Thursday, 21 July 2011

Critique of BDSM

Summary of Points

Each point elaborated on below

  1. Defining BDSM.
  2. Against the outlawing of BDSM.
  3. People who are sexually aroused by BDSM should not feel ashamed of their desires, since these desires are not freely chosen but were conditioned into us by living in a sadomasochistic culture. Many critics of BDSM have themselves felt sexually aroused by BDSM role ‘playing’ or pornography.
  4. A secular critique BDSM.
  5. A sex-positive critique of BDSM. It is not anti-sex to be anti-sexualization of dominance, degradation, abuse, oppression.
  6. A kink-positive critique of BDSM. There are other forms of kink besides BDSM, and these are unproblematic.
  7. BDSM and the question of ethics.
  8. Countering the claim that criticism of BDSM is akin to homophobia.
  9. BDSM as one of many symptoms of living in a world which is capitalist, patriarchal, racist, etc.
  10. BDSM is often sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist, classist/capitalist, ageist, etc.           
    1. Sexism
    2. Racism
    3. Homophobia
    4. Ableism
    5. Classism/Capitalist
    6. Ageism
  11. BDSM validates the desires (if not the actions) of real abusers.
  12. BDSM roles can leak into “real life” interactions (i.e. act dominantly or submissively towards one’s partner outside the bedroom, and towards others in general). There is a private sphere / public sphere connection.
  13. Why it’s problematic for people who have an authoritarian role or personality in “real life” to engage in BDSM in the role of a dom/sadist.
  14. Why it’s problematic for people who have a subordinated role or insecure personality in “real life” to engage in BDSM in the role of a sub/masochist.
  15. Why it’s problematic for people who have a subordinated role or insecure personality in “real life” to engage in BDSM in the role of a dom/sadist.
  16. Why it’s problematic for people who have an authoritarian role or personality in “real life” to engage in BDSM in the role of a sub/masochist.
  17. The issue of consent. Given previous psychological wounds many people carry into BDSM, the presence of “free choice” should be critiqued, even if the presence of “consent” is not denied.
  18. Beyond consent. Much like a crack addict consenting to purchase crack from a dealer, consensual practice of BDSM can still be destructive to participants. 
  19. Predatory doms. Some doms/sadists are consciously manipulative, and calculatingly exploitative. They seek out subs with low self-esteem, knowing that people like this are more likely to want to sexually act out their self-hatred in the form of BDSM, or can be easily persuaded to “consent” to BDSM. The sub’s self-hate is considered erotic.
  20. Conclusion.


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BDSM is an abbreviated acronym, which in its full form should really be: BDDSSM. It stands for: bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism, masochism. It refers to the sexualisation of these activities and dynamics.  

The dynamics of domination, degradation, violence, oppression, slavery, or abuse are acted out by consenting partners for their sexual gratification. Or, people may consume pornography that depicts dynamics of dominance, degradation, violence, oppression, slavery, or abuse.   

Light spanking, biting, hair-pulling, and other mild acts done without the intention of establishing dynamics of dominance/submission, or of causing pain or degradation, but rather as an expression of passion, out of the enjoyment of the sensation, or some other benign motivation are not considered BDSM in this group.

But the same mild acts done with the intention to establish dynamics of domination/submission, or to cause pain or degradation, are considered BDSM.

For mild acts, whether or not something qualifies as BDSM depends on inner motivations, desires, intentions. For moderate or extreme acts, these are always considered BDSM because they are inherently degrading, painful, or dominating and it cannot be argued that these intentions are not present.

There is wide variation in the specific roles that get acted out, but they are always characterised by dynamics between two broad roles: the “top” and the “bottom”. Tops are dominators (doms) and/or sadists. Bottoms are submissives and/or masochists.

There is also wide variation in the specific scenarios that get acted out, but they always falls into two broad dynamics: that of the willing victim and that of the unwilling victim.

The willing victim dynamic can include, for example, acting out roles of a master and his (or her) obedient slave, or a father and his 8 year old daughter who enjoys sexual abuse. The unwilling victim dynamic could include the straight homophobe beating or raping the ‘fag’, or again a father and his child-age daughter but in this case she screams and resists his sexual abuse.

There is pre-consent in BDSM that the dom/sadist is not supposed to heed the sub if s/he screams in pain or terror, says ‘no’ or ‘stop’, or utters other sounds and words which normally communicate displeasure or refusal.

The proscribed moral code in BDSM is to decide ahead of time on a ‘safe word’ (such as eraser) which the sub can say if s/he wants to refuse or stop an activity. The replacement of screaming, or of words like ‘no’, ‘stop’, with the safe word is not only for the sub’s protection, but also so the fantasy enactments of slavery, rape, etc. can feel as realistic as possible. If it didn’t feel real, they might not get off.

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We do not believe that the state should outlaw BDSM practices between consenting adults. We do seek to critique, raise public consciousness, and change the social conditions which socialize some people into finding BDSM sexy.

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We believe that people who are sexually aroused by BDSM should not feel ashamed. After all, it’s not like we freely choose our sexual desires. What turns us on is largely shaped by our conditioning, and it so happens that we live in a sadomasochistic, oppressive, hierarchal culture. To paraphrase Andrea Dworkin: *The question is not ‘Why are some people into BDSM?’ but ‘Why isn’t everybody?’*

In fact, many of those who are strongly critical of BDSM have themselves experienced sexual arousal at pornographic images of BDSM, or have even participated in BDSM with a partner or partners. Defenders of BDSM hear this and argue that these people have internalized BDSMphobia just as LGBTQ people have internalized homophobia, and that they should learn to cast off their shame and embrace their sexual desires. This is akin to saying that people who have racist beliefs should embrace their racism. But like those turned on by BDSM, those with racist beliefs should not feel ashamed, since it’s not their fault they were born into a culture that conditioned them to be racist, but they should nonetheless work to deconstruct their racism and purge it from their mind.

