BDSM is not “edgy.” It’s just society magnified.

BDSM is being sold to us as an “edgy” form of sex, as opposed to the boring “vanilla” forms of sex used by most people. BDSM is said to be outrageous, transgressive, psychologically healing. But at the same time, we are told that BDSM is a perfectly valid, consensual way of exploring sexuality, so it’s not so transgressive that it becomes outright illegal.

But if you look at the theory of BDSM, you find that BDSM is actually not really “edgy” or transgressive. It is really nothing but another reflection of how our societies work. The monogamous family structure is one reflection of society, in that it posits a hierarchical framework where men dominate women and children, centered around property rights (the inviolability of the home).

BDSM is a different kind of reflection. While the monogamous family is a reflection of the conservative elements of society (and conservatives invoke it at any opportunity), BDSM is a reflection of the liberal elements of society. The liberal view of sex is one where women are not owned by one man, but indirectly by all men (through fuckability standards, the double standard, pornography and prostitution), and where ownership is generalized (where men own women’s sexuality, and women own men’s sexuality). BDSM is a codified, rationalized way of doing sex in accordance with these principles.

The main characteristics of BDSM are:

1. The dom/sub dynamic. This is a straightforward reproduction of the domination and submission dynamic that exists in all hierarchies, simply making it clearer than it usually is. While in most hierarchies the realization that one is dominating others, or is submitting to others, is hidden or repressed through various mechanisms of control, in BDSM that realization is the basis of the performance.

2. Hierarchies are structures of directed control (directed from the dominants to the submissives). The dom/sub dynamic is no different. BDSM “scenes” are frameworks for control flowing from doms to subs. Hierarchies enforce their control through violence or the threat of violence. In “scenes,” there is, likewise, violence and threats of violence.

Now, whenever you say this, BDSM advocates pipe up and say “it’s the sub who is really in control.” Right, like we don’t hear that sort of rationalization all the time. The doms are the one inflicting the violence, not the subs: that’s what they’re there for, and that’s why they’re called “dominants,” because they have the power. Now, I am not saying that all sexual violence is necessarily bad, although I definitely think they should be consensual. Which brings me to the next point…

3. BDSM is based on “consensual non-consent.” What does that mean? It means that you consent beforehand, either by verbal negotiations or through a contract, and that you have a safe word to use in order to stop a scene when it goes too far. But this is not consent, only the appearance of consent. Likewise, hierarchies are greatly concerned about maintaining the appearance of consent while not actually enforcing consent.

The best example of this is contracts. In capitalism, contracts are used to extract surplus value from workers in exchange for financial security (and in many jobs, not even that). In BDSM, contracts are used to normalize future sex acts. They are both form of ritual admission of dominance/submission which aim at providing the appearance of consent. But in reality, the worker has no more consented to obeying future orders than the sub has consented to the future sex acts.

BDSM advocates also say that safe words provide a clear way to prevent abuse. However, we know in practice that it does not, because of the high percentages of people who are abused in BDSM. There are many reasons why safe words can fail: because subs cannot form words due to trauma (or as they euphemistically call it, “subspace”), because subs forget their safe words, because subs don’t want to get disapproval from their doms, because doms don’t hear the word correctly, or because they simply ignore it. Superiors in our hierarchies also have all sorts of reasons not to care about the rights or desires of those they give orders to, all sorts of rationalizations explaining why they don’t have to care at all. We want to believe that we’re all safe from abuse, that the laws protect us, but this is just as delusional.

Through these three points, BDSM encapsulates the rules of universal exploitation. In theory, anyone can decide to be a dom or a sub. A sub can have different doms, and a dom can have different subs. They codify their social relations with contracts (like the work contract and the marriage contract). These relations are ostensibly based on “the consent of governed.”

BDSM’s sole function is to reproduce all the hierarchies and inequalities that have existed in our societies for centuries: sexism, racism, childism (through infantilism/DD and lg). There’s also nothing “edgy” about ritualized submission: religion has been doing it for millennia. Likewise, a relationship between two people sealed by mutual control and ritual is nothing new: we “vanilla” people call it “marriage.”

If you’re into race play you’re a racist. You’re getting off on perpetuating harmful, dehumanizing stereotypes that people live with everyday. If you weren’t racist you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it, let alone enjoy doing it.

If you’re into rape play you condone and normalize rape, and may be a rapist. You are literally getting off on and enjoying the simulated act of raping someone. You’re aroused by their nonconsent (feigned or otherwise). You derive pleasure from forced sexual violation.

If you’re into age play sexually, you are a pedophile. You are achieving sexual gratification from the image of a child. It doesn’t matter that the ‘child’ in question is a consenting adult, the image they are displaying to you is that of a child. If you’re fucking someone who is pretending to be 5 it’s because you’re socially aware enough to know you couldn’t get away with fucking an actual 5 year old and are fucking a substitute instead. That doesn’t make you less of a pedophile.

The only thing that could be said to be “new” about BDSM is the drive to rationalize it as psychologically healing and a form of sexual freedom, claims which have rarely been made about bigotry, religion, or marriage. It is the application of all these old concepts to sexuality that makes BDSM a distinctive ideology: applying bigotry, ritualized submission, and control and ritual, to people’s sex lives. But none of these things are desirable in the first place. We don’t need to keep reproducing bigotry. We don’t need ritualized submission, not to a god, not to a king, not to each other. We don’t need to keep controlling each other. None of this adds up to better sex. None of this adds up to any sort of challenge or even difference from our mainstream, abusive conceptions of sexuality and relationships.

Many BDSM advocates think they have a good argument against us when they say “mainstream heterosexual relationships are abusive too!” But in saying this, they admit that they’re just the same as the mainstream. This is not a revolutionary argument, or even a good argument. It’s just another tu quoque fallacy… terrible logic and even worse life advice.

Some people try to argue that there’s no contradiction between BDSM and feminism. I’ve debunked one such attempt in this entry. I won’t repeat myself here: if you’re interested in my arguments about that, read that entry. I have nothing against people who want to take charge of their sexuality and explore something different. But BDSM is not the way to go. Its explicit, strident anti-egalitarianism, its deliberate lies about “consent,” the fact that it’s aiding and abetting abusers and rapists (both within the community and without), are just disgusting. We don’t need that shit.

24 thoughts on “BDSM is not “edgy.” It’s just society magnified.

  1. Independent Radical September 21, 2016 at 02:35

    “I am not saying that all sexual violence is necessarily bad, although I definitely think they should be consensual.”

    I must ask what you mean by this. If sex is to be a loving, egalitarian experience it must be free from violence. Violence (which I am defining as physical aggression directed at one person by another) is a means of exercising or attempting to exercise power over another person.

    • Francois Tremblay September 21, 2016 at 02:52

      I suppose this all depends on whether violence can be consensual at all. It certainly is not in its BDSM form. In general, I would agree that we should steer away from violence, simply because it’s not worth the risk of one person dominating another.

      • Independent Radical September 21, 2016 at 15:59

        I don’t think physical aggression that harms people’s bodies (my definition of violence) is ever sexy, even if it’s consensual. It may be justified in particular contexts, but never in what is supposed to be a loving relationship between two equals.

  2. John Doe September 21, 2016 at 08:32

    Can people please stop saying “edgy?” It almost ruined Sonic for me.

  3. Kendall September 21, 2016 at 12:28

    Do you think someone can change? Like I used to watch simulated rape porn (I say simulated because it was drawn and animated) but I don’t anymore and don’t think it’s right anymore.

    I guess what I’m asking is if someone used to do rape play/age play do you think they are always rapists or pedophiles? Do you think rapists and pedophiles stop being one if they change and stop doing those things? I see some people say we should just kill these people but I think they could actually change and no longer be that way, just wondering your thoughts!

    • Francois Tremblay September 21, 2016 at 13:16

      Of course anyone can change, doesn’t mean they will though. I do think even rapists can change. I still advocate killing them, though.

      • Kendall September 21, 2016 at 13:25

        That’s what my husband says “they’re lucky I’m not in charge, I believe they can change, but I wouldn’t have the patience or sympathy to help them do it, I just would want them out of my society”

        I probably just have my (possibly far too much) sympathy for people due to my female socialization, and possibly my OCD =D

        • Francois Tremblay September 21, 2016 at 13:27

          That is possible, yes. Men are much more aware of the depravities that men can get to. Men know how men talk about women when they think women aren’t around.

          • sellmaeth September 27, 2016 at 05:50

            I think it is a question of how far you allow yourself to go before you turn around. I used to read the typical “woman enjoys rape” romance stories, (bodice-rippers I think they’re called?), and one day made the decision to not read this shit anymore, because it is against my ethics to enjoy the description of rape, however romanticised. I have now achieved a level of awareness where I cannot even bear to read nonconsensual kissing.

            The further you have gone, the harder it is to turn back. Admitting that you used to get off on what might be actual rape (like is the case with mainstream porn) is very, very hard already. Actually having committed rape means that, if you admit that rape is wrong, you will have to live with that guilt the rest of your life.

