(Image Credit: @ User: Wiros / Wikimedia Commons via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)
In part 1 of this 3-part series, I talked about some possible physical risks of BDSM related to death, injury, and hygiene, and ideas for avoiding them. In this post, I'll talk about less tangible concerns regarding legality, abuse, and consent disputes.
No point in fucking around, is there? Let's dive in!
4. Prison! (Woo!)
The legality of BDSM is tricky because it depends entirely on your location and the activities you want to do during play.
Depending on the laws of your area, certain acts may technically be illegal regardless of whether or not they're done in the context of BDSM.
Sodomy, for instance, is still considered a crime in certain ass-backward areas of the U.S., and other countries like Iran and Zimbabwe. In Japan, the legality of practicing body piercing, tattooing, and other forms of modification without a medical license is a continuously hazy issue.
Despite Japan's longstanding history of tattooing, the practice remains controversial.
(Image Credit: @ Photographer: Kusakabe Kimbei / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)
But more often, legal matters related to BDSM have more to do with consent and whether your local courts consider a specific act to be a violation of personal rights.
(In other words, your government gets to decide whether your declaration of consent is valid in certain situations, even if YOU insist that it is.)
In places like Germany, Austria, Sweden, and Norway, BDSM play isn't subject to criminal prosecution as long as it's carried out safely and all participants are of legal age to consent to sexual activity.
British law doesn't recognize any individual's right to consent to 'actual bodily harm,' which involves injuries that are "more than merely transient or trifling." (This doesn't seem to apply to things like boxing, however. Bit of a double standard, innit it?)
The intention of such laws is obviously benevolent. They're necessary to protect people from assault or serious injury, and to prevent predators from taking advantage of compromised partners who lack the proper physical, mental, and/or emotional capacity to consent.
These laws can, however, put kinky practitioners in murky waters in the event that the police are called (by ANYONE, not just your play partner,) so be sure to do your research and cover your bases.
5. Abuse and Subsequent Trauma
Abusers hide in plain sight in communities around the world. This is also the case in the BDSM scene. If dangerous people were followed around by boding background music like they are in movies, it would certainly save the rest of us a lot of grief!
Never judge a book by its cover. (Okay, she's probably really nice. Who knows!)
(Image Credit: @ Photographer: Seth Doyle / Unsplash)
Unfortunately, abuse-related issues can get a bit muddled in BDSM. While some people intentionally behave in manipulative or non-consensual ways, I believe there are many more who perpetrate abusive behavior unintentionally. They may be confused about the nature of BDSM, have never been told their behavior is harmful, can't put themselves in their partner's shoes, or legitimately believe they're morally justified in acting as they do.
I don't say that to excuse this type of behavior, obviously. It's risky to play with people like this, as crossing boundaries leads to traumatic experiences.
So here are some abusive types of behavior to watch out for in others, and to avoid committing, in BDSM:
Not stopping play when a safeword is called
This is the most obvious and extreme fuck-up a person can make during kinky play, aside from killing or seriously injuring a partner.
Practitioners uphold safewords as gospel because they provide a clear line for everyone to work with. Intentionally crossing that line violates consent, transforming a sexy act into rape or assault.
It happens though, even at the hands of experienced professionals. One alleged example was the scandal involving BDSM's pornographic boy next door, James Deen.
Fans were shocked to hear Deen's ex-girlfriend and former co-star Stoya claim through a tweet that he'd held her down and raped her after she'd used a safeword. Though he denied the allegations, multiple detailed accounts of sexual abuse were subsequently reported by several of Deen's ex-partners and former co-stars.
Makes it pretty hard to shlick off to his clips after reading some shit like that. Yikes.
(Image Credit: @: www.lukeford.net / Wikimedia Commons via lukeford.net / CC BY-SA 2.5)
Pressuring partners to go past their limits
This is a bit more insidious than the previous point because it can seem like nothing more than an innocent request. "Are you suuuuuure you're not up for cock-and-ball torture? It's one of my favorite things."
This isn't how consent works. You've got to honor your partner's preferences without question. Soft limits can be pushed under certain circumstances, but pushing hard limits is a no-go.
I've read through a lot of forums where someone will ask, "I want to __________, but my partner said no. How can I get them to warm up to the idea?"
The best thing you can do in this case is respect your partner's wishes and see if they change their mind later. During this time you can send them information about the thing you want to try and continue talking about it, if they're comfortable discussing it.
But sometimes they won't change their mind, and you can either accept that or treat it as a deal breaker. Trying to manipulate your partner to do something they're not comfortable with isn't okay.
If you're in this situation, I've been in your shoes and I feel for you! We all want our fetishes fulfilled by the people we love.
However, we can't let ourselves become blinded by selfishness. BDSM isn't masturbation. It's meant to be mutually enjoyable.
Crossing Boundaries When a Partner Is Unable to Say No
Blindfolds are awesome, but bottoms wearing them obviously have no way of knowing what's about to happen. In these situations, it's important for tops to stick to less hardcore "surprises," or activities that have been done or agreed upon previously.
Lots of trust happening here!
(Image Credit: @ User Mike Kalasnik / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0)
To do otherwise is a huge gamble. The bottom might enjoy it, but they also might be extremely upset by it.
I was once blindfolded during a scene at a kinky club where a third party was invited in without my knowledge or permission. Trust was lost, to say the least.
Tops have to ask themselves, "Have my partner and I done or explicitly discussed this before? If they were able to say 'no' right now, is there a chance that they would?"
If the answer to the former is no, but the latter is yes, it might be best not to go there.
Engaging in BDSM-flavored shenanigans outside of playtime
A BDSM scene is a defined and controlled environment. We agree to participate in power exchange at certain times, under certain conditions, during which everyone involved is of sound mind and paying attention to what's happening.
It's tempting to let play bleed into everyday interactions with our partners, and in most cases this is totally fine. Flirtation is half the fun, after all.
This issue gets complicated though. For instance, I knew a kinky couple who both acted as switches. They were very much in love, but would bicker outside of play, and occasionally hit each other in public during heated moments.
This can be a slippery slope into toxicity because it normalizes violence within the relationship.
You may be used to hitting your partner in the bedroom, but it's not cool to smack them around when you're upset just because they agree to it during play. Kinky violence needs to remain positive and enjoyable at all costs.
I've read disagreements on BDSM forums about whether it's okay to play when emotions are running high. Some people get off on "angry sex."
It's one thing to act angry as a part of role-play, but quite another to do BDSM while you're legitimately pissed off. I'm of the opinion that people who are upset can't make good decisions or judgments, and therefore should cool off before playing.
(The other thing to consider about bringing your kinky antics out in public is the fact that the vanilla folks around you may not consent to watching whatever it is you're doing. If they see you hitting your partner, they're not likely to understand it, and may feel upset by it even if they do. What's permissible in public is a gray area that depends entirely on context, but it's something to always be conscious of.)
6. Disputes Regarding Consent
No matter how safe we are before or during play, anyone can claim consent wasn't present after the fact. I've read stories online by practitioners who have done exactly this and somehow see themselves as victims.
Basically, they admit that they agreed to an activity they later regretted taking part in. They weren't forced, consented in advance while sober and conscious, and didn't use a safeword to tap out during play.
Some of these people went to the police or spread word among their communities that their rights were violated. They claimed that their partners forced or pressured them into activities they had, in reality, explicitly agreed to do.
On one hand, I understand how feelings of regret can arise after scenes. When I was starting out I stayed quiet, for one reason or another, during several experiences I didn't enjoy. I get how hard it can be to speak up sometimes, (especially while playing in front of an audience,) and how bad that can feel after the fact.
But on the other hand, yes means yes. If you consent to something before play and throughout the duration of a session, then that's the only information your partner has about what's happening within you.
In role-play we can never assume to know how someone is actually feeling.
(Image Credit: @ User: mikey baratta / Wikimedia Commons via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)
None of us can read minds, and therefore we're all responsible for speaking up about how we feel at all times. The onus can't be put solely on the top or bottom. Both participants are equally liable.
False accusations hurt individuals, communities, and society as a whole. Legitimate victims need to feel comfortable coming forward and know that they'll be taken seriously, and likewise, no one should ever end up getting arrested for a crime they didn't commit.
In addition to the points I've already made about consent in this post, below are five others to keep in mind to prevent disputes or misunderstandings from occurring.
1. Unconscious people obviously can't consent to BDSM play.
(You'd have to be a real asshole to claim ignorance on this one though.)
2. Mega-intoxicated people can't either.
A flippant pre-play "yes" from a drunk/stoned/tripping/frying/rolling partner isn't necessarily enough. Limits and preferences should be negotiated in advance while all participants are sober.
3. Consent can be revoked, in part or in full, by anyone at anytime.
4. People who don't fully understand the risks of an activity can't consent to participating in that activity.
For example, if your partner isn't aware of how dangerous choking is, but they want you to choke them anyway, their permission for you to do so is meaningless.
There are a couple things I would've said no to as a beginner if I'd actually known how dangerous they were. Everyone deserves the right to understand the risks they're taking and have the choice to opt out. Communicate about this while discussing the activities you want to try together.
5. Pain experienced over an extended period can create a state of intoxication similar to a heroin high.
We masochists live for that shit. However, bottoms in this state may not be able to make rational decisions about their well-being, as their tolerance for pain will have skyrocketed from the endorphins and adrenaline released during play.
Tops have to monitor bottoms in this state and judge whether or not it's safe to continue. If, for instance, the bottom appears to be enjoying themselves but has become unable to think clearly or respond to questions verbally, they may be too fucked up to tap out when they should. Tops need to be aware of this and willing to make the call about whether to stop the scene.
You may have heard of kinky couples who write up contracts that state the consensual nature of the relationship, and outline what specific acts are permissible during play.
This is absolutely a thing, but don't write up such a document thinking it'll protect you in court. These contracts are for the use of participants only. If your partner reports you to the police for assault, you're not going to be able to hold up a piece of paper and claim it gave you the right to do the act in question.
Scary shit, I know! This is why it's so important to develop solid trust with the people you want to play with before doing so. I used to consent to fairly hardcore levels of BDSM with people that I either hadn't known for very long, or didn't know very well. This is no longer the case, and I don't recommend that you do it either.
Bottom line: you have to be confident that your partner can approach this type of exploration with empathy, maturity, and a reasonable level of mental and emotional stability.
Okay! This ends part 2 of this 3-part series. I sure hope it wasn't too much of a downer. But more than that, I hope you feel mega-informed.
In the next post I'll wrap this all up by talking about a few of the risks related to psychological, moral, and emotional problems that some practitioners confront, especially when they're first starting out with BDSM.
Thanks for reading!