Since we do not have much control over what turns us on, we should not feel ashamed of problematic desires. But not feeling ashamed of problematic desires doesn’t mean we should embrace them, defend them, and fail to critique them. And what we do have control over is our actions, what fantasies we choose to indulge in, and whether or not we defend BDSM. Also, by indulging in non-BDSM sexual fantasies and acts, we can retrain our sexuality to respond to respect, equality, and pleasure instead of degradation, domination, and pain.

This position should not be compared to the homophobic position that LGBTQ people can and should retrain their sexuality to heterosexual. There is evidence that our sexual orientation towards a particular sex or sexes is inherited at birth – and even if it isn’t inherited, attraction to the same sex (or someone of ambiguous sex) is unproblematic and thus there should be no attempt to change this sexual orientation.

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We are critical of BDSM not because we are religious fundamentalists, but because we are fundamentally opposed to the idea that domination and abuse are sexy.

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We are critical of BDSM not because we are anti-sex, but because we are anti-dominance and anti-abuse -- even in fantasy form.

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We are not against kinky sex, just BDSM. There are many ways to be kinky besides dominating and degrading.

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We believe that it is problematic, unhealthy, and dangerous to sexualize and celebrate dominance, degradation, oppression, slavery, or abuse.  

We find the sexualization of violence and slavery troubling because people should work on feeling outrage and compassion in response to those things, not on feeling pleasure and desire in response to them.

Bdsm nurtures those parts within ourself that fetishize abuse, and it reinforces our empathetic disconnection and compassion deficiency. So much of the suffering (both real abuse and the failure to act to stop  it) in this world stems from disconnected empathy and deficient compassion, so we should not be doing anything that so strongly reinforces that. We should be doing the opposite instead, working to build and strengthen our compassion.

More concerns related to the unethical aspects of bdsm are discussed in later sections (see 10 – 19).

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Those who defend BDSM often claim that those who are critical of BDSM are similar to homophobes who take a moral stance against homosexual or ‘queer’ sexual attraction and activity. This is a preposterous comparison which offends many queer people who are critical of BDSM, including myself. Homosexuality is erotic desire towards those of the same sex. BDSM is erotic desire towards fantasies of domination, degradation, violence, abuse, oppression, or slavery. There is a world of difference between the two.

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As leftists and progressives, we understand that dominance and abuse are rampant in our society via the forces of capitalism, patriarchy, racism, homophobia, imperialism, dictatorships and pseudo-democracies, abusive families, and so on. Moreover, dominance and power-over is generally glorified by the mass media and most cultures via the worshipping of the rich, of macho men, of people of high status and influence, of exploiters, etc. We understand that the sexualization of dominance and abuse by some people is just one of the many unfortunate symptoms that people experience as a result of living in a sick and toxic world.

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BDSM is often sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist, classist/capitalist, and any other form of oppression or bigotry that can be imagined. This is why it is so alarming and problematic that it is the norm in communities of progressives, even feminists, to be uncritical of BDSM, and often downright advocate it as liberating and transgressive.

Why is it that we condemn it when people express bigoted views – and yet we think it’s fine when the same bigotry is eroticized? Is sexism suddenly OK if it makes a guy’s cock get hard? Is racism suddenly OK when it makes a woman’s pussy wet? Is homophobia OK if it leads to orgasm?

Few BDSMers are into all of the things listed below, but most are into at least one.

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BDSM and Sexism: Men dominating and controlling women is considered erotic. Men physically abusing women is considered erotic. Men raping women is considered erotic. Sometimes it is women dominating and abusing men, or men dominating and abusing other men, or women dominating and abusing other women. But even in these cases it is often still male dominance and abuse against females that is eroticized. The female dom/sadist degrades her male sub with gendered language, calling him a pussy, slut, bitch, little girl. And it tends to be the macho male as the dom/sadist and the sissy ‘fag’ as the sub, or the butch dyke as the dom/sadist and the femme as the sub. Furthermore, it is a fact that amongst males and females into BDSM, females are much more likely than males to be subs, and males are much more likely than females to be doms/sadists. 

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BDSM and Racism: There is a category of BDSM called ‘race play’. Racial oppression is considered erotic. Violent hate crimes are considered erotic. Hateful, hurtful slurs like ‘nigger’, ‘kike’, ‘spic’, ‘sand-nigger’, ‘chinc’, are considered erotic. A White master ruling over a Black slave is considered erotic. A nazi officer torturing a Jewish concentration camp prisoner is considered erotic. A border patrol cop catching a Mexican trying to cross the border illegally, and then raping them as payment for letting them cross, is considered erotic. The lesbian therapist, activist, and researcher Melissa Farley writes in her essay “10 Lies About Sadomasochism: “My silence about lesbian sadomasochism ended when I saw two anti Semitic sadomasochists at a women’s festival. One woman who wore a yarmulke was being walked like a dog with a chain around her neck by a woman in Nazi ‘leathers.’”

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BDSM and Homophobia: Gay bashing is considered erotic. Homophobes raping gay men as punishment is considered erotic. Homophobes raping lesbian women to show them that ‘all they need is some good cock to go straight’ is considered erotic. Hateful, hurtful slurs like ‘fag’ and ‘dyke’ are considered erotic.

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BDSM and Ableism: There is a big ‘demand’ amongst doms/sadists for disabled people. Amputee fetishism is huge. Wheelchair fetishism is also quite popular. What is considered erotic is the helplessness of the disabled person. Of course it is not at all sick or immoral to be sexually attracted to disabled people. But that’s when this is a true attraction based on the person’s humanity, and the disabled person’s helplessness is not eroticized. In fact, a respectful attraction recognizes that disabled people are not helpless. Fetishization of disability is very different from genuine, respectful sexual attraction. Fetishization objectifies the disabled person and enjoys thinking of them as helpless and perhaps even in pain. 

