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Why is SM Taboo?

By Rob Jellinghaus

 …is SM criminal, unnatural, immoral, unethical, or unhealthy?
If what we’ve been saying in this FAQ is accurate, then why haven’t more people heard this? Why are the prevailing images of SM so negative?

There is no doubt that they _are_ negative. Not long ago I was informed that there are some members of the Winnipeg (Canada) police department who believe that soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm is “a textbook on how to torture women for sexual pleasure. It’s obscene.” Said police were considering how to deal with s.s.b-b on obscenity grounds. In England in 1991, a group of gay men who had gathered for an SM play party in which they were using whips for pleasure were arrested and charged with battery, EVEN THOUGH they had all agreed to be doing exactly what they were doing, and WANTED to be doing it. Consensual SM is illegal in England. How can this be?

The crucial distinction here is between consent and non-consent. The difference between whipping someone in a scene and assaulting them on the street is the difference between sex and rape. If everyone involved agrees to what is happening, it is not a crime. If they do not, then it is. This distinction is not in principle difficult to understand, and being involved in SM makes it very clear. SM practitioners are _more_ familiar with consent issues than most, and as such are _less_ likely to commit crimes of the sort that people confuse with SM. And NONE of the material in this FAQ advocates ANY kind of nonconsensual, criminal behavior.

Unfortunately, there are many who would be arbiters of what others may and may not legally consent to do. I believe that consenting adults should be free to do as they wish in the privacy of their homes. There are many who don’t believe this is acceptable. It serves them to confuse the issue by claiming “SM people are sadistic rapists” when in fact we are nothing of the sort. Criminalizing consensual sexual activities (sodomy, SM, even prostitution) is an old tradition, but in my view, an unjustifiable one.

This problem is exacerbated by the body of “scholarly research” on SM and related practices. Almost all the books written about SM and other alternative practices in this century have been written by psychologists and therapists (i.e. people outside the scene), and almost all have portrayed SM as a dangerous practice, indulged in only by “unhealthy” individuals. The reason? Healthy individuals weren’t the subjects being studied; rather, the subjects were all seeking psychological treatment from the authors of the books! The “studies” completely ignored the many many well-adjusted, happy people who were also into SM. It’s easy to conclude SM is harmful when your only experience is with psychologically maladjusted SM people, and when you aren’t interested in presenting a balanced view (as few authors are–psychologists can be as sexually judgmental as anyone).

More recent events in the psychiatric community have shown a change in opinion about SM. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Conditions is a document produced by the American Psychiatric Association. The DSM-III, published in the late ’80s, classified “sexual sadism” and “sexual masochism” as disorders for which treatment was recommended. The APA, in the DSM-IV, reclassified SM as _not_ necessarily a disorder, unless the practice of the SM produces clinically significant ongoing emotional trauma, or leads to death, serious injury, or disability. The DSM-IV is recognition by the therapeutic community that SM can be practiced in a psychologically healthy way. Specifically, _DSM IV_, © *1994*, page 529, §302.83, “sexual masochism”: Classed as a paraphilia, not a disorder, lacking negative implications unless “the fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” Sexual sadism is discussed 2 pages later, §302.84, with similar qualifications.

As for “natural”: people have practiced SM behaviors throughout history. Many are the saints who scourged themselves in the name of the Lord. Using intense sensation to reach altered states of mind is a practice as old as humanity itself–and hence can be considered in no way “unnatural”.

Our society (as do most societies) tends to ostracize the different. If you don’t fit the mold, you’re weird and dangerous. People into SM don’t fit the mold. This is why there is such pressure to remain anonymous in the scene; people have lost their jobs, partners, children, and liberty by having their sexual preferences revealed to their community. This stems from the same source: lack of understanding of what we do and why, and lack of respect for what is different.

Of course, there are plenty of people who just aren’t into SM. (Most people, in fact.) There’s nothing at all wrong with not being into SM, or with not wanting to be exposed to people who do various forms of SM; many people have emotional issues with some kinds of SM activities and may be repulsed or disturbed by witnessing them. These people should clearly avoid SM (and probably should avoid soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm). I would hope, however, that even these people would manage to learn about consensuality as it relates to SM, and learn how SM, practiced carefully, is not abuse.

