Kink Gone Wrong: The Big BDSM Blindspot that Enables Abuse

Gender

Kink Gone Wrong: The Big BDSM Blindspot that Enables Abuse

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The pages of FetLife, a social network for the BDSM community, are teeming with men. Some of them have manscaped pubic hair, others have dirty rooms in the background, almost all of them have their penises out and most of them are here looking for female submissives.

I logged into the website after years, well because of Armie Hammer. The clean-cut, blue-eyed Hollywood star has joined the long list of famous men who have been accused of sexual abuse by women. It’s 2021, so news of another predator from tinseltown doesn’t have the edge required to puncture my ennui, even though this one involved some true gore with leaked DMs detailing plans of amputation and cannibalism.

Multiple exes of the Call Me By Your Name actor have alleged that he groomed them to participate in his sexual kinks which included branding them with his initials, amputation, and fantasies of cannibalism. The women have shared similar accounts of how the actor coerced them into sexual acts which traumatised them. Sounds like a pattern of inexcusable, violent misogyny right? But once again the online peanut gallery has screamed “publicity stunt” like it does every time a woman speaks of sexual abuse at the hands of a powerful man. What’s unnerving is that this time even the woke parts of the internet are writing this off as simply a kink gone wrong. For example, Rolling Stone magazine’s take on this included an interview with a professional dominatrix talking about the “power and pleasure” of the cannibalism fetish. The question is, why would a seemingly progressive media house publish a piece which can safely be called abuse apologist?

The answer lies in the proliferation of a new code of virtue that the educated, the liberated and the “woke” must adhere to, one that demands non-judgemental acceptance for other people’s personal choices. When it comes to sex, anything other than that can be branded as “kink-shaming”! That was the defence used by many fans who backed Armie Hammer by arguing that a man’s sexual desires should not be used to villainise him. But it is clear that defending this behaviour and labelling it as a “kink” enables abuse and discredits victims. And that seems to be a blindspot that BDSM communities are reluctant to deal with.

I have played the role of a casual observer in a few BDSM sessions, and without exception, the dommes have been male, with women adopting the submissive roles. That never sat right with me, because how can a sexual practice claim to be subversive and liberating, when it is simply mirroring the unfair power structure that exists in the world outside the bedroom – man as dominant aggressor, woman as pliant sexual object. This is an extremely unpopular question and during the rare times I have brought this up with people who play with these roles, they press into service the principle of consent: any sexual act, however painful or seemingly degrading, is kosher, as long as the participants consent to it. But like in the case of women who have spoken out against Armie Hammer, it would be obtuse to ignore that consent can be obtained by manipulation and that Armie Hammer, as a famous and rich man, clearly had power over the women in these relationships. When one of the participants’ ability to say “No”, can lead to unpleasant repercussions, their “Yes” is a compromised one.

When it comes to sex, anything other than that can be branded as “kink-shaming”!

It is interesting to note here, that I could not find a single person in the BDSM scene, in real life, who agreed to have an in-depth conversation with me about sexual violence within BDSM relationships. Finally, a woman who I had befriended years ago through an online community of “kinksters” responded. Her take on this proved especially fascinating, because she is a female dominant, who has since stepped away from the BDSM world.

As a young woman she wanted to experiment with her sexuality. As this was the decade when Fifty Shades Of Grey finally mainstreamed BDSM, she turned to that form of roleplay and quickly realised that the “gender equality” that BDSM espouses was an illusion. Even as a femdomme, the entire experience catered to male fantasies, and she was expected to give up the pursuit of her own pleasure. So, there she was corseted, coiffed, and covered in makeup, performing dominance while feeling that she was being controlled, once again. The kinks of male submissives were based on them being called names usually reserved for women, because the most humiliating thing they could imagine was being treated like a woman.

“I did not feel like I had any power during these sessions, I got off on having control, but there was none here, it felt like I was doing someone else’s bidding. This is very different from the male domme experience, where the woman is basically reduced to an object of pleasure,” she wrote to me. What eventually made her stop, was the very narrow beauty standard that she was asked to adhere to. She simply tired of wearing a corset, heels, and makeup for a sexual act which left her unsatisfied and feeling used.

She was reluctant to share her experience because any criticism of BDSM now gets denounced as kink-shaming and sex negativity. The billion-dollar question is, has “kink positivity” finally turned toxic and is it time to retire it?

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