Kinky S*x: The Difference Between BDSM and Abuse

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What Is B-D-S-M?

B-D-S-M, an acronym for “bondage, discipline/dominance, submission, and sadomasochism” is often misunderstood by the general public. One of the most common misconceptions is that B-D-S-M is dangerous, reckless, and abusive. However, when practiced properly, B-D-S-M is very different than intimate partner abuse.



For decades, B-D-S-M practitioners have maintained that kink is safe, satisfying, and can positively affect both a participant’s s*xual desires and their well-being. Over the last few years, science has confirmed these claims. Recent studies have uncovered the many health benefits of B-D-S-M. Researchers have found that those who engage in B-D-S-M activities have better mental health, more satisfaction in their relationships, and less stress than their vanilla-s*x counterparts.

Those unfamiliar with B-D-S-M were surprised by a new study from Northern Illinois University, which revealed that those involved in B-D-S-M are more consent-minded when it comes to s*x acts and less likely to conform to behaviors associated with r*pe culture. Practitioners of B-D-S-M displayed “significantly lower levels of benevolent sexism, r*pe myth acceptance, and victim-blaming.” In other words, they respect the boundaries of their partner and are less likely to cross the boundaries of personal safety.

Even though studies show that B-D-S-M clearly has positive benefits, many who look at these extreme behaviors from the outside perceive this type of s*xual behavior as abusive, chaotic, and out of control. Abusive behavior should never be part of the B-D-S-M dynamic, but how can we tell the difference

Consent Differentiates B-D-S-M From Abuse

Consent is the cornerstone of all B-D-S-M activity, and it’s one of the major factors that differentiates it from abuse. Put simply, B-D-S-M is consensual. Abuse is not.

Before each B-D-S-M “scene,” participants express and negotiate their likes, desires, and limits. This means that all involved in the agreed-upon s*x act set specific goals determining what they want to get out of the session—both emotionally and physically. They also discuss what are referred to as “hard and soft limits.” Hard limits are the things you would never engage in, while soft limits are things you might experiment with if and when the time feels right. Playing with the boundaries of soft limits requires deeper negotiation prior to beginning a session.

Pre-scene negotiation can take many forms. Sometimes participants write out a contract detailing what is specifically allowed and forbidden. Others use a simple checklist of activities. They then discuss each item individually, indicating which is a desire or a limit. Others simply have an in-depth conversation about their boundaries.

B-D-S-M Is Safe, Sane, and Consensual
Those involved in B-D-S-M often use the phrase “safe, sane, and consensual” to describe their type of s*x play. Any play that is defined as “kink” but doesn’t incorporate the agreed-upon safe, sane and consensual elements may very well be abusive.

Safe means participants have taken precautions to minimize risks. It also means that participants are knowledgeable about the techniques and tools being used, which can eliminate both unwanted fear and dangerous behavior.

Sane indicates that those involved are in a state that allows them to separate fantasy from reality. This also means sobriety; senses and behaviors are not being impaired by the influence of intoxicants. Lastly, it implies refraining from imposing unrealistic expectations on your partner.

Consent means all parties have discussed and agree on boundaries. Equally as important, consent must be on-going. In other words, if an individual wishes to change their mind about any activity during play they can renegotiate at any time.

Communication Is Key
Clear communication is imperative to practicing healthy B-D-S-M. Safewords are standard fare in this type of play and a major element that differentiates B-D-S-M from abuse. A safeword is a word or phrase that signals that one of the players either wishes to take a break or stop completely. An example of a safeword might be “red,” “banana”—or any other thing you wouldn’t normally say during s*x or in the context of a scene. Additionally, if a Submissive is gagged or a Dominant’s hearing is impaired, safe signals can be used instead. This could be a gesture or something the Submissive holds in their hand and drops signaling their wish to pause the scene.

Important Differences Between Abuse and B-D-S-M
Kinky play can involve things like punishment, humiliation, and even tears. This may seem like abuse to an outsider, making it understandably difficult to tell the difference between the two. However, when compared side by side with B-D-S-M, we can see the stark differences.

Abusive episodes are out of control situations. In healthy B-D-S-M, a Dominant never acts spontaneously out of anger. Scenes are pre-planned with care, thought, and with the best interest of the Submissive in mind.
Abusive situations usually end with negative emotions. A B-D-S-M scene is designed to leave the participants feeling good and satisfied when it’s over. It’s a Dominant’s responsibility to give after-care when the session is over to make sure the Submissive feels happy, safe, and secure. In contrast, both the target and the abuser feel sad, angry, or ashamed following an abusive episode.
Abusive situations are often accompanied by substance abuse or emotional impairment. In healthy B-D-S-M, players try to minimize anything that may affect their judgement during play—including the use of drugs or alcohol.
Abuse in B-D-S-M
Although recent studies have found those involved in B-D-S-M are less likely to tolerate certain types of abuse, it can still happen. Abusive red flags in a B-D-S-M relationship or scene are very similar to those found in other types of relationships. Some warning behaviors include:

ignoring s*xual boundaries
non-consensual/non-negotiated verbal or physical abuse
controlling behavior, including excessive jealousy
unpredictable extreme mood swings
substance abuse
use of ultimatums and fear to control the victim
isolating the victim from family and friends
a history of abusive behavior with close contacts
If you recognize these or other signs of abuse in your own B-D-S-M encounters, get outside help. If abuse occurs at a public B-D-S-M event, seek out a Designated or Dungeon Monitor (DM). For private play with a new partner, always establish a safe call with a friend. Also, it isn’t unusual for those actively involved in the B-D-S-M community to ask for references from previous partners.

If abuse is occurring in your ongoing B-D-S-M relationship, you can solicit the services of a kink-friendly therapist, abuse support hotline, or service. If you find yourself in immediate danger, contact police.

source: Verywell

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