Fifty Shades of Pink: The Differences Between BDSM and Abuse

There is a huge gulf between bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism, collectively known as BDSM, and intimate partner abuse. Although it seems as if BDSM and abuse would go hand in hand, that’s certainly not the case. Intimate partner abuse should never be a part of a BDSM dynamic at all. That sounds a little odd when “BDSM” initially bring up visions of people getting tied up and beaten with whips, but despite first appearances and initial impressions, the local BDSM dungeon is a far safer place than the home in which an intimate partner abuse situation is going on. So as a domestic abuse survivor, I know that it is an extremely important topic that needs to be addressed, here are the major differences that I have seen on my journey down the BDSM road after living through hell.

BDSM is consensual, abuse is not. This sounds so basic, but honestly it’s not. There is no doubt that what happens in a healthy BDSM relationship involves consent. In abusive relationships, many times the act of staying home is misunderstood as consent by police, family members, and friends but frequently the abused person feels that they have no other choice because they’ve been socially isolated by the abuser. Everyone knows an abused person that’s gone back to the relationship over and over again, and has wondered why that happens. There’s often blackmail and bargaining that outsiders know nothing about. Abusers frequently threaten with killing the abused or their children, or both to coerce them to come home, or they’ll threaten to kill themselves. Manipulation and coercion are hallmarks of an unhealthy relationship. Being isolated from friends and family is as well. Although it may seem that BDSM relationships are manipulative or coercive, the reality is different. Many times what is seen by outsiders is really a previously agreed upon dynamic that may appear to be manipulative or coercive, but in reality is the dynamic or play both parties want inside their healthy BDSM relationship.  The importance is that the partners have both decided as adults that they want that dynamic, find it healthy, and are there by choice.

A BDSM scene can (or should be able to at least) always be stopped by the submissive. If for any reason at all the sub feels unsafe, hurts too much to continue, or for any other reason afraid to continue, or just is tied up and has the urge to go to the bathroom, they can stop things. A submissive can slow things down. In abusive relationships, that doesn’t happen. The abused partner has no control over when the abuse stops. In a group sex situation, the submissive is able to stop things if it gets too intense. In a gang rape, the victim, hopefully survivor doesn’t have that prerogative. The abuse can continue until the abused partner is dead. I sent Sir a meme once that had Kirk and Spock standing together in a TOS scene, I forget the actual episode, but Kirk was bleeding from some whip marks on his back. Spock is saying “The Safe Word is “Illogical”.” It was a nice meme, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt if I ever choke out “Illogical” everything stops, and a long conversation about what the hell just happened follows.

Abuse is cyclical, BDSM is not. Abuse follows a cycle which shortens over time. The calm phase, where everything is great followed by the tension building phase, where the abused person starts to realize that a blowup is imminent. Next the incident occurs, followed by the reconciliation phase, where the abuser is apologetic, and frequently gives gifts and makes promises (they don’t intend to keep). BDSM, in a healthy relationship, can be used to release tension, the same way that sex or even a great massage can, but both parties need to want it. There may be some anticipation anxiety from the sub, but it’s not the same kind of fearful anxiety that an abused person has from their intimate partner when they know that the incident is coming. A submissive may know that a spanking is coming, and they may have some anticipation anxiety about being spanked with a paddle.  This kind of anticipation anxiety is an enhancement to the dynamic, and may even be exciting to the submissive. This is not the same as an abused person attempting to provoke an earlier incident from their intimate partner because they realize that if they let the incident that’s coming explode on it’s own they’re probably going to get killed.

One of the final differences, and one of the most important; your BDSM relationship should build you up, an abusive relationship will tear you down. Every day I spend here, with my Sir, I feel more beautiful, more capable, more stable, and more real. In abusive relationships, the exact opposite is true. Abusers tear down their partners. They want their partners to believe that they can’t make it on their own. That they are worthless alone. That they can’t do anything by themselves. This is the most insidious lie of all, believe me. If you are in this situation, you are worthy, you can make it on your own, and you can do it.

Just like anywhere else in the world, there are predators and abusers lurking in the BDSM scene, that’s part of the reason this is so important. While BDSM and abuse are worlds apart, abusive behavior can come up in a kinky relationship. If for any reason the hallmarks of an abusive relationship begin to show in any relationship a person is involved with, they need to get out before they are financially or emotionally dependent on the abuser and thus have a much more difficult time leaving. The National Domestic Violence Hotline will listen to any situation without judgment, and offer assistance with local law enforcement, shelters, and other resources. They can be reached twenty four hours a day at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 for TTY users.

Also as a survivor of intimate partner violence, I’d like to say that I’m incredibly grateful to my Sir for showing me what a healthy relationship should be. Being in a healthy BDSM relationship has been a wonderful adventure, and incredibly fulfilling. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

If you wish to view this writing in its original form with comments: https://fetlife.com/users/3904453/posts/2775815

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About

Amy identifies as mostly a submissive, but occasionally a switch.  She has been involved in online BDSM since the advent of the alt.sex bulletin board, and involved in actual, real life participation off and on for the last twenty five years.  She’s a nurse that also loves to write erotica, fanfiction, and poetry.  She currently resides in Baltimore with her flying squirrel, Hannibal.

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