BDSM vs Domestic Abuse

Today, I saw an image on BDSMLR that absolutely infuriated me. It’s a shot of a young guy looking into a webcam. He has a black eye and a sad look on his face. Someone has added the caption “I’m sorry SIR It won’t happen again SIR!” and beneath that, “I hate to damage my own property but sometimes you have to remind a faggot who is in charge”.

My immediate response to this post was to reblog it and add “OH HELL NO! This isn’t bdsm. It’s domestic abuse. If you have to use physical assault to control your partner, you’re not a dom. You’re just a criminal. A real dom inspires his boy to serve out of love, devotion, or pleasure, not fear of injury.” That was about an hour ago and I’m still seething with rage toward whomever created this image (which, incidentally, had been shared about 110 times before I posted my response). I’m truly not a violent person, but there is a part of me that genuinely wants to track down the fucker who created this image and beat him until he says it won’t happen again.

One of the problems of the internet is that it decontextualizes porn and leaves people thinking that the Outer Layer of BDSM is all there is. Unfortunately, the result is a cancer within the gay BDSM community (and perhaps the straight one too, although I don’t follow that as closely) that is being metastasized by the internet. Far, far too many people don’t understand the difference between BDSM and domestic violence.

At its heart, BDSM is about consensual power exchange to create erotic experiences and bond dom and sub together in a mutually-rewarding dynamic. Domestic abuse is about the non-consensual seizure of power from one partner by the other to create a dynamic that only benefits that partner. BDSM empowers BOTH partners, whereas abuse disempowers the victim.

BDSM relationships are entered into after a discussion about what both partners want to give and receive. In many BDSM relationships, there are clear signals that a scene is about to start and even hardcore Master/slave relationships often start a scene with some sort of ritual or transitional act. In contrast, incidents of domestic violence usually give the appearance of spontaneous bursts of anger; sometimes these are genuinely spontaneous explosions, but in other cases they are planned by the abuser. Either way, the victim has no idea when or where they will happen. That uncertainty allows the abuser to assert control even without violence and trains the victim to offer no resistance in an effort to keep the abuser placated enough that there will not be another burst of violence. But there always is.

A corollary to that last point is that subs generally look forward to the next scene or opportunity to serve. They find the experience pleasurable and satisfying and they take a great deal of meaning in serving well. Service (sexual or otherwise) and pleasure are linked, although the actual service may not be directly pleasurable. Subs take pride in serving well, even if that service involves humiliation. Subs run toward their kinky encounters. In contrast, victims of domestic abuse desperately try to avoid the next incidence of violence. They find the violence frightening, physically injurious, and emotionally damaging. They derive no pleasure whatsoever from the violence and seek to avoid them as much as possible. The violence brings no feeling of pride, only humiliation and relief when its over. Victims run away from their violence encounters.

BDSM builds up a dynamic of trust in which both dom and sub reveal their deepest needs and become vulnerable to each other. In a well-functioning BDSM relationship, the scenes deepen the bonds between dom and sub, and the more they trust each other, the deeper they can go. Domestic violence, on the other hand, destroys trust and most other positive feelings the victim originally had for the abuser and often results in the victim eventually fleeing the relationship.

In a healthy BDSM relationship, the sub feels built up by the dynamic. They feel stronger and more in tune with their needs and desires. They often make peace with whatever feelings of shame they might have had about their sexuality and come to see their sexuality as a positive force in their lives. Even a desire for humiliation comes to feel like a positive force in their lives. Kinky experiences can be confusing for novice subs, who may not understand why they desire these experiences, but if the relationship is healthy, those feelings often resolve in a sense of empowerment, a voluntary embrace of the desire for humiliation. Subs feel respected, appreciated, and supported by their dom. Victims of domestic abuse feel broken down by the dynamic. The cycle of violence erodes their self-confidence and self-worth and they often begin to feel that they truly deserve the violence, that they are genuinely worthless. Instead of resolving feelings of humiliation, the feelings intensify and become more corrosive.

In a BDSM relationship, the dom is always in control and never strikes the sub in genuine anger (although scenes may involve play-anger). Doms feel a sense of responsibility for their subs, value them, and place their health, safety, and well-being before the dom’s sexual desires. Doms express their erotic desires and own them. Abusers, on the other hand, are often out of control and let their anger lead them into acts of violence. Although they may feel possessive about their victims, they usually don’t actually value them as people. They do not think about their victim’s health or safety and instead use the threat of violence as a tool of control. Abusers typically deny their intention to engage in violence and frame the incident as being the victim’s fault, that the victim “made” them engage in abuse.

After a scene, doms will tend their subs, make sure they are ok, fetch them something to drink or a blanket, and listen to whatever feelings the sub wants to express. They will often talk about what the sub did and didn’t like about the scene, what they could have done better, or what the sub might want to do next time. Abusers will sometimes comfort the victim afterward, but this is usually just a way to maintain control and set the victim up for another round of violence at some future point. They often make a show of contrition or apologizing and promise to do better in the future, meaning that they say they won’t engage in violence again.

Whereas doms openly take pride in the experiences they create, abusers usually frame their violence in negative terms, as something they only do because the victim provokes them. Doms do not need to justify their kinky desires, whereas abusers justify their abuse with reference to their own history of abuse, their drinking, their victim’s incompetence and so on. Thus, in a BDSM relationship, the participants see the scene as desirable and ultimately positive (even if something went wrong during it), in an abusive relationship the violence is understood to be a bad thing that shouldn’t be there.

Overall, being a sub should be a positive, even joyous, experience that the sub craves and feels affirmed by. If your relationship isn’t like that, it’s a sign that something is wrong.

Getting out of a BDSM relationship may be a very sad experience, but it is not dangerous. Getting out of an abusive relationship can often be extremely dangerous–it is often the moment in which the victim’s life is in greatest danger. If you need help leaving an abusive relationship, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Get out when you think you can. You deserve a healthy BDSM relationship, because you are precious.

2 thoughts on “BDSM vs Domestic Abuse

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