Image Map

Thinking Kink: Debunking BDSM Myths

"Like most things that are depicted in a problematic way, BDSM is subject to uninformed sweeping generalizations about what it looks, acts and feels like."Stacey May Fowles, writer, novelist and contributor to sex-positive anthology Yes Means Yes!.

"The author clearly did about 5% of the research into the subject before deciding to hijack it to write her Twilight fan fiction." 'R', commenter on Clutch Magazine blog.

"The biggest misconception spread in the media is that everything to do with BDSM is dark and intense and scary." – Cliff Pervocracy, blogger on feminism and BDSM.

One recurring theme I've come across in my research into BDSM and pop culture is how kinksters feel the scene is misrepresented by an often uninformed media. And as any critically minded individual/feminist knows, deriving your education solely from pop culture is path fraught with problems. So, before we let loose on how BDSM gets portrayed in the media, let's consider some of the myths surrounding it, and attempt to straighten them out so everyone's singing from the same leather-bound hymn book.

BDSM is about hurting people and forcing them to do things they don't want to do.

No, no and absolutely NO. This is the most important myth to bust before we go any further. BDSM is founded on consent and negotiation. It is about acting out fantasy scenarios in a safe space, after both parties have agreed upon limits, likes/dislikes and safewords that will stop an act at any time if a participant is unhappy. Any kinky activity done without express consent is not BDSM—it is abuse.

Submissives love being treated like dirt in their everyday lives.

While some people might like to be "lifestyle submissives" and "serve" their master 24/7 (and this is definitely not true of all subs), this does not make them receptacles for abuse. Plus, there are plenty of folks who are only submissive in the bedroom and submit to no one outside of it. Either way, submissives (or masochists, bottoms, pets, etc.) are not anyone's "plaything," but individuals who have made a conscious decision to place power in the hands of a chosen other, be it for life, today, or the next 20 minutes. This does not mean they enjoy trapping their fingers in a car door or being sleazed on by strangers any more than the rest of us do.

Dominants are evil, power-hungry pseudo-rapists.

While there's no guarantee that genuinely abusive people won't sneak into the scene, true dominants or "tops" are considerate of and constantly in tune with their partner. Dominating isn't about pushing someone around for kicks—it's about pleasing that person. Ergo, dominating takes skill and precision. Far from being out-of-control loose cannons, doms/tops have to exercise extreme control in order to please their bottom without pushing them beyond their limits (or compromising safety). And again, just because someone is dominant in a BDSM context doesn't mean they go around whipping the bus driver because he missed their stop. Dominants can be shy and gentle just as much as subs can be assertive and mouthy.

It always involves sex.

Not necessarily. BDSM certainly can be part of foreplay, the context for an entire sexual scene, and indeed a sexual lifestyle for some couples and individuals. However, many fetish and bondage "scenes" involve no sex at all. As Cliff Pervocracy says of the BDSM community, "there are more people here that will beat you but not fuck you than vice versa."

It's something you have to go to a prostitute for.

While there are professional, paid dominatrixes—many of whom do not offer any sexual services—the majority of BDSM takes place between people who are either in relationships, friendships, or have simply met and taken a shine to each other, and does not involve any exchange of money.

It's really violent and painful.

Only if you want it to be. Kink can involve anything from being tickled with a feather, to having your ass caned til it bleeds. It's about what gets you off, and pain is only one fetish amongst many in BDSM.

You have to wear all those outrageous clothes.

Again, entirely up to you. While BDSM offers a fun outlet for people who love leather, latex, PVC, velvet, uniforms, etc. (or just the feel of rope!), it's not a prerequisite. Some BDSM clubs will insist on a kinky dress code (mostly to ensure that everyone there is aware what kind of club it is, and to avoid casual walk-ins who just want to perv), but many encourage folks to wear whatever they feel comfortable in—whether that's jeans and sneakers or nothing but artfully placed bondage tape.

For the dedicated student, more useful info on what BDSM is and what it isn't can be found here at Xeromag and here at Pervocracy.

