Non-Consensual Sex Is Evil, Not Non-Conventional Sex

Public Disgrace is an online pornography series that advertises itself as “women bound, stripped, and punished in public.” It is the creation of a 30-year-old San Francisco–based porn director and dominatrix named Princess Donna Dolore. Princess Donna conceived of the project in 2008, during her fourth year of working for the pornography company Kink.com. In addition to directing, Donna performs in the shoots, though she is not usually the lead.

Emily Witt, quoted above, attended a shooting of Public Disgrace and wrote about what she saw. It’s an excellent, although lengthy, article, and I’d recommend settling in a comfy armchair, with a nice cup of coffee, before reading it. (Unless you’re squicked or triggered by explicit descriptions of public BDSM sex. Also, if you’re reading from a desktop computer, I guess the armchair thing might not be practical for you.)

Some of the conservative bloggers I read regularly have been having a debate about Witt’s article: Rod Dreher, Noah Millman (disagreeing with Dreher), Alan Jacobs, Millman (again), Dreher (again), Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, Conor Friedersdorf (disagreeing with all but Noah), Dreher (again), Gobry (again, and doing a much better job of incorporating kindness and empathy into his thoughts this time), and Friedersdorf (again).

One thing that’s striking, reading the comments of the conservatives (excluding Millman and Friedersdorf), is that these folks have not learned anything from being so utterly wrong about homosexuality for the last fifty years, least of all humility or kindness. Which is unfortunate, because in fact many of these writers are saying interesting and humane things about topics that matter (loneliness, for example), but their reflexive contempt for sex that squicks them makes them hard to read.

Jacobs writes:

It seems to me that when you call such behavior — I include the acts and the observation of them in this — “civilized” you have reduced the content of civilization to a single element: consent.

But this would mean, among other things, either than self-degradation isn’t uncivilized or that there is no such thing as self-degradation. I strongly disagree with both of those points. I think the people who act as Princess Donna does and as Penny and Ramon and the others do are pursuing, consciously or not, absolute degradation, and are publicly debasing sexuality in the process. They are immensely destructive to themselves and to others; they becloud the image of God in which they were made. I do not believe that it is possible to be more uncivilized than they are, though one might be equally uncivilized in different ways.

If we didn’t know the context was BDSM porn, the above could easily be an argument against homosexuality. Indeed, it is virtually identical to the arguments in favor of sodomy laws Christian Conservatives like Robert George made in the 1980s.

And it’s identical for the same reason, which is that “degradation” is a useful word for someone who is disgusted by other people’s consensual sex, and who has turned that disgust into contempt, but can’t describe a plausible mechanism by which the sex they find so icky leads to harmful consequences. Look, this bad sex that I find gross is immensely destructive! How do I know it’s so destructive? Well, it’s leading people to have bad sex that I find gross!

Similarly, here are some of Dreher’s reactions to the Witt article:

I warn you in the strongest possible terms: Do not click through to this Emily Witt essay on n+1 unless you can stomach descriptions of extremely pornographic acts. There are no pornographic images, but the acts described are beyond the beyond. […] Reading the part I’ve just quoted, then this one, is like swimming from one island to another through a lagoon of raw sewage. […] The thing that stands out to me in this Witt piece is not so much that human beings do vile things to each other, but that the most free and richest people in the history of humankind use their liberty to degrade each other and to choose to be degraded in ways that would get them arrested or confined to mental institutions if they did it to animals.

Christian Conservatives feel disgust, and then, in an attempt to rationalize their disgust, decide that their disgust comes straight from God. Their inability to put a finger on what, exactly, the harm is should be a signal to them that they might be mistaken, but instead it causes them to double down. This is exactly the mistake they once made with homosexuality, and even those Christians who no longer endorse anti-gay views are eager to repeat the same mistake in other areas.

(And by the way, notice that the crucial distinction between tying up a human and slapping her, and doing the same thing to an animal – that the human, in this example, has eagerly consented and says she loves what’s happening – doesn’t even seem to be on Dreher’s radar screen in this post.)

The idea of humility – that maybe they’re not qualified to sneer at other people’s needs and choices, and that maybe not every little emotional knee-jerk they feel is a reflection of God’s holy priorities – doesn’t seem to occur to them.

Gobry writes the most hilariously condescending sneer at another human I’ve read all year:

I want to say that I admire Witt’s courage for laying it all out, and I’m certainly not casting stones. It’s not her fault that she lacks the moral vocabulary to understand her actions.

The lack of self-awareness it took to write that sentence is awesome. (But I’m not casting stones.)1

After reading all of that, Friedersdorf’s “defense of consent as a lodestar of sexual morality” was a breath of fresh air. Here’s a lengthy quote, but I hope folks will read the whole thing, and also the followup.

My generation doesn’t treat consent as a lodestar merely because consent permits pleasurable sexual activity that more traditional sexual codes would prohibit. The ethos of consent is regarded as a lodestar because its embrace is widely seen as an incredible improvement over much of human history; and because instances when the culture of consent is rejected are superlatively horrific. The average 30-something San Franciscan has had multiple friends confide to them about being raped, and multiple friends confide about participating in consensual BDSM. Only the former routinely plays out as extreme trauma that devastates the teller for decades. Little wonder that consent is treated as the preeminent ethos even by many who suspect that transgressive sex like what Witt describes is ultimately unwise or even immoral.

Let us imagine that, 50 years hence, we have a society where the ethos of consent and attendant norms of sexual conduct have triumphed so completely that rape is as rare as cannibalism. Everyone would regard that as a civilizational triumph. Would it be a bigger or smaller triumph of sexual mores than a culture where consent was valued exactly as much or little as it was in 1950, but BDSM and kink, extreme or tame, was so widely rejected as to render it as rare as cannibalism? That I’d strongly prefer the former triumph explains why I cannot agree with Alan Jacobs when he writes of the San Francisco pornographers, “I do not believe that it is possible to be more uncivilized than they are, though one might be equally uncivilized in different ways.”

I think rapists are far more uncivilized, and that every champion of consent, however myopic they are about other moral norms they ought to follow, are trying to build “structures of thought and practice that harness humankind’s sexual instincts and direct them in socially up-building ways.” Consent isn’t, after all, entirely separable from other widely accepted norms of civilized behavior. Taking it seriously means refusing to watch certain types of porn (the hidden up-skirt camera, for example); it means being forced to conceive of every potential sexual partner as an autonomous individual with inherent worth and desires so important that they frequently trump yours; it means, in at least that one respect, treating other people as you’d want to be treated.

None of that means one must approve of the acts described in the San Francisco basement. I happen to think it doesn’t in fact threaten civilization, that transgressive sex cannot, by definition, become the norm. Others may differ, and I’m just guessing there; but it is to say that, whatever you think of the porn shoot, the scattered, unconsensual sex that went down in the Bay Area that night was more worthy of condemnation, more uncivilized, more destructive and less moral.

Reading Witt’s essay, I don’t think the problem she’s struggling with is that she’s willing to have sex outside of marriage, or that she can witness BDSM porn being shot (and notice the obvious trust, affection and kindness going on between the director and performer) without considering herself superior because that’s not the kind of sex she’s into. Her problem, judging from what she writes in this article, is that she’s lonely.

It is reasonable, I think, to see this as a social problem, because there aren’t enough structures which provide connection. Our society lacks a safety net for loneliness. One legitimate solution to this problem is marriage, and another is the Church. But these are not the only legitimate solutions to the problem of loneliness, nor are they one-size-fits-all solutions.

And to the extent that Christians encourages knee-jerk judgementalism, the Church becomes less effective at fighting loneliness and alienation. There are plenty of people who feel like lonely outcasts within Church communities (a problem that’s especially common among Church folk who have strong desires for non-mainstream, non-hetero sex), and plenty who feel like lonely outcasts within marriage. (In his second post, Gorby steps away from saying “if you feel lonely, just stop having per-maritial sex and join the Church!,” and I appreciated that.)

There’s a lot more to be discussed here – Witt’s article is lengthy, and multifaceted, and about much more than porn, and the responses I’ve criticized are about more, too – but this is already long enough for one post.

  1. By the way, I hope readers won’t form a judgement on Gorby based only on those two sentences. Gorby can write with a great deal more kindness and empathy than those two sentences indicate; they just were too funny not to quote. []
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71 Responses to Non-Consensual Sex Is Evil, Not Non-Conventional Sex

  1. 1
    Myca says:

    Thanks for writing this, Amp.

    A while back, on Metafilter, Dean of ‘The Torns‘ (mildly NSFW) said something that really stuck with me. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of it was “The question is whether anyone can have a valid view of their own sexuality that nonetheless is fundamentally in disagreement with your view of their sexuality.”

    Obviously there are some limits to this, but I think that’s a fine way to think about it. How I (and my partner) think our sex works neatly trumps how Rod Dreher thinks our sex works (or ought to work).

    —Myca

  2. 2
    alex says:

    And it’s identical for the same reason, which is that “degradation” is a useful word for someone who is disgusted by other people’s consensual sex, and who has turned that disgust into contempt, but can’t describe a plausible mechanism by which the sex they find so icky leads to harmful consequences.

    !?! WTF, no it’s not. You haven’t thought this through.

    When this was going on with the gays, the evil conservatives would have said it was “degradation”; but the gays wouldn’t have. They’d have said they were in loving relationships or having a great time being free-spirited. This time the evil conservatives are saying its “degradation”, but – and this is the big difference – so are the people they are complaining about. That’s their whole gimmick. If you turned up to a shoot and said it wasn’t really degrading and was all rather tame and a bit of a let down, I imagine they’d be quite upset.

    So anyway, this isn’t conservative rhetoric – it is a factual statement in these peoples own words of what they’re trying to accomplish.

