Clarisse Thorn tries to refute an argument against BDSM.

It has occurred to me that, while I do get BDSM people wasting my time while trying to defend their abusive sexuality (see for example the comments section on this entry), I don’t really engage with the more serious BDSM arguments out there. That, I think, would be a lot more productive.

Therefore I wanted to start by addressing the words of one Clarisse Thorn (probably not her real name, but who knows), a self-professed “S&M feminist,” a contradiction in terms. In this entry, she intends to address the anti-BDSM argument that “BDSM legitimizes abuse” (despite labeling the entry #1, it seems she wrote no more, perhaps weary of the cognitive dissonance she was triggering in her own head).

I want to make clear, first of all, that BDSM does not only “legitimize abuse,” it is abuse. BDSM is a cult-like framework and, like all other such frameworks, it is highly concerned with reframing language and concepts (“consent,” “sex,” “play,” “toys,” “power,” “dominance,” etc). The peculiarity of this ideology, however, is that it has managed to get its reframing accepted by society at large. It has gone on to the point that now we see BDSM sexual abuse as “edgy” and “sexy.”

BDSM is not only an ideology of abuse which twists language, it also concerns itself with the constant reproduction of abuse, all the way from spanking and caning to “rapeplay,” “breathplay,” “knifeplay,” and all the gamut of so-called “play.” Based on the sexual charge people can get out of them, they have reframed these forms of abuse as “sex.”

Thorn presents the anti-BDSM argument we’re discussing as such:

1) When two consenting people do a BDSM scene together, it can look like abuse to outsiders who are not aware that the scene was worked out ahead of time and that the bottom can opt out at any time. That is, outsiders can’t know the difference between BDSM and abuse by looking at it.

It does “look like abuse,” because it is abuse. The fact that the abuse was “worked out ahead of time” and that one can “opt out” does not make it any less abusive.

Much of the reframing in BDSM has to do with “consent.” I’ve already discussed the problems they have with consent. Within the cult mentality, they believe that purely symbolic gestures like signing contracts or establishing “safe words” turns an act of abuse into a sexual act. Not only that, but they call it consent, as if consent is established by contracts or magic words.

2) If the outside world becomes more accepting of BDSM, then outsiders who see signs of violence will become more likely to assume that it is BDSM and not abuse. Therefore, they will be less likely to interfere with a violent situation, or help a victim.

Yes, obviously it is a huge problem when abusers use BDSM as a tool to portray themselves as innocent of any wrongdoing. Not just because outsiders may be fooled into confusing the sexual abuse brought about by BDSM with “normal” sexuality, but because it means our concept of sexuality has been hijacked by a dangerous and abusive cult mentality. The problem is BDSM itself, the belief that codified abuse can be a healthy sexuality, not just its consequences.

3) Thus: legitimizing BDSM puts people in danger. It means that abusers will be more likely to abuse, because they will think that they can get away with it. Or, alternatively: it means that abusers will be more likely to abuse because they don’t learn the difference between abuse and consent. It also means that people who are actually being abused will have a harder time getting help.

I completely agree with this point. It does mean all that. It also means a lot, lot more, but at least we have a good starting point. So what does Thorn reply to all this?

The argument assumes that people cannot learn to tell the difference between abuse and consent… I can say that, in my experience, there is very high pressure in the BDSM subculture to ensure that all partners consent.

Here we see the doublespeak inherent in the BDSM cult mentality: getting people to submit to abuse means “ensuring that all partners consent.” It also aims to project the image that the BDSM community is ethical and non-violent despite the abusive actions done in BDSM, and even though 30% of people in American BDSM communities have had their “consensual” limits violated and 64% of people in Dutch BDSM communities have reported the same. A community that is so violent that it engenders in its victims a PTSD-like state euphemistically called “sub drop.”

Despite their constant protests and attempts at reassuring the gullible that they follow strict standard of ethics, any community that not only legitimizes these practices but encourages them cannot be an ethical community.

