Your kink does not get a free pass

Recently, I have been avidly reading various online feminist forums. I have noticed that when BDSM comes up in these forums (which it frequently does for some reason), there is a certain tendency for BDSM practitioners to defend it from any real scrutiny. In other words, there is a prevalent “it’s okay because it is kink” attitude.

Now, I will admit that kinksters are in fact experts at taming nasty power dynamics for their own consensual usage, so it is easy to argue that kink practice is not the same as the (often oppressive) power it mimics. Also, I understand that there is a long history of anti-oppression activists (including feminists) confusing consensual kink with the nonconsensual forms of oppression that resemble it. So a bit of defensiveness is entirely appropriate. Despite great leaps forward, BDSM still needs defending.

However, BDSM is not somehow separate or aloof from the forms of oppression that shape our lives. Putting on the leather does not magically transport us to a place where things like sexism do not exist. Instead, we carry all our problems and prejudices with us into the kink world, and they just find slightly different outlets.

Which leads me to a rule that should be firmly in place during discussions of BDSM and power:

Your kink does not get a free pass.

Instead of refusing to scrutinize our kinks, we should be taking a good hard look at them. Some questions we should be asking ourselves are:

1) Is my kink a reflection of or fueled by oppressive attitudes (sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, etc) that I carry?

2) Am I using my kink to gain access to power dynamics that I would normally not touch because they are oppressive? If so, am I using my kink to subvert these forms of power?

3) Most importantly, what effect does my kink have on the world? BDSM is (among other things) a set of tools for handling power. Am I using these tools in a manner that resists forms of oppression, or am I using them to carry out oppression?

And of course, we should not just be asking ourselves these questions, but we should also be bringing them up with other kinksters, and calling people on practices that reinforce sexism or other -isms. Here are two examples:

Fetish photography focuses heavily on conventionally attractive women in submissive poses. This reinforces the culture’s ridiculous beauty standards, reinforces the idea that women are all submissive, and perpetrates the problems of the male gaze. We need to create and support forms of kink visualization that include people of all genders and of all sizes and top/bottom orientations. Also, there’s a racism problem here: African-Americans, Latinoamericano/as, and Asian-American straight men are underrepresented.

We need to call out dominant men who use their dominance as an excuse to act sexist in situations that have not been negotiated. This is a complaint that I hear from kinky women over and over again. Your dominance does not give you a free pass to act like a Promise Keeper or frat boy.

Also, I have been focusing on dominant men and submissive women here, as those are the roles that most closely mirror the sexist roles the culture assigns to us, which makes it that much likelier that these roles will be abused in some way. However, dominant women and submissive men also do not get a free pass. If a man likes to engage in sissy play specifically because he feels that anything feminine is inherently degrading, then that is a problem.

Power-dynamic criticisms of this sort need to come from within the BDSM community. This is not because we are unable to take criticism from outside, but rather because it is rare for an outsider to understand the nuances of power within the community. When is that submission play used to subvert misogyny, and when is it just plain old misogyny? When is that race play cathartic, and when is it reinforcing racism? Is the community being welcoming and inclusive, or exclusive and discriminatory? When your idea of “welcoming” can involve beatings, it is best that people within the community make the call.

Of course, that means that we all have a responsibility to do this criticism, and to be aware of how power dynamics and power play within the community mesh with the unequal power situations in the greater culture. Let’s get with the program.

50 Responses to “Your kink does not get a free pass”

  1. Russ Says:

    Thanks, Interesting read.

  2. hotbibabe Says:

    In the spirit of calling out… Russ is a sexist nutjob.

  3. Russ Says:

    I would not consider myself sexist “hotbibabe”. What information do you have to make that reasoning? Who are you to claim that about me, when you don’t even know me?



  4. pepomint Says:

    Russ, you are a sexist. To quote from your own blog:

    I believe that Man and Woman are equal parts of the same whole – the species – but we both have our roles.

    That’s sexist right there. I have never seen a man’s role that a woman could not do, and to suggest otherwise is sexist. And I am sure that if you were to expound on this theme, it would get even worse.

    You are welcome to comment here but you should be warned that I will merrily delete anything sexist that you say.

    • Carla Says:

      Men and women are different. It’s important to acknowledge the obvious, and still value feminine strengths as much and not more than masculine strengths. If you can’t acknowledge a difference between the characteristics, skills, roles and natures of men and women, then you are sexist for not appreciating both men and women.

      I don’t like Goreans. Even if women submit to men as a general part of life, it’s good to be realistic. I don’t think it’s realistic to suggest that everyone every choose the same path in life. I think people should be free to make whatever choices will bring them happiness. But, as long as a person does not think a woman is of less value than a man, I’m not sure that he can be called “sexist.”