  3. 3
    Sebastian says:

    While I agree that any argument that attempt to prove something by invoking god(s) is wrong, this does not mean that the thing it attempts to prove is wrong.

    Both homosexual sex and sex that consciously degrades one or more of the participants make me uncomfortable. But being uncomfortable with homosexual sex makes me also feel bad, while being uncomfortable with degrading humans makes me feel good. This, for me, is perfectly enough to say that there is a difference. As anyone who cared to read my ramblings here knows, I do not believe in objective truth or morals, so what I feel is right, while, of course, I am open to being convinced otherwise.

    I am not advocating banning degrading sex, but I do not have a strong opposition to doing so. I am sure know that one can easily find people who do not object to being sacrificed, mutilated, enslaved, eaten, humiliated, beaten, etc… I do not claim to know whether and when it is OK to prevent them from finding someone who’ll happily indulge their desires. I do know that I believe that there is something wrong with, at least, those who choose to suffer the indignities. Probably something wrong with those who inflict them, now that I think about it. I would urge someone who feels the need to be mutilated to seek help. So clearly, I do not believe that the consent of all concerned is enough to make something legal, let alone moral.

    To come back to degrading sex. I do not know that it is harmful for a human to be degraded. If you held a gun to my head and asked me to bet one way or the other, I’d say that it is. I’d say that they are suffering from a psychological problem, and that they need help. But I do not know that. I do not know that I have ever known anyone who takes pleasure in such things, so I have no idea whether such people are healthy. Sure, this is very much like the argument that people have used against homosexuality. But you can make the reverse argument for voluntary human sacrifice or cage fights to the death. As long as the participants are volunteers, and are enjoying it, it’s OK, right?

  4. 4
    Robert says:

    Degradation is in the eye of the beholder.

  5. 5
    Sebastian H says:

    This is an interesting problem. I find real degradation, even in power exchange contexts, abusive. But PLAYING with degradation concepts with a partner who actually loves and cares for you can be wonderful. The abuse or hot consensual sex thing can be difficult to parse to an untrained observer, but I’d tend to say that most BDSM practitioners can tell the difference if they try much at all.

    Let me put it in another context:

    Saying cruelly cutting things is bad.
    Teasing friends can be good. If done properly it shows you know them well enough to keep from crossing their boundaries, while caring enough to chide them into thinking about their faults.

    But some clueless people don’t get to know you well enough, tease you, and blatantly cross boundaries they would know about if they were real friends. These people are being mean because they either can’t get close enough to people to understand the difference or because they have empathy problems.

    Similarly degradation in BDSM and out of it–or in bad BDSM.

  6. 6
    Robert says:

    ” I find real degradation, even in power exchange contexts, abusive.”

    Within the context of your own relationships and sexual life, this should be an iron principle that echoes across the sky with the voice of a thousand gods.

    Outside that context, my inclination is to think that this is like me liking “The Avengers” – of intellectual interest in a discussion about superhero movies, maybe, but for those people not planning to attend a movie with me, of no more significance than the tune farted by a passing sparrow.

    But I’m not much for theory, so maybe there is some deep reason that your view of my lust should have weight, even if you’re not one of the people in handcuffs at the time.

  7. 7
    Harlequin says:

    An analogy I sometimes find useful in these discussions is skydiving. Some people quite enjoy skydiving, and some think it’s terrifying, and some just don’t care. The people who enjoy it may enjoy different things about it: the view, the adrenaline, the sensation of falling. And yet we don’t usually have trouble distinguishing people who like skydiving from people who want to fall from an airplane to their deaths. Kinky sex, at least ideally, has many safeguards (such as prior communication and safewords) to allow people to access the part of the experience they’re interested in while lessening the risks of the part they don’t.

    So I don’t think, Alex, that all the people who are involved in this would view it as degrading in the same way as some of these columnists do. Some of them, maybe. But lots of them have parachutes.

  8. 8
    Geoffrey says:

    You might put a link to the actual Emily Witt article in your first graph. I had to click through to one of the conservative response articles to get the link.

  9. 9
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    I don’t have much problem with the masochists. Degradation requires some sort of “treating you as less than you’re worth, against your wishes” kind of thing, and it seems clear that many/most of these people are being treated as they want: this actress certainly was. To the extent that it’s real consent and that they aren’t crossing other social boundaries (permanent injury, for example) it seems acceptable even though it often makes me personally uncomfortable.

    That said, it also is obvious that there are some people who have their boundaries crossed without consent (I’ve read plenty on this) even in a controlled S&M community. And there are a gazillion people who probably have some less-than-ideal reasons for “wanting” to be abused, like the classic literary “was abused as a child” gimmick; I’m not convinced that those people should have their consent evaluated in the same fashion.

    I have much more of a problem with the sadists. People who take pleasure in degrading and harming others are distasteful, and IMO this is an immoral act absent exceptions.

    That said, there are admittedly exceptions. There is a subset of people who don’t necessarily take pleasure in degradation per se, but can more accurately be said to take pleasure in giving people what they want.

    To use a different example, there are people who get off on professional actors making fake revenge porn, but who would immediately turn it off and feel disgust it if they found out that it was real. But there are also many people who like watching it and who enjoy the reality of the humiliation. The first group is much more morally sound.

    But in the society that we’re in right now, this sort of thing is a… delicate line to walk, to say the least. Some of the people in that club were there to make the actress happy by fulfilling her fantasies. Some were there because they took pleasure in seeing her fantasies fulfilled. And in all probability, some were there just because they enjoyed hurting her, and/or seeing her hurt, and were mainly happy because they were unlikely to be arrested. One of those groups are Not OK.

    In the conflict between “fulfill the sexual desires of the consensual masochists and the non-immoral sadists” versus “protect people and society in general from not–entirely-consensual masochists and immoral sadists,” you end up having to to favor one group over the other. And I’m not sure that I think the first category wins.

    If there were really a way to accurately distinguish the truly-consensual masochists and the non-immoral sadists, I’d be OK with that; that’s in the the “not necessarily my cup of tea, but no reason to make it my business” category. And FWIW, I think that this particular porn shoot, with the very high level of supervision and interaction, is much, much, more likely to be in the OK category. But as a general rule it doesn’t seem that we do that well enough to make this an OK balance of risks.

  10. 10
    Ampersand says:

    Geoffrey, thanks for pointing that out; I’ve added a link to Witt’s article in the first paragraph after the initial quote.

  11. 11
    Sebastian H says:

    “But I’m not much for theory, so maybe there is some deep reason that your view of my lust should have weight, even if you’re not one of the people in handcuffs at the time.”

    I agree with clear cases of consent. I think it is fair for society to want to be sure there really is consent though.

  12. Perhaps I am missing something, but it sounds to me like all the questions being raised here about consent in BDSM, about what it means “to give and/or to receive” whatever is being given and/or received, about the subtleties and nuance of distinguishing the “good or moral” BDSMers from the “bad or immoral” ones–pardon my shorthand–are also questions that can be asked about men and women in perfectly conventional, monogamous heterosexual relationships who only ever have sex in the missionary position and that’s absolutely always the only kind of sex they ever have.

  13. 13
    Robert says:

    Well, those people are just SICK, Richard. :)

  14. 14
    Sebastian H says:

    Richard, yes. The power issues exhibited in BDSM are almost all present in so called vanilla relationships. They just aren’t as explicit.

  15. 15
    Ben Lehman says:

    The paternalistic “oh we have to protect the poor submissives from themselves / the eeeeee-vil doms” attitude of non-kinksters is pretty hateful.

    Because, first, I doubt that there are more rapists in the kink scene than there are in any given scene in which single people meet each other for sex. There is also the matter of all the rapists in schools, families, churches, marriages, social clubs, workplaces, community groups, activism, etc.

    And, second, the predators in the kink scene present both as subs and as doms. Indeed these prejudices make it super-easy to get away with rape if you present as a submissive in the kink scene.

    So, yeah, pretty hateful.

  16. 16
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Richard Jeffrey Newman says:
    Perhaps I am missing something, but it sounds to me like all the questions being raised here …are also questions that can be asked about men and women in perfectly conventional, monogamous heterosexual relationships who only ever have sex in the missionary position

    That’s because you’re treating the things as the same. They are not.

    Some actions are presumptively bad. Other actions are presumptively neutral; others are presumptively good. That is a moral judgment which we have made as a society, which we reinforce individually, and which I feel perfectly comfortable owning up to.

    Hurting people is presumptively bad. Taking pleasure in hurting others (or seeing them get hurt) is presumptively bad. Being hurt is presumptively bad. Because those are presumptively immoral and antisocial activities, people who do them don’t get the benefit of the doubt. This isn’t an outlying position; this is a reflection of broad social norms and beliefs.

    It doesn’t mean that any specific interaction can’t actually be moral, good, and socially beneficial. (Not incidentally, the willingness to acknowledge “these usually-problematic things can sometimes be beneficial” IS probably to the left of broad social norms and beliefs.) But because they are problematic it’s reasonable, and proper, to require that the participants “prove the exception” to some degree.

    If folks think that making this moral distinction is “hateful,” I’m OK with that. It seems like a strange position, unless you want to argue for generally avoiding moral standards or unless you want to argue against the idea that generally speaking, hurting people is a bad thing. If folks don’t have the moral judgment to be able to distinguish between things that are problematic and things that are not, then I’m not especially inclined to respect their moral judgment on what is, or is not, hateful.

  17. 17
    Ampersand says:

    Speaking as a non-kinkster…

    Hurting people is presumptively bad. Taking pleasure in hurting others (or seeing them get hurt) is presumptively bad. Being hurt is presumptively bad. Because those are presumptively immoral and antisocial activities, people who do them don’t get the benefit of the doubt. This isn’t an outlying position; this is a reflection of broad social norms and beliefs.

