Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kink 101, Part 4: The Line Between Kink and Abuse

This is the third in a six part series on kink. In this series, we will discuss the following topics:
8/16: Introduction to kink
8/17: Sadomasochism
8/18: Dominance and Submission
8/19: Abuses of Power
8/20: Your Kink Is OK
8/21: Safely Expressing Extreme Fetishes

It is important to speak of abuse in regards to kink for two reasons: the first is that some who are uninformed will mistake healthy, consensual kink for abuse. The second is that one might confuse abuse for kink.

Abuse can only really happen in a situation where there is an uneven power dynamic. If someone walked up to you on the street and hit you, you would probably fight back or call the police. However, a person with whom you have a relationship hurts you, they may leverage their power in the relationship to keep you from taking action. Furthermore, they may use isolation and ego-busting language to make you feel powerless to respond.

In a vanilla relationship, there are fairly clear markers for abuse such as violence, humiliation, and isolation. These three things are inappropriate in a vanilla relationship, but they are all themes which may be played with in a kinky relationship which may make it more difficult to be able to easily discern when play becomes abuse.

Relationships Should Make A Person Stronger and Happier
One rule of thumb to keep in mind is that a relationship should make a person better, stronger, happier. A submissive should feel pride and self esteem at his ability to please his master. He may feel disappointment when he fails to please his master, but this disappointment should be out of a desire to do well, rather from a sense of inadequacy.

Good Pain, Bad Pain
It is common in kink for a top to perform violence upon the bottom. Sometimes this violence is pretty clearly sexualized, such as spanking and flogging. However, some couples will indulge in activities like face slapping, choking, and even punching. They do this because they enjoy the sensation of it and/or the scene that it creates, and there is nothing wrong with it as long as it is consensual. The bottom must always have the power to stop the scene immediately, and the top should never be striking the bottom in anger outside of a scene (unless this has been pre-negotiated with the bottom).

It is also very important that any sadomasochistic activity be done with great care for safety. Abuse is generally striking out in anger or to maintain an inappropriate level of control. Sadomasochistic violence, on the other hand, should be very controlled and, to some degree, planned. The sting of a flogger may be sexy. The throb of a twisted ankle is not.

Good Humiliation, Bad Humiliation
The purpose of humiliation in a scene is to create an artificial power dynamic which is sexy by its contrast to the reality. Even in a humiliation scene, the submissive should feel better about himself after it is over, proud of his performance and the appreciation of his dominant. If a scene is causing the submissive to think less of himself, to feel dirty or uncomfortable, then it is inappropriate.

Just as with sadomasochism one must be careful about causing physical harm, with humiliation and other psychological play it is just as important, if not more so, to be careful about causing psychological harm. Scenes like humiliation must be conducted carefully, and the top must be very careful to monitor the bottom in order to make sure that he is still  in a mental place to be able to use the safeword if necessary.

Isolation and High Protocol
High protocol relationships must be crafted carefully to avoid potentially abusive dynamics. A high protocol relationship is one in which the dominant controls many details of the submissive's life. There may be rules for how the submissive may address the dominant, and even rules for how the submissive may speak to those outside of the relationship. For some submissives, this kind of relationship is very comforting. The rituals and structure create a sense of comfort and safety.

It is important that the protocol must be structured in such a way as to allow the submissive to address concerns to the dominant. It is also important to make sure that the protocol does not disrupt relationships with friends and family. It is entirely possible to get so deep into protocol that one forgets the importance of maintaining these crucial outside relationships.

Dan says: I had a friend who got into a high protocol relationship. I tried to talk to her one time, and she said to me, "Do not approach me when he is not present. He will take offense." I was shocked and this friend of a few years has not talked to me since because of this "high protocol" situation.

The Rest of the World is Not In Your Scene
Dan's story brings up the important point that other people are not in your scene. You can do whatever you want between the two of you, but do not expect friends, family, and strangers to abide by your relationship protocols.

Overall, a relationship should make you happy. It should make you a better person. If some part of your relationship makes you uncomfortable, you should address it. Your discomfort is a warning sign indicating a problem with the situation, never a failing on your part.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article.

    Seems like you could write an entire article on power dynamics (pretty broad sociological topic). How about it?