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BDSM and Classism/Capitalism: The boss sexually harassing an employee is erotic. The boss giving the employee an ultimatum: either I rape you or hire you, is erotic. The ‘man of the house’ verbally abusing and spanking the maid is considered erotic. The purchasing of sex, using money to rent the control and ownership of another human being, to turn a human being into a commodity, is considered erotic.

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BDSM and Ageism: There is a category of BDSM called ‘age play’. The dom/sadist stays in the adult role and the sub pretends to be a child. Child molestation is considered erotic. Incest is considered erotic. Parents or adult authorities physically beating or verbally abusing their children is considered erotic. Parents dominating and controlling their children is considered erotic. The geriatric nurse assaulting or raping the elder is considered erotic.

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As mentioned, it tends to be the norm to approve of BDSM  amongst progressives, feminists, hipsters, and those living in major urban centers in the ‘West’. Approval of BDSM sends the message that dominance is ok, that wanting to dominate and degrade others is ok. It validates the sick desires (if not the actions) of those interested in engaging in BDSM type acts without consent.

For example, think how much less ashamed wannabe child molesters would feel if they know that society approves of the BDSM scenario of "age play", where one adult pretends to be a child getting molested by the other adult. Is it not a mixed message to send that sexually abusing a child is wrong, but the fantasy and desire to do so is unproblematic? Wannabe child molesters are more likely to become real child molesters if they receive such mixed messages. 

There are already many cultural forces influencing people to abuse others. Do we really need to add to this?

The desire of batterers to rule over their partners, and to subdue their partners with violence, is also validated. Again, they may not receive approval for their abusive actions, but the message is sent that the desire to rule over someone else, and to hurt them if they are disobedient, is unproblematic. We all know that the first step to overcoming a problem is to admit that we have one. How likely will batterers be to admit their desire to dominate is sick, if society is sending the message that it’s not?

And on the other side of things, batterers can tell themselves that their partners don’t mind being controlled and hurt: “She doesn’t mind it. I heard lots of women like being treated this way, anyways. It gets them off.”

Do we really need to be giving abusers any more ways to excuse their behaviour?

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Just because BDSM involves role-play and fantasy does not mean that it should be beyond critique. The claim that people into BDSM can keep a rigid separation between their sexual desires and their behavior in their daily social interactions is unlikely. People who enjoy acting out sexual fantasies of victimization and domination have absorbed and internalized the sickness of this world. The vast majority of them will never attempt to act out these sexual fantasies non-consensually, but one has to wonder to what degree their interactions with others, relationships, choices, political opinions, etc. carry echoes of their sexual interests -- even if ever so subtly.

Again I will quote from Melissa Farley’s article “Ten Lies About Sadomasochism”:

“The sadistic sexual relationship sets the tone for the rest of the relationship. Submitting and giving in during a disagreement, for example becomes a sexualized act. And real physical violence can and does occur as a natural extension of the inequality of the sexual relationship. Hitting someone is usually a sadistic act. Assault and rape do occur in lesbian relationships - and they are normalized by the patterns laid down sexually.”

These dynamics do not just leak into how a dom/sub couple treats each other outside the bedroom. It can also leak out into how they interact with others in the community. Would not sexual doms/sadists be more likely to treat others in a way that is controlling, dominating, rude, authoritarian, narcissistic, self-absorbed, without compassion, even subtly or blatantly abusive? And what about subs? Would they not be more likely to accepts harmful mistreatment in real life? To be passive in the face of oppression because they feel falsely empowered through submission rather than truly empowered through resistance? Melissa Farley writes:

“Sadomasochism has everything to do with sexism, racism and class in the real world. It is very much related to internalized self-hatred. One Samois member wrote:” To be a good bottom [masochist], to please my mistress, is a very powerful feeling. Those lessons I have learned in my bed, I can take into other aspects of my life and see how that makes me powerful…to enjoy every moment of what I’m doing.” (Linden et al., 1982)”

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It is harmful for people who have an authoritarian role or personality in “real life” to engage in BDSM in the role of a dom/sadist.

The desire to dominate, degrade, and hurt others usually comes from a person’s own psychological wounds. People who are into BDSM are more likely to have been abused, especially during childhood. And abuse teaches victims that relationships can only be hierarchal, can only be between dominator and dominated, abuser and victim. Or even without abuse, the experience of living in a racist patriarchal capitalism is enough to teach these lessons and do psychological damage.

There is an internal sense of helplessness which they seek to repress by dominating others. There is an internal sense of fear of victimization that they seek to repress by becoming an aggressor. There is an internal sense of worthlessness that they seek to repress with a front of grandiosity and infallibility. This dominating, aggressive role is acted out sexually and consensually in BDSM, but may also be enacted outside of the bedroom in relationships with others in the community. As I said in section 12, those who are sexually aroused by domination and sadism are more likely to be prone to treating others in a way that is controlling, dominating, rude, authoritarian, narcissistic, selfish, without compassion, even subtly or blatantly abusive.

These people are in serious need of healing. They are in serious need of understanding that power need not be about power imbalance; that there is such thing as healthy power that is shared in relationships of equality; that you don’t need to have power over someone else to have power within yourself.

Acting in the role of a dom/sadist prevents such healing, and it prevents such lessons from being learned. It just deepens old wounds and reinforces old lessons. And it may also strengthen personality traits that make these people prone towards controlling, rude, selfish, uncompassionate, even abusive behavior in “real life”. Whether their subs are acting as obedient slaves or as unwilling victims, it is reinforced to the dom/sadist that others have no legitimate feelings, and only his/her own feelings matter.