      Are people allowed to have ideas about what gender is and what it means even if those ideas seem ridged or old fashion? I think they should be permitted to share and discuss those opinions even if I don’t agree with them. I’m disappointed that you delete objectionable comments rather than leaving them up for discussion.

      Best, Carla

      • pepomint Says:

        Hello Carla,

        But, as long as a person does not think a woman is of less value than a man, I’m not sure that he can be called “sexist.”

        Apparently you do not know the Goreans well. This is exactly what they think – that women are intrinsically inferior to men, and thus should be ruled by them. They sometimes dress this up in fancy language about the value of a good submissive slave, so it may appear that they value women the same as men, but their assumption of women’s inferiority belies this. So they are sexist – by your definition as well as mine.

        Men and women are different. It’s important to acknowledge the obvious, and still value feminine strengths as much and not more than masculine strengths.

        This position you describe is what is commonly called “gender essentialism”. It’s the notion that men and women are intrinsically different, and we should appreciate each for their particular masculine and feminine values.

        However, this notion is bullshit.

        Men and women are not naturally different – we train them to be different. And in many cases, the training does not take, and you end up with masculine women or feminine men, or people whose gender and/or sex defy easy categorizations. These people are harmed in incredible and often violent ways by a society that tries to force them into rigid gender roles. And in fact, I am one of these people. And you are supporting this harm, by insisting that men and women are different. Please stop.

        Are people allowed to have ideas about what gender is and what it means even if those ideas seem ridged or old fashion?

        People are allowed to have whatever ideas they want. But at the same time, I have no problem shaming them for these ideas if the ideas are oppressive and harmful, as sexism is.

        If people want to hear sexist ideas, they can turn on their TV, or talk to their friends, or just go out into the world – sexism is everywhere. They do not need to come to this blog, and I have no responsibility or urge to provide a platform for sexism. Sexist ideas, including the ones you have just stated, are illegitimate, and sane rational people should not hold them.

        • Katie Says:

          Hmm, interesting.

          Pepper, what do you think about Julia Serano’s take on gender from Whipping Girl? I remember her idea being that women and men are somewhat different (the overlapping bell curves thing) but that misogyny leads to all things feminine being devalued. So she posits two sorts of sexism, one being oppositional sexism where the masculine/feminine and man/woman are set up as opposites, and one being traditional sexism (i’m probably getting the name wrong) that actually devalues the feminine/women.

          If you’ve read the book then this is old news to you, but given your response above it seems you disagree with her argument and I’d be interested to hear your take on it.

          • pepomint Says:

            I have read Whipping Girl, and I really liked it – it immediately became my reference for transphobia that targets trans women.

            My one problem with the book is that (as you suspected) I think Serano relies a lot on gender essentialism. She might disagree with that statement – at one point she takes on the gender essentialists (in particular, the feminists who fall into this camp) and discusses how that ideology has been very damaging to trans people. She also attacks the deconstructionist camp for focusing too much of their deconstruction efforts on trans women, which is a good criticism.

            In the book Serano seems to be trying to forge a third way, which I think she might argue is neither essentialist nor deconstructive. But really, it is essentialist – she basically comes up with a gender essentialism scheme that is nuanced enough to include most transsexuals, though notably not all transgender or genderqueer people. For example, I had a lover whose gender identity changed almost daily, and there is no room in Serano’s theory for her.

            Gender and sexuality essentialism is appealing as a political strategy – if you can convince the greater world that who you are is somehow biological pre-ordained, then you get a lot of credibility in today’s science-focused gender and sexuality arena. But it always comes with a price: you screw over people who do not fit into whatever essentialist scheme you are proposing.

            When Goreans turn to gender essentialism to justify sexism, they are screwing over women.

            When feminists turn to gender essentialism to try to elevate femininity, they are screwing over non-gender-conforming women and trans people.

            When gay men and lesbians promote sexual orientation essentialism, they are screwing over bisexuals.

            When transsexuals turn to essentialism to justify their sex, they are screwing over some transgender and genderqueer people who do not fit well into the notion of fixed sex/gender. To her credit, Serano attempts to avoid this in her book, but she fails, I think inevitably due to her reliance on essentialism.

            So, when someone promotes gender or sexuality essentialism of some sort, the question is always: what kind of acceptance are they trying to buy, and whose existence are they erasing in order to make that purchase?

          • Katie Says:

            Can’t seem to find a reply button to your comment, but thanks – that’s really interesting and I want to think about it some more.

          • pepomint Says:

            WordPress limits the reply depth in an odd way.

            One thing I forgot to say is that I fully agree with Serano’s classification of sexism into oppositional and traditional, though it could probably be broken down into further categories, and there might be some stuff missing. In general her tendency in the book to create new words and classifications was very enlightening, though as I stated above, the places where she was producing new essentializing schemes bothered me.