            We, who have never watched porn that involved real people, can justify that rather easily because no one but ourselves was harmed by it. There’s no severe cognitive dissonance between thinking of ourselves as good people and acknowledging that eroticised depiction of rape is wrong.

            In short, yes, they probably can change, but why would they want to change? Not only does it temporarily reduce their pleasure, it also leads to severe psychological pain.

            • Francois Tremblay September 27, 2016 at 15:12

              True. But taking into account the fact that ANY pornography can be the result of rape, that kinda lowers the stigma, I would think. In fact, they could even try to normalize rape! I can just see that happening some day. Maybe I should write a satire about it…

  4. John Doe September 23, 2016 at 04:04

    On the subject of bigotry, why can’t I just force people to accept me for who I am and why can’t we just go ahead and execute Donald Trump?

  5. L September 23, 2016 at 21:43

    “The only thing that could be said to be “new” about BDSM is the drive to rationalize it as psychologically healing and a form of sexual freedom, claims which have rarely been made about bigotry, religion, or marriage. ”

    One thing I’ve noticed popping up a lot is the idea that the desire for BDSM is a natural, biological innate thing. I’ve seen a number of women on Feminist Current (and other sites) defend consuming porn and bdsm on this basis.

    What does raceplay, rapeplay, degradation and etc have to do with nature? When I ask these commenters to elaborate, I don’t get much of a response…they can never give a good explanation of why humans would be born with an innate desire to inflict or receive verbal or physical pain during sex…

    • Francois Tremblay September 24, 2016 at 00:31

      Well, there’s plenty of evopsych fans who believe that rape is innate…

      • sellmaeth September 27, 2016 at 05:56

        … in which case antinatalism would be the only ethical solution.
        Or artificial fertilisation of female eggs with other female eggs, making sure that only girl babies are born.

        I really don’t get why men claim that they are destined to be rapists – even if it were true, it would be idiotic to admit it.

        There is no lack of kitchen knives, as Andrea Dworkin famously said.

    • Topazthecat (@topazthecat1000) June 17, 2018 at 20:36

      Hopefully these ”women” posters ludicrously defending sick violent,woman-hating BDSM are really male posters,it’s horrible enough when use and defend sexist,woman-hating violent degrading pornography and BDSM but it’s even worse when women do!

      And Francois Tremblay how can you even if you weren’t a radical feminist incomprehensibly say that you don’t think all sexual violence is bad?!

  6. […] other articles about BDSM on this blog: BDSM is not “edgy.” It’s just society magnified. “Cliff Pervocracy” wants you to know that BDSM is feminist. Clarisse Thorn tries to refute an […]

  7. Topazthecat (@topazthecat1000) June 17, 2018 at 20:31

    Here is a brilliant presentation about this including the horrendous Fifty Shades Of Grey series and the defense and mainstreaming of BDSM by feminist professor Julia Long

  8. PauseBreak March 19, 2019 at 09:44

    I have a question. But first, some framing:

    I myself am vehemently anti-capitalist. I am also a male sexual submissive. What I mean is, I have no control over the fact that certain things (mostly ‘light’ domination) turn me on. I’m not into the whole BDSM ‘scene’, personally, but I want to make it clear that it is only in this one realm (“the bedroom”, if you will) where I wish to be dominated. Many males and females likewise have similar proclivities.

    The extent to which these proclivities are the product of imprinting, the internalization of capitalist values, or pure genetic chance does not seem to matter considering that either way, people are STUCK with their drives and desires. From a personal standpoint, I prefer a woman who is generally assertive and largely in control but I would never find total 24/7 submission or actual slavery desirable. (I suspect most people wouldn’t either)

    There are women who are NOT sexually submissive, and others who are. I don’t think this is aberrant or somehow a mere product of capitalism or misogynistic tendencies.

    I suppose my question is: what do you make of that? I generally agree with your views, but it seems to me that you are lacking in perspective here just a bit. I want to make a clarification here now: I am not defending BDSM or any specific genre of porn as an industry, and I think that topic is separate from that of what people actually genuinely WOULD choose absent coercion and the like.

    You make some valid points, but what then is to be done with the desires and drives that who don’t conform to the standard ‘missionary for the sole purpose of reproductive’ or ‘man on top’ narrative have? There are many of us out there, who do not conform to whatever the “normal” sexual interaction between consenting partners is supposed to be. And not all of us are abusive men or women driven purely by sadism, duped through the current hegemony into replicating workplace relations or historical master-servant relations, who take advantage of willing subs or whatnot.