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It is harmful for people who in “real life” are insecure, submissive, or have low self-esteem, to engage in BDSM in the role of a sub/masochist.

As with the desire to act in the role of the dom/sadist, the desire to act in the role of the sub comes from psychological wounds. As mentioned, those into BDSM are more likely to have been abused, especially in childhood. And even if they were not abused, the experience of living in a racist patriarchal capitalism is enough to do psychological damage and to teach us that relationships are by definition hierarchal.

The particular psychological wounds which attract someone to the role of a sub vary. Therapist and trauma specialist Judith Herman, on page 56 of her book “Trauma and Recovery”, points out that the desire to be coupled with someone who is dominant might be due to a sense of extreme helplessness and fear. Thus, there is a desire to be with a partner who they perceive as "strong" and in control.

Another reason might a sense of internalized shame and self-hatred and thus a sense of needing to be punished.

Another reason is a sense of worthlessness that makes them doubt that anyone could ever truly love them. They thus believe someone can only love them if they’re an obedient slave. A sense of worthlessness can also create a fear of abandonment. And what better way to guarantee you won’t be abandoned if you are owned by a master?

There are many other such reasons that could be listed, but in all cases there is a link to psychological wounds.

These people are also in desperate need of healing. Yet taking on the role of sub just perpetuates or even deepens their psychological wounds.

In terms of self-esteem, how can it help their self-esteem to be called insulting names? To be hit and hurt? To be ordered around? To act out scenarios of rape in which their pleas of “No!” or “Stop!” are ignored?   

In terms of fears of abandonment, how can this be healed by sexual role playing where approval is dependent on submission? How will they ever learn to believe that someone can love them for who they are as a separate individual with their own desires and opinions, if they have only experienced love for being a submissive or a slave?

In terms of a sense of helplessness, how does it help them to heal when they are being ordered around as a slave? Or, at the more benign end, being pampered and ‘taken care of’ as if they are a pet (so long as they are a ‘good’ and obedient pet)? Both are forms of control and domination. Both reinforce their sense of helplessness and incompetence and fear of taking control of their own life. A healthy, healing relationship would be one in which their partner encouraged them to exercise their agency, to be free and take self-control, both inside and outside the bedroom. Allowing them to act as a sub may keep these subs inside of a zone that feels safe and comfortable, but it does not encourage them to grow and become independent and confident. It stifles their confidence. It teaches them that the only way they can be powerful is by merging with their all-powerful, god-like dom. 

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When critics of BDSM draw attention to the ways that a person with low self-esteem and insecurity has these issues reinforced by acting in the role of a sub, the defenders of BDSM are quick to point out that people with low self-esteem and insecurity sometimes take on the role of the dom/sadist. They claim that it is healing and liberating for an insecure person to act as a BDSM dom/sadist. They claim that this can help such people gain confidence and self-esteem.

But acting in the role of a dom/sadist does not heal any wounds. These wounds were caused in the first place by an oppressive, hierarchal society and sometimes also by abuse. In both cases the lesson learned are that relationships are inherently hierarchal. And acting in the role of a dom/sadist reinforces this lesson, and it teaches that the only solution to powerlessness is to become a dominator of others.

I will repeat what I wrote in section 13, as the same thing applies here: These people are in serious need of healing. They are in serious need of understanding that power need not be about power imbalance; that there is such thing as healthy power that is shared in relationships of equality; that you don’t need to have power over someone else to have power within yourself.

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When critics of BDSM draw attention to the ways that the submissive role reinforces low self-esteem and insecurity, the defenders of BDSM are quick to point out that some subs are actually powerful people in “real life”, even cocky and authoritarian.  Many of them are men in positions of authority such as the CEO of a big company. For the sake of convenience, I will refer to these people as “CEO subs”, although I recognize that many of these powerful, confident subs are not CEOs.

Defenders of BDSM argue that “CEO subs” are just looking for an escape from the burdens and pressures of authority. They claim that by acting out the role of sub, they get to experience a type of freedom – that is, freedom from responsibility.

But is this a benign escape? By definition, “CEO subs” have positions of authority in “real life”, and often have dominating and authoritarian personalities. And we know that authority is often oppressive. The boss, the patriarch, the banker, the politician. The most famous “CEO sub” was Hitler, the genocidal dictator. Do we really want to take the pressure off people in authoritarian roles like this? Isn’t that just enabling them?

The fact that some “CEO subs” are attracted to the sub role for the aforementioned reason proves that hierarchy is destructive to both the oppressed and the oppressor. Of course the oppressed are much more wounded by these dynamics, but it seems that even the oppressors suffer to a degree. If oppressing others wasn’t dehumanizing and destructive to the oppressors, then why would we find “CEO subs” who are looking for escape?

But there are multiple reasons a “CEO sub” might be attracted to the sub role. Another reason is to escape the guilt they might feel for oppressing others in “real life” – either obedient subordinates (workers, etc.) or unwilling victims (abused children, etc.). “CEO subs” act out scenarios where they experience subordination and degradation as pleasurable. Through this they can convince themselves that those who they subordinate in “real life” don’t really suffer. That in fact they may enjoy their subordinated position. By experiencing the fantasy of subordination as pleasurable, they distance themselves from feeling any real empathy for the brutal reality of subordination that people experience. They can narcissistically project their own pleasure onto their real life subordinates, and those overlook the actual pain of these people. Guilt becomes unnecessary.