Previously: Welcome to a Blog on BDSM, Feminism, and Pop Culture

Bitch Media publishes the award-winning quarterly magazine, Bitch:Feminist Response to Pop Culture. Pitch in to support feminist media: Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

20 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Please

Address Rihanna and the lyrics to her music. Why does she sing S&M when she has been physically abused? I get that the song is about owning her own sexuality, though. How much say does she actually have in her music and how she is presented?

There is a difference...

There's a definite difference between S&M and abuse, as outlined in this article. I can't speak to whether she actually wrote the song(s) or not, but I can say, being involved in a BDSM relationship myself, that there are plenty of people out there who have been abused in the past who are still interested in S&M. The difference, I think, is that with abuse, they had no choice in the matter. It was something that was done to them without their consent. With S&M, it's a conscious decision that that person is making for themselves. They are giving permission to a person of their choosing to do otherwise abusive things to them.

Also, about owning your own sexuality, BDSM play is very liberating and empowering for some people. To be able to address your own true desires in an open fashion with someone you trust not to judge you is incredibly empowering. While others may see being a submissive, etc as a bad thing because of the power exchange that takes place, it can be very empowering to say, "This is part of me, this is what I like, and it's what I want," and then to be able to have that thing. There aren't many places in our lives where we can have such a strong impact on what happens to us and that self-knowledge, acceptance, and action is incredible. The only way to describe the feeling is to have experienced it and come out the other side still all in one piece. (Personally, whenever my SO and I get done playing, I feel like I can do anything; like I just survived something so intense and sometimes so painful that I feel like nothing is beyond possibility.)

BDSM and the law

"There's a definite difference between S&M and abuse, as outlined in this article"

I saw a post on another blog by someone named Thomas who claimed to be a lawyer and he said the consensual CBT that he and his wife engage in, is illegal in his state. So as far as at least some states are concerned, BDSM is sexual assault and a felony. The blog he was posting on was one about affirmative consent to be part of state law. Some have opined that would in effect criminalize all consensual sex., as it would require a verbal ok for each phase of sex.

Look at it this way... Say

Look at it this way...

Say you go to the OB/GYN (or general doctor) and you get a pelvic exam or rectal exam. The doctor is inserting their fingers into your vagina or anus to check you for medical conditions. It doesn't feel particularly nice and you both sort of want it to be over as quickly as possible.

Contrast that with having sex with your partner. Your partner might insert their fingers into those same orifices with an intent to provide pleasure, intimacy, orgasm, whatever. Or you might do it to them. And they'd participate (hopefully) with consent and a goal of mutual pleasure.

I know it's a strange comparison to draw, but the reason I that I draw it is because I'm trying to make the point that the same basic activity can operate in totally different mental spaces for people by providing you with an example that I think most people have experienced. What one person does can be done without consent or without the intent to provide pleasure, and the same thing can be done by another person consensually and pleasurably. It may be the same action, but it's a different intention and a different reaction.

Like the other poster said, PLENTY of abuse survivors are into BDSM and approach it very healthfully. They negotiate scenes with partners who enthusiastically consent to participating, with a goal of feeling good rather than feeling bad. I hope that makes sense.

I was abused as a child and I

I was abused as a child and I am interested in BDSM. I can assure you that they are not the same thing at all.

As an adult, I've found that while it takes a lot of time for me to be comfortable and trust someone enough to share my body and sexuality with BDSM actually helps me get over this. There is such an emphasis on consent, it actually allows me to let go of some of my anxieties about letting myself be vulnerable to another. Talking what is okay and what isn't beforehand is so important and my partner respecting that is so important to me no matter what sort of physical relationship I am participating in. Within a BDSM setting, this negotiation and adherence to what is agreed upon is expected and because of that, I actually feel safer in the initial stages of a relationship.

My desire and need for such structure can wax and wane through a relationship but I have found that the more trust I build the less I feel the need to use the strict rules of a BSDM encounter as a safety net.

Thank you for sharing.

Cait, thank you for sharing a tough story - you have illustrated perfectly the difference between BDSM and abuse. I think it is confusing for many people, especially those who have experienced neither, but stating the distinction is crucial. Because BDSM enshrines consent and safety, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say it's actually the polar opposite of abuse (which denies its victim both those things).

I hope you continue to enjoy your explorations and find it healing. Be safe, enjoy.

Right!

