Melissa Farley, famous for her work against prostitution, wrote an article detailing ten lies told about BDSM.
Lie #9: Reenacting abuse heals abuse. Sadomasochism heals emotional wounds from childhood sexual assault.
This lie really disturbs me. A greater percentage of women “into sadomasochism” have histories of childhood sexual assault, than those women who do not participate in sadomasochism. However, sadomasochism obscures the real pain and abuse of women. How can you tell the difference between “real” and “pretend” when someone has a flashback and becomes a child again in the middle of “consensual” sexual torture? Some feel an intense, even compulsive drive toward sexual annihilation that is expressed in sadomasochistic activity which mirrors the abuse suffered as a child. The notion that acting out abuse helps to heal and eliminate abuse arises from the catharsis theory: do it once, just get it out of your system, then you will get over it. There is no evidence that catharsis works as a solution to social or psychological conflict, yet this theory is used to rationalize the dissemination of pornography. Pornography does not seem to have served as a pressure-cooker-release for men, thus freeing women from rape. On the contrary, pornography seems to have functioned as pro-rape propaganda. Sadomasochistic catharsis does not seem to heal sexual abuse either: one women wrote, “after seventeen years of [childhood sexual assault], the lesbians I met just wanted to do more of the same. I have nightmares and damage from both.” (Anonymous, 1990) Sadomasochism is a repetition, not a healing, of childhood sexual assault. Some have suggested that sadomasochism can actually be physiologically addictive. I have heard women describe themselves as being “in recovery from sadomasochism,” the same way they speak of alcohol addiction. Perhaps the physical addiction to certain kinds of trauma begins with complex physical reactions to prolonged abuse in childhood which is then rekindled in adult sadomasochistic relationships.