The role of “CEO sub” is even harmful to the person who enacts this role. The tendency of the “CEO sub” to be a cocky, dominating, authoritarian person in “real life” is a result of the same psychological wounds described in section 13. I will quote from that section to make my point:

There is an internal sense of helplessness which they seek to repress by dominating others. There is an internal sense of fear of victimization that they seek to repress by becoming an aggressor. There is an internal sense of worthlessness that they seek to repress with a front of grandiosity and infallibility

And, as stated in section 14, acting in the role of a sub just perpetuates and deepens a person’s feelings of helplessness, fears of victimization, and low self-esteem. Therefore, BDSM prevents the healing of, and does further harm to, “CEO subs”.

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Given the psychological wounds and previous traumas that people carry into BDSM, the presence of “free choice” should be critiqued, even if the presence of “consent” is not denied. “Free choice” is an idea promoted by ultra-libertarians and post-modernists who don’t recognize the profound impact that society, culture, and our personal life experiences have on shaping everything about who we are. Does the victim of child sexual abuse, who has been taught that she is worthless and that her sexuality is degraded, freely choose a life as a prostitute or porn actress?*** Does the war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder freely choose to drink to oblivion everyday? Do people who have been raised in a racist, patriarchal, capitalist, pseudo-democratic society “freely choose” to act out sexualized scenarios of domination, degradation, oppression, and abuse?

*** In a study of 200 San Francisco prostitutes, 85% reported being sexually abused during childhood. (Farley et al., Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder; 2003.)

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Even if the issue of consent is not called into question, a critique of BDSM looks beyond the issue of consent to the issue of harm. Because that is what participants of BDSM are consenting to – the harming of themselves and their partners. (The ways in which BDSM is harmful to participants was briefly explained in numbers 13 – 16.)

How many women in the past, and even today, are “happily married” to controlling patriarchs – truly believing that it is a woman’s natural place to be ruled over by a man? This is a consensual relationship. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s a sexist, unjust relationship.

Often kids consent to physical abuse as punishment from their parents. They believe and say: “I deserved it. I was bad. They hit me because they love me and want me to learn right from wrong.” But this doesn’t change that they are victims of physical abuse. True, they are under age, and so can’t consent to be hit. But there are even some adults in abusive relationships who say and believe similar things.

BDSM defenders might argue that not only is there consent, but there is also pleasure – whereas in the above examples there is not. But there is also pleasure experienced in smoking crack. And much like a crack addict consenting to purchase crack from a dealer, consensual practice of BDSM can still be destructive to participants. It may be that they mean no harm, and it may even be that they care about their partner’s wellbeing very much. Yet both doms/sadists and subs/masochists are perpetuating or even deepening their own wounds and each other’s wounds, just as drug dealers do when they consensually sell drugs to an addict, or when the addict consents to injecting heroin.

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And there are also predatory doms/sadists who knowingly take advantage of subs/masochists. They prey on those with low self-esteem and do not care that they perpetuate and deepen the damage.

These doms/sadists are consciously manipulative, and calculatingly exploitative. They purposely seek out subs with low self-esteem, who have been abused in childhood, because they know that people like this are more likely to want to sexually act out their self-hatred in the form of BDSM. They also know that people like this are so insecure that they expect to be rejected and abandoned by loved ones, and so they can be easily persuaded (manipulated) into “consenting” to BDSM – for fear that if they don’t, their partner would leave them, and then who else would ever want to love them? (And even when doms/masochists aren’t trying to be manipulative, many of those in the sub/masochist role only consent out of fear of abandonment.)

These types of doms/sadists tend to be extra turned on by the low self-esteem of the sub, and turned on by the knowledge that they are deepening these self-esteem wounds.

Defenders of BDSM deny that these predatory doms exist, or that if they do exist they are a tiny minority who are condemned by the rest of the BDSM community. But there is evidence that these predatory doms, though perhaps they are a minority, are not a small one. Many of the personal ads on CraigsList for doms seekings subs are clearly posted by predatory doms. Here’s just one example which I am including not because it’s the worst I could find but because it’s so short:

http://toronto.en.craigslist.ca/tor/cas/1025196474.html

Hit and Run - m4w - 29 (downtown)

Reply to: pers-1025196474@craigslist.org
Date: 2009-02-07, 4:38PM EST

Rough, sexist prick wants to treat you like daddy used to.

You must be clear about your wants and needs, and be fragile and feminine.

Reply XXX

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Approval of BDSM by progressives is counter to our overall goal of an egalitarian, classless, casteless, and truly democratic society. We should see BDSM as a symptom of the lack of such a society, and like any other such symptom, we should mourn it, not defend it or celebrate it.

24 comments:

  1. Hmmm... I was half-expecting to encounter NEW arguments against BDSM; arguments that hadn’t already been numerously ridiculed/refuted by scientists and Feminists (such as the classic idea that creative sexual practices are generated via institutionalised oppression. Honestly, that gets me every time. ) However, I guess I was wrong.

    Then again, how do I expect sensibility from someone who correlates Feminism/Sex Positive attitudes with the destruction of regulated, trust-based sexual activity between two consenting adults.

    On the other hand, this could be seamlessly utilized as a paradigm for the word “conjecture”.

    ReplyDelete
  2. First off, I want to thank the author of this blog for providing a well written intelligent critique of BDSM. I agree with pretty much everything in the article. Unfortunately my enthusiasm for the article was followed by an immediate sigh of disappointment after reading the comment.

    It is a typical response of fetish enthusiasts to dismiss all criticisms as ignorance. It is a shame that some people can be so blinded by their sex drives that they refuse to take a critical look at the dynamics behind it.
    Please post an article of where these arguments have been "refuted by scientists". The only scientific study I've found that relates to BDSM practices has to do with biochemistry. The only thing this proves is that there is a pleasure response that comes from feeling pain. It says nothing about the root cause or adverse affects of the psychological aspects of BDSM. It can also be scientifically proven that there is a pleasure response from taking narcotics, but that doesn't mean that they can't be potentially addictive and harmful. Just because something feels good does not guarantee that is is good for you.

