Alternative Sexual Practices – Kent State article response

first posted 9/17/06 @ 5:34 PM EST; updated 12/17/09


In response to the 9/14/06 article in the Kent State “Stater Online” entitled “Alternative sexual practices abound among college students“, I would like to offer these remarks.

While it is true that sadism and masochism are still listed in the DSM-IV, and that there *are* some people who enjoy these practices when they are nonconsensual, when you start to speak of *most* practicing sadomasochists, consensuality is a *very* important part of what we do.

As a community, the kink community decries people who inflict pain on others without their consent as much as any other normal people do. Those nonconsensual practices are *not* part of what we do. Such people are *not* welcome in our midst any more than they are welcome anywhere else.

I also concur with Susan Wright‘s comment that the DSM-IV is quite clear that as long as these practices do not interfere with a person’s daily functioning, they are not considered mental illnesses – although that clearly only applies to people who are practicing these things consensually in the first place, not to the rapists and torturers of the world. Ms. Wright it quite correct, but I don’t think that her comment fully addresses the actual issue raised by Laurie Wagner’s comments, and how they are reported in the article, and that is the distinction between consensual and nonconsensual behavior.

It is exceedingly unfortunate when people in positions of authority and in a position to educate young minds such as Ms. Wagner don’t even have their information straight, because it is uninformed attitudes such as this that perpetuate this myth that what we do is somehow evil and dangerous.

The distinction between S&M and dominance and submission is also *not* as Ms. Wagner has stated it, and I concur with Ms. Wright’s assertion that she clearly has no idea what she is talking about, either on the psychological diagnosis side, or especially on the side of referring to the most common practices that typically carry these terms.

The difference Ms. Wagner cites is, instead, generally viewed as one of people who prefer sensation-oriented play (S&M) vs the more psychological aspects (the D/s, or dominance and submission). Some people are more into the sensation aspects of play, and others more into the mental aspects, which does not inherently involve any sort of sensation or even physical contact of any sort. Some people are into a mix.

The most commonly used acronym nowadays when referring to these practices, though, is actually “BDSM”. This is an umbrella term that breaks down to “bondage and discipline”, “dominance and submission”, and of course, “sadomasochism”. The conflation into one acronym with a couple of the letters referring to more than one terms reflects the crossover and huge range of practices in this realm. For most people, the distinctions are not nearly as cut and dried as Ms. Wagner would have you believe, nor is there a difference in consensuality practices.

In all cases, consensuality is considered *essential* among safe practitioners and in the organized community, and safewords are in fact typically used and considered valuable, and even more so with the more SM-oriented play than the D/s-oriented.

In fact, one of the most commonly-used acronyms in our community is “SSC” – or “safe, sane, and consensual”. This is essentially a mantra that we live by. Another commonly used one is RACK, or “risk aware consensual kink”.

Yes, sometimes “real” pain is involved in SM, but most practitioners do not actually necessarily experience it as pain per se, oddly enough. When eroticised, it just becomes what most of us think of as “strong sensation”. This, of course, sort of twists the whole definitions of “sadism” and “masochism” and stands them on their ears, in a way. Is someone really a sadist if what they are doing to their partner is being enjoyed, at least overall, if not at a particular moment in time? Is it really masochism if I do not perceive what is being done to me as “pain” per se, and I’m loving every minute of it?

These are also terms that have been sort of “reclaimed” by the kink community and sort of redefined for our own purposes, the same way the homosexual community has co-opted and redefined terms like “gay” and “queer”, so in a way, they really don’t mean even what the dictionary says they mean in this context. It is commonly said that a sadist is “one who gives sensation” (or pain – and it *is* considered a gift, in a way, precisely because it *is* desired), and the masochist is just “one who receives sensation”. This is hardly the stuff of pathological torturers.

There is also a huge difference between consensual BDSM play and abuse – and abuse is as widely frowned upon in the BDSM community as it is anywhere else. For extensive information on the differences, please see for a list of resources and discussion. (You will have to register as a member of Tribe to access this link, but it is free, and you can do so with an assumed name or handle that doesn’t identify you to anyone else.) The fundamental distinction, however, is whether or not the activities are consensual or not – and only the people directly involved can tell you that, no matter what their relationships may look like from the outside.

And yes, sadism and masochism are different from one another. Of course. One is the opposite (or complement) of the other. And of course they differ from “sadomasochism”. Sort of. But only linguistically, and not even really that way. The latter is just a word that combines the two others, encompasses the two complementary concepts. It’s a contraction, basically – obviously. It is ridiculous to consider “sadism and masochism” as something different from “sadomasochism”.