            Also, some of her language strategies seemed more political than well-grounded theoretically, though they took on a theoretical air. For example, she replaces cisgender with cissexual. However, queer theory has held sex as a subset of gender ever since Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, so it is a fairly meaningless move theoretically – I just read cissexual as cisgender through the entire book. It is a good political move though, as outside of queer theory circles “sex” is privileged ahead of “gender” and still relatively immune from deconstruction.

            I’m pretty sure Serano understands all this, which means she was choosing to write a political treatise dressed up as theory. Which I cannot fault her for given the immediacy of the politics involved, but it changes how the book is useful for me – more as a political polemic detailing the many ways trans women are attacked rather than a solid piece of theoretical analysis of the same.

        • Anon. Says:

          Well – I am currently going through hormone treatment from being a more predominantly estrogen based being to a much more testosterone based being – so I know from direct experience:

          Men and woman function on a different level when it comes to brain chemistry. This, again, from my own experience is irrefutable. Multi-tasking skill has reduced, focus, reaction time, feeling of invincibility and over-all ‘contentedness’ has improved.

          Though through-out these changes, and how much I have experienced first hand of the change of brain functioning – think that women are just accessories for men.

          If men think that way, it is not from simply being a man that has created this issue. It is a community issue, a family issue, a social one. If anyone would like to pin blame on anyone.. I’m sorry, but there’s really no one specific group or person.

          Men and women are different – from one side of the fence to the other I am different and my strengths/weaknesses have altered. I say celebrate men and celebrate as two entities – but then don’t forget us transgender folk who get lost in the wilderness somewhere.

          Big picture guys, big picture – rather than pulling out the old social studies books, get into the big picture and meet real people.

          • Anon. Says:

            …read: ‘through-out these changes ……- DON’T think..’

          • pepomint Says:

            I have heard from a number of trans folks the hormonal effects that you describe. Specifically, testosterone making trans men randier is a common one.

            While I totally trust and believe that experience, at the same time I don’t think this necessarily supports the claim that men and women are biologically different in their personalities. Hormones are notoriously fickle, personal, and interdependent. It may be that hormones have an altered effect in people who went through puberty with a different hormone distribution. In other words, giving testosterone to a body used to estrogen may produce a higher sex drive, but that doesn’t mean that men have higher sex drives in general. While I can’t find it, I believe I’ve seen a study on testosterone that shows that in the wrong doses it tends to lower men’s sex drives. In other words, this stuff is a mess.

            Alternatively, we could be seeing some sort of hormonal placebo effect: people believe that folks of a gender feel a certain way, and they believe the hormone they are taking will make them into that gender, so it is not much of a leap to believe the hormone is making them feel a certain way.

            Unfortunately, there’s been no actual scientific studies (to my knowledge) around the various hormonal effects that trans people report. Which is probably due to the marginalization of transgender folks. It’s too bad that we’re missing out on this opportunity to study gender, but at the same time it means that it is premature to make claims about the nature of men and women based on these experiences.

            Also, I think we need to consider the history and context of gender essentialism here. For multiple thousands of years cultures have been claiming that men and women are innately different in their personalities, and then using this claim to oppress women. These claims have been entirely hokey throughout history, but yet we keep seeing them show up because they are extremely convenient to make in that they support the current arrangements of power.

            So, I am extremely wary of any claim that men and women have different personalities, even when it comes from trans people, who are in a very good position to know. Until we see solid proof, my inclination is to believe that any supposed difference between men and women is produced by a culture which is obsessed with creating and maintaining such differences.

            Also, even if we find out that there are general tendencies towards difference between genders, this doesn’t mean that those tendencies apply to all people of that gender. For example, I’ve known numerous men with low sex drives. Which means that there’s a big “so what?” attached to all this – if the tendencies do not tell us anything about a particular person, then why do we care so much about figuring out what those tendencies are? I would say that we only care because we live in a culture obsessed with creating artificial gender differences.

        • red68 Says:

          I know this is old, but it’s new to me and I thought it was important enough to warrant a reply. Also, I think you’ve got a lot of great things to say, and plenty of insights that are worth discussing, so please don’t think I’m just ripping into you by leaving this here.

          Men and women are different, and that’s not just my opinion.
          Men have roughly 12% more brain matter than a women.
          Women have roughly 23% more corpus callosum connections than men
          Men and women also have different sex chromosomes and very different hormone levels.

          It’s been well established that these differences, and others, have significant effects on cognition. The extent and real implications of those differences are poorly understood at best, but I think that suggesting they don’t exist can be every bit as harmful as trying to pigeonhole people into societal roles based on these differences. What this means is that it’s not invoking a philosophical debate when someone says that (genetically born) men and women are different, and will generally think differently because of those differences. It’s a biological fact.

          Sorry again for bringing up an old conversation.