    So would you hold karate tournaments to the same presumptive standard? How about a production of Hamlet? Those are both pretty violent, with a lot of people (at least on the surface) seeming to hurt each other.

    In both those cases, I might ask “is anyone being permanently injured?” and “are the people involved in a position to genuinely freely consent to what’s going on?” But basically, it’s trivially easy to see that there’s a huge distinction between a formal karate tourney versus a mugging, or Hamlet versus a bunch of people actually being stabbed and poisoned to death.

    Similarly, it’s trivially easy to see the large difference between the porn shoot described in the article I linked to, and actual abuse and rape.

    And, as Richard says, I don’t see any reason why “is anyone being permanently injured?” and “are the people involved in a position to genuinely freely consent to what’s going on?” aren’t equally valid questions to ask of vanilla sex relations. If we only ask such questions of things that resemble violence on the surface (like Hamlet, and like some BDSM), then we’re doing harm by creating a “safe zone” for abusers where such questions won’t be asked.

  18. 18
    Ben Lehman says:

    Can you give an example of an BDSM act which is enjoyable to all involved parties, wholly consensual on the part of all involved parties, results in no permanent injury to any involved party, and that you would consider immoral?

  19. 19
    nobody.really says:

    I do not know that it is harmful for a human to be degraded. If you held a gun to my head and asked me to bet one way or the other, I’d say that it is.

    I appreciate your embrace of empiricism, but I kinda doubt this experimental design will get approval from the ethics committee.

    Recall the show when Bill Maher wanted to get beyond the hype and get some actual data on people’s experience with BDSM. So he polled his studio audience and was able to gather data demonstrating that most people didn’t like getting hit with polls.

  20. 20
    Geoffrey says:

    I like Amp’s karate tournament example, though I might have gone for major league sports myself — a vast swath of America already does watch people being hurt and degraded as a form of entertainment. (And if performing meaningless tasks like carrying a ball under set of complicated, arbitrary rules that you get singled out and shamed for breaking doesn’t sound like degradation, you need to start seeing a better dom.)

    The idea that there’s some outright rejection of violence in our society, and that BDSM is a rare and challenging outlier that needs to justify itself, is pretty laughable in a world of football, MMA, and boxing.

  21. 21
    Ben Lehman says:

    (And if performing meaningless tasks like carrying a ball under set of complicated, arbitrary rules that you get singled out and shamed for breaking doesn’t sound like degradation, you need to start seeing a better dom.)

    I laughed embarrassingly loud at this.

  22. 22
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Ampersand says:
    May 22, 2013 at 7:38 am
    So would you hold karate tournaments to the same presumptive standard?

    Of course; why wouldn’t I? As a general rule I’m most comfortable with highly supervised padded/helmeted limited-contact; less so with the equivalent in full contact; less so with highly supervised full contact no-pads matches; and entirely opposed to backyard no-ref no-rules no-ambulance-standby full contact matches.

    Don’t you feel the same way? I can’t imagine that you think that we should give the same level of supervision, consideration, and oversight to people practicing blocks in a dojo under the oversight of an expert, as we would to some dudes going at it with bare knuckles in an alley.

    Obviously there are always differences which are specific to the issue; these analogies are never perfect. For example, there are many benefits to learning martial arts, and there are many benefits to practicing full contact, which affect the issue.

    Similarly, it’s trivially easy to see the large difference between the porn shoot described in the article I linked to, and actual abuse and rape.

    Yup. Do you think that I’m disagreeing? From my own post:
    “I think that this particular porn shoot, with the very high level of supervision and interaction, is much, much, more likely to be in the OK category.”

    And, as Richard says, I don’t see any reason why “is anyone being permanently injured?” and “are the people involved in a position to genuinely freely consent to what’s going on?” aren’t equally valid questions to ask of vanilla sex relations. If we only ask such questions of things that resemble violence on the surface (like Hamlet, and like some BDSM), then we’re doing harm by creating a “safe zone” for abusers where such questions won’t be asked. (emphasis added)

    That’s ridiculous.

    There’s no way that we are ever going to be able to evaluate every situation in extreme detail. All that we can do is to choose a tiny fraction of them and give them what we believe to be appropriate attention.

    We need to make those choices rationally. “Look, there’s a dude making out with a girl who appears to be 12; we generally don’t want that to happen; we should check on that” is a rational choice. “Look, there’s a dude who is making out with a girl who appears to be 19; we generally don’t care; we will use our energy checking on something else” is also rational choice. CAN it be true that the first instance is a 20 year old who looks like a teenager, and that the second instance is a 12 year old who looks like a grownup? Sure–but so what? The initial decision isn’t supposed to be especially precise.

    I’m not pretending that all vanilla sex is perfect, and I’m CERTAINLY not pretending that all non-vanilla sex is actually problematic. But the decision to treat it differently in the initial analysis makes perfect sense. And I am not, of course, suggesting that we should give LESS oversight to vanilla sex than we do right now. That implication is completely a straw man.

  23. 23
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Ben Lehman says:
    May 22, 2013 at 7:56 am
    Can you give an example of an BDSM act which is enjoyable to all involved parties, wholly consensual on the part of all involved parties, results in no permanent injury to any involved party, and that you would consider immoral?

    Assuming that we don’t play a game of exceptions, generally not. If I could know that it’s consensual, enjoyable, and non-permanent, I pretty much think it’s OK. There are still some universal exceptions (sex with children, etc.) but I am sure you don’t mean to include those in the question. It’s possible that there is a situation I haven’t considered, of course, but one doesn’t spring to mind.

    If I’m omnipotent for the purposes of the question, it’s different.

    Someone who “likes to hurt people if they ask me to hurt them and they consent in advance” is not inherently immoral.

    But someone who “likes to hurt people with or without their consent” IS inherently immoral. Just because they happen at the moment to be beating someone who wants to be beaten, does not change the fact that they are motivated to do so by an inherently immoral desire; I believe that such an event would be immoral.

    That said, it’s only a theoretical question: I am not omnipotent.

    ETA: This is why I am trying to clearly talk about a presumption and not a conclusion. Just like the “girl who looks like she’s getting abused by a grown man” may actually be 20 years old, the “woman who looks like she’s getting beaten up” may well be in a happy, healthy, consensual relationship.

    And once we’ve established that everything is OK, then everyone can go on with their life.

  24. 24
    Ben Lehman says:

    … What someone likes or dislikes isn’t moral. What they do is moral.

    Someone who “likes hurting people” is moral if they only hurting people who like being hurt (or, for instance, pursue a career as a boxer or football player or other socially acceptable means of hurting people*.) If they hurt people outside of these contexts — whether or not they enjoy it — they’re immoral.

    Stating that a person is inherently immoral regardless of actions is a pretty terrible thing to do. Don’t.

    * Like the military — yay?

  25. 25
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    I’m not omnipotent and I don’t believe in an omnipotent god (or anything else.) But given two scenarios in which I am omnipotent:

    “Joe #1 wants to rape and murder children, but restrains himself”
    versus
    “Joe #2 doesn’t want to rape or murder children”

    Joe #1 is more moral.

    This is, obviously, a purely theoretical exercise. Still, I am frankly surprised if you would suggest those are theoretically equivalent, and even more surprised if you viewed such a theoretical distinction as “terrible.” But then again, it’s pretty clear that your morality doesn’t match mine; we’re all different.

    Stating that a person is inherently immoral regardless of actions is a pretty terrible thing to do. Don’t.

    Jeeez.
    We’re talking generally, about a theoretical magic world where we’re omnipotent. That is not this world. If you can’t have a theoretical discussion in this sphere without trying to Give Orders To Others, you shouldn’t have the discussion. What with the terribles and hatefuls and Stop Its, you come off like one of those idiots who is doomed to try and impose their own morality on everyone, rather than someone who is comfortable with their own morality and yet aware that it isn’t the same as everyone else.

    And do you see the problem here? You’re arguing that only actions are relevant. Since I have specifically distinguished between reality and “if we were all omnipotent” fairyland, and since we aren’t in fairyland, then what the fuck are you so concerned about, and what are you telling me to “Stop” anyway? It’s as if (wait for it….) you are complaining about my point of view and not my actions. Very ironic.

    I wouldn’t have expected that you’d take a position akin to the “I hate gays, but it doesn’t matter because I treat them equally” claim. In my view, treating gays badly AND hating gays are both bad. Since when do you disagree?

    Obviously, we have no way of knowing what people think. But that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it.

  26. 26
    Sebastian says:

    Assuming no deity volunteers its time, how exactly do you propose we judge whether something is inherently harmful, including psychologically, in the long term? Whether some of the people being hurt aren’t being set up for low-self esteem, sense of self-worth [insert other poorly defined terms here] which will end up hurting them, outside of the SM scene, in the future? Whether some of the people doing the hurting are not eroding the things that keep them from indulging with non-consenting subjects?

    I do not think we can know, not without some extensive research. Given that the many of the potential subjects of this research are, most understandably, unwilling to be examined by outsiders, we have to resort to what as a society, we have a fine tradition of doing: doing a half to full-assed effort to educate ourselves, then flapping our mouths and trying to convince whomever’s willing to listen. Which is what Emily Witt, the conservative bloggers, and everyone on this thread is doing.

    I do not buy ‘Talking about this is hateful’ nor do I buy ‘Everything that makes me uncomfortable should be shut down’. On this subject, I’m falling back to my default position, which is ‘I do not know enough, I don’t care to learn more, I’ll do nothing’.

    That said, I can see that many people here are quite ignorant of the things they are using as analogies. There are significant movements opposing violent sports. There are tons of practitioners of violent activities that are unable to indulge in their absolutely consensual bloodletting because of local laws. I have personally attended two traditional kickboxing tournaments that were shut down, in mid fight, because representatives of those providing the venue were shocked by the levels of violence. The kick-boxers did not talk about contracts, did not threaten legal action, they just slunk out, because they know that they play on sufferance – MMA is illegal in most places.

