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‘A place of healing and a place of hurt’: on abuse and assault in the BDSM community

With its ‘consent contracts’, frank broadmindedness and emphasis on communication, the BDSM scene can sometimes seem like a paragon of equality and sexual safety. But as Chloe King explains, sexual assault is as much an issue in the BDSM community as anywhere else.


Content warning: Contains explicit content and references to sexual assault and rape, which may be triggering to survivors.


I just had the most uncomfortable conversation with my mum about some handcuffs she found under my bed which I’d left there by accident. To be exact, what she found were not handcuffs but shackles I’ve used for hog tying people. I decided against pointing this out because: awkward as fuck. I’m just so glad she missed the ball gag and the cat o’ nine tails I’d also left under the bed.

I’m sure my mum noticed the look of horror on my face but it didn’t stop her from saying, “I know you are into BDSM and that’s fine. You should do what makes you happy.”

Oh. My. God. I nearly died. Despite being utterly mortified that my mum had just bought up my involvement in a scene/subculture considered by many as deviant and deranged (and more misunderstood than ever thanks to 50 Shades of Grey), I resisted the urge to shut the conversation down. Instead I told her the initial reason that I had gotten into BDSM was that the cornerstones of kink culture are meant to be: Safe, Sound and Consensual.

My involvement in BDSM goes deeper than the explanation I gave my mum. I have always felt I could have more sexual agency as a woman within the kinkster community than in wider mainstream sex culture. I have more freedom to discuss my sexual fantasies, boundaries and needs with less risk of being ruthlessly slut-shamed by men and, yes, sometimes by women. In wider mainstream culture, women aren’t meant to have their own sexual needs or desires; we are socialised into believing we should serve the fantasies of men, while suppressing our own.

By the age of 18 I had been fucking for four years and already I was tired of men using me as some kind of blank sexual object on which they inscribed their own sexual fantasies, without hearing or honouring any of my own. I was sick to death of fucking men who had no interest in pleasing me or bringing me to orgasm. I was sick of getting on my knees to suck guys off who would never return the favour by eating me out. It felt as if I was giving a lot sexually and not getting all that much in return, apart from maybe a UTI or thrush because some dude had fucked me too hard without lube and didn’t seem to notice I was in pain. Cocks chaff if a guy doesn’t give you adequate foreplay so you are wet enough to avoid friction. Just as an FYI to men everywhere: this is what can cause a UTI or thrush, or both.

So by the age of 18, I was about ready to give up on sex altogether, as it felt like a chore and not an act in which I could find pleasure. Then one night I met a guy in a bar who took me home. He opened his closet and inside were all kinds of whips, handcuffs and floggers. I’ll never forget that moment – it was the first time I realised sex could be so much more than just penetration. He also happened to be the first guy to eat me out and bring me to orgasm and this, unfortunately, says a lot: I had been shagging guys since age 14, and only years later did a guy take the time and effort to perform cunnilingus adequately.

From that night on I began to experiment with light BDSM; gradually, over the years, I moved on to heavier play. After a few years of only playing in the bedroom, I attended my first BDSM event where I was flogged by a man who identified as a Dom/Primal and it was an incredible experience, not only because I enjoy pain as I am a masochist (among other things), but the guy who spanked (flogged) me took an immense amount of care during the process. There was a lot of conversation between us before the flogging took place. We put safe words in place, and throughout the process he checked in on me to make sure I was OK.

This is what really does it for me in regards to my own BDSM experiences: the conversations between me and my play partners before we fuck or play around. It doesn’t have to happen each time, but a good long chat about what gets you off and makes you hard or wet and what you’d like to do in the sack goes a long way to creating a really fulfilling relationship.

Talking about all the delicious acts you’d like to do sexually with someone you find attractive and beautiful is its own form of mental masturbation; not all sex has to be physical and involve a penis ending up in a vagina.

Conversation around what I am comfortable with sexually is really important for several reasons that aren’t limited to a better sex life. Like one in five women, I am a sexual assault survivor. I have had my consent brutally violated by men who told me they cared for and loved me. Having the space and freedom to discuss my sexual boundaries and fantasies with people I sleep with makes me feel safe, listened to and respected by those I am seeing.

