KinksSex & SexualitySunday School

Sunday School: On Non-Abuse

So, I have some acquaintances–a husband/wife pair who are also in a D/S relationship. This typically involves him doing all sorts of generally mean things to her, which she, of course, enjoys. I also have this OTHER acquaintance who I managed to start discussing BDSM stuff with who couldn’t really believe that it wasn’t actually an abusive relationship. “She doesn’t really WANT it, she just thinks she does!”

While I know this is total bullshit, I am also at a loss as to how explain the difference to someone without any kind of S/M clue in an articulate manner. “She’s an adult woman and capable of knowing her own mind and consenting,” didn’t seem to cut it. Do you have any other thoughts on how I might get it through their skull? –Tongue-Tied

A word of caution: if “she’s an adult and capable of consent” didn’t work, it is highly possible that nothing will. They may have personal or ideological baggage that are keeping them from being objective about it, and while that sucks, there’s not really a whole lot that you as a friend can do for them. But here are some other ways to approach it.

1. “You know she has a safe word, right?”

The biggest difference between a BDSM relationship and an abusive one–apart from the former’s basis in trust and respect–is that a sub serves at their own pleasure, and their pleasure alone. If your friend’s husband went too far, or if he did something that either of them thought she wanted but did not actually want, she can stop him with a word. He is obligated to respect her boundaries, wherever she places them. I would hope that any reasonable person would be able to differentiate that from abuse.

2. “Can you explain for me how ‘thinking she wants it’ is different from ‘wanting it’ in this context?”

The highly negotiated nature of most public and private BDSM play means that, generally speaking, your friend’s husband is not doing or saying anything that she hasn’t said he could do beforehand. Assuming from their marriage that they’ve been doing this for a while, you should point out that she’s had an awful long time to think about their activities, and her continued consent means that yes, she does want it. And even if it was something they’d discussed and agreed on before, and in the moment she discovered that she did not, in fact, want it, she could stop him at any time. I’ve been in situations myself where something a top wanted to do to me was not my cup of tea, so I said no. The world still turns.

3. “Would it still bother you if she were domming him? Or if she were subbing for another lady instead?”

The third wave views heterosexual BDSM relationships with a lot of suspicion, because when a dude dominates a lady it seems to reify the same old fucked-up patriarchal paradigm. On its face this seems to make sense, but it’s based on either some pretty profound ignorance of how BDSM works (see #1) or on a patronizing refusal to respect the sexual choices of individual women (see #2), and as such, it’s fucked up, and you should tell your friend to cut it out.

And if all those fail:

4. “Well, lucky for her, you’re not the one she has to convince.”

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Featured image from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I don’t watch the show, and it’s not particularly relevant to this post, but I thought it was hilarious.

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Rachel is a queer lady from Texas who currently resides in southeastern Wisconsin. She studied history at Texas A&M University and has spent more time than she cares to admit arguing social justice with junior Republicans. She volunteers with Planned Parenthood and enjoys knitting, media criticism, and comic book slash fiction.


  1. April 1, 2012 at 12:10 pm —

    Great answers!  They're ones I will keep in my back pocket for explaining kink in the future.
    You said "it seems to reify the same old fucked-up patriarchal paradigm."  I think this is a big part of why some people like it.  Playing on that archetype and making it their (okay, our) own is one way of fucking with the taboo.

    • April 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm —

      Well, that and getting whacked with things feels really awesome. 😀

  2. April 3, 2012 at 7:02 pm —

    “Can you explain for me how ‘thinking she wants it’ is different from ‘wanting it’ in this context?”


    There a flaw with this. People in abusive relationships don't 'think they want it'. They put up with it. They might think deserve it, or think it will get better.
    That's the fundamental difference IMO, people don't knowingly get into abusive relationships, they find them selves there after the fact. It's not part of the pre-arrainged understanding that it is in a DS realationship. 

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