Some people feel that any power exchange between people is unhealthy. The argument is that giving power to someone else is tantamount to giving away your essential right to self-determination, which must be considered an unqualified evil. Moreover, there is no doubt that many social evils–wars, abusive relationships, et al.–derive from one group of people seeking power over another; therefore, the argument proceeds, it is always wrong thusly to seek power.

In reality, there are many situations in life in which someone chooses to give some of their power over to another, because they trust that other to use that power wisely. Examples include entering the Army (which regulates your life for the duration of your service); getting married (which is often a commitment to abandon some of your personal autonomy); taking a job (which restricts your choices of how to spend your time); and, of course, entering a BDSM scene (during which your top has authority over what goes on). All these power exchanges are mutually agreed upon, and are mutually beneficial; when they stop being beneficial, the exchange itself should stop.

People whose moral codes state that all power exchange–consensual or otherwise–is wrong should clearly not be involved in BDSM. Certainly such people have a consistent ethical system that defines BDSM as immoral. Short of such an ethical system, however, it is hard to see how a BDSM relationship is any more intrinsically immoral than a stint in the Army, or a traditional ‘death-do-you-part’ marriage. As for me, I believe that in a free society, morality requires permitting each citizen to make his or her own choices of how to live, and how to express themselves, including sexually. Sexual rights are human rights. If we lose our freedom to love as we choose, we lose a vital part of what it is to be human.

These issues are very controversial, even now. In the 1992 Oregon state ballot, voters narrowly overturned a measure named OR 9, which contained the following paragraph:

“State, regional, and local government and their departments, agencies, and other entities, including specifically the State Department of Higher Education and the public schools, shall assist in setting a standard for Oregon’s youth that recognizes homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism, and masochism as abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse and that these behaviors are to be discouraged and avoided.”

Homosexuality, sadism, and masochism are neither wrong nor unnatural. All three are consensual ways of living and loving that many people enjoy. They are not for everyone, but nor should everyone be told that they are for no one. Note also how this measure seeks to confuse the issue by grouping homosexuality, sadism, and masochism together with pedophilia, a practice which is in most places legally nonconsensual. (It is not my intent to enter here into the debate over whether children are ever capable of fully consenting to sexual acts. Suffice it to say that whether they can or not has no bearing on the fact that adults _can_ consent to SM play.) Legislating what consenting adults may and many not do in private is neither healthy nor democratic.

(In recent years there has been a spate of articles about how SM is entering the mainstream. Madonna’s book “Sex,” her movie “Body of Evidence,” and the movie “Exit to Eden” are examples of this trend. Hopefully this will lead to more people feeling free to express their love as _they_ choose–so long as it’s consensual!)

The most extreme forms of SM come closest to the line between consent and non-consent. Most SM people have established safewords which they will use if need be, though if they’ve known their partners for long, that’s rather seldom. Some people, though, do play without safewords–whether because they know their partners well enough to stay within their partners’ limits and read their partners’ responses, or because they enjoy the rush of playing without an escape clause. This latter sort of play is sometimes known as “consensual non-consensuality,” and involves scenes in which the bottom literally cannot escape from whatever the top wishes to do. This is very advanced SM; it requires exponentially more negotiation and introspection, and even then is hazardous. Not many people do this, or want to, but some people do, and find it exhilarating and uplifting. More info is available on s.s.b-b or in some of the references…or on s.s.b-b itself, which is one of the best places in the world to hear a myriad of voices speak out about their individual ways of doing and living SM.

Dominant Styles – One Dom’s Perspectives

By Owlm48

Over the years I have observed many forms of Dom/sub behavior. Although I have never been known as one to try and categorize anything or anybody, in the educational spirit of creating discussion and thought, I wanted to discuss some of my observations. Hopefully this dissertation will help those new to the lifestyle find a place for themselves, an area to identify with or explain various forms of D/s behavior. And for those who are in the lifestyle to just enjoy the discussion.

I think that Dominants can fall into one of three categories , with modifications within them. I want to discuss the major categories, but leave the modifications to your imagination and/or conclusions. There could even be combinations of types.