    ARMA practices are always conducted with photocopies of the local ordinances that supposedly make it legal. ARMA tournaments, and I am not saying that they exist, would be completely illegal. Full-contact jousting? Yeah, right. Only in Texas, and with wink-wink rules that no one follows when the Law isn’t around. And clearly, there are other people who break the law often enough, as accepted challenges to the ‘pros’ usually result in the unknowns demolishing them.

    But why stick to violence? Prostitution and porn. Supposedly consensual, supposedly no harm to anyone involved. Pfff… My crowd is made of people who enjoy flapping their mouths as much as anyone, but these are two subjects that are off the table, because reason takes a holiday when they are brought up. For contrast ‘The Jewish genocide was not the worst one in WWII’, ‘Introducing underage children to religion should be illegal’, and ‘There’s place for slavery in the new Millennium’ are considered OK to debate.

    All of this to say that unless you claim to have a direct line to god, you are in the same boat as all of us – you do not know that SM is harmless to everyone involved, you know that some of the participants, somewhere, are involved because of outside pressure or internal demons, and would like to convince others that your approach is the one to follow. And your approach is most likely based on where you fall on the libertarian vs totalitarian scale.

  27. 27
    Ben Lehman says:

    I am talking about your actions. In this case, the public statements you are making in these comments. They are wrong, and immoral, because they are both expressing and enforcing prejudices which (in the real world) are greatly harmful to large numbers of people I love. Stop doing it, please.

    Also, “omnipotent” isn’t the word you’re looking for. It’s “omniscient.”

  28. 28
    Robert says:

    I suggest an alternative way of looking at things (not just sex), Sebastian, one that requires a good deal less magical avuncular competence on behalf of society and which assigns a good deal more agency to each individual person:

    Anything you want to do is perfectly OK, so long as it is not causing demonstrable and significant harm to other people, either as those people see it or as a reasonable outside observer can prove. (IE, my statement that your practice is causing me harm is sufficient; your statement that Bill’s practice is causing me harm requires you to show evidence.)

    It shall be an affirmative defense to a self-allegation of harm, to show evidence that the harm is not real, or is trivial, or is trivially avoidable.

    Anything which DOES cause harm, then proceeds to the level of social scrutiny. Cops, courts, social workers, anguished op-eds in the NYT, rather creepy-bossy blog postings by people concerned that the sexual practices of totally unrelated persons are somehow not correct.

    This removes from us the terrible burden of attempting to judge, at a distance, and without involvement in the situations, the rightness and wrongness of rough sex and pigeon racing and kitten bowling and every other potential action of our seven billion fellow humans. What a relief, and what a welcome opportunity it will provide us each to deal with our *own* behavior and our *own* interface with social morals.

    Free at last, free at last!

  29. 29
    Sebastian says:

    IE, my statement that your practice is causing me harm is sufficient; your statement that Bill’s practice is causing me harm requires you to show evidence.

    Robert, this is a recipe for disaster. My neighbors complain that when I swim in my pool, I am kicking too hard, and that disturbs them, despite happening outside of ‘quiet’ hours. I have heard people complain that the smell of horseshit on the horse trail is preventing them from enjoying the park. I have had angry mothers interrupt a sword practice in a location where it is 100% legal, because it was something their kids may wish to emulate.

    Fuck this. A statement that my practice is causing you harm requires proof.

    Even when it does cause you harm, who is to make a effort to mitigate the harm, and at whose expense, should be decided on an individual basis, not automatically. For example, should you be able to make me cut down my fruit trees because you have pollen allergies, and just moved in a house downwind of mine?

    Saying that we should prove harm before social scrutiny is kind of meaningless. For any given thing, there is always someone, somewhere, who will claim that it’s harming him. Scrutiny by those with power is how every single moral, law, regulation has come to be. And It’s a good thing that we live at the time that ‘those with power’ approximates ‘adult humans’ more than it’s been the case earlier.

  30. 30
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Ben Lehman says:
    May 22, 2013 at 10:41 am
    I am talking about your actions. In this case, the public statements you are making in these comments.

    You’re seriously taking the view that the act of discussing whether or not something is immoral is, itself, immoral? Sigh.

    Anyway, I’ll take that at face value for the sake of response, and ask: Which statements, precisely, are harmful?

    -The comments where I suggested that it was acceptable for society to make moral judgments, as a general rule?

    -The comment where I suggested that it was reasonable for society to give more oversight to actions which may be moral but which resemble immoral acts, and that given our lack of omniscience (oops) the level of oversight can reasonably scale with the outward appearance of the act?

    -The comments where I said that even though I distinguish between good and bad thoughts in theory, we can’t tell what others thing, so the distinction was purely theoretical?

    -The comment answering you, where I said that if there was actually full consent, it was OK with me?

    -The comment replying to Amp where I noted that yes, the analysis applies to a wide variety of things such as karate, and isn’t limited to the S&M arena?

    I can’t imagine you think ALL of those things are wrong, given that some of them are not so far off what I think is your view. But you haven’t been precise, and you haven’t put forth a competing position. If there’s a particular statement you think is wrong, please
    1) Quote it, so I know what you’re addressing;
    2) Explain why you think it’s wrong; and/or
    3) Explain what alternative you think is right. (You don’t get to claim the rest of the universal set for yourself. Offer a competing morality if you think you have a better one, but “not yours” doesn’t qualify.)

    …because they are both expressing and enforcing

    What are you talking about? Enforcing what?

    prejudices

    As in the technical “pre-judgment” meaning?
    Or as in the normal “unjustified or inappropriate pre-judgment” meaning? In which case: you haven’t explained why it’s unjustified or inappropriate.

    which (in the real world) are greatly harmful to large numbers of people I love.

    I’m sorry that’s the case, but that is not the criteria.

    I’m making a broad social proposition, and it will be imperfect. All analyses are imperfect. All rules are imperfect. But “People Ben Loves” /= “society.” Not to mention that with some rare exceptions ,most people (including, I assume, people who do things you don’t like) have someone who loves them.

    The question isn’t whether a rule is imperfect; all of these rules are imperfect and all rules have some unwanted outcomes. The question is which rule is LESS imperfect, and which set of unwanted outcomes is WORSE.

    The fact that a particular person or group doesn’t like something is relevant to figure out what you do about it. But it’s not determinative.

    And I’m also curious: Do you think that Joe #1 and Joe #2 are the same, morally speaking? You seem to be demanding a lot of answers but you’re not providing many.

  31. 31
    Ben Lehman says:

    People who take pleasure in degrading and harming others are distasteful, and IMO this is an immoral act absent exceptions.

    This, which you elaborate on at great length but I’m not going to quote every single thing you said. This is wrong, and evil, and its existence as a common prejudice in society ruins a whole lot of people’s lives.

    You can say that “absent exceptions” covers your ass, but it doesn’t even come close, unless you are willing to accept the entire world of “consensual BDSM” as an “exception” in which case, since the entire topic of this conversation is consensual BDSM, you need to shut the fuck up.

    Oh and.

    ” And there are a gazillion people who probably have some less-than-ideal reasons for “wanting” to be abused, like the classic literary “was abused as a child” gimmick; I’m not convinced that those people should have their consent evaluated in the same fashion.”

    Gosh I guess being raped as a kid means I don’t get sexual autonomy as an adult. This is an exceptionally common sentiment, and almost as evil as it is common.

  32. 32
    Ampersand says:

    Everyone, please try and dial it down a couple of notches, if you’re able. Thanks.

  33. 33
    Sebastian says:

    OK, I guess I am wrong and evil, because I am 100% behind “People who take pleasure in degrading and harming others are distasteful”. (The second part of the statement I find meaningless)

    And screw exceptions. A police officer who enjoys killing someone who was about to commit murder is distasteful. So? Leaving aside how I’d know he enjoyed it, I’d be still glad he did it, I would shake his hand and thank him for it, and I would even leave him on the force. I’d watch myself around him, though, even more than I usually watch myself around people with guns.

    Yes, I do think that SM sex is distasteful, I have no interest in studying it… but as long as it does not harm me, I’d protect the participants’ right to indulge. This said, trying to forbid discussion also disgusts me, and calling people ‘evil’ for holding a rather defensible opinion does not particularly impress me, either. Personally I do not agree with people who think distasteful things should be automatically illegal, nor with those who think that people should not be allowed to voluntarily harm themselves.

    But I disagree with people who think that expressing your disgust is evil, as well.

    By the way, I know of people who think that sexual penetration is disgusting. As a matter of fact, it is a known and not particularly rare development of the fear of penetration of the body envelope. My wife had some subjects like this at PennState. Were they evil? Should they never, ever express their opinion as not to offend people who enjoy boring sex?

  34. 34
    Jake Squid says:

    “Joe #1 wants to rape and murder children, but restrains himself”
    versus
    “Joe #2 doesn’t want to rape or murder children”

    Joe #1 is more moral.

    You’re wrong. Joe #1 is infinitely more moral. He has identified a desire in himself that he finds immoral and avoided acting on that desire. That is admirable. Joe #2 has done nothing because he has no abhorrent desire.

  35. 35
    Robert says:

    Sebastian, you miss my point. The people in your examples would have trivially easy defenses; “officer, the sound of my kicking is not audible at the property line”, “we have a permit for sword class”, etc. You have to let individuals allege harm even without proof, for the obvious reason that sometimes there are harms without proof other than the individual’s own report, even though this may sometimes inconvenience people who did nothing wrong.

