What You Would Tell “Them” About “Us” – or What BDSM Is vs Abuse

by Rick Umbaugh, reposted with permission:

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BDSM is only done between consenting adults. This is what deliniates it from criminal behavior. If there is no consent it is not BDSM. Consent can be withdrawn at any time by either the submissive partner (see below) or the dominant partner (also termed the Bottom or the Top).

BDSM is only done in as safe a manner as possible. The reason that it is only for adults is that adults are aware of the risks they are entering into, as small as those risks are. The people participating in a BDSM scene or relationship know what they are getting into, how they are going to bring the scene or relationship into being and how they can protect themselves if something goes wrong.

BDSM is aware of the difference between our fantasies and the reality of what we can do to bring those fantasies to life. Some fantasies are too dangerous, or too unhealthy to bring into reality but with a little work a simulation of this fantasy can be created which will make it safe.

BDSM is about turning our sexual fantasies into real experiences. This can extend from what happens in the bedroom, or other rooms in the house, to lifesyle changes which can make it feel like we are living those fantasies 24/7. This is not to say that BDSM brings these fantasies into real life, but only that we can make is seem like those fantasies have been extended into real life.

BDSM is also about a Power Exchange between two people. One cannot exchange power with powerless people so, while some members of the community call themselves submissive or even slaves, this doesn’t mean that they are powerless. Many very powerful people are submissive in the BDSM world and the fact that they can withdraw their consent at any given moment allows them to reclaim that power. While the Power Exchange would seem to flow from the submissive to the dominant, it also flows the other way, as the trial the submissive is living often gives them the power they need in their real life.

BDSM is not about violence. Violence is non-consensual. It is one person imposing his or her needs upon another person without that person’s consent. A victim of violence has had their power taken from them involuntarily. In a BDSM scene both participants should walk away from it feeling better about themselves than when they started the scene.

BDSM is the universal solvent of sexuality. It can encompass any kind of sexuality, from simple missionary fucking, where one would have to be aware of BDSM to see the power exchange going on, to all he various different fetishes, to determining the way one conducts one’s relationships.

BDSM is about sexuality. While some of the ways BDSM manifests itself are not explicitly sexual, the aim is always to enhance one’s sexual life. Simply living a 1950’s husband dominant, wife submissive lifestyle, without the sexual components of BDSM is not enough.

I suppose it is rather longer than you asked for, but there it is.

Rick Umbaugh
qui bene amat bene castigat

What To Do About a Dangerous Top? What If They Are a Community Leader?

Recently I bottomed to a well-known, fairly high-profile member of the Bay Area’s leather community, and I was very upset to find that in real play this person did not live up to the high standards of safety and consensuality I had been led to believe would be all but automatic by the person’s public statements. I am unhappy and disappointed for myself, but I am also worried for the fates of less resilient bottoms than I am. Under the guise of being my Top this individual tried to play in a way I said I didn’t want to, and pushed very hard to persuade me to change my mind even though I stated clearly that I felt doing so could jeopardize both my physical and my psychological safety. Apart from my anger and frustration, which I know how to handle, I wonder what to do with my information about this person in terms of community safety: do I accuse? do I hide what I know? How can I behave most responsibly? [italics added]

In an article entitled “Ask the Therapist: What Do I Do About a Dangerous Top?” that starts off with the above query, distinguished therapist William Henkin, PhD very ably and comprehensively addresses the question of what to do after the fact.

What I want to talk about here is the fact that such people exist, whether or not they are leaders of the community, and the trap that “saying all the right things” can lead to in general, but also particularly when they are well-known, or otherwise part of the leadership of a community – and how to avoid getting into exactly the kinds of situations described in the above quote in the first place.

It is an unfortunate fact that tops not walking their talk is not an isolated occurrence.  It is even more unfortunate when they hold positions of leadership because newbies in particular have a tendency to view such people as being the arbiters of what is right and good, and make all kinds of dangerous assumptions about how safe these people are to play with that may or may not have anything to do with reality.

What you must understand is that there is nothing about the structure of the BDSM subculture or any of our organizations that in any way vets presenters, owners of community spaces, members of the elected board of organizations or its appointees, or anyone else as safe players. No one is responsible to check any of these people out.  No one makes any guarantees about anything.  There are no tests of competence, no checklists to ensure they actually comply with what they say, no one watching over their shoulders to be sure they do it right before they are turned loose on the public.

Nothing.  Zip. Nada.

You are 100% on your own to sort how who is safe and who isn’t, exactly the same as in the vanilla world, although we do have some accepted conventions in this one that can help, if used judiciously.

People who become the community leaders have one or two qualities in common, often only that they are simply the only ones willing to step up to do the volunteer tasks involved.  When an organization is run by volunteers, they take anyone they can get to do the tasks involved, to the point that often even known problem people are allowed to participate, simply because there is no one else to do the job.  