The types fall into the categories of Authoritarian, Democratic, and Equalitarian. These types have their sub counterparts. I will discuss the main characteristics of these subs and again leave the various modifications thereof up to your imagination. Remember, although I may mention some negative things about some of these categories, these persons and situations must be evaluated by the quality of the people involved and not by the activities themselves. Remember that variation is endless. I do not intend to offend anyone by these generalizations. We all know that there are exceptions to every rule and that “we” are all “exceptions.”

The Authoritarian Dominant is one who “rules” with the absolute power, the total control. Makes all decisions, there is no questioning of what is asked or done. The only recourse the sub may enjoy is perhaps a safe word or , if allowed, few if any limitations. These Dom’s enjoy the strictest master/slave relationships. They attract subs who want to be totally controlled. This is the “slave” submissive. Many of these subs find themselves being considered doormat types by those who do not understand this form of D/s. (However, it may attract door-mat type persons and power freak type individuals). This form may and usually does involve strict total voluntary surrender either mentally/emotionally and/or physically, and usually through heavy S&M activities. This is where pushed limits are very much a part of the activities. Some of the strongest bonds/relationships exist in these situations. Here is where one can also find the strict 24 hours a day 7 days a week (24 / 7) D/s relationships. There are no long drawn out training sessions to effect certain behaviors as in the Democratic Domination. Things are just done, no negotiations; limits are pushed and it is accepted by both. There is a great sense of closeness and coupling in the uncensored relinquishing of power and the wielding of absolute control. They fully understand this concept of D/s and live it strictly and with elegance. Their implements (toys if you will , but in this type I don’t look upon them as toys – you can be sure that they are the “real” thing) are highly crafted, sometimes intricate, wielded proficiently and effectively. The Dominants are highly skilled in their use. And you might say that the submissives are highly skilled at receiving the results. These implements developed by the Authoritarian types are borrowed in kind and concept by other D/s types. It can be a profound and sobering experience for some not yet familiar with this type of domination to witness an Authoritarian scene. You will find this type referred to as real D/s. and it is “real.” This is what “real” is usually referred to. But D/s is not only S&M , it encompasses a wide variety of D/s behaviors and conventions. So real is real for what you are involved in and not what others do. This “is” real BDSM, have no doubt about this. It is, however, only one aspect or area of D/s. I think that here one finds the situation where individuals feel naturally (born) this way and fall into this easily and with great acceptance and comfort in spite of outward appearances.

The Democratic Dominant ( sounds like an oxymoron ) is one who controls by agreement. Contracts, discussions, limitations, conditions, safe words, times of day, places where, are all spelled out or discussed and are strictly followed. Sometimes in written contracts. Punishments are provided for the enjoyment of both when these are not followed; and rewards are given (I think) when they are followed. Submissives who are attracted to these situations are those who want the same agreed conditions, especially the limitations. They can be called feisty, bad, spoiled, hard to tame, because they like to challenge the limits/rules — either because they want it this way (to have control), or have certain fears. This can be the game area, where fun supersedes the Dominant/submissive operative. The Dominant and submissive like the actual and varied activities and enjoy participating in them. The submissive probably does not want to actually surrender, but likes playing as if she is does. These form the least strong relationships and bonds. This area is where the fun seekers usually reside, those who do not fully understand or have not fully experienced what D/s is, and maybe don’t want to. Or, frankly, the inexperienced. The activity or concept of “Topping from the Bottom” is also found here. The rules are a guide to those who like this type of interaction, or a crutch for those who have little or no knowledge of what it is all about on an intellectual, philosophical and physical level. “Cookbook” Domming and submitting. Many like this type of situation since it is a convenient and safe way to play with D/s (fun) or it makes it easy to feel like they are or are indeed practicing D/s. This type also serves a very good purpose as a safe passage to other forms of D/s, or for learning, especially among those who are doing this for the first time with someone new, or for the first time ever. After experience with D/s or experience with that particular person is gained, the “rules of the road” so to speak become more of an intimated reaction between the two, and can lead to some very strong and satisfying D/s relationships. Some of these types or agreements can be of the 24/7 type, usually by agreement, but most involve predetermined parameters. This is the area for those Dominants who like long drawn out training sessions and submissives who are resistant to certain things and need to be broken down or want to be broken down repeatedly. Also, surprisingly, we can find the very S&M orientated individuals here as well as in the Authoritarian (totalitarian) types. The individuals are very much into the giving and receiving pain. The relationship is formed with what you might say is an underlying agreement; that is ” I like and enjoy giving you as much pain as I can give and you can stand.” — “You want and enjoy as much pain as I can give and you can stand.” — “Agreed.” — “So let’s be together.” Another democratic agreement made.