    The more fundamental point you miss is that you’re imposing MORE inconvenience on them, with your desire to assess from a distance whether harm to third parties is occurring, and then rectify it via grand social designs. We don’t need to make that determination, other than in relatively rare instances where great harms are being done in conspiratorial secrecy; for the most part, people are capable of reporting their own harms.

    Right now you’re offending and inconveniencing (some) practitioners of BDSM by subjecting their preference to the kind of language that gays used to get from parts of the psychiatric community, and treating those preferences as something that is, somehow, your business. I’m not saying “you can’t do that”, I’m saying it’s prickish behavior about something that you aren’t involved with.

    Are you? I mean, are you getting phone calls from distressed subs or overworked doms telling you that they’re being abused, or are you getting meaningfully pleading looks from the folks in the dungeon next door when you walk by? That’s what my suggestion was about – when the people being harmed are saying “hey, this is harming me”, OR when people not involved think they see harm and can prove that it exists, THEN it is time for the social conversation about the harm.

    “I think this thing that other people do might be harming them, even though they aren’t complaining about it, and there’s little or no evidence that it is, so let’s have a big discussion about these other people’s behavior.” I mean, can you see why this is pissing people off, Mayor Bloomberg?

  36. 36
    Sebastian says:

    Robert, you are confusing two issues. I, personally, have absolutely no interest in regulating BDSM sex. I do not even particularly care about having a discussion, apart from my usual interest in witnessing, in a controlled environment, a discussion that I may have, with friends or my wife’s colleagues, one of these evenings.

    Most, if not all, of my posts in this thread have been motivated by people saying that it is wrong to have the discussion, or that people are evil for voicing their various distastes. I am not saying that it is necessary to have the discussion. I am not saying that it is necessary to voice your distaste. But I am saying that it is necessary to be able to voice distaste and have a discussion.

  37. 37
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Jake Squid says:
    You’re wrong. Joe #1 is infinitely more moral. He has identified a desire in himself that he finds immoral and avoided acting on that desire. That is admirable. Joe #2 has done nothing because he has no abhorrent desire.

    I’m familiar with that line of reasoning. I place some value on a decision to abstain from immoral desires, but a higher value on the lack of immoral desires. Still, we’re solidly into theory here and fortunately there’s no particular reason we have to agree on this particular theoretical issue. Also, there’s obviously no objective answer here–even if I am correct in my own mind, I’m not bothered by your differing opinion.

    Ben Lehman says:
    May 22, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    People who take pleasure in degrading and harming others are distasteful, and IMO this is an immoral act absent exceptions.

    This, which you elaborate on at great length but I’m not going to quote every single thing you said. This is wrong, and evil,

    It’s opinion, just like you probably think that some other things are distasteful. Having an opinion isn’t wrong–especially one like this, where there are a variety of bases for it.

    Does my opinion hurt people’s feelings? I’m sure it does, just like other people’s opinions about me can hurt my feelings. Such is life; such are opinions.

    And it’s not evil; just the opposite. Generally speaking (with exceptions) degrading and harming others is a hell of a lot more likely to be evil. Generally speaking (with exceptions) opposition to degradation and harm is at best a great thing, and at worst neutral.

    and its existence as a common prejudice in society ruins a whole lot of people’s lives.

    If it spoils their ability to do things that are moral and/or socially beneficial, then I will participate in trying to figure out how to avoid that.

    If it spoils their ability to do things that are immoral and/or socially harmful, that’s not a bug, that’s a feature. Ruined lives or not.

    Gosh I guess being raped as a kid means….

    I’m truly sorry about your experience. But before I respond further: Do you really want to use your personal life as the subject of discussion, rather than sticking to generalizations or hypotheticals? I’m not going to change my argument and it doesn’t seem likely to go very well, but it’s your call.

  38. 38
    alex says:

    In this case, the public statements you are making in these comments. They are wrong, and immoral, because they are both expressing and enforcing prejudices which (in the real world) are greatly harmful to large numbers of people I love. Stop doing it, please.

    Ben. I was going to post something very harsh, but we’ve been asked to cool it. Instead can I ask you have a bit of a think about what you are saying?

    I don’t this is the best argument to use when defending people making a video of guys spitting on and hitting a bound woman with a sign around her neck saying “I’m a worthless cunt” on a feminist website. In this context, I think it’s pretty much self defeating. Could you step back a little and consider this.

  39. G&W:

    That’s because you’re treating [vanilla sex and BDSM] as the same. They are not.

    But I think that, at the most fundamental level, they are. Each is a way of touching someone and of being touched by someone–and I’m just going to link here to my post from the other day so that I don’t have to go on at length about what I mean by that.

    In both cases, this touch can be abused, exploited, imposed and, in general, administered in all sorts of ways that demean, degrade, and dehumanize. To refer to G&W’s example–and I think I have this right–I’m not so sure that the person who enjoys hurting people for its own sake, even though, in this particular instance he or she might be hurting someone who wants to be hurt, is any different from the man or woman who really enjoys raping people, but in this particular instance is having fully consensual sex.

    I also have to say that I find the need to talk about such a person in the context of BDSM–and I am, to use Amp’s phrase, a non-kinkster–both presumptive and offensive. (ETA: As I think it would be offensive to use such a person as an example to talk about the meaning/morality/whatever of vanilla sex.) I would be a lot more comfortable with this discussion if the questions about how BDSM can become abusive or immoral or whatever were being asked and answered first from within the community of people who practice it. I would like to know how they recognize when someone has crossed the line; how they recognize when a sub is using that role to hide the fact that he or she is a rapist (if I remember correctly an example someone gave upthread); and so on. Given that kind of concrete and accurate information, I think some of the theoretical moral questions G&W raises might be (if I understand what he means properly) interesting to discuss in terms that include both vanilla sex and BDSM.

  40. 40
    alex says:

    Saying you only enjoy consensual sadism seems to me to be like saying you only enjoy fair trade chocolate. I only speak for myself, but my taste buds don’t make those distinctions – pleasure’s not a concious reflective process like that.

  41. 41
    Jake Squid says:

    alex,

    I can then follow your logic to say that you enjoy sex of any kind, consensual or not. Is that a true statement?

  42. alex wrote:

    Saying you only enjoy consensual sadism seems to me to be like saying you only enjoy fair trade chocolate.

    To make this metaphor work, you’d need to extend it to include enjoying fair trade chocolate only when you know the chocolate wants to be eaten, which is of course absurd. Reducing people’s sexuality to the simple fact of physical experience, like taste, is not something we would tolerate if we were talking about women’s pleasure; why do it when talking about anyone else’s? Which is not to say that I think we should not ask what sadism is, what it means to consent to give someone pain (which has to be part of an understanding of the phrase “consensual sadism”) or any of the other questions people have been asking, both implicitly and explicitly. It just strikes me that the people who have been asking them are not only not speaking first hand from within the community of BDSM practitioners–at least as far as I know–but also seem to know the answers before the question is even asked. In another context, it seems to me, that would be the definition of “mansplainer.”

  43. 43
    Ben Lehman says:

    Alex: You are posting and saying people don’t deserve bodily autonomy, on a feminist website (G&W is explicitly saying that people raped as children especially don’t deserve bodily autonomy, other people are being more general: people don’t deserve bodily autonomy if they enjoy things I find icky.)

    We can probably recapitulate the entire feminist sex wars right here, if you want. Seems fruitless, though.

  44. 44
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Richard Jeffrey Newman says:
    May 22, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    G&W:
    That’s because you’re treating [vanilla sex and BDSM] as the same. They are not.

    But I think that, at the most fundamental level, they are. Each is a way of touching someone and of being touched by someone–and I’m just going to link here to my post from the other day so that I don’t have to go on at length about what I mean by that.

    I understand the analysis and what you’re trying to say. From your perspective, in the framing you use, you’re right: they are both “a way of touching someone and of being touched by someone.” From my perspective, though, your framing obscures the issue: I don’t disagree that they share many commonalities, but we distinguish vanilla and BSDM sex because the ways are different: ignoring the difference in methods doesn’t permit for that discussion, and it doesn’t match with our recognition of the difference (for example, why we use the terms “vanilla” and “BSDM.”)

  45. G&W:

    but we distinguish vanilla and BSDM sex because the ways are different

    How precisely, in concrete, not theoretical terms, do you understand that difference?

  46. 46
    Ampersand says:

    (Since I’m a non-kinkster, I’m sure I’m not using the right terms. Sorry in advance if I’ve inadvertently used an offensive term.)

    G&W:

    There’s no way that we are ever going to be able to evaluate every situation in extreme detail. All that we can do is to choose a tiny fraction of them and give them what we believe to be appropriate attention.

    We need to make those choices rationally. “Look, there’s a dude making out with a girl who appears to be 12; we generally don’t want that to happen; we should check on that” is a rational choice. “Look, there’s a dude who is making out with a girl who appears to be 19; we generally don’t care; we will use our energy checking on something else” is also rational choice. CAN it be true that the first instance is a 20 year old who looks like a teenager, and that the second instance is a 12 year old who looks like a grownup? Sure–but so what? The initial decision isn’t supposed to be especially precise.

    I’m not pretending that all vanilla sex is perfect, and I’m CERTAINLY not pretending that all non-vanilla sex is actually problematic. But the decision to treat it differently in the initial analysis makes perfect sense. And I am not, of course, suggesting that we should give LESS oversight to vanilla sex than we do right now. That implication is completely a straw man.

    I don’t really disagree with anything here, except the implication that it is rational to consider BDSM sex with greater suspicion. I don’t know of any evidence that people who engage in BDSM are more (or less) likely to rape or be raped, or to abuse or be abused.

    It is true that some BDSM uses what on the surface looks like degradation, force, etc. But in general, this is the same way a performance of Hamlet uses what on the surface looks like hatred and murder. A performance is pretty obviously not the real thing – even though no doubt both some BDSM participants, and some actors, are drawing on real emotions in order to put on a good performance.