    I wonder what you find so amusing about "the classic idea that creative sexual practices are generated via institutionalised oppression", seeing as how much of these "creative" sexual practices are direct simulations of said oppression. I wonder where the "creative" practices of sexual slavery, abuse, and punishment come from. Do you think people would have these "creative" ideas if they didn't grow up in a culture where they were so abundant and ingrained into us? I know there are other practices, but those are some of the more popular ones.

    I used to be somewhat into BDSM myself, but rather than just accepting the fact that I was aroused by these things without question I stopped to think about why. The reasonings in this article are pretty spot on for myself, and for many others I've come across. It's a "natural" response to the conditions we live in. It's a release, an escape. BDSM enthusiasts are reluctant to examine their fetishes from a cultural and psychological perspective, because they don't want to give up what makes them feel good. I don't think anyone should be forced to give anything up, I just think more people should be open to examining the deeper reasoning behind it rather than just dismissing those attempting to do so in a sensible fashion without demonizing you.

    I personally feel that examination and reflection of self should take priority. I don't necessarily think everyone who is into it should stop - I just think they should examine it further, and I don't think it should be so glorified and encouraged in future generations. If everyone involved in BDSM let down their defenses and actually examined it, it doesn't mean that everyone would or should stop altogether. I think it would weed out some of the more damaging aspects, and those who still want to participate would be more consciously able to separate the temporary roles they play in their sex life from the rest of their life. Many will say that they already do, but I don't always find this to be the case. The subculture is saturated with psychologically damaged people. Humanity as a whole is psychologically damaged, and BDSM is just one outlet for it. It's just a powerful one that comes with subtle adverse effects if not sufficiently examined.

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  3. @.... whoever you are with that long, ugly number instead of a screen name.

    I learned a long time ago to not expect other people to adhere, align themselves to or otherwise even give a damn about my own views and moral code. It makes for much less disappointment in life.

    The author's opinions are... her opinions. Or, as the first commenter noted, really just regurgitated musings - nothing new here. Is the author right in her stated opinions? I dunno... maybe? I guess? Does it matter?

    My girl and I have a relationship that works for us. We're happy with what we have built and are comfortable with it. I guarantee you that neither of us give a tinker's damn about this one person's opinions no matter how carefully couched in non-offensive words it is.

    Perhaps the author sees submissives and bottoms as mindless victims with doms and tops as abusers who found a willing victim. Frankly I have encountered BD, SM and BDSM relationships that are pretty much just like that. But not, by a long shot, all of them including mine. She is no mindless doll by any means but rather a college-educated, strong woman who is doing very well in her field. You would never know from meeting her that she has a decided kink (or several). More to the point, it isn't anyone's business, is it?

    What two or more consenting adults do together behind closed doors is no one's business. Period. At all. Keep your morals and opinions to yourself; they're not wanted or appreciated.

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  4. Thank you for giving voice to what I haven't yet been able to articulate. Reading this has been very helpful to me personally and intellectually. I'm a gay man who has BDSM desires... I know they just do not feel right or in line with my beliefs about myself and human dignity and equality. Thank you.

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    1. Well the days you need to define what is right and wrong from the opinion of other, is the days you forfeit your intelligence. if you have desire, talk to a neutral sexologist. By all means don't buries you feeling deep inside because of some 20th century feminist and leftist trend. time and ideas change. what might be tought to be acceptable or unacceptable right now will probably be very different in a hundred years.
      I is more important to live your life in accordance to who you really are that to please others.

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    2. Because feeling aroused at the perceived devaluation of another human being is a positive human attribute.

      Not.

      Humans are inherently cruel and selfish. Society sets us up to ignore these unfortunate tendencies. BDSM is just another way to channel the urge to inflict violence and cruelty on others.

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  5. "Those who defend BDSM often claim that those who are critical of BDSM are similar to homophobes who take a moral stance against homosexual or ‘queer’ sexual attraction and activity. This is a preposterous comparison which offends many queer people who are critical of BDSM, including myself. Homosexuality is erotic desire towards those of the same sex. BDSM is erotic desire towards fantasies of domination, degradation, violence, abuse, oppression, or slavery. There is a world of difference between the two. "

    Honestly... Bullshit. there is a difference because you see one. You focus so much on opression that you can't make the difference bettewn make play with limits and consentment, and unwanted practice.

    you cannot take a opinion and make it as fact. for as long as i remember i've liked bdsm. never got abuse or whatever. it's an easy rhetoric to say that it's all society fault. sometime it's just different brain wiring. So if you discriminate or disagree about a different lifestyle, a least don't hide yourself behind a flag of righteousness. it is really just pure intolerance, incomprehension and questionable knowledge about the facts and serious medical study on the subject. Just so you know, they found out in California that amateur of that lifestyle, where among the most stables people psychologically. The reason stated that instead of hiding our true nature, we lived it which resulted in a more balance life, and a greater acceptance of self and surrounding individual. no mater how different they are.

    Your is sadly just a poor rhetoric of yet another judgement issue, and a fight from your part to instigate a unified mentality.
    You are not bringing new argument, you are barely trying to substitute your vision to the acceptable one.

    You can't just say no i'm not bdsmphobic. this is just something that can be defined by yourself. it's the person on the receiving end that has the right to say so. Personnaly

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    1. "BDSM is erotic desire towards fantasies of domination, degradation, violence, abuse, oppression, or slavery."

      Why would someone want to degrade another human being?

      When you get down to it, it's ugly. I don't have to respect it. I won't.

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  6. I am a college ediucated, mom of 3 successful kids, that is in a TPE O/p relationship with a man that loves me. We are not into any pain. Period or degrading sex i am traeted w respect. He is the closest thing to a real father ive had, im 48 and hes 37. He has healed my low self esteem by owning me . I am 100% loved for life. And i am his property. So, you are wrong.

