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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Ethics of sadism?

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Author Topic: Ethics of sadism?
Polekat
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Hey. So I've been lurking around (mostly on the more article-based part of Scarleteen) for a bit over a year and a half now - I got pointed this way when it turned out my school's sex education was... less than complete. But that's not why I'm here specifically:

Long story short, I've been struggling with the ethics of being sadistic. The majority, if not all, of your atricles about kink look at people who aren't sure they want to participate in it or what it is. This is different – we both honestly want this, it's just that I'm not sadistic in day-to-day life (though I can be if I know it's for the enjoyment of my partner; I've come to think of it as “consentual sadism”) and have had trouble reconciling the idea that my partner wants to be hurt with the personal belief that you should avoid hurting people. Eventually I came to an ethical standpoint that can be summed up by the phrase “Hurt but not harm” - ie. Don't do lasting damage. However, this begins to fall apart with more 'serious' BDSM things (which we've been discussing but agreed not to act on for various reasons) such as caning. Up until this point the pain has been balanced out to a degree that I'm comfortable with it, but having come from a place of avioding hurting people as much as absoltuely possible I can't justify the idea of hurting someone that much to myself.

Background: Stable and strong long-term relationship, extensive communication occurred before we tried anything, attempting to be as safe as possible (safewords etc.). There are no specific BDSM laws where we are, but scarification was ruled legal so I think we'll be ok. Age of consent/majority is 16, we're both still 15 but only a few months off being over it and the police are pretty chill about people close to the age of consent being sexual provided there's no abuse/inequality present. My partner and I have, over the last few months, started doing some light BDSM things – bondage, dominace/submission (mainly psychological rather than sexual), and sadomasochism (nothing that'll mark because of my partner's nervousness about people noticing).

Tl;dr your stuff on BDSM is great for people wanting to start doing it or who need to know that it's not wrong to want kink, but maybe a little bit lacking in terms of resources for people wanting to know how to be physically/mentally/ethically safe, and I'd kind of like to know more about the ethics/ethical challenges of kink.

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"The hands of the many must join as one, and together we'll cross the river." - Puscifer, The Humbling River.

Posts: 2 | From: Probably further south than you are. | Registered: Dec 2012  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Redskies
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I think ethics in BDSM are pretty much the same ethics as for the rest of life.

Something I notice in what you write is that you put more emphasis on the role of applying pain than on receiving it. A lot of people do that, and not just for BDSM but in all kinds of sex - the narrative seems to be that there's a more active doer and a passive receiver. The doer is the person who's focused on, and it's assumed that what's happening is about that person's wishes and decisions.

In reality, it's not like that - not when we're talking about a healthy, respectful, non-abusive interaction, anyway. That's just as true in a BDSM interaction, absolutely including interactions that are strongly sub/dom. If one person is being more receptive or submissive, that person is an equal half of the path that the two are weaving together. For many people doing kink, the appeal in "hurting" someone is not a completely disconnected desire to just hurt a person. The appeal is in doing something to someone that They want you to do; it's the dynamic that you build together, the way you respond to each other.

I wonder if things seem at all different to you when you think about it not as "hurting" someone, but of doing something to them and with them that they want you to do and that they want to experience?

Something to think about, too, is that there are actually many situations where people choose to do something that may cause discomfort or pain and which are very socially acceptable and rarely questioned. There are some people with medical conditions or disabilities which cause pain and who sometimes decide to experience more pain in order to do something that's important or enjoyable enough to them. Some people enjoy pushing their bodies during sport or a work-out, so that they're in pain at the time and ache afterwards. If they're being mostly responsible about their bodies and not doing anything that might cause serious or permanent injury, we hardly even notice. That stretches further, too: serious or professional sport does sometimes damage people's bodies long-term. We assume that sportspeople know of the possible problems, take the preventative measures that they can, and that they want to do their sport enough to go ahead anyway; and we recognise (usually) that they have the right to make those choices.

It's also completely ok, of course, if you don't feel comfortable with causing pain to someone. Not everyone who's into BDSM is into giving or receiving pain. It's also ok if it's something that you need to just let sit for a while, if you don't feel comfortable now but still might want to try it someday.

Do you need suggestions for resources to find out about safe/r BDSM practices?

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The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

Posts: 1786 | From: Europe | Registered: Sep 2011  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Heather
Executive Director & Founder
Member # 3

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Truly, I think if you look at our material for consent, period, you actually are covered. Like Redskies, I think the same rules apply.

I wonder if it might not help to think about a couple things, especially if that seems WTF? To you:

1) As you may already know, pleasure and pain do not just run on a continuum, they overlap in a lot of ways. Making distinct lines between them is iffy, at best, especially when it comes to sex. Think, for instance, about how many people engage in intercourse that does not physically feel good to them, but which they enjoy emotionally. Redskies' sports analogies speak well to this too, I think.

2) When we talk about doing people harm, we are generally talking about people who intend to do someone harm. Your shared intent here is not harm or hurt: it is pleasure, no? I am sure you can think of some things you could do that would, indeed, be harmful or hurtful to your partner, that they do not or would not want, and where shared pleasure would not be the intent, right? In other words, while I think "hurt but do not harm" is useful, I think it may not actually be the best framework, since pleasure is nowhere in that equation, you know?

( Btw, thanks for the suggestion, I will put out a holler to colleagues in the next week or so to see if anyone might be up for writing a BDSM and ethics piece. I suspect we can get that piece for you and anyone else who may want it.)