The Equalitarian Dominant is one who controls by teaching, mentoring and leading. This Dominant feels and knows that when they find a comparable submissive that things will happen as a progression of the interaction. Usually just a mention or short learning situation is necessary to obtain a certain interaction. Both the Dominant and the submissive “get it”, need very little, so called “training” and naturally know what the other needs after interaction. This Dominant does not like the situation of constantly repeating and forcing a particular behavior (submission) to occur. It is not the activities but the surrender as the result of the Domination that is the objective and enjoyment. Creativity is an important part of this situation. These are the more intellectual, into the philosophy/psychology mechanism of this lifestyle. They understand the concepts and resultant interactions and can put it into real life. They do not need many “rules” like the Democratic type , nor do they like the heavy S&M activities; preferring submission to occur as a result of an instilled desire in the submissive to surrender. She “wants” to as a result of the Dominant’s knowledge and skill at Dominating. Sensuousness is the rule and pain is given and received as a form of sensuous stimulation. Light pain as opposed to severe. Sensuous torture is a popular activity in this area. Both the Dominant and the submissive must be naturally this way. These are the ones who claim to be born this way, have always been this way. They fully understand the concept of D/s – it comes to them naturally and easily. They attract a submissive who truly and naturally wants to please, and who will observe and sense what the dominant is communicating; and be able to translate that into the right thing to do. The doing or saying without having to be told type. The submissives beg easily and surrender sweetly. They understand the concept of respect and surrender and can make it happen after initial learning with little or no additional instructions. They embrace the surrender gratefully and lovingly. These individuals usually form the most intimate of relationships, the closest. There is not much downside to these relationships, because they not only grasp the concepts, but can make it happen too; and their attraction is based on strong mutual respect. Their strong relationship is not readily apparent to the unobservant, but they are always subtly in the 24-7 mode. The fact that these things come forth naturally and without the need for orders or rules are a great affirmation and source of pride, satisfaction and loving. Just as the strictness and forbearance without the need for orders or rules.

Subspace: Falling or Floating or something else?

MsIn10sity’s Essay on Subspace

Falling or Floating or something else?

Something I’ve been trying to write about for years now is subspace. Finally, I have managed to say something worthwhile about this mysterious and elusive topic.

Probably the toughest thing to describe to the uninitiated is that elusive
thing that many call “subspace.” It’s also known as “headspace” or “flying” or
“floating” but while those of us who are experienced know just what this means
within our own context, it is a very difficult thing to define. In fact, I’ve
been trying to write about it for a number of years now without success.

Okay, why is this so hard to pin down? Because it is felt differently by any
given individual and there are many ways to get to this point; there are also
some folks who never feel much of anything mentally but may feel certain
physical responses.

At this point, I read my own words on the subject with a great sigh. I’ve just
written two whole paragraphs and haven’t said anything worthwhile. But, like any
other topic in this lifestyle, there is no *one true way* to describe any
relationship or the feelings anyone experiences as a part of this lifestyle. So,
I speak for myself here and *Your Mileage May Vary* as they say. One of the few
things I can state in an absolute way is that it is my Master (Michael) who
coined the term several years ago and he *borrowed* the term from Star Trek.

Subspace is–usually–more than just the submissive headspace one feels from
serving one’s dominant in some way… more than that extraordinary need to
please that is so common for slaves and submissives alike. The most simple
description is a sort of hypnotic state reached by the release of endorphins
into the bloodstream. But the pseudo-scientific explanation of subspace doesn’t
really matter, at least as far as this writing goes. What I want to talk about
is the mental and physical feelings involved.