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  7. I loved your post. It expressed things I had been trying to say for a very long time.

    After years of fantasizing about BDSM I finally entered the "scene" last year. And the more I practiced it the more it became clear to me that what I was doing was sick.

    I'm a pansexual, atheist queer person. I have no moral objections to anything sexual. I love kinky sex and I'm always ready to explore. I love role-playing ... but unlike what BDSM enthusiasts would like us to believe, BDSM isn't about role-playing ... it is a lifestyle - a lifestyle where someone consents to being secondary and inferior to his/her partner. I find that hard to agree to.

    There's a lot of hypocrisy in how BDSM enthusiasts project BDSM to the vanilla world and how they really practice it. If you browse through the Master Slave groups on Fetlife, you'll see Slaves feeling guilty for not being "good enough" for their Masters. This is not about "empowering" anyone, but about sexualizing low self-esteem.

    You're very correct in questioning the premise of consent and free will in such cases. And not everything that gives us pleasure is good for us in the long run.

    Thank you for writing this.

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  8. @Candy, Black Helvetica, CeilingClimber,long number person and the author: thanks for voicing what I couldn't. I have some critique of BDSM on my website and people are getting up in arms about it. It's driving me nuts. I think wise people should question things, even things they like. You never know if what you like could be harmful.

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  9. The person who wrote this blog has shown them selves for exactly what they are... INTOLERANT...
    Your generalizations and half facts that you think you know about this lifestyle choice is both Ignorant and judgmental... The next blog you write will most likely be on some boorish topic like how women who choose to be full time mothers are wasting there life and are pathetic for being subservient to the father of their children and how dare they be proud of the role they have chosen.
    Some people are followers it is that simple. Not everyone wants or needs to be in control so they seek someone they can trust to be that leader and guide in their life. And there is nothing wrong with that.
    Contrary to your belief not everyone is capable of being equal in a relationship because they simply do not wish to.
    Your hatred of BDSM come i feel from a place of trust issues and the unwillingness to accept that someone can be happy serving someone or something else. And putting the feelings and needs of another before there own. I feel sad for you and the bitter life you must lead.
    I also feel your views are more political than grounded in actual life exp. you demand the right to judge everyone but then you do not give the same to others around you. You do not have to like, agree, or live this lifestyle to be able to see that it has its dangers but it also has its beauty.
    For us there is nothing more sacred and cherished than a sub/slave in our lifestyle. They give us what we as Dominants crave (control) in a safe sane consensual environment.
    And in return they get from us guidance, protection, and nurturing. It is a POWER EXCHANGE. It is not something that is taken by force.
    I am pretty sure all of this has fallen on deaf ears but hopefully someone out there looking for this type of life will read on and see the comments from me and others and be given a fresh look and see they are not alone and we will welcome them into this wonderful lifestyle choice.

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  10. common.. how is culture built? do you really think that capitalism is the source of oppression and bdsm a sort of outcome or outlet provoked by our sociological environment. Isn't it rather a human tendency to dominate others that is actually a sign of vitality. I think you're right in many points but you make it seem like bdsm people are conditioned into what they desire rather than believing in a "polymorph-perverse" individual.

    sorry if my english sucks.. I'm just trying

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  11. BDSM
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    Thanks for the lovely blog post..I really like this blog post..thanks for sharing with us..

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  12. I'm glad that I stumbled into this post. I agree, in general, that BDSM is a negative, not a positive; however, the obvious anti-white racialism and anti-male sexism sentiment in some of the arguments takes away from, otherwise, sound reasoning.

    As I said, I think BDSM plays on negative human qualities, nevertheless, it is as one person said—Whatever consenting adults agree to engage in is their own business—But, to be fair, I don't think the poster of this article is disagreeing with that. Point number 2 states:

    "We do not believe that the state should outlaw BDSM practices between consenting adults. We do seek to critique, raise public consciousness, and change the social conditions which socialize some people into finding BDSM sexy."

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  13. My own version of criticism of BDSM is careful not to speak over the voices of submissive-identified people. For that reason, I will mention something stated in #14.

    " In terms of self-esteem, how can it help their self-esteem to be called insulting names? To be hit and hurt? To be ordered around? To act out scenarios of rape in which their pleas of “No!” or “Stop!” are ignored? "

    Submissive-identified people have answered this question before in many ways, and their answers are just not as simple as the ones you lay out. It makes me wonder if you have actually researched and spoken with many submissives while crafting this critique. It is not necessary to erase the voices of submissives in order to make a point about BDSM. The point can still be made, and it can be made by pointing to the enacted desires of dominants as abusive. Submissives do not need to be simplified into mute victims in order to accomplish this.

    A bit of research would have shown you, for example, that some submissives enjoy enacting controlled fantasies of being hurt in order to process past abuse in a new way. The abuse is relived, but this time the situation is different; the submissive is actually in control. The triggers can potentially be worked through, the fears allayed by a rewriting of the power script.

    To criticize BDSM does not mean these submissives cannot seek their therapeutic, if intense, sexual experiences; it simply means that they must strenuously avoid people who identify as Dominants and seek erotic gratification from the hurt caused to submissives. They can instead prioritize their needs and desires and seek these services from someone who wishes to provide them for the submissive's sake, such as another submissive.