Anti-BDSM people argue what they do precisely because they understand the difference between abuse and consent. And, unwarped by the BDSM mentality, most people can generally make the difference between abuse and consent as well. They can tell that a person is getting roughed up, beaten up, or tortured. And that’s a big problem for the BDSM community, even though they make a good show of sneering at the “vanilla” peons who just can’t understand how “edgy” and “cool” they are. A cult must always have enemies, and that’s what feminists are for (Thorn calls herself a “feminist,” but we know it’s a lie).

If BDSM is legitimized — if it “comes out of the closet” — then the community’s attitudes towards consent will come out of the closet with it. It’s not like legitimizing BDSM means that everyone will start thinking it’s a great idea to beat other people without their consent.

But that is precisely what everyone is thinking: that by using some official, symbolic mumbo-jumbo, you can beat other people with their “non-consensual consent.”

Arguing that accepting BDSM will lead to accepting abuse is analogous to arguing that accepting human sexuality will lead to accepting rape. In other words — telling me that I encourage men to abuse women by having consensual BDSM sex is like telling me that I encourage men to rape women by having consensual vanilla sex.

Even if you repeat it twice, this is still a horrible analogy that Thorn should be ashamed of writing. The core of the argument is that BDSM is a system of thought which legitimizes abuse because it is itself abuse. “Vanilla sex” in itself is not a system of thought. So there’s no comparison to be done here.

But if we interpret “vanilla sex” as a larger heteronormative context, then Thorn’s analogy is, ironically, a fairly good one: BDSM legitimizes abuse like heteronormativity legitimizes rape. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s closer to the truth than anything Thorn can muster.

As for our “S&M feminist,” her blog is inactive, but she still operates as a mouthpiece for BDSM. At any rate, she is no feminist: feminists cannot be pro-BDSM for the same reason that they cannot be pro-VAW, pro-rape or pro-sexual abuse. People like her portray opponents of BDSM as uninformed and their criticism as superficial, as she does in her entry. Systemic criticism must be silenced or dismissed as the nattering of “bitter apostates” so it never penetrates the cultist shield.

But it’s hard not to laugh at Thorn portraying her opponents as naive and uninformed when her understanding of feminism is so trivial and silly, given that she seems to believe feminists oppose BDSM because they are somehow confused by the difference between abuse and consent (as if that was a hard thing to figure out). Silly befuddled feminists, they just don’t “get” it, so you see this is all very reasonable!

If any of my readers, or BDSM trolls, have another entry like this for me to look into, I would welcome it. But I don’t expect much.

21 thoughts on “Clarisse Thorn tries to refute an argument against BDSM.

  1. Miep February 28, 2015 at 20:08 Reply
  2. Independent Radical March 1, 2015 at 04:42 Reply

    I would argue that if we define “vanilla sex” as sex that has zero resemblance to BDSM (meaning that involves no power inequalities or acts of aggression), then there is no such thing as “vanilla rape”, because there is no such thing as a rape that does not involve dominance and (unwilling) submission. I see no way to argue against the fact that acts of BDSM dominance are inspired by the same views and values that lead to rape, including the view that sex is about dominating others and that the more dangerous or degrading a sex act is, the better (or “more intimate” as the BDSM community puts it) it is. Or to put it another way, rapists are BDSM extremists.

  3. Alice King March 2, 2015 at 12:09 Reply

    I am fine with your view of BD/SM as long as you ddon’t try and make my lifestyle choices illegal. No one is forcing you to choose BD/SM and honestly no one ever would. It is called freedom to live as one sees fit for them

    • Francois Tremblay March 2, 2015 at 15:21 Reply

      I guess you didn’t understand anything I wrote. Oh well.

