BDSM is Not Abuse

June 12, 2010  |  essays

I recently went through the Orientation process for the Lesbian Sex Mafia, and we went over this list of The Difference Between SM and Abuse, which is also available on the Lesbian Sex Mafia’s website.

I am still surprised how often BDSM gets equated with abuse, and this list makes the distinctions so very clear, I like it. I have the feeling I’ll be referencing this quite a bit in various things. Hope the LSM doesn’t mind that I am reprinting it here!

The Difference Between SM and Abuse
A Statement from the Lesbian Sex Mafia

SM: An SM scene is a controlled situation.
ABUSE: Abuse is an out-of-control situation.

SM: Negotiation occurs before an SM scene to determine what will and will not happen in that scene.
ABUSE: One person determines what will happen.

SM: Knowledgeable consent is given to the scene by all parties.
ABUSE: No consent is asked for or given.

SM: The “bottom” has a safeword that allows them to stop the scene at any time should they need to for physical or emotional reasons.
ABUSE: The person being abused cannot stop what is happening.

SM: Everyone involved in an SM scene is concerned about the needs, desires and limits of others.
ABUSE: No concern is given to the needs, desires and limits of the abused person.

SM: The people in an SM scene are careful to be sure that they are not impaired by alcohol or drug use during the scene.
ABUSE: Alcohol or drugs are often used before an episode of abuse.

SM: After an SM scene, the people involved feel good.
ABUSE: After an episode of abuse, the people involved feel bad.

If you have further questions regarding domestic abuse, please call the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (AVP). They are educated in the differences between BDSM and abuse.
AVP, the Anti-Violence Project
24 hour hotline: 212-714-1141
240 West 35th Street, Suite 200 New York, NY 10001

 

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5 Comments


  1. Thank you for re-printing this, it's important that people understand these distinctions. For those of us who have an interest in the scene and take part in it, whether privately or at gatherings, we understand the differences. But for a lot of people, they equate BDSM with fear, domestic abuse and assume that there is some kind of forced participation. This usually happens because of ignorance regarding the relationships involved. Also fear and lack of understanding because they themselves wouldn't find pleasure in it, maybe some of it is shame-based too, because they DO want to take part and don't know how to ask for what they want.

    Anyway, thank you. You're doing a bang-up job of dealing with many issues that myself and a lot of people I know, face every day.

  2. Awesome succinct summary of things we simply assume yet can have troubles articulating, thanks for sharing!

  3. though I'm not into SM myself, I'm well aware of the differences. However, I've never seen it this clearly articulated, and now I feel much more well-armed against the scary Dworkin-type feminists who say that all BDSM is patriarchal and wrong. The differences are simple, but yet not simply the difference between consent and no consent. Sometimes you can give consent but without that consent being from power – drunk/drugged consent? And this is so great, especially the idea that everyone feels good after.

  4. Thank you thank you thank you for posting this. I'm seriously considering mailing it – possibly anonymously – to a former literature professor. After reading a short story about a clearly abusive relationship, she invited the class to consider that it might be considered a sadomasochistic relationship. I was too insecure, and too overwhelmed by all of the things that were wrong with that suggestion, to say anything at the time, but it's bothered me since, and I've been looking for a way to bring in a third party "authority" to show her why she was wrong.

  5. This is great to see again. It’s so important to point out that there are clear distinctions and boundaries that can never be crossed. Thanks for posting this.

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