          • pepomint Says:

            You say “it’s been well-established that these differences have significant effects on cognition”. Please, cite your sources. I challenge you to provide me with a study that shows that more brain matter is a direct cause of a difference in personality. As you say, this stuff is poorly understood, so we have a lot of scientists jumping to conclusions based on inadequate information. And they jump to conclusions about differences based on their own social programming, which insists that men and women *must* have different personalities.

            Whereas as sociologists get better at seeking out causes, it turns out that most, perhaps all, of these differences are produced by culture rather than biology. For example, men and women cheat in relationships at almost identical rates. And as people have gotten better at asking men and women about their cheating behavior in a way that gets them to tell the truth, the rates get even closer. As it turns out, previous tests were really finding the difference between how willing men and women are to tell the truth about cheating, not about cheating.

            This is the old essentialism versus social construction argument, and it’s frankly tired. Every time I dig into some piece of essentialist science, I discover there’s no there there: it was debunked five years ago, it’s confusing correlation with causation, it’s actually evolutionary psychology and so there’s no actual evidence, or it was a test performed on small rodents. None of which tells us anything about the actual psychological effects of human biology.

            So, given the high rate of essentialist bullshit, I insist on seeing the science. Show it to me, or I can’t take you seriously.

          • red68 Says:

            Fair enough. I’ll dig up a few scholarly articles to show it then. Would MRI scans do it for you? What sort of proof do you think would be relatively free of social programming?

            To clarify though, I’m not suggesting that these differences absolutely cause measurable personality changes in 100% of people every time, and I’m not trying to trivialize the role that nurture plays in shaping a personality.

          • pepomint Says:

            Sure, show me that MRI scans which result in different complex behaviors between men and women. Perhaps a certain sort of cortical activity leads to an urge to shop for clothing? Which sounds far-fetched for a claim, but we have evolutionary psychologists telling us than women are attracted to wealth, which is not that far off, and equally ludicrous.

            My central area of study is polyamory. Can you show me the MRI differences between monogamous and nonmonogamous people? Because we’ve got all sorts of scientists who have claimed that monogamy is natural, and now some others that are claiming monogamy is unnatural. So clearly there’s some brain or hormonal evidence, right?

            I’m not saying there aren’t physical differences between men and women. There absolutely are. But in most cases, those physical differences, brain or otherwise, are not linked to some kind of social behavior. Or rather, they may well be, but as you point out social conditioning is so deep and complex that it is hard to tease out actual biological urges.

          • red68 Says:

            Generally agreed. To get anything useful out of a psychologist usually involves wading through an equal or greater amount of BS. I’m not talking about psychology though. I’m talking about neurobiology. I also get that your blog is about monogamy and nonmonogamy, but the following paragraph I thought was basically untrue in what I’d consider an otherwise very good blog:

            “Men and women are not naturally different – we train them to be different. And in many cases, the training does not take, and you end up with masculine women or feminine men, or people whose gender and/or sex defy easy categorizations. These people are harmed in incredible and often violent ways by a society that tries to force them into rigid gender roles. And in fact, I am one of these people. And you are supporting this harm, by insisting that men and women are different. Please stop.”

            I’d argue that giving credence to the fact that men and women have referenceable differences is not the same as using those differences to force people into rigid gender roles. It seems you think that by acknowledging differences, you’re enabling discrimination based on those differences which I just don’t think is the case.

            I’ll also agree that finding research that is relatively free of social programming is hard to come by, but if you’d like I can see what I turn up. An example of what you’d like to see would be helpful though.

          • pepomint Says:

            If you have studies that show gender differences that are then connected to social behaviors, feel free to send them to, though I can’t promise to look at them any time soon.

            I’d argue that giving credence to the fact that men and women have referenceable differences is not the same as using those differences to force people into rigid gender roles.

            Indeed, it’s not the same thing. In fact, I talk about generalized behavior differences all the time on this blog and elsewhere, but I always preface it with two disclaimers: that I am generalizing and there will be counterexamples, and that such differences are culture-sourced, in order to avoid over-valuing them based on essentialism.

            That said, people who buy into the cultural line about the supposed inherent differences between men and women start doing damage very quickly. In fact, the argument I was originally objecting to on this thread is typically used that way. It goes something like “women are intrinsically different from men, but their feminine qualities are also valuable and should be cherished”. The cherished part is correct, but the rest of it creates a question. What about women who do not display those feminine qualities? Should they then not be cherished? Do you see how this is kind of slippery? Why are we not saying “people should be cherished for their particular qualities, whatever their gender or presentation”? Why do we need to fall back on “feminine qualities” to gain acceptance for this argument, if not sexism?

            And this particular example is not at all academic. Butch women have been severely punished throughout history, not just by mainstream culture but also by countercultures, including the purges in US lesbianism in the late 70’s and early 80’s. This is the general problem with essentialism: even if it were correct in the aggregate, it erases individuals in a damaging way. Between this damage and the fact that much of pop science is actually essentialist pseudo-science which makes this or that incorrect claim, can you not see how I might be super-wary every time someone pops up with “men are like this, women are like that”?

