FII is now on Telegram

BDSM is an acoronym that is broken down in three categories, Bondage-Discipline (B/D), Dominant -Submission (D/S), Sadism/Machoism (S/M). According to Lola Jean, a sex educator, it is an umberlla term under which all kinks fall, and it can contain either all elements or only one. Since the onset of the second wave of feminism, the BDSM discourse has been a very controversial one.

A critical navigation of sex and the culture that encompasses it, should never be divorced from the material reality of a patriarchal system. When sex liberation came to the feminist scene in early 1990s, several questions regarding the coercion of women’s agency to perform for the patriarchy were raised. It wasn’t long before BDSM became a mainstream part of sex culture.  

Representation of BDSM in Porn

In a study published by E.K Sommers, and J.V Check, it is mentioned that consumption of pornography by males increase their agressiveness and anti-social attitudes towards women. In another 2010 study, it is outlined that 88% of the most viewed heterosexual porn has scenes of physical agression towards women. It is quite certain that exposure to porn produces sadomasochism in the consumer.

But the most basic component of BDSM is active consent. It is a relationship based on trust and vulnerability. It is a safe space where people can express themselves and explore their sexuality. However, pop culture and porn doesn’t focus on fulfilling aspects but only on the violence and oppressive power dynamics. The representation of BDSM in porn and pop culture is often used to justify violence. 

For example, 50 shades of Grey introduced the concept of BDSM to the mainstream but it gets a lot about kinks wrong. This distorts the idea of BDSM and reduces it to coercion and sexual violence under the pretext of kink. BDSM in itself is not the problem, because it is voluntary and has active consent, but the representation is boiled down to choking, punching and belittling the partner under the pretext of sex-positivity. With active consent and safety aspects missing, BDSM is no more than violation, and that is not acceptable. This distortion is also the reason why kinks continue to remain misunderstood.

BDSM in itself is not the problem, because it is voluntary and has active consent, but the representation is boiled down to choking, punching and belittling the partner under the pretext of sex-positivity. With active consent and safety aspects missing, BDSM is no more than violation, and that is not acceptable.

The Feminine is Submissive?

A study done by Buss and Craik reveals that compared to women, men tend to act in more dominant ways  and both sexes tend to rate dominant acts as more prototypic of men and submissive acts as more prototypic of women. In our heteronormative reality, masculinity is associated with male-bodied people and femininity is associated with female-bodied people. It is then only logical to conclude that femininity as an extension of gender is a social construct imposed on a female-sexed body. Since femininity has always been used interchangeably with the word ‘weakness’ and ‘woman’, dissecting femininity in sexual relations becomes a politically charged field of inquiry.

In pop culture as well as porn—our two main teachers of sex—the feminine is portrayed to be the submissive. If the female is dominant, whether in a heterosexual or a homosexual relationship, she often borrows traits of masculinity. This extends to most non-female homosexual relationships as well. A ‘bottom’ is effeminate, and sensitive, while a ‘top’ is charismatic, and self-possessed. The binary of masculinity and femininity thus penetrates through all sexual relations.

To isolate an exploration of the inherent submissiveness of femininity from patriarchal systems is counter-productive to the feminist agenda. While kinks are also shaped by individual experiences, a common gendered experience endured by women as a class should be acknowledged in any discussion pertaining sadism and masochism.

Also read: Tryst With Kink: Brushstrokes Of BDSM On My Sexuality

Normalisation of Violence 

In the recent sex culture ‘vanilla shaming’ has become a trend. Vanilla sex is known as conventional sex or absence of kinks, but this has a negative connotation—it is seen as boring and unexciting. The rise in vanilla shaming is an indicator of normalisation of BDSM. Vanilla sex is also associated with being a prude or conservative. This shame and looking down on vanilla sex creates an unsaid pressure to indulge in kinks. This shows how BDSM is moving towards being synonymous to sex, and is no longer a niche group.  

As mentioned earlier, BDSM has found success in mainstream porn, and it is used to mask their misogyny. The dynamics of BDSM involve deriving pleasure from pain—one partner enjoys inflicting pain, the other enjoys the pain inflicted on them. Like discussed above mostly femininity is seen as submissive or one enjoying the pain. There is a visible shift in the narrative of porn, now it’s about women “asking for it”.

