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The Trouble With Bondage Why S&M will never be fully accepted.

Posted by on Mar. 8, 2013 at 11:07 AM
  • 121 Replies

The Trouble With Bondage

Why S&M will never be fully accepted.

You can also listen to William Saletan read this piece.

A woman, who is a willing submissive participant, is bound and suspended with ropes at a dungeon party during the DomConLA convention on May 18, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.
A submissive bound and suspended with ropes at a dungeon party, May 18, 2012.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Is S&M going mainstream?

It looks that way. Twenty to 30 years ago, surveys suggested 10 to 15 percent of Americans had tried it at least once. Five to 10 percent had engaged occasionally in BDSM—an umbrella term for bondage, dominance/submission, and sadomasochism. Fewer embrace it as a lifestyle or identity: Even in big cities, attendance at BDSM conventions is said to be only 1,500 to 2,000. But in the last year, the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has sold more than 65 million copies. The membership of FetLife, a social networking site for BDSM enthusiasts, has doubled to nearly 2 million. Sales of books and equipment have increased. So has attendance at BDSM events. BDSM-related Internet searches (domination, master, sex slave, sadism) went up 70 to 80 percent. College groups devoted to “kink,” largely BDSM, gained official recognition at Tufts and Harvard. Pillars of the media establishment—ABC, Fox News, the New York Times—are exploring the rise of kink in unflinching detail.

Political advocates for BDSM see themselves as successors to the gay rights movement. They cite Lawrence v. Texas. They call themselves “sexual minorities” and depict kink as a “sexual orientation.” They seek “legitimacy” by bringing BDSM “into the mainstream eye.” They ask to be “accepted,” “validated,” and “normalized.” They wonder, according to the Times, whether “they are approaching a time when they, like the LGBT community before them, can come out and begin living more open, integrated lives.”

Don’t count on it.

I don’t mean to be cruel. I know people who have lived this life. I’ve watched others tell their stories on YouTube. I’ve read the writings of BDSM teachers, advocates, and organizers. These people are conscientious. Many of them have worked hard to draw boundaries to distinguish domination from abuse. At its best, BDSM is a willing power exchange enveloped in love. But it differs from homosexuality in ways that make it much harder to integrate into normal life.

To start with, BDSM isn’t an orientation. It’s a lifestyle. In the words of one aficionado, “It’s not who you love, it’s how you love.” That makes it much more reasonable to limit this kind of sexual expression. It’s hard to hide the fact that you’re in a lesbian relationship. But it’s not hard to hide the fact that you like to tie up your girlfriend. You can bring her to the office holiday party. You just can’t bring her on a leash.

Second, S&M, by its nature, hurts people. Mild bondage is no big deal. But for sadomasochists, pain is the whole idea. Some stick to spatulas and wooden spoons, but others move on to electric shocks, skewers, knives, and butterfly boards. Women who do S&M porn scenes have described electrical burns, permanent scars from beatings, and penetrations that required vaginal reconstructive surgery. While these injuries were accidental, the BDSM subculture doesn’t regard intentional harm as wrong. According to the “Statement on Consent” developed by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, injury is wrong only if it “was not anticipated and consented to.” The coalition hopes to embed this principle in law, “ensuring that consent will be recognized as a defense to criminal charges brought under assault laws.”

I understand the coalition’s concern. They don’t want nosy neighbors dragging you into court because hot wax burned your nipple. But the BDSM community’s position—that “government must stay out of the bedrooms … of mutually consenting adults, no matter how violent or shocking the activity”—creates perils of its own.

BDSM can be quite dangerous. Responsible practitioners insist it must be “safe, sane, and consensual.” But it attracts people who like to push boundaries. Some submissives are adrenaline junkies: They don’t believe in safety. Recently, several men have admitted to or have been charged with or convicted of crimes including sexual abuse, kidnapping, and murder, all under the cover of BDSM. These men don’t represent BDSM, but they do represent the far end of sadism. On BDSM sites, you’ll find harrowing fetishes such as immersion water bondage and breath play, which some community leaders consider inherently unsafe. Even a standard ball gag can kill the victim by triggering regurgitation.

by on Mar. 8, 2013 at 11:07 AM
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Replies (1-10):
futureshock
by Ruby Member on Mar. 8, 2013 at 11:08 AM

I had no idea it went so far.

jehosoba84
by Jenn on Mar. 8, 2013 at 11:16 AM

 Holy moly... "vaginal penetration that required reconstructive surgery!?"