          • pepomint Says:

            Also, I failed to answer one of your questions. The area I’m most familiar with is monogamy/nonmonogamy, love, romantic attachment, etc. So if you want to send along data, it would be best in that domain. I’ll even take sexual desire differences.

    • Addie Says:

      I have never seen a man’s role that a woman could not do…

      Well, insemination, but I’m just being cheeky.

  5. hotbibabe Says:

    Russ, your blog provides plenty of information.

    You can’t evaluate sexism by looking within your heart and finding purity of intent. You have to look at the effects your beliefs and actions have on other people. In your case, if anyone took you seriously it would result in women subordinating their own personhood and submitting 24/7 to men. Ergo, sexism.

    However, I apologize for my intemperate tone. I was kinda cranky last night, but you weren’t the right target.

    My goal, though, was to make clear for anyone lurking that Goreans are generally disliked by other kinksters. That ideology is not a part of BDSM; it’s not even a logical extension of it. Russ’s thoughts on what a Dom is are simply not accepted in the wider community and should not be considered representative of BDSM as a whole.

  6. Kerrick Says:

    I don’t think kink should get a free pass; I think it’s good to challenge and explore the ideas that underlie our kinks. And, I’ve seen a LOT of feminist theory and feminist community that is against ALL bdsm practice and attraction, which sucks and is not what I’m about.

    These are the rules I’m currently operating on:
    1) Don’t build your politics out of your sex life. So submissive women get you hot; it does not follow that the world is a better place when all women are submissive.
    2) Welcome analysis of your kinks. So you’re a white man with a thing for submitting to the Overwhelming Masculinity of men of color; surely you gather that something is racialized about that dynamic? Explore that. You’ll learn a lot.
    3) Don’t excuse it just because it’s sex. So you’re a white man who only dates Asians because they’re so beautiful and exotic and feminine; that’s based on stereotypes. There are attractive people of all races, and if you’re fetishizing certain racialized characteristics and disregarding people’s actual experiences, that bears closer examination.
    4) Finally, don’t try to destroy the flower because the root is growing wrong. If you’ve got an exotic submissive Asian housewife fetish, yeah there are all kinds of things wrong with that… BUT, it’s not going to help to go “Okay I have to get rid of that fetish.” It’s only going to help if you work on whatever is causing the desire… and the desire itself may or may not go away, but the key is changing the oppressive attitudes and resultant behaviors.

  7. pepomint Says:

    Kerrick: Thanks for listing these rules. At some point I would like to get together a set of fairly specific questions that revolve around politics. Mine above are much too vague. Anyways, more thoughts to come on BDSM and power.

  8. Kerrick Says:

    I meant to add at the end that I listed them not to make other people follow them (ew!) but to help me think through them. Calling them “rules” was probably somewhat counterproductive.

  9. freaksexual Towards a general theory of BDSM and power « Says:

    […] Your kink does not get a free pass […]

  10. Lady Lubyanka Says:

    I love this. It’s not complete, but it’s a great start. :)

    I’ve had real problems with people using BDSM as an excuse to forego even the most basic of “vanilla” courtesies, such as “Please” and “Thank you”.

    I’ve experienced so much in the way of people using the excuse of BDSM to behave aggressively, abusively and disrespectfully.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who has noticed this. Thanks for a great post. :)


  11. pepomint Says:

    Glad you liked it! And yes, this is only the beginning of the conversation.

    Your blog is quite cool. Looking through it now.

  12. Katie Says:

    This post is GREAT! It articulates alot of the things I’ve been thinking about recently.


  13. Katie Says:

    Oh, and…

    I found your blog by googling “racism in BDSM communities.” in case you were interested. I’ve been thinking alot about this, as an activist and person of color in the BDSM scene in DC. I’ve been finding the mixed-gender scene to be super racist, with little or no space to call out these dynamics either interpersonally or on a larger scale. So you know, it’s really good to read some clear thinking about this.

  14. pepomint Says:


    I’m glad to hear you liked the post.

    If you find anything in your search, I would love to know about it. (Or if you’ve written anything on your experiences in the DC community, I’d love to read it.) There was an article in ColorLines a while back, but that’s the extent of what I’ve seen, and it mostly focused on race play, only briefly mentioning racism in the wider scene:

    I’m sure there’s plenty of racism in the San Francisco scene, though of course only the occasional hint has been visible to me, since I’m not on the receiving end. Something about sexually-oriented (or erotically-oriented) scenes seems to bring this shit out. Cuckolding parties, for example.

    I backtracked and found your livejournal. I’m “inki” on there – may I friend you?

  15. Katie Says:

    Of course – please do!


  16. subversive_sub Says:

    Interesting blog!

