The Sex Positive Coach

Inara de Luna, Relationship Coach & Sexuality Educator


BDSM is to assault as sex is to rape

Posted by [email protected] on April 10, 2015 at 5:25 PM


I recently had a discussion with someone who is relatively new to the Scene, who was trying to figure out if it’s actually okay to be kinky, to enjoy being hit. This is a person who works with domestic violence victims and has been having a hard time wrapping her head around the lifestyle and her own desires.


So I asked her, “When someone puts a penis into a vagina, what is that?”


With a confused look on her face, she answered hesitantly, “That’s sex.”


“Okay,” I said. “What if the person who owns the vagina did not want the penis there?”


She still wore a guarded expression, but answered more firmly this time. “That’s rape.”


“But it’s the same actions, whether it’s sex or rape, so what’s the difference?” A look of comprehension began to cross her face, and she said, “Consent, right?”


“Yes, consent on the part of the receiver and intent/motivation on the part of the doer. That’s the same difference here.”


I went on to share with her my maxim on this topic: BDSM is to assault/abuse, as sex is to rape. The same actions can often be seen in both healthy, consensual BDSM and in dysfunctional, abuse or assault cases. The difference is huge, but involves consent and motivation.


I remember when I realized how much I liked “rough sex” and BDSM play. I was struck with a similar quandary. I have always identified as a feminist, determined to help stop violence against women. So how could I, an anti-violence feminist, enjoy being hit so much? What was wrong with me? After much soul searching and talking through these issues with some trusted friends, what I finally arrived at is that what looks like violence is simply the inflicting of intense sensation. The mind and body determine whether it’s good or bad, pain or pleasure.


The body can take more intensity than most people realize. Those who have been in traumatic situations, war, or childbirth begin to understand that the body can take way more than they ever thought beforehand. My own experience of participating in a mini-bootcamp, as part of my junior ROTC membership in high school, was one of the things that proved this to me. I was not particularly in shape, I didn’t work out much, my primary exercise was yoga. So I was not really prepared for such a physically demanding experience as we went through that week. And yet, I found that under pressure, I could do probably 10 times the number of push ups as I’d ever done before. I stepped up to the challenges and was surprised and delighted with myself. It actually felt good and I discovered a lot about myself and what I could handle as a result of that experience.


The body and the brain have ways of dealing with intense sensations and demands on the system that can even sometimes be experienced as pleasurable. I won’t go into all the science here, but most seasoned members of the kink community know that there’s a complicated mix of chemicals that gets dumped into the system during a scene that results in a complex series of reactions to the intensity experienced during that scene. Some people experience pure pleasure from things they might normally perceive as painful. Other people go deep into trance-like states of mind, and some of those actually experience spiritual moments, including seeing visions and feeling euphoria.


The mind, too, has a lot of power and influence over the way sensations are interpreted. It has been shown that when people who hold the hand of someone with whom they are in a happy relationship, their experience of stressful and painful stimuli are much lower than when they are subjected to the exact same stimuli but do so alone. Our perceptions can change our physical experience.


A BDSM relationship is one in which great amounts of trust, negotiation, and consent have already occurred. So a very strong, deep bond has been formed, such that when these people play out a scene, the bottom already has the advantage of having their loving partner there AND the top often helps the bottom to reach states in which the intensity can be experienced as something other than pain. Because the people involved have communicated far more than most vanilla couples and they have all consented to the activities, what then transpires is NOT assault. However, if the pre-negotiated limits are exceeded or the safeword/safesign is ignored, everything that follows then becomes, at the very least, a consent violation, and at worst, assault. CONSENT is the difference. And different people consent to different things at different times, and that is why so much communication and negotiation occurs.


So, no, #BDSMisNotAbuse. In fact, vanilla couples could learn a thing or two about relationship negotiation and communication skills from the BDSM crowd, who have necessarily had to become masters at such skills.


Categories: BDSM/kink/leather/fetish, Consent, sexual education

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