I work at a domestic violence center as a therapist for battered women. I am subjected to horror stories of the abuse that these women have suffered on a daily basis. I listen to them tell me of the control that was exerted over them, the beatings they sustained, and how they hid their bruises from everyone around them. I try to help them free themselves from the confines of someone else’s control, take back the power that has been stripped from them, and assert themselves in their every day life and relationships. I teach them to rid themselves of all the things that I, as a submissive, allow in my life. I, too, know what it is to have someone else exert control over me, to sustain beatings, and to hide my bruises from the people around me. And I’ve been asked how what I allow in my life differs from the abuse that these women have suffered. Why is it that what these women have experienced considered abuse, but what I experience is considered BDSM, when the two entail many of the same actions and dynamics?

And the answer comes down to one simple word: consent. BDSM is consensual. Abuse is not. An abuser gains and exerts power and control over his victim through manipulation, isolation, indimidation, and fear. An abuser beats his victim when she angers him, whether it’s over something big or something small, because that violence reinforces his power and control over her. The violence instills and perpetuates fear in the victim and it’s an abuser’s way of re-establishing his control when he feels it is slipping or reminding his victim of his control to ensure that it doesn’t slip. She has no control over where or when it will happen or how severe the abuse will be. A victim of domestic violence hides her bruises because they are a source of shame and they tell of the dark secret that she keeps about what goes on behind the closed doors of her home. The tenderness she feels for days after an episode of violence are an unwelcome reminder of the beating that she sustained at the hands of her abuser. A victim of domestic violence is broken down, destroyed, and disrespected. She is traumatized, brutalized, and victimized in every way possible.

BDSM occurs between consenting parties*. The Dominant gains and exerts power and control over His submissive because she gives it to him and desires it. A Dominant beats His submissive sometimes as a punishment (which she allows and wants), but also because He knows that she enjoys it. The pain and beatings serve as a means of pleasure and release for both the giver and the receiver. The Dominant gets off on giving the beating and on knowing that his submissive is enjoying the beating. The submissive gets off on receiving the beating and on knowing that her Dominant is enjoying giving the beating. However, she also knows that if it becomes too much or if she wants Him to stop, she only as to utter her safe word and the beating will cease. A submissive hides her bruises because society at large may not understand why she has them or why she wants them, because people might suspect that she is being abused, or because it’s a private part of her life and relationship that she may not care to share with the rest of the world. But those bruises are a source of pride and a pleasant reminder of the events that caused them. The tenderness she feels for days after a rough session are welcomed and enjoyed as a reminder of how lucky she is to have someone in her life to provide these things that she so desires. A submissive is respected, loved, and needed by her Dominant just as much as her Dominant is respected, loved, and needed by her. Her Dominant understands that she enjoys the dynamic of their relationship and desires it; otherwise, it wouldn’t exist. The Dominant understands that He needs His submissive to fulfill His need for domination just as the submissive needs her Dominant to fulfill her need to submit. And both the Dominant and submissive understand that it’s the submissive that holds the true power, for she has the ability to make it all stop just by saying the word. A submissive is completed, fulfilled, and soothed by the Domination.

So while the two things may seem very similar to someone that does not understand the dynamics of abuse and/or BDSM, they really couldn’t be more different. Because BDSM is consensual and abuse is not.

*For simplicity’s sake, I will be using the term Dominant to refer to both Dominants and sadists and submissive to refer to both submissives and masochists. I know that D/s and sadomasochism can exist together or exclusively, and that many BDSM relationship dynamics include different degrees of both, but for the purpose of this discussion I am lumping them together, as I feel that it does not take away from my point. I’m also using male pronouns for the Dominant and female pronouns for the submissive, so that it properly mirrors the paragraph about abuse. However, it’s important to remember that males can be abusers or victims, just as they can be Dominant or submissive. Likewise, females can be victims or abusers, just as they can be submissive or Dominant.

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  1. Sa
    Posted July 16, 2009 at 3:57 am | Permalink

    I'm glad whenever you broach this topic, because I feel ambivalent about BDSM and feminism myself. When I role-played with my ex-boyfriend, I felt less compunction; the man lived with me, knew how I felt about gender roles and his ordering me around in the bedroom had no consequences in our relationship. But now that I am single and that I'm considering casual sex, I don't know how to play it…I've never had casual sex, let alone casual BDSM, which sounds like a contradiction in terms. How can I trust someone if I don't know them well enough? And will my partners respect the fact that I am submissive in bed but assertive in life? Yes, this is a troubling topic to me.

  2. Red
    Posted July 16, 2009 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    The motto of the BDSM Community: Safe, Sane, and Consensual.

    @Sa: you shouldn't play with anyone you don't know and trust…that's when bad things happen. A great way to get to know Kinky people in your area is to join (a free social networking site). Talk first, play later! :D

  3. Nolens Volens
    Posted July 16, 2009 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    I liked what you did with this subject. You're right…you simplified things, but the fact remains the same no matter what anyone says – abuse is not welcome nor tolerated.

  4. perkins
    Posted July 16, 2009 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    When in a new relationship do YOU let your potential partner know that you want dom/sub sex? Is it at the beginning so as to avoid wasting either's time persueing a relationship if your partner is not into dom/sub sex?

  5. twg
    Posted July 16, 2009 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    I'm not really hardcore into BDSM, but I do really enjoy a little rougher sex than is probably the "norm." I've found that a great way to "hide" bruises is to take up a slightly brutal hobby. I get so many bumps and bruises on my legs from biking that no one knows when it's really just a bite mark.

    Re: bringing up D/s stuff in a new relationship, I think the easiest way is to just ask for what you want. Start small, but if (s)he's cool with "hold me down" and "spank me," (s)he'll probably be game for more. That's been my experience, anyway.

  6. Britni TheVadgeWig
    Posted July 16, 2009 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Sa: The only casual sex I've had that had aspects of BDSM to it was with fuck buddies that I fucked on a continuous basis. You really need to play with people that you really trust, and if you had casual sex with aspects of BDSM, your best bet is to find the kink community in your area and start meeting people. Any other times that my casual sex has had BDSM dynamics were just when I happened to end up hooking up with someone that was a naturally dominant person and there were aspects of that to it, but only because that was the dynamic between our personalities together. I would never play with someone that I didn't know well and trust.

    perkins: I've been in relationships that don't have a D/s dynamic. It's not a deal breaker for me, however, it's something that I would really prefer to have. Most people that I tell that I'm submissive seem to think it's pretty hot and are willing to work with me to develop that dynamic. However, not everyone can handle it. Some are afraid to hurt me, I've had people tell me they feel like they're disrespecting me. And that's okay, it's just not ideal. Some, however, are able to develop the dynamic with me, even if it's a mild one.

    And while I definitely like the D/s dynamic sexually, I also like it in other aspects of my relationships as well. Not all the time; I'm not 24/7 with it, but there are other times when I like the dynamic to move outside of the bedroom. I'll be writing about that later this week.

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