    I certainly agree that there are “red lights” that make me look at a relationship with greater suspicion – for instance, if one person seems extraordinarily controlling of another person in day to day life. Or if someone’s partner seems determined to control their contact with their friends. There are warning signs.

    But I’m not at all convinced that being into BDSM should rationally be considered a legitimate warning sign, any more than Christopher Walken’s amazing skill at playing evil murderous thugs should make us look upon the real-life Walken with suspicion. Especially given BDSM’s status as a marginalized and looked-down-upon group (see the links in the original post), I think we should be very leery of using it as a mark of suspicion.

  47. 47
    Ben Lehman says:

    I love how all the people who have never met an (uncloseted) sadist, never talked to one, and certainly never practiced BDSM have very strong opinions about exactly how sadism works emotionally, btw.

    But, you know, that’s cool. Uninformed sounding off of platitudes and prejudices against a minority group, especially about their inherit immorality, has never resulted in any problems, for anyone, anywhere.

  48. Amp wrote:

    (Since I’m a non-kinkster, I’m sure I’m not using the right terms. Sorry in advance if I’ve inadvertently used an offensive term.)

    Just wanted to second that.

  49. 49
    nobody.really says:

    It is true that some BDSM uses what on the surface looks like degradation, force, etc. But in general, this is the same way a performance of Hamlet uses what on the surface looks like hatred and murder. A performance is pretty obviously not the real thing….”

    Unfortunate example; Hamlet himself said, “The play’s the thing….”

    Perhaps we should revise it to say, “It is true that some BDSM uses what on the surface looks like degradation, force, etc. But in general, this is the same way a performance of Pee Wee’s Playhouse uses what on the surface looks like hatred and murder.”

  50. 50
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Ampersand says:
    May 22, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    It is true that some BDSM uses what on the surface looks like degradation, force, etc.

    Looks like? It IS.

    It (or some of it) IS in fact physical violence; there IS in fact, non-permanent (or permanent, if you start getting into some more extreme stuff) physical indicators such as bruising, soreness, and scarring. The degradation is different because degradation is really in one’s head–but the physical stuff is not.

    But in general, this is the same way a performance of Hamlet uses what on the surface looks like hatred and murder. A performance is pretty obviously not the real thing

    Right. And that outward obviousness is one of the reasons that it passes our initial filters.

    I won’t respond further to this argument unless you ask–not because you don’t raise some good points, but because it seems likely that we’re not changing each others views here, and I don’t think it’s useful to keep repeating.

    I will say, though, that I think it’s is insensible for folks to suggest that the BSDM community should be given extra consideration because they are marginalized. They’re given special oversight because what they do is, absent proper oversight, a breach of social rules. They’re treated as being on the fringe because they are on the fringe, and–generally–probably should be on the fringe.

    Arguing that we should give them special consideration to define their own activities is, practically speaking, a decision to concede the issue. If the BSDM community doesn’t think that the BSDM community is doing anything wrong, what a surprise that would be, right? Are you seriously expecting that an average identity group is going to self-assess even if–especially if–there’s a possibility that what they are doing is not OK and might require a change?

  51. 51
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Richard Jeffrey Newman says:
    May 22, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    G&W:
    but we distinguish vanilla and BSDM sex because the ways are different

    How precisely, in concrete, not theoretical terms, do you understand that difference?

    Limited time as I have to finish a brief (would have answered you rather than Amp but i was reading from the bottom), but I’ll give it a shot. I’ll probably edit it later and this is a rough one.

    I don’t usually use the term “vanilla” sex, both because my definition of it would probably be wider than most and because it’s always seemed like a vaguely derogatory term. But anyway.

    The BSDM sex that I’m referencing is the segment of BSDM that’s severe enough that a normal outside observer who wasn’t in the scene would think “that is not good; I need to make sure things are OK,” and/or which contains sufficient levels of violence and potential harm that we maintain a societal interest in ensuring that things are, in fact, entirely OK with everyone involved.

    A good example to illustrate this might be “breath play.” It’s inherently dangerous; it’s potentially damaging; it can result in people who are unable to withdraw consent properly at the time (due to, you know, not breathing) and so on.

    It can be done. If someone is determined that they want to engage in breath play as a sub and someone is determined that they want to engage in breath play as a dom, then they should be able to do so.

    BUT. Breath play is different from, say, smacking someone on the ass with a crop while they stand there and take it. It has different risks and digs into different (and scarier, and more problematic) mental aspects which we as a society may want to monitor more closely. The social view of it should be different. The social interest in supervision, and ensuring consent, should not be the same w/r/t “light flogging” and “breath play.”

    Now, off to work. back later.

  52. 52
    alex says:

    Ben. Why is this so hard for you?

    The people you are defending have made a video of guys spitting on and hitting a bound woman with a sign around her neck saying “I’m a worthless cunt”. So stop with the phony self righteousness about how terrible it is for us to make “immoral” public statements which enforce prejudices which are harmful to sadists. Has it really escaped your notice that the fuckers you are defending are also in the business of making public statements that enforce prejudice? The comments that have gotten you so outraged here are fucking mild compared to the shit they’re up to.

  53. 53
    Harlequin says:

    gin-and-whiskey:

    A good example to illustrate this might be “breath play.” It’s inherently dangerous; it’s potentially damaging; it can result in people who are unable to withdraw consent properly at the time (due to, you know, not breathing) and so on.

    And breathplay is something that a lot of people in the BDSM community have a problem with; it’s banned at a lot of public events, for example, and tends to be one of the exceptions to the community politeness rule of not objecting to other’s kinks even if one finds them disgusting or disturbing. Here’s well-known BDSM writer Jay Wiseman on the subject.

    That also serves as a partial response to an earlier comment:

    Arguing that we should give them special consideration to define their own activities is, practically speaking, a decision to concede the issue. If the BSDM community doesn’t think that the BSDM community is doing anything wrong, what a surprise that would be, right? Are you seriously expecting that an average identity group is going to self-assess even if–especially if–there’s a possibility that what they are doing is not OK and might require a change?

    As another example, here’s the first part of a 7-part series on the problems of rape and abuse in the BDSM community, and how they are and are not addressed. (This link and the next one have a large TW for discussions of abuse and rape.) The author is very much on the side of “not addressed enough,” by the way. And here’s Cliff Pervocracy on the same topic. I bring those up because, I think, they agree with you in important ways, but they are internal rather than external to the community and can talk about its positive aspects in a way that might be opaque to you as somebody who doesn’t participate. I’m not sure what level of self-reflection you are referencing in your above quote, but perhaps these pieces address some of those concerns.

  54. 54
    Charles S says:

    alex,

    Try again on the dialing it back [I say speaking as a mod, something I am and you are not, so also please dial it way back on telling people (Ben) what is and is not acceptable on this blog].

    You are failing to distinguish between the issues involved in the production of porn (which the original article talked about, but the Freidersdorf article didn’t, and this thread mostly hasn’t) and the practice of BDSM (or the existence of sadistic desire), which this thread has mostly been about. While I’m sure Ben could mount a defense of the production of porn if he chose to, the group he has been defending is sadists and people whose sexuality is influenced by childhood abuse (a group aboout which g&w is “not convinced that those people should have their consent evaluated in the same fashion [as everyone else]”, which is reasonably interpreted to mean that he doesn’t think people who have been sexually abused as children are fully capable of consent). So your attempt to argue that it is okay to declare sadists to be morally lesser (g&w) or masochists to not truly be capable of consent (g&w) or to publicly declare your disgust for sadists (Sebastian) because pornographers are evil misses the mark by a long shot. Even if we all were to agree that pornographers were evil, it would have no relevance to what g&w or Sebastian have been arguing, nor would it have any relevance to anything Ben has been arguing.

    g&w has pretty clearly stated that what happened on set in filming the porn described in the original linked article was okay with him (consensual and not harmful), so it is pretty obvious that the argument between Ben and g&w that you have decided to jump into is NOT ABOUT MAKING PORN. Ben doesn’t need to defend what Princess Donna was doing from g&w because g&w is okay with it. If you want to attack someone, perhaps you should attack g&w (hint: don’t).

    By the way, I think you need to answer Jake Squid and RJN’s objections to your argument in which you denied the possibility of people who only take pleasure in pain/suffering/degradation if it is consensual pain/suffering/degradation. I think your argument makes some sense if we were talking about the consumption of filmed or photographed pornography, where the consent of the person suffering is something which can only be inferred (and whose presence or absence can be faked), but it makes no sense in the context of actual sex, where consensuality is fundamentally central to what is being immediately experienced. However, again, neither this thread nor the O.P. is about making or consuming porn, so in the context of this thread, your comment makes very little sense.

  55. 55
    Ben Lehman says:

    Alex: I’m perfectly willing to discuss the film from a media criticism perspective, and fuck I have a lot to say about it (not all positive) but I am only willing to have a media criticism discussion in a context where the following things are established and not up for debate:

    1) Sadists and masochists have a right to exist, and their existence isn’t lesser or inferior to people who aren’t.

    2) Sadists and masochists have a right to their sexual desires, and a right to pursue them in a consensual, non-harmful manner.

    3) Sadists, masochists, and people sexually abused as children (all of which overlap, none of which 100% overlap) have a right to consent or not consent to sexual activity that is in no way lesser or more suspect than any other person’s right to consent or not consent to sexual activity.

    Since, in this thread, it’s abundantly clear that for a number of you (alex, G&W, sebastian) don’t agree with these three things, I’m not really interested in pursuing the media criticism “is this porn appropriate? what are its effects on society?” discussion with any of you. I’m perfectly happy to have that sort discussion with Charles or Barry (and have in the past), because they acknowledge the basic human rights and equal dignity of kinky people.

