whether or not a client is presenting with issues around
their sexuality is important in determining the focus of treatment. There may
be unconscious motivations for the dynamics of erotic play with hierarchies,
exploitation, and dominance and submission, which are specific to each person.
In my practice, I am interested in how flexible and generative my client’s
sexual expression is, and whether there is rigidity that may foreclose
mutuality and limit sexual intimacy. I have also found it useful to consider
how a client’s experience of childhood abuse may inform his or her adult
sexuality. Any exploration of these intrapsychic and interpersonal dynamics
must be approached with sensitivity to the stigma and shame associated with
BDSM and the client’s expectation of a clinical bias against such practices.
In my clinical experience, those who engage in BDSM
sexuality strive to be thoughtful about their sexual play, often going to great
lengths to negotiate the terms of their engagement, which promotes honesty,
transparency, and vulnerability. This thoughtful attention to communication
enhances intimacy, while also alleviating routine and monotony in longer term
relationships, and it provides a creative way to channel sexual aggression.
First published in The Psychotherapy Institute newsletter
“Viewpoint” May/June 2014. www.tpi-berkeley.org

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