      • Alice King March 2, 2015 at 18:44 Reply

        Oh I totally get it. You just mused the fact that we are all entitled to our opinions. That does not give anyone the right to force anyone else to live by said opinion

        • Francois Tremblay March 3, 2015 at 01:15 Reply

          No, I didn’t say we are all “entitled to our opinions.” That’s a silly statement. If you’re not really gonna read the entry, at least please stop making a fool of yourself and stop commenting.

          • Alice King March 3, 2015 at 03:17 Reply

            Lmao. I am saying we are all entitled to our opinion. You however miss the fact that I for one do not agree with your view. I also unlike you will not call you a fool or any other name for that matter just because I have a differing view on the subject.

        • Francois Tremblay March 3, 2015 at 03:31 Reply

          No, you are not entitled to your imbecilic opinion that BDSM abuse is a “lifestyle choice,” you moron! You are not entitled to trample over the lived experience of the 30% of people who report being raped in BDSM communities! Shut the fuck up!

          • Alice King March 3, 2015 at 06:29 Reply

            Lmao you r walking contradiction. Fight for supposed rights yet trample on those you disagree with. Nice name calling. Truly shows your level of maturity and lack of comprehension of my original statements

        • Francois Tremblay March 3, 2015 at 13:05 Reply

          What in the hell are you going on about? I am not fighting for anyone’s rights to abuse people. And your “original statements” were bullshit. You are not free to live any way you want, especially if that way includes the belief that people deserve to be abused, beaten and raped because they “choose” it.

          Either way, since you seem to have no desire whatsoever to discuss the topic of the entry, for the last time I will ask you to shut up.

  4. […] while ago I published a response to a bad attempt at defending BDSM by someone who may or may not be named Clarisse Thorn. Here’s an analysis of another […]

  5. L June 29, 2015 at 03:24 Reply

    I think we really need to believe that all our sexual desires are unique and happening in us because of something innate or something we chose…There is something offputting about having to admit that something as intimate as what arouses you was/is shaped by lots of things you have no control over. Most people don’t want to examine their sex lives or their sexual desires critically, hence the pretty defensive comments on piv, porn, bdsm and etc .

    I will admit that when everyone was talking about 50 shades of grey, I did some intro-to-bdsm reading. There was a big focus on communication/planning so that too much pain wouldn’t occur. There also seemed to be this idea that bdsm sex was extremely intimate in a way non-bdsm sex couldn’t be. This struck me as odd because it seems strange that the best way to achieve intimacy would be through inflicting pain on my partner, either verbally or physically.

    I’ve read a few of your articles on bdsm and think the criticisms are dead on, but I do have some questions:
    Where do kink-critical people draw the line between kinky sex (rough sex?, i’m not sure what the right language is to use here) and bdsm? Or is that unimportant?

    Our sex lives/desires are shaped by our world, in a more egalitarian society, would bdsm not be practiced?

    • Francois Tremblay June 29, 2015 at 15:54 Reply

      “There is something offputting about having to admit that something as intimate as what arouses you was/is shaped by lots of things you have no control over. Most people don’t want to examine their sex lives or their sexual desires critically, hence the pretty defensive comments on piv, porn, bdsm and etc .”

      Yes, it is really hard to get people to understand that their preferences and desires are not primary but are the result of the social context and their personal upbringing. In the liberal individualist culture, your preferences and desires are primary and part and parcel of who you are.

      “There also seemed to be this idea that bdsm sex was extremely intimate in a way non-bdsm sex couldn’t be. This struck me as odd because it seems strange that the best way to achieve intimacy would be through inflicting pain on my partner, either verbally or physically.”

      If you define intimacy as giving access to hidden sides of yourself, then BDSM may be “more intimate” than any other sexuality, but is that a great thing? I would question the assumption that we need to maximize intimacy with our partners because it seems to imply that individuals are not complete in themselves.

      “I’ve read a few of your articles on bdsm and think the criticisms are dead on, but I do have some questions:
      Where do kink-critical people draw the line between kinky sex (rough sex?, i’m not sure what the right language is to use here) and bdsm? Or is that unimportant?”