In saying all of this, I want to be very clear that in no way is the BDSM scene a magical fairyland of fuckery; it is not free from misogyny, sexism, or outright creepy and predatory dudes who use the scene as an excuse to abuse women. It happens. During my cringe-worthy conversation with my mum, she pointed out that “it doesn’t matter what the cornerstones are of BDSM are. Men will still behave in non-consensual ways.”

On Fetlife, the equivalent of Facebook for kinksters, I routinely have men sending me personal messages which graphically describe sexual acts they would like to perform against me. I have all my kinks/fetishes listed on my profile page, ranging from fisting – yeah, fisting isn’t something only sadists like Christian Grey enjoy – to erotic asphyxiation. Yet so many guys PM me to explain their desires and wants while ignoring my own. Sometimes if I don’t answer PMs from men fast enough they will quickly devolve into abusive messages in a bid to punish me for not answering.

In my experience, there are plenty of guys on Fetlife and in the kink scene who think it is a great place to bed women they consider ‘sluts,’ and whom they assume will perform sex acts that past girlfriends refused to do. These guys mostly just want to fuck you up the ass and have a FmF (Female/male/Female) threesome; they have zero interest in hearing about what you like sexually. I find it hard not to roll my eyes when I hear these types of requests, not because I don’t enjoy a threesome, or anal (at least giving it), but because I just find these types of provocations painfully generic. They show the limits of some people’s [heteronormative] sexual imagination.

Kitty Stryker, a lecturer and sex critical feminist who has been in the BDSM scene since she was 18, wrote in a blog post entitled ‘I Never Called it Rape’, “whether we like to admit it or not, the BDSM scene is the perfect place for abusers to find targets.”

Not all my experiences of BDSM have been consensual or pleasant; for me, BDSM has both been a place of healing and a place of hurt. Seven months ago a Dom violated consent and sexually assaulted me. We had negotiated a Consent Contract which was pages and pages long, yet he ignored it all and took what he wanted. Sometimes, no matter the boundaries you set down or how confidently you speak about your sexual desires, there will always be men who rape or otherwise hurt you. Male sexual self-entitlement within the BDSM scene is rife, no matter how progressive we all like to think we are.

I have been to many BDSM and swinger nights at clubs where people have acted in respectful and consensual ways, always asking before touching and/or engaging in sex acts with me. But I’ve also experienced groping and touching by complete strangers who did not ask for permission, and worse still, I’ve had people engage in non-consensual sexual contact with me.

It shouldn’t matter if I have my boobs out and am wearing high heels and a g-string at some sex club. No matter what or how little I wear, this does not give anyone the right to touch me without my express permission.

I remember throughout my life my mum would maintain that “a woman should always take responsibility for her actions leading up to a rape but never take responsibility for the rape itself.” I swallowed this line for many years; I could see the logic in it, I guess. But I will now have to, respectfully, disagree. In the words of model and activist Amber Rose:

If I’m laying down with a man — butt-naked — and his condom is on, and I say, “You know what? No. I don’t want to do this. I changed my mind, that means no. That means fucking no. That’s it… It doesn’t matter how far I take it or what I have on, when I say no, it means no.

The conversation I had with my mum about BDSM was one of the most awkward I’ve had in my life. But what is acutely more uncomfortable is that, in a scene I truly love, where I feel I can have some sexual agency, and where consent is supposed to be at the core of any play, I still have been assaulted, raped and had my consent violated. No number of Consent Contracts, and no amount of boundary setting can disrupt or erase the entrenched rape culture pervasive within the BDSM community. Kitty Stryker went on to write in regards to her own experience of abuse within BDSM:

Speaking to other women, I discovered how many of them had similar stories that they laughed off, because if we stopped and really took it seriously, the [BDSM] community we clung to would no longer feel safe, and we didn’t know where else to go.

And this is the absolutely necessary question which needs to be asked: where do we go to feel safe and engage in the type of sex we need and want, without being subject to abuse, rape and assault?

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