(This is by no means true in all cases, and there are a lot of very dedicated, very safe people involved at all levels, but it comes into play often enough that you really need to not assume anything about anyone involved in the leadership of the community just because they’re there, and to check out each individual yourself, as your personal needs arise.) Continue reading

How I Would Explain My Role

First of all, I don’t fit in any neat little boxes. There’s no one word that describes how I identify, what my role is. I generally say “submissive” because that’s probably the closest of the options usually offered, but I am way too complex for any single label of this nature to even remotely begin to describe me – except maybe just “kinky”. And I am indeed kinked to the core, but in ways and combinations of ways that simply completely defy neat categorization. This drove my ex crazy, that I simply would not just say any more that I’m “submissive” or a “slave”, or any other single neat term. I’m an impossible crazy quilt of mixed up concepts, much too complicated to fully encapsulate in a single word.

Thus, the only thing that really makes any sense at all to me these days is to pretty much eliminate the labels completely, and just talk about what I like and don’t like, what works for me and what doesn’t, and to look for a partner who has a reasonably complementary list of needs and desires, no matter what he calls his own self.
That said, I’m going to throw a few out initially here anyways, to show how confusing it is to try to neatly label me.

In many ways, I am probably a bottom, in that I am not interested in having someone else run my life, unless it happens to be in ways I’d want it run and am already doing. If someone thinks he’s going to change me into something I’m not, or that I will try to become anything other than what I am, forget it. I’m an adult, and expect to be treated as one.

I also don’t want to be pushed in ways I don’t want in play, although I absolutely need that submissive headspace to be able to process the pain and other pushing that the masochist in me craves during play, to be able to go anywhere near the headspace I need, to be pushed to the places I can’t go by myself. It’s a deeply submissive headspace I seek and need, regardless of the mechanics and details of how I get there, or what happens outside the bedroom.

Because this is the core of what drew me to the kink world, I remain self-identifying as a submissive, although there are other reasons as well, as outlined below. So perhaps I should change that to a submissive with bottom leanings, or a bottom with submissive leanings. “Profoundly submissive” (a bizarre term I’ve seen surfacing lately on Fetlife) I am not, though. Somewhat masochistic also, definitely, although my limits have very much contracted in recent years for various reasons.

On the other hand, I am quite socially dominant (although not sexually so), and don’t put up with crap even in a D/s relationship. I insist on my limits and boundaries being respected, my needs dealt with appropriately, and enough of my desires satisfied to keep me interested. Step on my limits and I’ll end up fighting you about it if I don’t just leave, if reasonable discussion doesn’t resolve the issue, and I’ll push really hard for the discussion and resolution, which some people perceive as fighting. So perhaps I’m actually a dominant submissive with bottoming tendencies. Or a submissive bottom with dominant tendencies. Who knows what to call it?

From another angle, many slaves are not the least bit submissive, but are in fact quite dominant, a concept I learned from Master Skip Chasey. I’ll certainly be obedient to the right dominant who handles me right. So am I actually a slave? That’s not how I think of myself, or what I aspire to, but there are bits of that in there as well, especially because most of what I was taught as and think of as D/s is what most people think of more as M/s. And if you define it the way my ex, R, did, being a slave meant being owned by him, giving him my love and devotion, wearing his collar with pride, and that I definitely do identify with. But I’m decidedly not property.

I’m definitely sexually submissive, but not especially service oriented, at least not if we’re talking domestic service.

I do, however, very much enjoy pleasing my partner in many ways as well as helping and supporting him in all areas of life, and yes, even taking care of him in some limited and very specific ways (NOT financially). I live for much of that, in fact. A lot of people would consider this service, and I suppose it is. The language differential matters a lot to me, though, as I just don’t respond well to the word “service”. I live to help others, especially those I love. I die if it is rejected.

I need for my submission to be carefully seduced, for my dominant to inspire me to give it, on an ongoing basis. It simply won’t come out to play otherwise.

I need to be regularly told I’m a good girl when I please him. NEED. As in essential.

I don’t do the “on your knees, bitch” kind of submission, except perhaps in scene. And I don’t just give it unless it’s both seduced and earned. It also won’t come out in a vacuum where it’s expected to start the game itself, to be offered first, before the dominance happens, unless in the context of specific regular rituals that involve just that. And yet, I need for that to wait until I signal I’m ready. My submission plays and thrives best with active, overt, but still quiet domination asking for it, quietly but firmly insisting on it, and with clear and consistent expectations. And it absolutely requires a very high level of intelligence and creativity on the part of the dom as well.

The result of pushing me too hard and/or too soon, or without a very high level of trust (or worse, the breaking of that trust and violation of limits, especially repeatedly) will be resistance and near complete loss of ability to take any level of pain, and I’ll just eventually leave the relationship, one way or another. At this point in my life, that departure will be much sooner rather than later.

But when I am with someone who inspires me to submit to him and encourages and takes care of it successfully… wow.  Those are the dominants (and periods of time) who have always gotten the very best of me, to whom I happily give as much of what they want as I can, and whom I want to serve, obey, and please. When things are really clicking this way, I soar.

Once a very high level of trust is established (and it’s going to take one hell of a lot to get there these days), I have a very strong and deep-seated, nearly life-long need to be pushed in both play and sex, to be taken and forced to take more intense sensation than I think I can, all within my limits, of course. I need to be overpowered by someone I know there’s no way I can escape from.