      I would say it’s probably about the dynamic of the sex, whether there is a dom-sub relationship or not. But that’s just my guess.

      “Our sex lives/desires are shaped by our world, in a more egalitarian society, would bdsm not be practiced?”

      That seems likely, but it probably wouldn’t go away overnight.

  6. L June 30, 2015 at 01:00 Reply

    “In the liberal individualist culture, your preferences and desires are primary and part and parcel of who you are.”
    -Yep, I used to teach college writing and many of my students insisted that outside forces didn’t matter (time, place, culture, gender etc)-you just are who you are and you would be that way no matter what!

    “If you define intimacy as giving access to hidden sides of yourself, then BDSM may be “more intimate” than any other sexuality, but is that a great thing? I would question the assumption that we need to maximize intimacy with our partners because it seems to imply that individuals are not complete in themselves.”

    -I feel like bdsm is not only about giving access to the hidden sides of yourself, but also giving access to and acting out on the worst part of yourself, ie. The part of you that wants to inflict pain and humiliation on other people. I think intimacy is healthy if it does not focus on having the people you are intimate with “complete you”

    • Francois Tremblay June 30, 2015 at 02:12 Reply

      “I feel like bdsm is not only about giving access to the hidden sides of yourself, but also giving access to and acting out on the worst part of yourself, ie. The part of you that wants to inflict pain and humiliation on other people. I think intimacy is healthy if it does not focus on having the people you are intimate with “complete you””

      Exactly, I think you nailed it on the head there. It gives access to the worse part of you… the parts that hurt others or are hurt by others.

      • L July 1, 2015 at 01:16 Reply

        Tbh, bdsm is kind of a continuation of the idea that “real” love hurts ..so I guess “real” sex should also hurt too.

        It seems like the argument for things like bdsm, porn, sex with prostitutes etc. boils down to: if it feels good then it’s okay.

        People who selfharm (either physically or mentally) often report that it feels great (and some get sexual pleasure from it), but I don’t think you’ll find a whole lot of people encouraging or praising selfharm. I guess bdsm gets a pass b/c it involves genitals and orgasms…

  7. mallorystgeorge May 2, 2016 at 04:02 Reply

    This was honestly one of the most judgmental, detached, holier-than-thou things I’ve ever read. It is possible to be pro-BDSM and a feminist— and I think you need to reevaluate your idea of what consent is: if two people agree to something, and continue agreeing, even if that activity involves something that is seen as “painful” to other people, it’s not abuse. I understand your argument fully, but I wholeheartedly disagree… I think you should read up on other arguments for pro-BDSM besides Thorn.

    • Francois Tremblay May 2, 2016 at 04:36 Reply

      “This was honestly one of the most judgmental, detached, holier-than-thou things I’ve ever read.”

      Thank you! That was the intention.

      “It is possible to be pro-BDSM and a feminist”

      Hmmm, A feminist- someone who opposes the objectification and exploitation of women- and BDSM- an ideology which preys on women’s trauma to objectify and exploit them? No, I don’t think so.

      “and I think you need to reevaluate your idea of what consent is:”

      No… I think I am very clear on the concept.

      “if two people agree to something, and continue agreeing, even if that activity involves something that is seen as “painful” to other people, it’s not abuse,”

      Abuse is abuse, whether other people agree that it is or not. What you’re doing is commonly called “denying reality.”

      Consent =/= agreement. I think you are the one who is unclear on the concept.

      “I understand your argument fully, but I wholeheartedly disagree… I think you should read up on other arguments for pro-BDSM besides Thorn.”

      If you want to give me more articles to debunk, then please go ahead! I would love to!

    • Francois Tremblay May 3, 2016 at 19:46 Reply

      Still waiting on those links, btw.

  8. […] previously analyzed some articles written to justify BDSM (here and here). I have been told that these are not the best arguments available out there, and that I need to […]

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