  56. 56
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Ben,

    Kinky people have basic human rights, of course. But contrary to your assertions, nobody is challenging that.

    Instead, you’re simply attempting to jam your personal preferences under the “basic human rights and universal morality” mantle, and they don’t fit there. Very few rights are in the universal “can’t-touch-this” category.

    I’m unsurprised, since this is a very common (and by no means limited to you) argument tactic: it’s much simpler to claim that something is a human right and therefore immune to attack, than it is to acknowledge that it’s in the broad category of “rights which can be discussed, considered, and potentially limited by societal agreement.” Many rights which I value highly are not universal ones; that’s just a reflection of the broad societal values across humanity.

    If you don’t want to participate in the discussion further it’s your call. If you refuse to engage with anyone who does not a priori accept your arguments as true, and/or if you refuse to concede the possibility that you may be wrong about your claims, you’re not really having a discussion anyway.

    e.g.:

    1) Sadists and masochists have a right to exist, and their existence isn’t lesser or inferior to people who aren’t.

    Yes, of course. So what?

    We are not discussing existence of humans, or anything else. We’re discussing if, when, and how it is appropriate for us to place any limits on a particular set of human behaviors.

    That probably includes some sort of judgment, since we don’t usually limit things which we like. But that’s judgment on a behavior basis, not on a personal basis.

    2) Sadists and masochists have a right to their sexual desires

    Everyone has a right to their desires. Some desires are contrary to social goals, whether it’s “the desire to hurt people,” “The desire to steal stuff,” “the desire to eat an endangered species,” or “the desire to drive 150 mph on a public highway.”

    This isn’t Minority Report. outside the theoretical perspective, it’s what people DO, not what they THINK, that is relevant.

    and a right to pursue them in a consensual, non-harmful manner.

    That’s what we’re discussing. How can that right be exercised? What limits, or oversight, are appropriate–if any?

    As a society, we have found a ton of ways to accommodate desires that are not especially mainstream, whether it’s “beat the shit out of someone” (hello, MMA) or “whip yourself bloody while running naked through the streets” (hello, performance art” or whatever.

    Chances are that we can accommodate BSDM (or the vast majority of it,) at least somehow. The chances are much smaller if the BSDM folks refuse to acknowledge that society has a right to participate in the discussion.

    3) Sadists, masochists, and people sexually abused as children (all of which overlap, none of which 100% overlap) have a right to consent or not consent to sexual activity that is in no way lesser or more suspect than any other person’s right to consent or not consent to sexual activity.

    That is also what we’re discussing. We generally try to identify groups which are at higher risk, or which seem to have a higher potential to violate social norms, and we target them with oversight.

    Are there groups whose consent may require a bit more evaluation? Yup: and we have groups like that all over. Sometimes the extra oversight results from history; sometimes it results from situation; and so on.

    To use your preferred example: As a society, we don’t want people to get hit when they’re kids. We want to help people who were hit when they’re kids. And if we see people who we want to help seeking out behavior which seems potentially unhealthy and which may be the result of our failure to protect them in the first place, we may well be justified to have an extra “are you really sure that you want this, and that we can’t provide a different type of help?” level of oversight.

    It may be that the end result is that we say “yeah; do what you want.” But the concept that we would discuss it in the process of making a decision is a normal and expected part of living in society.

    Besides:

    On the scale of people who disagree with you, I’m about as far left as you can GET.

    I haven’t listed a single common BSDM practice which I would ban, make illegal, or forbid. I have specifically agreed that there are situations in which people should be permitted to have a wide range of behaviors, including both Public Disgrace-type porn and breath play. Even for acts which personally disgust me I have said that there are ways they should be available. Even for the people who I think may need extra protection, I have argues only for the potential for additional safeguards, not bans.

    If this seems to you as an inherent challenge to your humanity, then I think your judgment is way off.

    And a good thing, too. Societal oversight is a big contributor to having a good society. It’s a lot of what has produced the kind of society where (unlike many other areas) you can openly practice BSDM without being, you know, put in jail, flogged or killed.

  57. 57
    Sebastian says:

    While I truly respect the arguments that gin-and-whiskey is making, and while I can even see where alex is coming from (which I usually cannot) I do not understand why I am being lumped with them.

    I am not calling for any regulation on anyone. I have done two things in this thread. Express my distaste with harming and humiliating human beings for sexual gratification, and express disgust with people who think that it is evil, whatever that means, to discuss and express disgust for sadism.

    Well, I have been wrong before, so I would like a clarification from Ampersand, whom I see as the owner, thus highest law of this site. Is it against the rules on amptoons to express negative opinions towards the practices of particular members of the BDSM community?

  58. 58
    Charles S says:

    g&w,

    You are banned from this thread.

    You think that describing rape survivors as people who can’t really consent like standard people to be a perfectly valid and reasonable position, and since you hold that position, therefore you think that is what we are discussing. In fact, your position is beyond the pale, and the only person who has been engaging with you on it has been telling you it is beyond the pale.

    Your position is beyond the pale. Your position is not the topic of discussion.

    Basically, there is (or was) the potential for interesting discussion related to the OP, but you and Sebastian and alex contribute to an environment in which that is not going to happen. Therefore, in the hopes of producing interesting discussion (if you have not already poisoned the well), you are banned from this thread.

  59. 59
    Charles S says:

    Sebastian,

    You’ve done two things on this thread, neither of them interesting or productive to discussion.

    Whether or not general expressions of disgust with sadism is allowed on Alas, it does not contribute to interesting or useful discussion. Nothing is gained by you coming in and announcing that you find thus and such disgusting. No one cares what your opinion of sadism is. You yourself were quite clear that you aren’t even particularly interested in participating in nuanced or intelligent discussion of the subject, but you still insist that your right to call things disgusting here is critically important, and you apparently can’t imagine why someone (you) who is not particularly interested in a topic barging in and announcing their disgust might produce an environment unconducive to productive discussion.

    Furthermore, your reappearance here is on the wrong thread. Rules adjudication questions, if you must ask them, belong on an open thread.

  60. 60
    Sebastian says:

    The only reason I expressed my disgust with sadism is because Ben Lehman stated that it is evil to express disgust for sadism. The way I understood his argument, it is evil to express disgust with sadism, and the only people who should discuss an activity are people who treat the activity with respect.

    Well, Ben Lehman is a poster. You are an administrator, so I guess I’m out.

  61. 61
    alex says:

    please dial it way back on telling people (Ben) what is and is not acceptable on this blog

    I think you are blatantly misreading what was clearly a rhetorical appeal to Ben’s decency and commonsense in an attempt to get him to refrain from posting those sentiments anywhere as a literal “I am the authority, don’t post this here” instruction. That’s a pretty cheap way of brandishing your mod status against someone you disagree with.

    Ben could mount a defense of the production of porn if he chose to, the group he has been defending is sadists

    I think it is a mistake to regard the recording as a coincidence, rather than part of the bdsm. The series is called public disgrace and the filming is an instrument of humiliation. Now he could say the act is okay, but the recording isn’t – but I think he’ll tie himself up if he does.

    So your attempt to argue that it is okay to declare sadists to be morally lesser (g&w) or masochists to not truly be capable of consent (g&w) or to publicly declare your disgust for sadists (Sebastian) because pornographers are evil misses the mark by a long shot

    I am none of the people quoted & that isn’t my argument, which is that Ben is incoherent if he is outraged by expressions of disgust at sadists but defends or is disinterested by sadists actions which have worse effects.

    the argument between Ben and g&w that you have decided to jump into is NOT ABOUT MAKING PORN

    The porn is useful because it gives me a chance to say they’re making public statements too. But there would obviously still be problems if the camera wasn’t there . And am I really not allowed to get involved in an argument if both people are wrong.

    I think your argument … makes no sense in the context of actual sex, where consensuality is fundamentally central to what is being immediately experienced

    Is it in the case of bdsm? Remind me why they use safewords. I though it was because of ambiguities between immediate experience and peoples inner thoughts and interpretations.

    P.S. I would regulate. But it would be not enforcing copyright or contracts, not allowing llcs, and civil damages if people who consented were harmed. Not jail and no freedom of speech.

  62. 62
    Sebastian H says:

    (Note that I’m the other Sebastian)

    There seems to be a lot of confusion about what S&M is, or at least what good versions of it can be.

    Now I can’t speak to the ‘degredation’ form, as it isn’t something that appeals to me, but let me speak to something that lots of onlookers find nearly as shocking–flogging.

    I find it compelling from both sides of the flogger, and from the outside I’m sure it can look rather scary since it involves hitting someone (usually their back) with a leather implement of many tails.

    But from the inside it is rather different. The person being flogged can find it actively meditative, which is a metaphor but is as close as I can get. Maybe, focused release.

    The person doing the flogging–if you’re doing it right you are actively engaged in every nuance of your partner’s body. You bring them to a state that they can’t reach on their own, but that they deeply desire. You breathe their breaths, you feel each muscle tense and relax. You carefully chart each stroke to bring them further but not too far….

    Now can people do it wrong? Yes, just as sex done poorly can be obnoxious.

    Can people do it with evil intent? Yes, just as sex done without consent is rape.

    Can it be a beautiful thing of two people sharing something that is more the sum of its parts, and reveling in that together? YES, just like other forms of sex done right.

    If you tell me that you are worried about true consent, I’m right there with you. I’ve seen abusive situations. But I’ve seen them even more often in ‘non-kinky’ relationships. Have I seen the kinky relationship where the ‘daddy’ goes too far and gets too controlling and uses the language of kink to justify it? Yes, and I speak out against that. Have I seen the non-kinky relationship where the husband gets too controlling and uses the language of ‘marriage’ to justify it? Yes, and far more often, and I speak out against that. But if you’re just worried about appearances, its not a great discussion.