As someone who is extremely close to an individual who was a victim of ongoing incestuous child abuse by her father, I agree with Cait 100% and couldn't say it better. Too many indiviuals from such backgrounds repeatedly cast themselves as victims in adult abuse situations, or engage in high risk activities, such as prostitution and/or unprotected sex.
Fun fact: S&M was written and produced for Rhianna by a truly international team. Stargate (a Norwegian duo), Sandy Vee (French writer and DJ), and most interestingly, Ester Dean, an American most known for her hit Drop It Low featuring Chris Brown! Aside from fulfilling the ending of E.M. Foster's Howard's End ("Only Connect") I don't know what this means, or if it means anything at all.

Me, too

I was sexually assaulted by a romantic partner in college and that made it extremely scary and hard to understand why I was also persistently drawn to submission in sex. Now, my partner and I have hard limits that mean I will never have to do anything I don't want to. It is awesome to feel safe. Safe is sexy!

I appreciate that you debunk the notion that all BDSM folks loooove pain. I do not. I am ok with a little pinching but mostly I'm in it for the freedom, not the ouch factor.

It's amazing to me how many

It's amazing to me how many people I meet in the scene who are survivors of sexual abuse. And I want to reiterate - BDSM doesn't perpetuate or encourage abuse. In fact, people in the scene are outright hostile to people who mistreat others. I was raped in my early twenties and found the strict rules and protocol of BDSM allowed me to relax and really feel like sex was a good thing again. Of course, in a vanilla situation, you can/should communicate with your partner what your needs are, but I think especially men in the scene who are into the structure and follow it are very attentive to my needs and respect what I need to enjoy myself.

You may not want to hear this...

but doesn't that say something about the relationship between sex and domination in the minds of these sexual abuse victims? Sex becomes so ingrained with being dominated, that this becomes the way to get off. Frankly, as a survivor of sexual abuse, I don't find it "liberating" at all. I find it one more way to tell women that being dominated is cool. I can't tell you how many BDSM stories I've read that are outrightly hostile towards women with power in any arena. And these are often written by women who go on and on about how "liberating" it all is. The ones who say really nasty things about women who make their own decisions and are...gasp...feminists. If it's all about the "power" to make your own decisions, why does so much of the literature take such an attitude of hatred towards women who are powerful in their own lives?

Liberating....

Not a word I would use. Hot, sexy, sensual, loving, respect, honesty, sadistic, brutal. Those are words I would use in regards to BDSM. I often find it almost a paradox, to be both a submissive/switch in the BDSM lifestyle, and yet to also be a Feminist. I do not believe or support any active interest or cause that believes/supports the Oppression of Women. (Or anyone else for that matter.) I am not submissive because I am female. If I were, I wouldn't be the occasionally sadistic bitch Top that I enjoy being from time to time.
I make a conscious choice everytime I get on my knees before someone. That it is MY choice and no one's to submit. No one is forcing me, bribing or paying me, or coercing me. I also make a conscious choice when I have someone on their knees before me: To honor and respect them as a fellow human being. To honor and respect their limits, soft and hard. To listen and observe them when they might want to take a break, or to stop completely, or to use a different implement or technique. Harder, Faster, Softer, or Slower.

The BDSM stories that you've read, I have read some of the like that you refer to. Ugly, and not representative of the lifestyle. Yes, there are Men who seek to oppress Women, who dream of taking away what rights we have gained, or dreaming of a time when we had less. On the other side, there are Women who wish to do the same of Men. And opposite genders of both who dream of the same thing. Neither is right.

There is more and more erotica that does not support ethier of those themes. I do not know off hand what they are, because when it comes to erotica, I ethier write my own, or (rarely, when I have the money.) Buy Queer Erotica. I am not trying to persuade you or anyone else to change your/their mind on this subject, but to ask for some openmindedness.

I have not read 50 Shades of Gray, nor do I plan to. I am tired of seeing Characters who have severe Psychological problems that have not been addressed in therapy, (No, BDSM is not therapy!) And as a result, many people assume that everyone who is into BDSM must have similar problems.