I particularly live for forced orgasms to the point that I can’t take any more (and I am highly multiorgasmic), and scenes that involve the infliction of and determined gradual escalation of other intense sensations of varying sorts while in completely immobilizing bondage that is utterly inescapable, complete with sensory deprivation. Nothing else on earth will make me fly like that particular combination when skillfully executed by someone I trust implicitly with my life. Genital orgasms are sometimes mere icing and sometimes even distracting from the level of bliss, peace, and sometimes full body orgasm that scenes like this in which I have no control at all bring me. But of course this kind of scene requires a very high degree of trust.

With the right dominant, in the right circumstances, I am also submissive in a 24/7 sense, in certain ways. I function best on a long leash, with dominance actually exerted in only a few areas of life, and the rest of our lives being pretty much vanilla, with my having a lot of autonomy and the relationship being largely egalitarian. But I do definitely like to feel the leash and reminders of it enough to know it’s always there, and perhaps some small rituals together. That helps anchor me emotionally and gives me an amazing sense of security and belonging when the trust is high in all aspects of life together.

What I most seek is a strong leader who is basically in charge, not so much in control per se, some to follow whom I deeply admire. I will follow a strong, highly competent leader whose tastes, preferences, interests, and values align well with my own pretty much anywhere, at any time, without even asking questions or paying attention to where or how we get there most of the time. I’ll eat whatever he puts in front of me, go to whatever restaurants he takes me to, attend whatever events he wants to go to with him, follow him in travel to the ends of the earth without even looking at the tickets or flight numbers, baggage claim or car rental direction signs, etc. It is absolute bliss to be with someone I trust like that, and who takes care of me in that way, and I miss it terribly.

I am certainly more than competent to manage all of these kinds of things quite expertly on my own, of course, but the release and joy of being able to just not have to do it at all and to rely on someone else to take control of it all is absolute heaven…

I am also starting to explore the idea of being with someone with daddy-like qualities inclinations, and whatever that translates to on the right side of the slash. I’m definitely not a little, though. I find the idea of age play per se appalling, and am absolutely not interested in a daddy per se, let alone addressing anyone like that. It’s the loving, nurturing, care-taking, teaching, encouraging, supportive, take-charge, strong guy to lean on kinds of qualities that make me feel safe and secure that I’m drawn to.
I suppose one could also look at it like the qualities of a gracious gentleman in the most traditional, old-school sense, a man’s man who takes care of everything in our lives, and makes sure that I am always safely looked after – but who also definitely delights in torturing me in bed and in play and supports and encourages me completely in my own professional and avocational pursuits (as I also do with him). It’s kind of like the male counterpart to the madonna/whore notion for women, I suppose, a dichotomy with which I have most definitely always identified. I’ve recently seen some men defining themselves as “gentleman doms”. That would be about right for what I’m looking for.

This is not to say that he does everything. Au contraire. I have many talents and skills, and not only want for them to be utilized in the service of the relationship, but expect that.

I need nurturing, caring, loving, kindness, consistency, firmness and insistence when necessary, positive reinforcement, and to be contained safely within the aura and arms of a strong, protective, emotionally mature, self-assured, flexible, realistic, grounded man with high self esteem, who is utterly committed, as I am, to doing whatever it takes to work on ourselves as individuals as well as on the relationship. I also need attention paid to both my needs and my wants along with a definite level of sadism.

I absolutely do not do punishment. Funishment, sure. Anything with a real punitive intent is a very hard limit, though. See “I am an adult” and “I want to please my partner” above. I also experience it as abusive, and it is more likely to elicit complete opposition than anything else if anyone tries it with me, and digging in to repeat. When I know that I’ve disappointed my partner, that hurts enough. Attempts to punish me destroy me.

Any kind of harshness, displays of anger, what many doms call “strictness”, punishment, and much (although certainly not all) of what people mean by “humiliation” feel abusive to me, push triggers that I have little control over – and will utterly destroy trust and send me running, or at least bring me up fighting hard. For my life.

I respond best to loving kindness, being treated like a lady overall (but a whore in bed), and knowing and reassurances that I am the most extremely precious and valuable part of my partner’s life, to whom he dedicates his own total devotion. Treat me well, never overlook my safety, particularly in the pursuit of the satisfaction of your own desires, have a firm grasp on the difference between reality and fantasy, and what real people are capable of, and I’ll be eating out of your hand in no time.

Overall, I am open to whatever a relationship evolves into being. I do not aspire to be anything in particular, to have a relationship format of any particular sort, and I don’t care if what we end up with can be neatly labeled as anything in particular other than just “an incredibly wonderful relationship”. In fact, I’d just as soon entirely skip the labels altogether, and the false expectations they tend to bring with them. Wherever it goes, it goes. If we are both happy, and getting our needs met, that’s all that matters. And that requires a lot of ongoing negotiation and discussion throughout the course of the relationship.

Alternative Sexual Practices – Kent State article response

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

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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. Continue reading