I am an ethical kinkster. That means that for me, ethical considerations are paramount when I engage in kink. Ethical kink is an extremely complex topic, as this post by david stein points out. But here are a few of the principles that I think are important in kink.
Do No Harm: Much like a doctor, I believe that doms should do no harm. On the surface, that sounds like I’m saying erotic torture is unethical, but that’s not what I’m saying at all. I LOVE torturing a boy. But it’s important to draw a distinction between hurt and harm. Hurt is temporary pain, while harm is actual injury. Hurt is causing someone to feel pain, particularly in this context erotic pain, the pain that hurts so good the sub wants more. Hurt is short-lived; it may be quite intense when the dom is actively flogging the sub or clamping his tits, but it begins to fade fairly quickly once play is over, although quick is a relative term here; the pain from an aggressive spanking or caning can linger for a day or two. Harm, on the other hand, is an injury that takes time to heal. Poorly-done bondage can cause skin abbrasion, joint dislocation, respiratory problems, and nerve damage, while poorly-done pain play can cause serious cuts that get infected, damage to internal organs, and worse. The line between hurt and harm can be a little fuzzy; play piercing and knife play often involves some bleeding and cuts that take time to heal.
So the key distinction, for me, is intention. An ethical dom never intentionally injures his sub except for controlled injury such as temporary (or permanent) piercings. An ethical dom understands the forms of play that are likely to cause injury and seeks to avoid them; he does not, for example, intentionally strike the sub in the kidneys. An ethical dom takes the time to learn the safety basics for any type of play he wishes to engage in and thinks about how he will respond if he does accidentally inflict harm.
Consent: Pre-20th century morality generally emphasized rigid, universal rules. Do not hurt other people. Only have sex with people of the opposite gender. Do not commit rape. But as alternative sexualities emerged in the later 20th century, many of these groups challenged the idea of sexual rules that applied in all times and all places. Masochists want to experience pain. LGB people want to have sex with people of their own gender. Kinksters started exploring the idea of consensual ‘rape’.
So an alternate standard has emerged, based around consent. Do not do anything to someone that they do not consent to. There are a lot of gradations of this issue I don’t want to get into right now (such as what consent looks like in an on-going relationship), but for me, an ethical dom always makes sure he has his partner’s consent to whatever form of play he wants. That means that before play happens, an ethical dom has a conversation with his sub about the forms of play the dom wants to use. He finds out what limits his sub wants to set (“I’m ok with spanking, but no paddles or canes”) and he strictly adheres to those limits during play. He sets a safe word or a similar signal that allows the sub to withdraw their consent and stop play if that becomes necessary. Non-consensual sex can be enormously hot in fiction, but an ethical dom never engages in truly non-consensual sex; he may orchestrate an artifice of non-consent or negotiate the dynamics of consensual non-consent, but he never intentionally does something he knows his sub does not want, and he takes the time to find out what the sub doesn’t want.
Another important issue is the age of consent. Nearly everywhere in the world, it is illegal to have sex with someone below the age of consent. In the United States, the age of consent is 18. That means that legally, no one under the age of 18 is capable of giving consent, no matter how mature or intelligent they are.
The Foundation of Equality: An ethical dom starts his interactions with a sub from an assumption that they are equals. Both people are human beings and have an expectation of equality until the sub agrees to adopt the inferior position in the dynamic, at which point the dom is able to adopt the superior position. In other words, power exchange starts with the sub submitting, not with the dom dominating. An ethical dom never assumes that he is owed anyone’s submission; rather he understands that he needs to earn a sub’s obedience by demonstrating that he is a quality dom who will be able to meet the sub’s needs without harming him.
An ethical dom treats his sub with respect, which means that he treats the sub the way the sub wants to be treated. For some subs, that means treating them like worthless trash. For others, it means treating like a valuable possession. For others, it means treating them like an equal while letting him bottom. Every sub is different and unique, so an ethical dom doesn’t follow a one-size-fits-all model, but rather tries to understand what a specific boy needs and treating him appropriately.
The Sub’s Welfare Comes First: Although the porn usually emphasizes that the Dom’s pleasure is the only serious concern during play, an ethical dom understands that the sub’s health, welfare, and well-being are the highest concern, with the Dom’s pleasure coming after that. This means that no matter how much a dom wants to do something, he doesn’t do it if it would harm the sub. Sometimes that means not doing something the sub himself wants done. Many subs crave verbal abuse, for example, but for some of them, verbal abuse is an unhealthy reinforcement of negative ideas the sub already has about himself. In a situation like that, an ethical dom does not engage in verbal abuse, but it would be inflicting harm rather than hurt.
There are certainly other issues involved in ethical kink, but these are the big ones for me. In my erotica, my doms typically abide by these principles, or at least have their own version of them.