  63. 63
    Grace Annam says:

    alex:

    Is it in the case of bdsm?

    Yes, and the fact that you don’t understand that means that you should really learn more about BDSM before you cram your foot farther down your gullet, because consent underpins every part of ethical BDSM.

    Without consent, the acts which occur in a BDSM context are criminal. Flogging, absent consent, is assault (or battery, depending on your local legislators). Touching of genitals, absent consent, is sexual assault. And so on.

    In other words, consent is fundamental to the experience because without it, the experience is assault, or rape, or criminal restraint, etc. With consent, the subjective experience of the participants is not one of a violation of personal autonomy.

    Remind me why they use safewords.

    So that participants can shake their head, or say, “No”, and so on, without stopping the experience. So that participants can revoke consent instantly and unambiguously. To help promote discussion of boundaries ahead of time. To signal a stop when a participant is getting into a non-verbal headspace (not all “safewords” are verbal; you can set up any act or response or non-response as a safeword).

    (Caveat: I am not involved in the BDSM scene. I have read a lot about it, listened to a lot of BDSMers, credited them with having practical experience and conversations which I have not had, and thought carefully about what they said. I have a professional interest in the boundary between ethical and unethical force, and in understanding and maintaining good personal and professional boundaries. BDSM is very useful for understanding edge cases in both topics.)

    Grace

  64. 64
    Mandolin says:

    1) I am super glad that someone linked to Thomas’s series on internal debates within the BDSM community about safety, consent and so on. Clarisse Thorn has also written on the subject. As far as I can tell, the BDSM community at large suffers from parallel problems–1) the geek social fallacies about exclusion and judgment being evil, 2) “I know this guy/girl therefore they can’t have done something wrong,” and 3) general lack of empathy toward victims. This is utterly unsurprising, and it’s the same trio I’d use to describe the SF/F community’s problems responding to harassment. I doubt either is unique in those respects; in fact, I expect the problems attend most/many small, intense groups of people.

    2) It seems to me that the best discussions of consent and what it means are coming from the BDSM community. That does not, however, mean that all individuals within the BDSM community–LET ALONE ALL THOSE WHO PRACTICE BDSM–have any notion of the discussion whatsoever.

    3) There’s a slippery thing that happens in these discussions wherein “PRACTICING BDSM” and “THE BDSM COMMUNITY” get conflated. Some BDSM communities have good checks on problematic behavior. Not all people who practice BDSM do so within communities. I sometimes see people who are critical of BDSM talk about things that happen within the PRACTICE, and then the response be about the COMMUNITY; these aren’t the same.

    4) Ben, stop it. Regardless of the merits of your argument on this particular issue, the attempt you’re making to shut down conversation is obnoxious. I refer particularly to 27. It allows no room for the person you’re talking to to be A) also someone who loves people who practice BDSM, or B) someone who themselves is a legitimate part of the conversation because they practice BDSM. You used the exact same argument on me about the definition of “crazy” while we were talking in person a few months ago, and without even the excuse that my statements could be a problem for people because they were part of a permanent internet record. I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate this assumption that because people disagree with you — OR AREN’T EXPLICITLY OUT ABOUT PRIVATE STUFF IN ALL FORA — they therefore have less right to speak than you do. You’re essentially saying “I have a personal investment in this so my opinion in superior” and, look, other people may have personal investments too, okay? And perhaps those personal investments have been different than yours! Maybe they lead them to think other things need to be priorities! Just knock that shit off.

    4) I think people who don’t practice kink often end up judging people who practice BDSM by the people who VISIBLY practice BDSM. Honestly, the first people I came across who practiced sadism WERE sexual harassers, rapists, and abusers. They were terrifying, horrible people, who used BDSM as a mask to legitimize harassment and assault. Even lately, I’ve met some very creepy sadists, who aren’t doing things that are as materially awful, but who are doing things which breach sexual ethics. (I do not refer to their practice of sadism, which I do not think breaches sexual ethics.) About seven years go, I made a concerted effort to go find heterosexual male sadists who didn’t belong to this awful group. And I *easily* found them. The issue? They respected other people’s boundaries and didn’t impose their sexual experiences on acquaintances in inappropriate situations. The guys I’d met initially? Did. I ask others who have had similar experiences with horrid sadists to consider whether they may also have been the kind of people whose lack of sexual ethics extended to inappropriate social behavior. Let’s face it–these people are visible because they have no sense of boundaries, or because they explicitly enjoy seeing women frightened (one sadist liked to talk to young women about rape in detail). But there are lots of sadists who are less visible because they respect boundaries.

    I am not saying here that it is inappropriate to discuss sadism if it comes up in conversation or if people become close friends, etc. There are general rules for how discussions go. I’m saying that people who enjoy violating other people’s boundaries will also sometimes violate these conversational boundaries, thus making themselves extremely visible.

    5) Look, there are people who say that their BDSM desires are A) intrusive, and B) stem from trauma. Regarding A, that sucks. Regarding B–no, people who were traumatized absolutely do NOT lose sexual autonomy. But *if* sexual trauma is linked to certain kinds of behaviors then that’s something there’s a reason for society to pay attention to. NOT because they should regulate the behavior of the individual or even care in particular about the individual at all. But it provides a social metric for figuring shit out. Trauma needs to be fought and lessened, preferably eliminated–will the numbers of people practicing BDSM go down if it is? If so, that’s something to watch. It’s also sociologically interesting and I do believe in sociology for its own sake.

    I am not convinced, however, that BDSM as a whole is linked to trauma, although I’m sure individuals can point to that as a source. Nor am I convinced that BDSM practice would actually measurably decrease if societal rates of trauma decreased.

    (I still believe in sociology for its own sake, though. Some people say that BDSM provides a safe space for them to process trauma — psychologically, how does that work? Is that information something we can use to help develop other safe spaces for people to process trauma? This shit is interesting.)

    6) I’ve had the argument with people that they don’t want to interrogate things like how BDSM works until after it isn’t stigmatized anymore. Well, eh. OK. Other people do, and some of them also practice kink. So you go ahead and focus on what you want to focus on, and they’ll focus on what they want to focus on. You can argue that it’s inherently damaging to discuss BDSM sociologically while it is stigmatized; however, there’s no reason to assume that sociological research wouldn’t provide positive benefit.

    7) There’s an attitude that criticism or study of BDSM can only come from within the community. This is slippery because, again, it starts to conflate community and practice, or elsewise make them rub up against each other in weird ways. (e.g. Can people who practice BDSM who don’t belong to communities criticize it?)

    There are benefits to in-group study; there are also benefits to out-group study. Anthropology as a whole has a dedicated conversation to how to study from in-group and out-group positions and what the most ethical and observationally useful ways to do this are, the most convincing of which (to me) essentially boil down to, “Your positioning as a researcher is important and merits attention in your study; be honest and analytical of yourself; readers should also factor that into their reading.”

    8. 30% of women have rape fantasies. This is indirectly related to BDSM, but I think it’s something that people need to bear in mind when they’re talking about the criticism of fantasy or the regulation of erotic materials. I recently had a fairly long discussion with someone about whether written erotic material about rape should be banned. They worried it gave shelter to rapists. When I pointed out that this was actually material that women would be likely to use, and that women’s sexual pleasure is both important and largely ignored, he seemed unable to really deal with the fact that women might have an interest in being able to access things that turn them on (which position has a whole layer of subtext about women’s sexuality), and circled back to potential rapists.

    Fantasies of violence and non-consent are common — and the way in which they function is complex. A feminist analysis that only looks at the direct messaging (such as the sign Princess Donna had around her neck) is necessarily going to ignore huge layers of context, symbol, and meaning. It is too narrow to yield an interesting analysis in itself.

  65. 65
    Robert says:

    Is it 30% have, or 30% acknowledge? Just curious about the sourcing on that one.

    Other than that, what you said, on all points.

  66. 66
    Ben Lehman says:

    Mandolin: That’s cool, I will totally sit down and shut up while other people decided whether or not I have a right to consent. That has always worked well for me in the past with no problems whatsoever.

    yrs–
    –Ben

  67. 67
    Mandolin says:

    Well, you can use the time to work on your reading comprehension so I daresay it won’t be wasted.

    (If you actually want to talk, then at least make a tiny attempt to respond to something other than straw.)

  68. 68
    mythago says:

    I am not convinced, however, that BDSM as a whole is linked to trauma

    Neither am I. The theory that people only become homosexual because they were sexually abused by a person of the opposite sex used to have a lot of cachet, and frankly has about the same credibility. (That is, sure, there are going to be a few people of whom that is true, but as a Grand Theory of Why Your Sexuality Is Icky, not so much.)

  69. 69
    Robert says:

    Many people, though not all have trauma somewhere in life. (Define trauma downward enough, and many surely becomes everyone, but we’re probably on broadly the same page about what constitutes major trauma.)

    Major trauma, in my experience, ends up impacting people in different areas of their lives, depending on the trauma, the person, the environment, and probably the phase of the moon. Sometimes the area involves sexuality; quite often, in fact, in no small part because sexuality has its roots and tentacles all through our psyches.

    So lots of BDSM practitioners have trauma in their background that plays into their kinks. So do lots of martial arts practitioners, and stereo fetishists, and people who like vanilla sex in the missionary position with the lights out and the covers over their chins.

  70. 70
    Robert says:

    Also, I would like to say that the picture at the head of this story is awful, and everyone who looks at it is likely to be traumatized right into something seriously deviant. Those people should call me.

  71. 71
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’ve read things by people who were confused about whether an abusive partner was engaging in BDSM. The solution is to get more consensus about the importance of consent, not to stigmatize BDSM.

    As for trauma and BDSM, some people like very intense and sometimes dangerous experiences. Is a taste for hot spices a result of trauma? A love of surfing big waves?