    I agree, 100%, that we should all step back and examine our desires from time to time — not just sexually, but in every aspect of our lives. (Do I *really* want that fancy dress, or I want gender and class acceptance?)

    What irks me, a little, about this notion of examining our BDSM fetishes is that it always seems to be the case that (a) vanilla people always assume that a kinky person *hasn’t* thought about these things and struggled with them, and (b) it’s okay to ask a kinky person to examine her desires, but no-one ever thinks to ask a vanilla person to examine the roots of his desire for, say, missionary-style penetrative sex of the gender generally considered to be “opposite” his own, or his desire for monogamy and marriage, or his attraction to women who look and behave in a certain manner that is in accordance with rather sexist gender stereotypes.

    My point is not to say that kinky people shouldn’t have to challenge their own sexism and racism and other forms of bigotry (though I haven’t witnessed the “I get a free pass ’cause I’m kinky” phenomenon), but that ANY kind of sex is inseparable from the “forms of oppression that shape our lives.”

  17. pepomint Says:


    I agree that the vanilla/mainstream world is not exactly a bastion of hope and light on these matters. In fact, it’s often worse (especially as regards sexism) on these matters.

    My concern is around particular points where BDSM provides an way to get around cultural dictates against (say) sexism, for example a man who wants to act like an asshole, and uses “oh I’m just a dominant” as his excuse. Or the fact that racism somehow becomes more okay in sexualized environments, or perhaps just more visible.

    The phenomenon that prompted this article was the tendency of people to say things in writing like “dominance in relationships is bad (except BDSM)”. I want that exception to not be so clear cut. Sometimes dominance in BDSM relationships is bad, or plays into power dynamics in a bad way. I’ve also seen a number of people try to mark their own desires off-limits in conversations where (mainstream) desires are being evaluated, because they’re into BDSM. Which they would be unable to do in that way if they were vanilla, though they certainly might find another way to do it.

    And to credit the mainstream, there is a lot of examination of marriage, monogamy, the missionary position, beauty standards, and so on happening. There’s the whole “purge the patriarchy from our sex” thing happening in feminist circles, which problematically usually involves purging BDSM as well.

    I guess part of my goal here is finding a common ground between feminism and BDSM. If we can bring an examined BDSM to the table and incorporate it into feminism, that’s a powerful step forward, one that gets us past the current back-and-forth head-butting. My later post on BDSM and power takes the next step here, trying to actually lay out what happens with power in BDSM contexts and how that can be empowering.

  18. pepomint Says:

    And to add more stuff:

    I agree that there is a distressing tendency for people to ask BDSMers to “examine our desires”, presumably with the goal of getting rid of those desires. However, I think this is just a projection of what is happening in vanilla circles, where people are using “examine your desires” as a growth path, one that involves purging or rethinking nasty desires.

    This is why criticism of this sort should really come from within the community. I’m all for people examining their desires in light of power, without eliminating BDSM. In fact, a proper examination could potentially lead to *more* BDSM.

  19. maymay Says:

    Got pointed over here by someone you may know. This was a fantastic post.

  20. pepomint Says:

    maymay: Welcome! And, I really like your blog.

  21. Joscelin Verreuil Says:

    I would like to congratulate you on not only an incredibly thoughtful and intellectual post, but on the much harder task of cultivating a thoughtful and intellectual community which contributes such relevant insights and productive opinions in the comments.

    I’ve just read this one post, but I think I’ll be reading quite a few more.

  22. pepomint Says:

    Joscelin: Welcome, and glad you like this post. I’m enjoying your LJ – if it is okay for me to friend you on there, let me know.

  23. Mana Gement Says:

    Ooh, I think I’ll be reading more of you. Two in a row tasty posts that are head-on about dicey identity subjects! Yes, “I’m kinky,” does not give the right to “I’m a jerk,” and we need to keep saying that out loud.

    I’m chewing on a couple of phrasings, though, because they collide with my internal self-questioning baggage. “If a man likes to engage in sissy play specifically because he feels that anything feminine is inherently degrading, then that is a problem.”

    It’s a problem if he acts on that feeling by acting misogynist in his day-to-day life, or if he doesn’t recognize that feeling as social programming that doesn’t necessarily have to do with the real experience of women. But that feeling of “That’s dirty” is at the core of a lot of fetish desires.

    I make up stories where I am a brave hero, and in those stories I am almost always a man. I make up stories where I am an oppressed victim, and in those stories I am almost always a woman. I realized by the age of 15 that this was bad and wrong and Not Good Feminism. It’s still the way I make up stories.

    I’d like to see more body types and skin colors in porn, but I also don’t have a strong fetish for a particular look. The men who get that flutter for a particular facial shape and body type, with all its coy giggling stereotypes, are the ones paying the money on Asian schoolgirl fetish sites.

