In any BDSM relationship, abuse is something that we always need to look out for. While a traditional relationship has very obvious signs that things aren’t going the way that they should be like pain, control, or discomfort, these things are much harder to spot in a BDSM relationship. In fact, some scenes and scenarios incorporate these elements, and they are crucial to the success and happiness of all involved. So how do you spot an abusive relationship when the traditional signs don’t work?
Consent Is King in BDSM
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The undisputed largest factor of what does constitute abuse and what doesn’t in any BDSM relationship is consent. Many widely enjoyed activities like bondage, whipping, pain play, and even humiliation, would be instantly considered abusive in a more vanilla relationship. In BDSM, many of these are actively sought out and engaged in. The key point is that both the submissive and the dominant party consent to the scene being acted out.
While it might seem simple to just say “I consent to this”, there is actually a lot of nuance to it. Simply saying you consent to pain is fine, but how far is your partner allowed to go, and what will make you uncomfortable? Similarly, how much is the dominant willing to put into it before they become uncomfortable inflicting this pain? In order to be completely clear on the limits of your scene, it’s important to be explicit exactly which activities are consented to, and which are off the table.
Many couples will lay out these rules in a contract, written up after negotiations. The contract explicitly states what is allowed and what isn’t, as well as activities that either partner might be less comfortable doing but is willing to do occasionally to make the other happy. Using the contract, it becomes much easier to lay out exactly what is going to happen in each scene and create a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone involved.
Good BDSM Is Safe, Sane and Consensual
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Safe, sane and consensual is a phrase commonly used by many different parts of the BDSM community, and it serves as a good guideline for your own scenes. We’ve already discussed the consensual part, but it is important to point out that consent can also be withdrawn at any point should either partner change their mind about something. But what about the other two?
Safe scenes mean that everyone involved knows what is happening and is fully knowledgeable on both the practices and tools that may be involved. This isn’t just for the benefit of the dominant partner though, although it should be obvious that you want the person doing the whipping or tying to know what they are doing. Being educated can make things much more enjoyable for the submissive partner as well. When you know what is happening and how it all works, you can sit back and enjoy the feelings rather than worrying about what’s happening and potentially reacting in a way that can be dangerous to yourself.
Sane scenes are where one of the key differences between abuse and BDSM starts to show. Whenever they engage in any activities, all parties involved need to be in the right state of mind. This means being able to discern that what happens during the scene is part of a fantasy, and none of what is happening is real. It also means being in a sound state of mind to take part in these activities comfortably, which means no drugs or alcohol. While intoxicated we are much more likely to agree to things we aren’t completely comfortable with, which can lead to some very dangerous activities.
When Does BDSM Become Abuse?
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Abusive BDSM tends to follow somewhat of a pattern, and generally involves the complete opposite of safe, sane and consensual. If you find that your partner regularly does things that you’ve stated you aren’t comfortable with, ignores your safe words, or tries to start scenes with you when they aren’t in a sound state of mind, then chances are your relationship is slipping more towards abuse. Sometimes it can be much subtler though. A key thing to remember is that all parties involved in healthy BDSM are expected to leave the scene feeling happy and fulfilled. When abuse begins to happen, one or both parties tend to be unhappy after the session as they no longer care about the other people involved. It’s very difficult to give a precise answer, so you always need to pay close attention to your own thoughts and feelings, and if something starts to seem wrong, you should stop and renegotiate things with your partner.
Don’t Break Trust!
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Renegotiating your situation might seem like a bad thing, but it’s something nearly all healthy BDSM couples go through. Often, preferences will change, or something you thought you enjoyed didn’t turn out so well, so you might want to take some more things off the table. Similarly, you might find yourself enjoying it more than you thought and be open to trying things you weren’t initially.
Whichever scenario you find yourself in, the important thing is being honest and open with your partner and trusting them to do the same with you. Without trust, the entire relationship begins to fall apart. If you can’t trust someone to take your feelings into account, then how can you trust that they won’t begin to abuse you. In any relationship of this sort where the trust has faded, you should consider stopping your scenes until you have rebuilt it.
Abuse can be very hard to pinpoint in these kinds of relationships. If you think on any level that you may be in an abusive Sub/Dom relationship, then you should seek out help immediately. While good BDSM practice is safe and enjoyable, as soon as there are any abuse things can very quickly become very dangerous. Whether it’s a friend, a doctor, or a stranger on the internet, seek out advice from others. They will be able to very quickly identify problems that are very difficult to see from the inside. And if the worst does happen, and you end up in this kind of relationship, do everything you can to get out as soon as possible. Your own health is far more important than any kink.