You're reading the wrong

You're reading the wrong books and, in the books you are reading, you may be taking things out of context. The submissive - male or female - holds ALL of the power in D/s relationships and everything is consensual. To trust someone enough to hand over control or to place oneself in another's care truly is liberating. However, what may be right for one person, may not be right for another. I assure you that BDSM relationships are NOT about hatred of women (or men for that matter) on ANY level.

I'm on it - but

Hi Rose, I definitely will be looking at Rihanna during this blog series, especially the song and video for 'S&M'. However, as other commenters have already stated, I think it's crucial to look at the difference between consensual BDSM and the physical abuse Rihanna suffered from her partner. What Chris Brown did to her was non-consensual abuse. What she is singing about and representing in her video (although I agree, sometimes problematically) is the consensual use of various seemingly violent things (rope, gags, spankers etc) in a controlled, safe setting for sexual pleasure.

BDSM is about choice. Rihanna had choice taken away from her when she was attacked.

The other issues (about how in control of her image Rihanna is) you raise are equally interesting, although I have a feeling it could take more than a blog post to weed through them all. I will do my best though! I have already interviewed several thinkers who have some interesting words on the subject.

BDSM in Media

I would be interested in knowing anyone's opinion on the 30 Seconds to Mars video for Hurricane. (The uncensored version is ABSOLUTELY necessary). This won a heap of MTV Video Awards for writer/director/actor Jared Leto.
The video in incoherent as far as plot-line, but then again so are many dreams. Some of the imagery (both BDSM and not) is impressive (but I am a sucker for nighttime city-scapes, etc).

Noted!

Thanks for the heads-up! I am not familiar with that video, but will take a look at it now - any excuse for ogling Jared Leto (he is in it, right? j/k!). I loved 30STM's video for The Killing, mostly because I'm a sucker for any homage The Shining.

Awesome

This is such a great post. I totally agree that BDSM and abuse are very, very different things and it's so nice to see that said, as people conflate the two together often. I really love how this can act as a primer for everyone, a good baseline that gives the false concept and then the reality of what can go down in the non-vanilla world. Brava!

Abuse/BDSM

This is a complex issue. (People into BDSM who have been sexually abused). The problem is that like many complex issues, folks fail to see the dusk between day and night. People love to be binary, including feminists. The point is that of course a person's history may drive them toward certain things that give them a sense of control in the domain that they had no control over. This happens with lots and lots of things in the world. It also does not follow that BDSM implies seeking abuse or helplessness. It is never a problem for individuals to examine why they do this or that. It is also not a problem to acknowledge how events shape our lives as long as their influence does not result in harmful, dangerous activity.

Abuse and the law

"It’s really violent and painful.

Only if you want it to be. Kink can involve anything from being tickled with a feather, to having your ass caned til it bleeds. It’s about what gets you off, and pain is only one fetish amongst many in BDSM."

That may well be true, but I did see a post on another blog by someone named Thomas, claiming to be a lawyer. And he said the consensual BDSM he and his wife have is illegal in most states.

Empowering women

In my experience, watching people 'play' on the scene is profoundly heart-warming. Whatever the gender-dynamic, a bottom/sub gives their submission willingly to a person of their choice - someone they trust, relate to, or are in love with. Watching a Dom/me or top weave their magic upon that person, providing everything that person needs to feel satisfied, liberated and fulfilled. It could be somthing as simple as a rope harness, sensually tied with just the right amount of pressure in just the right places or being strapped to a St Andrew's Cross and whipped repeatedly BUT usually there is an element of sensuality rather than brutality and any extreme play resulting in bruising, bleeding etc is only what the submissive has requested and has negotiated with the Top before they start. Once a scene ends, the bottom is always cared for with love and full attention of the Top: cuddles, kisses, whispers of 'well done'. 'that was amazing' 'YOU are amazing' etc.
For me as a female Top, it's empowering to feel in control of my male sub - I control how much pleasure he gets and when or how he reaches his peak, although I always work within his limits. All the female subs I know say it's empowering for them to know that their Top will NEVER over-step their boundaries. IMHO its a win-win situation. The sub is ALWAYS in control yet the Top feels that they are too.

Thinking Kink: Debunking BDSM Myths | Bitch Media

I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you design this website yourself or did you hire someone to do
it for you? Plz reply as I'm looking to construct my own blog and would like to find out where u got this from. thanks a lot