    I want to see more realism in sex imagery and in every other aspect of our media and society. I’ve just also nearly killed my own sex life trying to add disclaimers to my fantasies when they weren’t enlightened enough. Yes, my kink is fueled by all kinds of nasty social crap. I try not to harm people (including myself) in everyday life with that underlying crap, but yes, it’s the driving force. I own that.

    I worry that this post implies that owning it is not enough.

    (I believe that this is not your intent, but I can’t convince myself absolutely by reading the words on the page, so I am stating it out loud.)

  24. pepomint Says:

    Mana Gement:

    It’s a problem if he acts on that feeling by acting misogynist in his day-to-day life, or if he doesn’t recognize that feeling as social programming that doesn’t necessarily have to do with the real experience of women.

    Yes, I’m right with you on this. I have no problem with using power tropes that are originally problematic, so long as one is conscious of the problem and takes steps to avoid reproducing the bad power dynamic as a side effect of their kink. Sorry, I wasn’t clear enough about that in the original essay.

    And indeed, sometimes we take those nasty power dynamics and subvert them, perhaps by changing the actors (for example, a woman top and bottom man acting out sexist-style D/S) or by using the power for orgasm in particular ways, or by otherwise playing with the power in question.

    Check out my much longer piece on BDSM and its borrowing of cultural power dynamics, over here. It’s heavy on the theory, but gets into a lot of these questions around what BDSM practice is subversive and what BDSM practice might be reinforcing the power dynamics that it builds on.

  25. Juan Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with your article Pepomint, but I wonder if your article’s premise is a subset (though a valuable one) of the notion that generalizing one’s relationship with a specific individual or group is never a good idea.. that when dealing with someone outside one’s personal space of contractual/consensual relationships, the “Golden Rule” applies.. i.e. “treat others as you would like to be treated”. Maybe that’s an oversimplification but it could be a useful way to bracket the conversation.

  26. Domina Elle Says:



    Very pleased to be reading some very insightful and progressive thoughts here. I have great faith that there are many intelligent, bright, enlightened young people who are members of the bdsm community and they have a lot to contribute (naturally!).

    Recently I have been reading numerous threads/blogs written by younger people as well as talking to more people under 35 (seems that the ‘new generation’ is anyone under 35 and I do have a slight issue with this, hehe) who are involved in various bdsm communities. I am learning a lot from them.

    By the way, you NEVER have to stop evolving, changing, learning just because you get older. Yes, people can get ‘stuck’ in behaviors and thought patterns but if there is any pattern I think it is good to get ‘stuck’ in, it is a pattern of always evolving and becoming a better and better ‘thinker’ and that you apply what you learn (wisdom).

    I have always been a ‘rebel’ and have resisted being ‘programmed’ in any manner (even in some beneficial ways I now realize). I love challenging ideas that limit my perspective to be less than broad. I have been told that I have one of the most broad perspectives that a person can have, and I am very tolerant and accepting of people, even when they are absolutely contrary to how I choose to live. This is a good thing, and a bad thing for me. It is a bad thing for one reason because as you know, other people are not so tolerant and open and even amongst the alternative people there is intolerance, prejudice and condemnation. Humans are human no matter what culture.

    I believe we all must be given permission to be where we need to be. Of course I would love to be in a world where love was the ‘standard’ and people did not have to deal with shame, guilt, judgments, intolerance, hate, FEAR (so much seems to be rooted in fear).

    We are powerless over what other people think and only have power over how we react or respond. It took me some time to get to this understanding because I am passionate about many things.

    As I am reading this blog, many thoughts came to mind, but I would like to add the following.

    We may want to add something into this equation: our cellular memories/instincts.

    For centuries humans have behaved in certain ways based on necessity/survival. This is hardwired into our DNA. Technology and other factors have changed our way of life in many ways and very quickly as far as the last 100 years is concerned.

    Personally, I am excited that the paradigms are shifting. Archetypes are being challenged. We are evolving. One of the posters in this blog stated that there “is no difference between men and women”. I believe I may understand where they are coming from, however I think what that poster is sensing is that we are entering a phase in evolution, where many people (not all) are coming to the realization that men and women are both feminine and masculine (duh). Our bodies have both the X and the Y. We possess both estrogen and testosterone, we have both the positive and negative electrical charge (just like everything in nature and a battery that runs a car for example), it is universal. The Yin and the Yang.

    For many centuries, men, by virtue of their physicality and their brain (btw there are differences between men and women’s brains as well as our bodies) have been the hunter/killers, the warriors, the providers, and have functioned in ways that are no longer ‘necessary’ for survival for the most part.

    The same for women. Women have had to get their power from the men socially, they were the keepers of the family, preparers, and had limited leadership in the ‘tribe’ or social make up. Women have also been very territorial for centuries.

    This is a very basic explanation that deserves more detailed analysis but for the sake of this blog I am nutshelling it.

    Keeping in mind also that there were also different tribal motivations on a grander scale.