FromAtoZ
by AllieCat on Mar. 8, 2013 at 11:18 AM
2 moms liked this

This is so far out the realm of my reality.

The.Hug.Life
by on Mar. 8, 2013 at 11:21 AM
2 moms liked this

BDSM is a lifestyle choice no one should make uneducated or unwillingly. I know quite a lot of people who are perfectly happy with it. I don't think it's an orientation or should be mainstreamed, but that's my opinion.  I will not condemn their choices because they are not my own, so long as it is only consentual adults. I'm sure there are people active in the lifestyle or community on both sides of the argument. It'll be interesting if both sides reply to this.

SuperChicken
by on Mar. 8, 2013 at 11:21 AM
9 moms liked this

This is where I become judgemental and I don't care if it shows.  If you need reconstructive surgery from sex you consider consensual you're mentally ill.    There is kinky and there is just f'd up insane.  

FromAtoZ
by AllieCat on Mar. 8, 2013 at 11:24 AM
2 moms liked this


Quoting SuperChicken:

This is where I become judgemental and I don't care if it shows.  If you need reconstructive surgery from sex you consider consensual you're mentally ill.    There is kinky and there is just f'd up insane.  

I agree.

I don't really care what others do as long as it isn't criminal and all are consenting.  Keep it in your private life and have at it.

Don't whine about consequences to your actions and don't expect any one else to have sympathy for you under such circumstances as you just described.

It's pretty sick, in my opinion.  If any one I know is in to this I am glad that they have not made me privy to such things. lol

futureshock
by Ruby Member on Mar. 8, 2013 at 11:26 AM


Quoting FromAtoZ:

This is so far out the realm of my reality.

Ditto.

The.Hug.Life
by on Mar. 8, 2013 at 11:31 AM
4 moms liked this


Quoting FromAtoZ:


Quoting SuperChicken:

This is where I become judgemental and I don't care if it shows.  If you need reconstructive surgery from sex you consider consensual you're mentally ill.    There is kinky and there is just f'd up insane.  

I agree.

I don't really care what others do as long as it isn't criminal and all are consenting.  Keep it in your private life and have at it.

Don't whine about consequences to your actions and don't expect any one else to have sympathy for you under such circumstances as you just described.

It's pretty sick, in my opinion.  If any one I know is in to this I am glad that they have not made me privy to such things. lol

You know, it's kind of rude to take the extreme of something and condemn an entire subculture for it. I mean, I don't hold up the Phelps family and say that all Christians are scum. BDSM isn't all vaginal reconstruction surgery. There are many levels and many forms. You should educate yourself.

FromAtoZ
by AllieCat on Mar. 8, 2013 at 11:33 AM
1 mom liked this


Quoting The.Hug.Life:


Quoting FromAtoZ:


Quoting SuperChicken:

This is where I become judgemental and I don't care if it shows.  If you need reconstructive surgery from sex you consider consensual you're mentally ill.    There is kinky and there is just f'd up insane.  

I agree.

I don't really care what others do as long as it isn't criminal and all are consenting.  Keep it in your private life and have at it.

Don't whine about consequences to your actions and don't expect any one else to have sympathy for you under such circumstances as you just described.

It's pretty sick, in my opinion.  If any one I know is in to this I am glad that they have not made me privy to such things. lol

You know, it's kind of rude to take the extreme of something and condemn an entire subculture for it. I mean, I don't hold up the Phelps family and say that all Christians are scum. BDSM isn't all vaginal reconstruction surgery. There are many levels and many forms. You should educate yourself.

Okay.  I really don't care if I come off rude.  I also did not generalize.  

What, exactly, do I need to learn about such a lifestyle that will enlighten me?

Clearly you did not read my post.  

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