How do you tell the difference between BDSM and abuse? The line can admittedly be rather narrow and grey sometimes, especially when you get into the area of consensual nonconsent, but there are some real differences.
While there are many possible signs, consent is the primary dividing line – along with adherence to limits, and whether or not the whole experience overall, whether in a single scene or an entire relationship, leaves the sub feeling more built up or more torn down.
A good dominant (hell, any good partner) will always seek to ensure that not only is his partner/sub well taken care of overall, but will make sure that any tearing down he may do in scene is reversed and the issues raised dealt with sensitively until the sub is put back together again.
If the experience is more of being torn down and not put back together again, then it’s abuse.
“When the party involved… does not enjoy an activity, can see no benefit to the activity aside from the other party’s enjoyment/amusement/benefit and is in some way injured by the activity on more than simply a bruised basis (bruised ego, bruised skin). If an activity causes non consensual damage and is continued after the damaged party has requested it to stop, it is abuse. This point of view of abuse does not have to be shared by anyone BUT the victim party…”
I think this sums it up beautifully.
I’d emphasize that “injury” doesn’t necessarily have to involve visible bruises, especially for those of us who do not mark easily.
And bruising egos does constitute abuse, IMO, especially if it happens repeatedly. These things do happen accidentally, and for those who are into humiliation play of one sort or another, it can happen more often, but to otherwise repeatedly do anything that emotionally injures a partner is abusive.
I’d also add that abuse is abuse, whether or not the abuser “deliberately” does it or is completely unaware of the effect that his behavior is having on his victim. There are a whole boatload of possible ways to be abusive, as well as causes for that behavior.
What happens in day-to-day life will also affect what happens in the playroom at night. If a dominant is emotionally abusive even in vanilla life, then that behavior alone will erode the trust required for play and any sort of D/s dynamic, which will in turn cause limits to continue to shrink.
As for those of you who are blaming the victims, well, there are no words to describe what I think of you. NO ONE deserves to be abused, no matter what. Even picking the wrong partner repeatedly or staying too long is no justification for anyone to be abusive.
It’s also not as easy as people who have never been there think to “just leave” the relationship once you realize you’re being abused. There are a thousand and one reasons why it’s not that simple for a whole lot of people. Unless you’ve walked a mile in my shoes – and those of the millions of others who have been in that position for one reason or another – you cannot possibly know what it’s like or how much harder it actually is than it would appear to be.
And that goes at least double in the context of a D/s relationship vis-a-vis a vanilla one, because so much of what we do could be abusive in any other setting – and also because there are clearly a lot of people hiding their abusiveness behind the shield of “D/s”. From what I’ve been able to determine, both from my own personal experiences and speaking with a lot of other people, there seems to be a veritable epidemic of predators, abusers, etc. these days. Some people far more knowledgeable about it than I have estimated that probably 80-90% of all dominants are problem children in ways like this.
Now all that said, along with more of my own thoughts on the subject and related issues, I’ve been putting together a list of links to BDSM and abuse-related websites on my blog at kinkylittlegirl.
Some of these sites directly compare BDSM to abuse, and others are just good general resources that describe the more widely-accepted signs of abuse without the BDSM context, and are still valuable, especially because there can not be a valid power exchange dynamic when abuse is in play simply because it’s an issue of violated consent.
Most of the links are lists of signs and comparisons, but a number of them are also full-fledged articles from various sources that speak more to the overall experience of being in abusive relationships of different sorts, with different types of abusers.
This is a response I wrote in a thread of the same title on Fetlife. You can read more responses here. You’ll need to register on the site to read the thread, if you haven’t already.