It can take on a dreamy quality and can virtually paralyze some submissives for
a time. It is, in my opinion, also the greatest natural high there is and many
have likened it to a “runner’s high” or the release of adrenelin into the
system. Some have said it is invigorating rather than a relaxing trance-like
state and it has often been stated (I think mostly by those who have never
experienced it) that it is only possible to reach subspace through painful
physical stimuli. Frankly, that is nonsense; it is more than possible to reach
subspace from overwhelming passion and love with no pain being involved at all.

I’ve felt subspace on a number of levels in my time in the lifestyle, which, by
the way doesn’t make me any sort of expert on the subject. There are many
submissives I have spoken with who feel wholly different in this mental state
and all of us are describing the same thing.

Sometimes, subspace can get so deep that one can’t communicate at all and can’t
even move. I’ve had this happen a number of times and it is for this reason that
I want to caution folks who are new to all of this that no matter how subspace
is felt by any submissive, this can be a very dangerous situation for both
dominant and submissive. After all, if the sub cannot communicate, he or she
cannot safeword, safe “gesture” or in any way protect themselves and it is up to
the dominant to handle such situations with a level head and to be aware of it.
My point also covers the fact that subspace can change over the course of a
relationship and the reactions–even to the same stimuli–can also change for no
particular reason.

Subspace can be the most wonderful experience and it can also be terrifying.
I’ve also felt as if I were falling out of control and this is not a pleasant
feeling. I am not describing a *flashback* situation from some previous
situation going badly (such as abuse issues), but rather a sensation that is
like being in a plummeting out-of-control elevator. I can be talked *down* from
this, but have been fortunate to be with a Master who is always prepared to
handle whatever form my subspace may take in any situation.

At its very best, subspace is almost always a mental and physical *high* for me.
I sometimes see my own body in a beautiful garden with gorgeous flowers and a
flowing stream and feel such a sense of security and comfort and love that I can
only describe it as *temporary Heaven.* Often, I do not speak at all but I know
my Master is there and it feels as if we are the only two people in the world.
Sometimes I do talk, but not in response to my Master but rather a flowing sort
of stream-of-consciousness that makes no sense really. And when he brings me
*back to earth* from these kind of subspace experiences, all of my physical
discomforts are gone and I feel no pain whatsoever. I feel as if I could run a
marathon and this is what is magical about it. I do suffer from constant pain in
the form of inflammatory arthritis and there is no medicine in the world that
works to totally alleviate my pain as *subspace* does for a period of time.

Beyond this wonderful high is the essential complete trust I have in my Master.
I know he will not leave me alone in this state (which could be quite dangerous)
and that unless there is some emergency, he will be gentle and take his time
bringing me back from the subspace to reality again.

I have had subspace last for several days as well and that is sometimes an
almost bizarre feeling. Bizarre because the things that normally bother me don’t
bug me at all and I feel quite *dreamy* even while able to function as I usually
do; I’ll call these experiences a sort of *veiled reality* and I have no idea
why subspace varies so much from time to time. Also, I have gotten into subspace
with just his voice on the phone and from multiple orgasms as well. Altogether,
it is a state of mind and sometimes state of body that I wish could be bottled
but I have not *mastered* getting into subspace all by myself, though I suppose
that may be possible as well.

Written: 03-06-01

Copyright © 1998 – 2001 by MsIn10sity, All Rights Reserved

Essays about BDSM & Related Topics

Essays about the Lifestyle:

  • Why is SM Taboo? - By Rob Jellinghaus  …is SM criminal, unnatural, immoral, unethical, or unhealthy? If what we’ve been saying in this FAQ is accurate, then why haven’t more people heard this? Why are the prevailing images of SM so negative? There is no doubt that they _are_ negative. Not long ago I was informed that there are some […]
  • Dominant Styles – One Dom’s Perspectives - By Owlm48 Over the years I have observed many forms of Dom/sub behavior. Although I have never been known as one to try and categorize anything or anybody, in the educational spirit of creating discussion and thought, I wanted to discuss some of my observations. Hopefully this dissertation will help those new to the lifestyle […]
  • Subspace: Falling or Floating or something else? - MsIn10sity’s Essay on Subspace Falling or Floating or something else? Something I’ve been trying to write about for years now is subspace. Finally, I have managed to say something worthwhile about this mysterious and elusive topic. Probably the toughest thing to describe to the uninitiated is that elusive thing that many call “subspace.” It’s also […]