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Fetish or Felony? The Line Between BDSM and Assault

11.14.2017 / Erynn Brook / Entertainment

Kink. Fetish. Fantasy. I’m the most vanilla person I know, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy living vicariously through other’s sexual adventures. BDSM — which stands for bondage/discipline, domination/submission and sadism/masochism — is a catch-all term used to describe sexual relationships with consenting partners that can incorporate all sorts of naughty play. Despite the incredible success of that awful 50 Shades of Grey novel, a lot of confusion about the BDSM community still exists. In fact, their general reputation as deviant and violent makes the BDSM community a common scapegoat for abusive behavior. This has happened in high profile assault cases such as Jian Ghomeshi’s trial in 2016.

Most fascinating about this, to me, is the fact that BDSM is actually built on consent. We could all learn a thing or two (or twelve) from how they approach communication and consent around kinks, fetishes and fantasy. So how is it that a core value of this community is often overlooked when it suits the narrative? And, how does the community feel about it?

“When [the] media excuses abuse as BDSM, people use concepts of BDSM to excuse their abuse.” *P considers the focus on accountability within his community, which is formed around a group of ‘elders’ as a baseline, and places even more personal responsibility on himself to ensure his partner’s consent.

“I think the media legitimizes assault by allowing claims of BDSM to be substantiated — though there are a non-zero amount of instances where someone has done something like that,” P continues. “The discussion would not be so simple: what boundary was crossed, where and how. The media leaves the story out for a rape-culture sound bite. It affects the community and me, because I get more and more people who have been horribly abused, and the only tools they have to work through their trauma (because we don’t have access to therapy) is kink. Which also brings in more predators to those communities, and it’s hard to notice when two people have left and not returned… which creates its own dynamics and issues.”

But what about when lack of consent is part of the kink for some folks?

Take “stealthing” for example, the practice of secretly sabotaging a condom so that it will tear mid-thrust. Part of the discussion in the online forums that promote this “kink” is the thrill of the other person not knowing, all risks aside. “When BDSM and abuse are conflated we get perpetrators and survivors/victims, rather than Doms and Subs,” says P.

I asked *Vanessa what she thought of abusive tactics being presented as BDSM. “Vanilla people being taken advantage of by fuckboys with the excuse of BDSM is common outside of the community,” she explained. When asked what she would say if she could say anything directly to those ‘fuckboys’ or their victims she said: “… An earful! Trying to ‘get’ sex out of someone is abusive behavior. It’s often entitlement issues that make people blind to how much they take advantage of others. Manipulating a situation to get sex is taking advantage of someone. It’s scummy. But consent is sexy. Anyone wanting to try out something more extreme with a partner needs to first discuss those more hardcore ideas/fantasies with consent before taking advantage.”

Everyone I spoke to agreed that lack of consent is abuse. Whether or not that fires someone up is their own personal issue, but the BDSM community responded to my question with a unified voice. They urge newcomers to communicate, be clear with consent and boundaries, and to be safe.

I leave you with this final quote from P: “Consent is mandatory. If there is not full consent, it’s not BDSM: it is rape.”

*All interviewees have been identified by the name of their choice.

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One response to Fetish or Felony? The Line Between BDSM and Assault

  1. William Williams
    11.14.2017

    We all have some kind of fetish, i myself have a pain fetish.Which involves stiletto heels (shoe fetish)