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  14. Part of self reflection is an acceptance of who you are and what makes you, you. I am in a 24/7 Master/slave relationship and am very happy. I am a more self confident and positive person in my day to day life (work, family, friends, ect), and I am in a wonderful relationship with a man who respects my needs and desires (as I do his) who I consider my partner, my friend, my lover, and to whom I have given the authority in our relationship. I trust him, and I trust that the decisions he ultimately makes consider the wellbeing and safety of us both. I get to be me, including my kinks - BDSM and otherwise, and we explore in a safe and consensual environment. Neither of us would want to do these things with someone who had no interest in it. Our end pleasures might differ a bit, but mutual pleasure and benefit is vital - as it should be even in non or less kinky relationships. I suppose I could try to analyze my desire to submit (I take after my mom in being far too analytical at times and have the ability to overthink things to the point of detriment - this is a habit I am working on breaking) - but I find I am in a happy place doing something that I have desired for much of my life; we force no one else into our choices; we are educated and informed about the way we play; life has improved all around; and I have a partner that I connect with in a way that I've never had an opportunity to connect with anyone else on that level. I don't see a need to do so. This is self reflection - I understand what I need and desire and I am allowing myself to experience that in a way that is beneficial to me.

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  15. I know this is an old post but having just read it, I had to comment. Section 10a - BDSM & Sexism- Why is there no mention of women as the dominant? Do we not exist? Where have you gathered your evidence from? ONLINE PORN? If so, this is not a representation of BDSM in reality or in the scene.

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  16. I know this is an old post but having just read it, I had to comment. Section 10a - BDSM & Sexism- Why is there no mention of women as the dominant? Do we not exist? Where have you gathered your evidence from? ONLINE PORN? If so, this is not a representation of BDSM in reality or in the scene.

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  17. Once again, the argument devolves into whatever the writer likes is defined as good, wholesome, life affirming. Whatever the writer dislikes is bad, perverse, life denying. Get on the wrong side of the arbitrarily defined line in the sand and the writer will feel completely justified in telling you how to live your life and pigeonholing you into their own personal categories of saved and damned.

    The thought that what might work perfectly well for one person or time or situation, might be completely and wildly inappropriate for the next person or time or situation is never considered. That is a thought far too messy and inconvenient to fit with the author's worldview of neatly categorized and boxed up people.

    Fuzzy and bigoted lack of thinking at its worst.

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  18. Fully accepting the idea that using violent historical imagery hedonistically and that the entire practice of fetishizing oppression in various forms is extremely problematic whether in kink or conventional media, I believe that kink is both a symptom of and a tool for combatting oppression. Before I go into that, the aspects of this blogs argument which severely lack support are the realationship between a fetish and its "leeching out into real life" or that participating in the fetish increases those traits in a person. Just the opposite could be true. Embodying the kinds of scripts most poignant to you (I find it is often scenarios that the sub deeply fears or desires that the dom is deeply ashamed of) with someone you trust and in a context that encourages mutual consent and dialogue can help people address those intense 'wounds.' Your argument that the practice of these forms of problematic scenes

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    1. encourages the real world counterparts and that we shouldn't allow people to accept their own deviant desires is wrong and harmful. Repressing shameful knowledge about your nature is not dealing with it. Likewise, kinksters who shut down about the problems of representation and oppression that they play with regularly are refusing to be accountable or to serve the ethos of their community which is radical consent, yes pleasure, but also penitence, reflection, conversation, and the reclaimation of abuse from abusers. I believe that partiicpating in roles, especially those which relate directly to your lived experience or assuming a role of a group which holds institutional power over you grants you an embodied, emotional, psychological understanding of the ways oppression and power have fundamentally shaped you. Consciously, many people choose to sweep thoughts about oppression under the rug, but in participation in your kink, you can understand the hidden relationship between power/powerlessness and pleasure or gratification that informs your behavior. Kink allowed me to understand that I have an intense desire to submit, in spite of being an assertice and successful woman, a

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    2. passionate advocate for radical equality, self-determination, honest dialogue, and justice in what ever form it may ever be achieved- I found that the oppressive blows leveled at me throughout my life would up hidden away in my sexuality, the most private and emotionally alive place to keep them without showing anyone that they impacted me. For years I dated men who exerted a non-consensual form of my kink. It wasn't until engaging with BDSMers that I understood why and instead met people with kind, just, fair hearts. And complementary kinks. Whether you are into age play or you secretly need to be punished, BDSM allows you to explore, understand, and satisfy your desires in a space where it is safe and consensual, allowing you to take a proactive stance about its real-world effects. Saying that there are abusive people in the kink community is an invalid argument unless you can show that there are MORE abusive people that in the general population. I think that, if you are talking about public performances or playing roles that are not a part of your history are inherently problematic. Public BDSM should only occur in spaces where people are forwarned about the content. I think its is always in poor taste to see racist, etc scenes. If you are performing the role of a subjugated group such as scenes from the holocaust or jim crow America (which I have never seen in my community, personally. I do see age play, coercive sex, and serial killer fantasies. That is about the extent.) I think that the participants must examine what the source of the fetish is. White guilt? Wounds? Fear? Maybe nothing identifiable. They should use the relief that its expression gives them to do the hard work of considering the difference between this fantasy and the lived reality would be. They should research the history and impacts of the events. I believe and pray that BDSM will be a defense mechanism and microscopic space to confess guilt and fear so that we can breath and undertake the difficult journey of DOING something about real oppression. I that someday, no one eroticizes opression, but that doesn't mean this practice cannot be a valuable tool.

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  19. We are all products of nature and nurture. Yes bdsm can be harmful....yes that is what people like about it...but what seems to be overlooked is the fact that childhood abuse is an inescapable situation of overwhelming stress that leads to severe psychological damage. BDSM is more of an adult situation that requires communication and limitations. Yes people may be retraumatizing themselves.... but it is in a situation that is very different. It might be a stepping stone in people healing journey....reexperiencing something awful in a safe way that no longer scares you and instead helps you develop trust with another human being. I cannot for the life of me understand why people enjoy this lifestyle but i sure am not going to judge them. Besides there are way more dangerous things than what two consenting adults do in privacy.

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