Without context or understanding, many of the things I write about on this site could be looked from a very negative perspective. I talk about spanking other adults, tying them up to restrict their freedom, requiring them to submit to the will of another…all behaviors that don’t necessarily meet with approval within society in general. As a matter of fact, some people might look at what I write and conclude that Dominants routinely abuse their partners, both mentally and physically.

Obviously I don’t agree with that conclusion. Nor does Joy, my wife, and my belief is that you most likely don’t agree with it either! However, even we who know and engage in BDSM must own up to the fact that, when looked at objectively, the line between BDSM and abuse can be uncomfortably narrow. I thought it might be good to examine what differentiates the two, to paint the line between them very clearly, in the hopes that the exercise will prove both educational and an aid in preventing one from crossing inadvertently from the former to the latter. Of course, these are only my thoughts on the subject, so feel free to suggest alternative ideas or just plain disagree if I’m wrong!

The most basic difference between BDSM and abuse is that BDSM must be consensual! All participants in the BDSM activities want to participate. The submissive wants and perhaps needs to submit to the Dominant. The Dominant wants and perhaps needs to take charge of the submissive. Any behaviors that involve pain, up to and including piercing, corporal punishment, fire play, etc. all are done with the consent and (hopefully!) eager anticipation of both the participant who will feel the pain and the participant who will cause the pain. Any activities involving humiliation or various other subjugation techniques are done with at least the consent, and ideally at the desire of the submissive who undergoes them.

The point here is that in an abusive relationship, generally the abuser does not consent to or desire the abuse. In a BDSM relationship, it is the submissive’s goal to submit, and they want and enjoy the behaviors and activities involved in that submission. If this is not the case, then abuse is present.

“But wait!” I can hear you say! “What about situations where the Dominant must discipline the submissive? By definition, a disciplinary session can’t be what the submissive wants…otherwise, it wouldn’t be discipline in the first place!”

That is correct, of course, though I’d like to point out that every BDSM relationship is different, and what is disciplinary for one may not fly nearly as well in another. Remind me to tell you the story of the first time I decided Joy needed a “correction” some time, and I’ll share it.

But here I’d like to point out that there is a difference between long term and short term goals. In a BDSM relationship, the submissive’s long term goal is to submit to the Dominant. It gives them pleasure and excitement, helps them to feel safe, and allows them to feel taken care of. During a correction, the submissive may not enjoy the discipline that the Dominant gives them, and their short term goal may in fact be for it to end! However, at the same time, they are aware of their long term goal, and they understand that to achieve that goal, they need to submit to the discipline that is underway.

Similar behavior, by the way, takes place in vanilla relationships all the time. Why do you go to your in-laws house on Sunday afternoon? Because they are your spouse’s family, and though the visit is tedious as hell, it makes your spouse happy, and therefore serves your long-term goal of a happy relationship.

The second major difference I see between BDSM and abuse is that in BDSM, the submissive partner always has a way out. They can always call an end to activities, be released from their fetters and skip any other BDSM behavior for the day. In fact, the standard BDSM concept of safe words was developed explicitly to ensure that this was always possible. While some submissives feel a stigma about using their safe word, as a Dominant, I encourage Joy to use hers any time she feels she needs to. I need to know that she’s okay, and her use or non-use of her safe word is my means of doing so.

I’m going to offer up one more difference between BDSM and abuse, and this one is perhaps not as well-recognized as the first two. In a BDSM relationship, the Dominant takes on the responsibility for caring for the submissive. Because they take the submissive into their control, they must be certain that they are safe, comfortable, and enjoy themselves. The Dominant plans activities not solely for their own excitement, but for their partner’s as well. They respect limits that their partner may have. And they offer the submissive opportunities display their submission in ways that appeal, rather than in ways that offend. While those outside the relationship may view these displays negatively, it is the Dominant’s job to ensure that their partner does not. Failing to do so adequately means failing to be a good Dominant.

So, to summarize, I’d suggest that the line between a happy, fun, BDSM relationship and unhappy, abusive relationship comes down to the following three items:

  • consent of both parties to participate in their BDSM roles
  • the ability of the submissive (and the Dominant) to call a halt to BDSM activities immediately as desired
  • assumption of the responsibility for the wellbeing and enjoyment of the submissive by the Dominant

If these three principles are followed, I believe that one can safely assume that a relationship falls on the BDSM side of the fence. If one or more of these principles is violated, however, I believe that dangerous lines have been crossed and it would be wise to call a halt to proceedings and revisit exactly where your relationship is going.

Enjoy yourself!

Jake

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