    (I am in no way ‘done’ with my exploration of these topics and there is much to learn about our hardwired instincts and how we are evolving according to modern life)

    On another note:

    Humans seem to need their traditions, their ‘rules’, their protocols. Yes, we need them. At times they are oppressive, limiting, even destructive, anything but liberating.

    A child feels ‘safer’ with boundaries even as they protest.

    As a community, and as individuals, in many ways we are challenging some age old hard wired instincts, we are moving into an age where we are able to have a more profound balance internally between our masculine and feminine natures.

    I believe each person has both within them.

    I also believe that we will eventually transcend male and female and be something beyond yet BOTH. It may take thousands and thousands of years of evolution. Perhaps we will be totally telepathic when the brain evolves to that degree, perhaps even of a different ‘matter’ than we are now (a very DENSE matter, hehe).

    Circumstances are very different in todays modern world. Women are stepping up to power positions and are being welcomed as leaders. Strong is not just being a bitch anymore.

    Men are being given permission more and more to be nurturing, vulnerable, soft. I think this is awesome!

    Perhaps this is where the poster was coming from. That women and men have the same potentials all the way around as human beings. We do not have to mold ourselves in a particular manner such as ‘this is what men are supposed to be like’ etc.

    There are beautiful differences between women and men and between each and every person. We compliment each other. We are also opposites. We are here in friction with one another- much like diamonds that start out as dark coal, and over hundreds of years the friction between the coal turns the coal into diamonds.

    Sorry if my thoughts seem scattered here. It is a topic that evokes many ideas and implications. There are many factors involved.

    When I was younger I did not ‘get’ myself. I did not fit the model that I was given for how a girl should act/feel/look. I felt like an ‘it’ for many years. I knew I was not a lesbian, but was always called a ‘Dyke’ because of liking women, but mostly because of my assertive, strong, alpha personality. At that time I had nothing and no one to help me understand. The current generations have so much more to go on in regard to this. Nowadays it is a good thing for a woman to be strong, capable, coming into her power! It is not ‘just about being a ‘liberated woman’, but a liberated human being!!

    We have such important power as people, we can rise to the occasion and assist in the ushering in of this new age of awakening, and in a positive manner also. Teach by example. Ask these important questions OUT LOUD. There are rough waters ahead for all of us because no transition comes easily.

    Thank you for sharing your views and I appreciate being able to share mine.

    Keep evolving!! You are doing GREAT!!!

    • pepomint Says:

      Hello Domina Elle, and welcome to the blog!

      I personally do not believe in concepts like cellular or genetic memory. I think that evolution has taken a pass on most of our behavior, giving us general things (like “sexual desire”) and letting us figure out the rest.

      This does not mean we are not evolving – but rather that we are involved in an evolution of thought and culture rather than DNA. I think it is a mistake to assume that things like “masculine” and “feminine” are somehow encoded into our bodies as behaviors. Rather, we as a culture are very good at teaching men and women how to be masculine and feminine respectively, and that teaching is successful most of the time.

      Like you, I am looking forward to a day when gender is much more mixed up and diverse, but I think that day can happen relatively soon (perhaps in a couple generations) because it is a matter of cultural change rather than biology.

  27. Domina Elle Says:

    Well hello again! ;-) Took me a bit to find my way back here…

    Just wanted to give an example of what I believe to be ‘cellular memory’ otherwise referred to as instincts. Many human beings are very afraid of falling from heights, the same mechanism tells us we need to not be relaxed around a wild animal that is big and has lots of sharp teeth. When we have not experienced certain events yet we somehow know to avoid them or appropriately react or respond, where does this knowledge come from? A female human being that has given birth will have such instincts in regard to taking care of her child.

    Depending on the individual, there are always variables in regard to consciousness.

    It is not that people are complete slaves to these built in mechanisms, but I believe they are very real. It seems the more aware a being is, the better the response is. I believe we are supposed to be aware of why we think and act and feel as we do, so that we can adjust in regard to the world we live in, to the point that we can create better and better society.

    I also understand where you are coming from, and what I tend to think about it, is that both of our points are valid and have a measure of truth.

    In fact, I totally agree with your statement about how society impresses upon people attitudes and behaviors. Movies, television, music, all forms of social media as well as institutions like that involving religion and education, all create archetypes, models that people clone themselves and each other after. As I am certain you know, it can be very oppressive!

    I am about to read the book: The naked ape after a friend mentioned I should read it after reading some of my points here. Have you read this book?

    Hope you are having a great week!


  28. celebrity sub Says:

    I tried to link to this from my blog, but Blogger was being hateful. Thank you for writing it.

  29. Consent and abuse of power in kink and other sexual communities « Rewriting The Rules Says:

    […] Mint, P. (2007a). Your kink does not get a free pass. Freaksexual (28th February). Accessed (22nd October 2012) from: […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: