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“”Kiss the boot of shiny, shiny leather.
Shiny leather in the dark.
Tongue of thongs, the belt that does await you.
Strike, dear mistress, and cure his heart.
|—The Velvet Underground
BDSM is a combination of 3 acronyms:
It is the giving and receiving of sexual pleasure through the above practices (which can be exceptionally varied and beyond the scope of this article[note 2]), engaged in voluntarily and with predetermined limits and safety rules set and agreed to in advance by all participants (this is sometimes referred to as "safe, sane, and consensual": SSC for short. RACK is also often used: "risk-aware consensual kink").[note 3] Practitioners of BDSM are often termed "kinky."
Despite being a non-normative sexual activity, BDSM is not generally welcomed or included under the banner of queer (or LGBT) movements or activism. (This does depend on the groups in question. For example, it is included in queer theory along with practices like prostitution.) To many people who partake in BDSM activities, the interest is just as much an intrinsic sexuality as being gay or straight, but despite this it is (unfortunately) often rejected from being considered part of queer/LGBT acceptance and social issues. This is unusual because alternative sexualities and lifestyles such as polyamory usually are accepted as part of the queer movement, even though, like BDSM, they don't necessarily include sexual or sexuality issues in the same way as L, G, B or T issues do.
This can be partially rationalised through the purpose of queer movements being to raise awareness of legal struggles; for instance, polyamorous groups can't get recognised legal status in the same way as marriage, which can only be two people, even if same-sex marriage is made legal. But laws concerning whether someone can give informed consent to be harmed are often a stumbling block for BDSM practitioners. As such, combating discriminatory or obstructing laws is relevant to BDSM. If the purpose of LGBT/queer movements is to promote acceptance of alternative sexualities and activities, then there is also no reason to reject BDSM on these grounds; as choosing it as a "lifestyle choice" is still met with a similar level of stigma as any other alternative, non-normative sexuality.
It may be that BDSM is viewed from within some sectors LGBT activism/movement groups as just an activity that anyone can partake in (indeed, BDSM-lite activities are practically mainstream), and thus doesn't need to be represented, but this would be no different than rejecting anything emblematic of queer culture because it's "just an activity".
An alternative argument against including BDSM is claiming it's a sexual fetish and the queer term should not include any fetishes. This leads to a Slippery slope argument that if one fetish is included then all fetishes would need to be included. This argument claims that most people have at least one sexual fetish, and so by allowing fetishes to be included under the queer umbrella it will mean almost everyone would qualify as queer and dilute the meaning of the term.
As with many other forms of non-normative sexual activity, practitioners within the BDSM lifestyle have adopted or created symbols that represent the BDSM lifestyle. Much like the rainbow flag is used as a symbol of the LGBT movement, the BDSM community use the triskelion and the Ring of O, not so much as the symbol of a movement, but more of an identifying feature, thereby allowing practitioners of the BDSM community to meet up without the need to stand in the middle of a crowded pub and shout, "Who's here for the rope-play?"
The triskelion, used in many English speaking countries, needs to be of quite specific design to be recognised as a BDSM symbol, with the outer circle and spokes needing to be of a metallic colour (gold, silver, steel or iron are the most common), the background needs to be a solid colour and the three holes need to be holes, not dots, and are usually edged in the same metal as the circle and spokes. The greasy thumbprint over the whole thing is entirely optional. However, variations of the BDSM symbol do occur where the triskelion is represented by flowers, normally red roses, that have prominent thorns shown as part of the symbol.
The second symbol, the Ring of O, is used more in continental Europe, and is widespread in use throughout the German speaking BDSM community. Very, very loosely based on the ring that the fictitious female character wears in the series of novels "The Story of O," the ring consists of a large steel ring with an attached smaller ring which can be swivelled. The wearing of the Ring of O can also carry greater symbolism than just identifying the wearer as a member of the BDSM community. When the ring is worn on the left hand it can indicate that the wearer is a top, or dominant, whilst wearing it on the right-hand indicates a bottom, or submissive. In such cases a dom would normally wear the ring on the left hand so that their right hand isn't wearing a heavy, metal ring that could cause unintentional damage during use, whilst a sub wears the ring on the right hand to indicate a symbolic binding and surrendering to their dom. Obviously, this can mean that the symbolism can be reversed for people who are left-handed and so the wearing of the Ring of O can't be used as a reliable guide to a wearer's preference.[note 4]
BDSM was listed as a psychiatric disorder under the name of "sexual deviance" in the both the DSM-I and the DSM-II. In the 1970s, homosexuality was removed as a disorder from the manual and sexual deviance was renamed to "paraphilia." With the release of the DSM-IV, paraphilias went through significant redefinition. As of that revision, paraphilias were only considered to be disorders if they caused the person distress or infringed on the rights of others (e.g., voyeurism). This definition continues to hold for the DSM-IV-TR. However, the definitions of BDSM-related paraphilias and activities are often fuzzy and ill-defined. This often allows therapists still convinced it's a mental disorder to skirt around the classification. In addition, many mental health professionals are often unaware or untrained in how to deal with patients' BDSM-related problems. The current changes proposed by the DSM-V paraphilias work-group would definitively depathologize BDSM.
The ICD-10 (used e.g. in Europe) continues to classify BDSM as a "disorder of sexual preference" in the latest (2007) version, along with fetishism and cross-dressing; the current (July 2011) working draft for the ICD-11 retains this classification. Various groups, e.g. the ReviseF65 project, aim to change this, and have achieved success in Scandinavian nations.