This is grade basic grammar stuff, folks, not some sort of mysterious psychobabble. By the time someone reaches her freshman year in college, or worse, is actually teaching on the university level, one would expect her to have a grip on at least these kinds of basics. There’s also no distinction made between “sadism and masochism” and “sadomasochism” by anyone else, like psychologists.

A dominatrix is also *not* “an example of sexual sadism”, as Laurie Wagner asserts. She is an example of a woman who exercises the control in a very well-defined relationship or encounter, and that relationship may or may not involve S&M activities as I have outlined above.

The term “dominatrix” itself is just a variant of “dominant” (or “one who dominates”), which is typically used as a noun in our community. The more commonly used terms to apply to the female of the species is actually either “domme” (online), or “femdomme/femdom”. No, it’s not French, although it’s pronounced that way – just “dom” (not “dommay”, like some do erroneously). It’s a made up word that reflects the feminine form vs the masculine of “dom”, in the French way. The abbreviations are more widely used than the full word in both cases.

Thus, we have dominants (the people who exert the control in these power exchange dynamics, regardless of gender), and their counterparts, the submissives (the people who consensually give up the control over what happens to the dominant). *Some* dominants are also sadists, and *some* submissives are also masochists – but we also see all sorts of other combinations, such as masochistic dominants and sadistic submissives.

Other terminology you might come across is “top” and “bottom”. Historically, these were generic, umbrella terms that encompassed both practitioners of SM and D/s, but nowadays, most people consider tops and bottoms as people who are more interested in the sensation aspects of play than the mental/psychological side.

In any event, regardless of terminology and actual practices engaged in, these are fully consensual and typically *extensively* negotiated relationships.

Yes – *negotiated*. No one has anything done to them that they haven’t already *expressly* agreed to. Yes, we *do* discuss it all before we even start, and come to a *mutual* agreement about what’s OK and what’s not.

Most “vanilla” people don’t even discuss likes and dislikes or what’s off-limits with prospective new sexual partners, or even fundamental health considerations such as HIV and other STD status – they just hop into the sack with whomever strikes their fancy, and let the cards fall wherever they may. Of course, many of those relationships and encounters are disastrous, especially when drugs or alcohol are involved. *This* is a healthy practice??

In the BDSM world, however, we generally negotiate it *all* – *before* we start out. Safewords are widely used, but are only considered backups in case something goes wrong; the real safety in wiitwd (what it is that we do, another commonly-used acronym) comes from extensive discussion *before* starting to play about what’s OK to do what’s not. Drug and alcohol use are also widely frowned upon before or during play.

This is not to say that we don’t still have our share of relationship failures and disasters, like anyone else in any other sort of relationship or sexual encounter, just that the negotiation process helps dramatically mitigate the risks, and helps both parties know what is expected up front so that there are fewer nasty surprises. And of course, the focus on avoiding mind-altering substances helps keep people alert, their reaction times maximimized, and helps avoid the bad judgment that so many people fall prey to when under the influence.

And no, contrary to popular belief of people who first encounter this concept, this prenegotiation does *not* kill spontaneity or take the fun out of anything. What it does is set the stage for a far *more* relaxed encounter, where no one has to be worried that the other person will try to push them into activities they don’t want to do, because they’ve already discussed those options and both parties know what the limits are, and it is *expected* that they *will* be adhered to scrupulously. The negotiation process can be a form of flirting, and very erotic in and of itself.

People who do not respect the limits of their play partners end up with very bad reputations in the community, too, and often find it hard to find new partners as a result. *No one* wants to be around people who do things nonconsensually to others, including those of us in the BDSM community.

There is endless effort in the kink community to out and out *disassociate* ourselves from the serial killers and torturers of the world because that is *so* **not** what what we do is all about.

When you finish a scene with your dominant, most likely you will either roll over and go to sleep snuggled in each others’ arms like any other couple, or maybe she’ll take you out for breakfast at a late night diner, as one person I know does with her partners. She’s most assuredly *not* going to chop you up into little pieces and stuff them in a barrel.

It is exceedingly unfortunate when people in positions of authority and in a position to educate young minds such as Ms. Wagner don’t even have their information straight, because it is uninformed attitudes such as this that perpetuate this myth that what we do is somehow evil and dangerous.

For anyone who would like to learn more about what these practices are *really* all about, from *informed* sources (not judgmental instructors who have clearly never learned about the subject from anyone else who actually knows the topic), you can find a list of excellent introductory books and websites at and in other threads elsewhere on that tribe, along with open discussion with many people who actually know what they are talking about.

I hope this helps clear up any misconceptions.

kinkylittlegirl (aka kinkylittlegirl at comcast dot net)


This post is copyright 2006 and 2009. It may be redistributed in any format as long as it is kept intact, not modified in any way, and my name, email address, and this copyright notice are left attached.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *