Lessons of BDSM

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by Randall S. Frederick

With so much attention directed towards BDSM and consent in the last three years because of Fifty Shades of Grey and a series of high-profile cases of rape on college campuses, several social inventions have been proposed. Some feel that public dialogue over sex should be done away with entirely in the belief that talking about sex will lead to more sex – the root of the problem. Others feel that sexual education should begin at an earlier age, like in Sweden, where issues of consent and respect for privacy are developed over a lifetime. Specifically, Kathryn R. Klement of Northern Illinois University believes discussing BDSM in high school sexual education courses may help facilitate important conversations and capitalize on familiar topics in the media.

Researchers at Northern Illinois University grouped participants into three categories: college students, general public, and members of the BDSM community. They found that BDSM communities with “cultures of consent” held significantly lower rape-supportive beliefs compared to the college undergraduates and the general public. “BDSM culture is built around affirmative consent norms, including talking about and negotiating a scene way beforehand,” said Klement, a co-author of the study. “It’s about not just seeing sexual consent as an on-off switch—yes or no—but as a continuous process.”

The study included different mix ages and genders, and participants answered whether they agreed with statements such as “When girls go to parties wearing slutty clothes, they are asking for trouble,” and “Many women have a quality of purity that few men possess.” The results showed that the kink community had significantly lower levels of benevolent sexism (using sexist stereotypes to give women backhanded compliments, for example), rape myth acceptance, and victim blaming compared to members of the general public recruited online, as well as to college students who took the survey for class credit. There is reason to believe, the study puts forward, that those who have knowledge of BDSM’s core principles of consent and focused aggression (i.e. sado-masochistic tendencies) are better equipped to clarify and differentiate otherwise blurred lines. Additionally, the study found that those who practiced BDSM were more likely to understand the complexity of victim-blaming narratives.

Another poll backs this up. According to a large survey of BDSM practitioners conducted by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) in 2012, at least 85% of respondents endorsed statements like “a person can revoke consent at any time,” “consent should be an ongoing discussion in a relationship,” and “clear, overt consent must be given before a scene.” Over 93% of respondents endorsed the statement “consent is not valid when coerced.”

To test whether individuals in the sadomasochist world held fewer rape-supportive beliefs, the researchers at Northern Illinois asked them whether they agreed with a number of victim-blaming statements, like “if a girl goes to a room alone with a guy at a party, it is her fault if she is raped” and “rape happens when a guy’s sex drive goes out of control.” They also measured how respondents felt about sexual aggression being used in various scenarios, like if a man was stoned, drunk, or so turned on that he “couldn’t stop.”

“A sex education program [with information about BDSM],” Klement says, “Would help people understand what’s consensual and what’s not.” Kinky participants had a healthier understanding of sex and consent than the other two groups. A whopping 84% of BDSM respondents said wearing “slutty clothes” isn’t asking for trouble, compared to only 45% of adults who participated via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk system. Kinky participants were also less likely than the college students to support sexism or stereotypes that misrepresent women as weak and in need of male protection. “It’s not assumed [in the BDSM community] that just because she’s a woman that she wants to be submissive,” or is incapable of handling herself, Klement avered. Pointing to the misconception that BDSM is all about violence, or that kink communities celebrate unhealthy sexual desires, “These results fly in the face of stereotypes about BDSM.”

Finally, Klement says that the greatest lesson to be learned from the study of BDSM is that of affirmative consent, where yes means yes, partners ask about specific acts rather an assume it is okay until they are told to stop, that consent can be withdrawn at any time and for any reason, and that because of the heightened nature of danger and role-play (which can often confuse or subdue otherwise clear minds) practitioners should engage in constant communication through every stage of foreplay, seduction, sex, and aftercare. Some people worry all of the talking could kill the mood, but in reality it can often have the opposite effect. “It’s actually quite sexy to talk about what we want to do beforehand,” She says. “People might be more informed [if they learned from BDSM] and have a better idea of how to handle sexual situations.”

Because of the taboo nature of BDSM, many still do not understand the full extent of the rather broad and generalized umbrella. They may know that the acronym stands for bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism but multivarients of the acronym group together, overlap, and exclude some quadrants. “DS” could also mean, for example, dominance and submission to the exclusion of bondage, masochism, and sadism. Further, while this may sound like a fringe idea, some expressions of BDSM do not even require a partner. Conventionally, BDSM pornographic materials and literature depicts characters who are one-dimensional in their partnerships, no doubt because the purpose of most S/M-oriented literature is licentious and not concerned with reality. Many individuals, though, have found that they are able to tap into their kinks and repurpose them for self-motivation based on discipline/reward. Many focus their internal dialogue to be both critical for motivation and comforting to boost self-esteem. Perhaps the umbrella or “lifestyle” is confusing to those exploring their kinky side because it is so adaptable and flexible.

In my survey of the lifestyle, I have found that kinksters apply and adapt their sexual interests beyond the bedroom. However, for simplicity, I will be limiting this series to surveying the more familiar sexual aspects. In my experience, BDSM includes the following sexual activities, which I will be discussing over the next few articles.

  • Power
    • Head Trips
    • Role Playing
    • Ageplay
    • Depersonalization
  • Lifestyle D&S
  • Corporeal Punishment
    • Bondage
    • Spanking
    • Whipping
    • Intense Stimulation
  • Body Modification
    • Corsetting
    • Tattooing
    • Piercing
    • Scarification
  • Fetishism
    • Erotic Extremeties
    • Dressing/Costuming for Pleasure
  • Transgenderism
    • Playing with Gender
  • Body Fluids
    • Water Sports
    • Fecal Play

Look forward to the forthcoming articles, where I will be addressing each of this parts of BDSM practice, play, and lifestyle. Until then, Be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Further Reading

 

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