    • Francois Tremblay March 19, 2019 at 15:28

      Three points:
      1. I never asked you to talk about your personal sexual life, and it’s rather quite rude to do so to someone you don’t even know. I’m not a sex advice columnist or your best friend. Such behavior is very common amongst kinksters, and I usually just delete such posts. However, yours was had more of a point, so I wanted to at least address that.
      2. “the standard ‘missionary for the sole purpose of reproductive’ or ‘man on top’ narrative”
      Yeaaaaaah… who are you talking to? Because it’s definitely not me.
      3. I never said I was against people doing all sorts of kinky but non-violent things in their own bedroom. But the fact is, you have no more idea than I do about where these desires come from. They must come from somewhere. We know that a lot of people involved in BDSM are abusive or self-abusive (a greater percentage then in the general population). It doesn’t mean everyone who’s into kinks is abusive or self-abusive.
      But unless you have a better explanation, I’m not sure what you’re trying to say except “well, I’M not like that,” No one ever thinks they’re “like that.” No one wants to be explained and defined, and that’s a normal human impulse. Everyone wants to be a magical unicorn, a free-willed entity that just makes choices in an abstract thought-realm, but none of us are. We’re all part of material reality and there’s always an explanation for our behavior. And that explanation is usually to be found in the incentives and belief systems present in the cultures we live in.

  9. PauseBreak March 19, 2019 at 15:45

    I did not talk about my personal sexual life. I simply used a descriptive term to convey the idea that I most likely fit into something you described, the “sub/dom dynamic”. That’s as far as it went. You seem very hostile. Feel free to delete all my responses if you wish, I see that you are pretty set on what you want to believe. You said:

    “you have no more idea than I do about where these desires come from. They must come from somewhere.”

    Of course they must come from somewhere, and I never implied otherwise. The point I made was about how wherever they come from, from the standpoint of one who nonetheless has certain drives (such as being dominated, and before you erroneously claim this is me telling you about my personal sexual life, note the lack of specifics which I never offered) there remains the question of how you expect people to transcend the inclinations they have. This is rather akin to insisting that gay people are somehow ‘wrong’, or at least that’s the impression I got which is why I sought clarification.

    I did not expect this hostility; you wrote a blog about BDSM specifically.

    “Everyone wants to be a magical unicorn, a free-willed entity that just makes choices in an abstract thought-realm, but none of us are.”

    How does this follow from anything I stated? I understand that we are influenced by environmental and genetic factors beyond our control. I do not believe we have free will to any meaningful degree. To the contrary, I’ve explicitly stated that regardless of where these drives come from, people are stuck with them. Please read more carefully next time.

    • Francois Tremblay March 19, 2019 at 16:18

      I’m not sure what hostility you’re referring to. I was just answering to your points.

      I don’t think I ever said people should “transcend the inclinations they have.” Where did you get that idea? The problem is social, not individual. That was the whole point of my article.

  10. PauseBreak March 19, 2019 at 16:40

    What problem are you referring to? I entirely agree that the biggest problems facing human societies are social/systemic in nature. Perhaps I should have stuck with a point by point analysis. When you said the following:

    “The dom/sub dynamic. This is a straightforward reproduction of the domination and submission dynamic that exists in all hierarchies, simply making it clearer than it usually is.”

    I believe you may that to be a possible explanation, but I don’t know if we can discount experiences early on in life as a possible influence as well. I am not saying you do, as I have not read everything you’ve written on this topic. We can abolish the current workplace relations tomorrow (if only), but I guess my point was that when it comes to such things as how people are wired or conditioned to interface intimately/sexually, the “damage” is done and people will simply like what they like.

    If people simply did as they pleased with one another and removed the contractual and monetary components, I think we’d both agree that at least in some circumstances, the potential for abuse would still exist. Conversely, I do not believe everything that could remotely fall under the blanket umbrella term of “BDSM” or “kink” or whatever terms people want to use should should get tangled up in all that.

    I suppose one genuine curiosity I have is as to whether or not you would wish to regulate this activity or not. I suppose I’m wondering what your proposed solution to the social problem you perceive is. If you’ve outlined it elsewhere, I have not yet seen it.

    I did not mean to be rude at the outset, and your telling me that this is what I was doing is what I was referring to by “hostility.” That, and the fact that it while seems we’re actually in agreement on many basic points, based on your previous reply you seemed to want to “refute” me rather than respond in good faith is what I meant by “hostility.”

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