BDSM has historically been taboo, but the definition of it as a mental disorder originated with Sigmund Freud's belief that it was the result of child abuse, mirroring another one of his crankier ideas linking schizophrenia to latent homosexuality. This idea is patently false, but it's likely that it continues to be a widespread notion because there is little research on BDSM and most of it is poorly designed. One survey conducted in Australia with a control group found no statistically significant connection between BDSM and childhood abuse. A number of other studies lacking control groups and with smaller sample sizes have been done, and while they show a higher incidence of abuse than the general population, the majority of respondents reported no abuse.
Religious and fundamentalist interpretations
Against the practice
Most fundamentalist and socially conservative Christians do not approve of BDSM because it is a sexual practice that does not lead directly to making babies (although it certainly can, sex is not a requirement of all BDSM activities). In addition, the intercourse activities, when they occur, often take place in positions other than the "missionary". Nonetheless, some televangelists like Pat Robertson are fond of using BDSM-sounding terminology in the course of their spiritual warfare incantations, with lots of talk about "binding" demons and "taking authority" over Satan, kinky stuff indeed.
People with anti-BDSM opinions may also concentrate on the unfair stereotype that it is practiced mainly by hot, sweaty, sexy gay men, wearing hot, sweaty, sexy leather, in hot, sweaty, sexy San Francisco. Indeed, pro-BDSM activists are often considered co-conspirators in or enablers of the homosexual agenda.
For the practice
“”For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
1 Corinthians 14:33-35
Other Christian groups interpret certain Bible passages to mean that a D/s relationship is in fact supported by Christianity, some going as far as to say it is the only way to have a good Christian relationship. This involves the man as the head of the household with the wife in submission to him (with both in submission to God). Marriage vows, for example, traditionally include the phrases "love, honour and obey" for the woman, and "love, honor and cherish" for the man, which, although the phrases are becoming less common, may be reinstated by a couple in a D/s relationship who are getting married and would like to drop a subtle hint. Almost invariably, support for these types of relationships by religion imply that the man is the dominant and the woman is the submissive, with no provision for the often naturally reversed scenario. Christianity also seems to make no admission of partners who "switch".
Another way to be mean to Christians is to point out the B&D story of the Christ on the cross. OK, there's some S&M there, too. And it's easy to enjoy the story – if you are the beneficiary and not the victim.
On a more serious note, there is an organized effort within Unitarian Universalism to promote greater understanding and acceptance of BDSM and kink. This makes some sense, as Unitarian Universalists also led the way in liberal religious acceptance of homosexuality.
Some feminists, particularly of the radical variety, oppose BDSM. Many radical feminists draw on the aforementioned Freudian quackery to promote the childhood abuse idea. They also portray BDSM as a tool of the patriarchy. These arguments usually revolve around the idea that BDSM is an "acting out" of patriarchial culture in the realm of sex or that it is a means of abusing women. The definitive radical feminist anti-BDSM tract is considered to be Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis. Some sex-positive feminists reject this, and support BDSM. The general argument is that too much of feminist opposition to BDSM is grounded in pseudoscience, and that it ignores instances of heterosexual BDSM relationships where women are dominant and men are submissive, as well as same-sex relationships which incorporate BDSM.
- Cops (TV show)
- Discipling and Shepherding - where two Christians voluntarily enter into a D/s relationship. D and S stands for both Dominance and submission, and Discipling and shepherding? Must be a coincidence.
- Corporal mortification (Use of whips and other ways of causing physical pain as part of religion)
- Todd Bentley
- Jack Hyles
- Fetlife - the Facebook for people into BDSM... or so I've been told.
- National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, activist organization for fighting discriminatory anti-BDSM laws and media outreach.
- Clarisse Thorn's blog, pro-BDSM feminist.
- The Eternal Question: What Causes "Vanilla"?
- BDSM: It's not what you think!
- Informed Consent, or IC — Formerly a social networking site like FetLife, now reverted to an activism and information site about kink
- In this usage, "submission" is often not capitalized. This leads to a whole host of other capitalisation issues and grammatical nightmares; where submissives refuse (or sometimes, are actively prohibited) to capitalise "i", Dominants always demand Pronounced Capital Letters like Hers and He like They're Jesus Himself. And of course, the worst offender, the slash for group situations: W/we, Y/you, T/they and so on. Failure to comply with this standard may, in some cases, result in your squidgy bits being placed in a vice, or worse.
- See the London Fetish Scene's Wipipedia and its 1300 articles for more.
- In the absence of any characteristics of the second clause of this sentence, it is bad sex.
- And let's not even start talking about "switches," people who like both roles...
- Venus in Furs, The Velvet Underground Lyrics.com.
- See the Wikipedia article on Glossary of BDSM.
- Psychology and BDSM, IPG Counseling
- Nichols, M. Psychotherapeutic issues with "kinky" clients: clinical problems, yours and theirs. J Homosex. 2006;50(2-3):281-300.
- DSM-V revision project
- F65.5 WHO.int ICD-10 browser
- WHO.int ICD11 Alpha browser
- Finland Joins Nordic Sexual Reform
- Childhood abuse as etiology
- Bondage Lovers Normal, Maybe Even Happier
- See the Wikipedia article on Folsom Street Fair.
- Sex-freedom group battles 'right wing': Joins forces with homosexuals to defend sadomasochism, WorldNutDaily
- Bible Gateway - 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, a fine alternative to 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 when it comes to wedding readings.
- http://leatherandgrace.wordpress.com Leather & Grace ~ Unitarian Universalists for BDSM Awareness
- Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis, Robin Ruth Linden, Darlene R. Pagano, Diana E.H. Russell, and Susan Leigh Star (eds.)
- Playing with Paradox: The Ethics of Erotic Dominance and Submission, Liz Highleyman
- Women Who Like to Be Dominated in Bed: Talking to BDSM Submissives, AlterNet