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Posts: 68290 | From: An island near Seattle | Registered: May 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Starfire&Shadows
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I think one way of looking at "harm" is that what matters is not just the state of your partner's skin afterwards. For instance, do both partners feel safer afterwards, more alive? Are both partners more stable and self-confident, are they growing and learning? Happy? All of that stuff is an important part of "Harming" vs. "Healing" - not just the physical.

(I would also love to see an article on bdsm/kink and ethics - I would be willing to try writing something, too - if no one else comes through. [Smile] )

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We are all made of Star Stuff...
-Carl Sagan

...Their eyes beheld, first of all things, the stars of heaven.
-Silmarillion

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zeitvogel
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I think I could contribute to such an article, though nothing comes to mind right now.

One thing that might be worth thinking about is how much of your discomfort is ethical concerns and how much is plain old discomfort. Maybe you just don't want to cane people? Maybe you don't like leaving bruises? That's fine, no one will come and revoke your sadist license [Smile] A part of BDSM ethics that's not often talked about is that tops and doms get to set limits too.

Posts: 47 | From: Finland | Registered: Dec 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
September
Scarleteen Volunteer
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Polekat, Starfire&shadoes, zeitvogel: we are already working on this new article, so if there is anything you would like us to address that has not been mentioned yet, or any suggestions that you have, post away!

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Johanna
Scarleteen Volunteer

"The question is not who will let me, but who is going to stop me." -Ayn Rand

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wildcat
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Hi, I am also happy that you are working on an article on BDSM ethics! I had much trouble bringing together my interest in BDSM with my feminism, so an overview on where I can read about this or discuss this in safer spaces would be great.

Contrary to what Redskies wrote, I have mainly found voices of bottoms / subs who wrote on BDSM and ethics or feminism, so I assume you have ressources I do not know yet. Also most of what I have found has been written by heterosexual women, so it would be great if you included queer perspectives. But I think you would have considered this anyway, which is one of the reasons why I love scarleteen so much!

I would also be interested in what you say about intersections of BDSM ethics and gender and gender expression, but I am not sure if this is too much of a special interest of mine.

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Starfire&Shadows
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@ zeitvogel - Yes! Tops have limits, too! And deserve to have them respected. That is something that seems to get forgotten a *lot*.

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We are all made of Star Stuff...
-Carl Sagan

...Their eyes beheld, first of all things, the stars of heaven.
-Silmarillion

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zeitvogel
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Hi September, thanks for the offer [Smile]
I'd like to see some info about safewords that is mostly left out of the BDSM materials I've seen:

- Agreeing on a safeword doesn't change anything else unless you specifically agree to make those changes. "No" still means No and "Stop" still means Stop, unless you really want to be able to say "No, stop!" without stopping and you've talked about it.

- The existence of a safeword doesn't put all the responsibility on the person who "should have" used the safeword. Making sure that everyone is okay with what's going on is still a shared responsibility, and it's quite possible that someone in a bad situation is unable to use a safeword. It would help to list some signs of no-longer-okay in the article. I expect they're mostly the same as with regular sex, but they might be harder to detect when someone is immobilized or already in consensual pain. (Also, a sub or bottom in an endorphin rush might be both passive and nonverbal, without there being anything wrong. Is there a specific way to check that they're still ok without bringing them down?)

- Someone who used a safeword is likely to need some extra attention and maybe a glass of water or a warm blanket (or possibly medical help). Someone who used a safeword never needs to hear sulking or anger about the sexytimes being over. I've sometimes seen subs or bottoms being made to feel like they "couldn't take enough" if they use the safeword, and this attack on their confidence can undermine their ability to play safely next time. (in addition to just being nasty)

Aside from the safeword stuff, I have a conundrum about dom/sub relations that I haven't figured out yet. A sub often feels proud of pleasing the dom in difficult ways, and feels a need to make sacrifices for the dom. (Or maybe that's just the subs I've met, I haven't done a survey [Smile] ). As a result, a dom who cares too much about what the sub wants might leave the sub feeling unsatisfied. But a dom who cares too little about what the sub wants might leave the sub feeling unhappy. What's a good way to find the balance here? "communication" is not such an easy answer here because it's often about the sub wanting to be made to do things s/he does not want to do, and that's difficult to talk clearly about.

Posts: 47 | From: Finland | Registered: Dec 2013  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Redskies
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Wanting to clarify something partly in response to wildcat: I'm aware that there are a considerable number of sub/bottom feminist women writing about their experiences. Some of what some of them (that I've read, anyway) say is about feeling marginalised or unheard. So, I wouldn't want to compound that by sounding as if I was unaware of their existence or their writings. Many are clearly very self-determined, with strong voices.

I stand by what I said about sub/bottom people sometimes being considered less important or less involved, outside of feminist BDSM thought. Feminist BDSM is also, of course, not immune. If other people have different experiences or impressions, I am glad of that!

Agreeing that BDSM is often heterocentric (but then, how many things in this world aren't), and that Tops Have Limits is an important and sometimes-forgotten thing, and with zeitvogel that it should be no big deal for anyone - including tops - to use a safeword. Unpleasantness or shaming someone after they used a safeword is, of course, coercion, the same as it would be if that happened after someone had said "enough" or "no" in a non-BDSM context.

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The kyriarchy usually assumes that I am the kind of woman of whom it would approve. I have a peculiar kind of fun showing it just how much I am not.

Posts: 1786 | From: Europe | Registered: Sep 2011  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

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