If we ever google terms like “choke me”, “spank me” we will come across images that make it feminine, with pink background and a cute font. It portrays women begging to be spanked, or enjoying being choked. It’s about women asking to be degraded and being ‘used’ by their partners. It’s about giving up their autonomy and reducing themselves to a ‘sex object’. It is understandable if it was a specific category enjoyed by few, but it is instead a running theme in almost all the porn. Young women who are taught to idolise porn stars start internalising this idea of sex in their head. 

It was brought up during a discussion with FII team, almost everyone stated that pornography glorifying feminine submissive is triggering and disturbing. It degrades women either physically, verbally or emotionally. A study conducted in 2010 found that most watched scenes from the infamous 50 shades trilogy were of physical or emotional abuse. 

The rise in vanilla shaming is an indicator of normalisation of BDSM. Vanilla sex is also associated with being a prude or conservative. This shame and looking down on vanilla sex creates an unsaid pressure to indulge in kinks.

Another issue with normalisation of BDSM in mainstream pornography is normalisation of ‘rape kinks’. These are sugar coated with words like ‘taken’, ‘reluctance’ and ‘non-consensual’ to not come off as predatory. Sites like literotica also encourage this, and also have a separate category for “non-consensual”. And these ‘kinks’ don’t just exist in a vacuum, we see them manifest in real life. We saw this when 8 million Indians tried to look up videos of the horrific incident of the Hyderabad rape case. This means the normalisation of violence obviously has repercussions and is toxic and dangerous for young women. 

But What About Sex Liberation?

The sex culture of any society is influenced heavily by the social, economic, and political structures that shape the said society. Then, to understand sex as something unaffected by the influence of these systems is not only highly erroneous but quite ignorant and antithetical to the sex liberation agenda. Gail Dines, author of Pornography: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality, mentions a concept of ‘Stepford Slut’—a 21st century dream woman is characterised by her endless sexual availability, in the same way a 20th century dream woman was characterised by her endless domestic labour.

Since women were never given any real sexual agency in society, a criticism of sex liberation or sex culture is often misunderstood as an attack on that agency. During our discussion with the FII team, the question Am I a bad feminist for enjoying submissiveness? was raised quite frequently. A nuanced answer to this is twofold. First of all, not every act should be measured as feminist by the mere virtue of being performed by a woman and secondly, no person or their choices can exist outside of the material reality of patriarchy. To measure an act as feminist one only needs to ask two questions to themselves—does this benefit the male class more, and does this challenge the patriarchal status quo?

Also read: The Kinky Way Forward: How BDSM Helped Liberate My Sexuality

Sadomasochism and limitless sexual availability, as represented in porn and pop culture, has become the benchmark of a sexually liberated female person. It is important that we start telling young girls who are afraid of being seen as prudes by their peers that sex should be about them. Sex should never be performed from a male perspective, exclusively for male pleasure.  

References

  1. The guardian
  2. NCBI
  3. The medium 

Featured Image Source: Anjul Dandekar

About the author(s)

Follow FII channels on Youtube and Telegram for latest updates.

Feminist media needs feminist allies!

Get premium content, exclusive benefits and help us remain independent, free and accessible.

BECOME AN FII MEMBER

Choose Your Plan!

3 COMMENTS

  1. Porn culture must be critiqued, but making a comparison between the normalisation of BDSM and the normalisation of “rape kinks”/sexual violence is problematic. A person’s experience of rape is valid even when the sexual act in question was “vanilla.” BDSM also has a long association with LGBT+ culture, which this article replaces with a very cis-heteronormative analysis.

  2. “Another issue with normalisation of BDSM in mainstream pornography is normalisation of ‘rape kinks’. ”

    This line bothered me. The author of the article doesn’t really differentiate between a kink (BDSM) and a crime (looking up videos of rape). The word “rape kink” makes no sense because rape is a crime and a crime cannot be a kink. Consensual non-consent can be a kink. Rape, and anything that does not involve enthusiastic, continued, informed consent is a crime. So I don’t understand “rape kinks” and how the normalisation of BDSM is responsible for it.

    Porn culture and its misogyny must be critiqued, but making a comparison between the normalisation of BDSM in porn and the normalisation of sexual violence is problematic. We should be able to recognize and condemn rape even if it occurred in a “vanilla” context.

    Also, BDSM has strong links with LGBT+ subcultures, but this article locks it into a very cis-heteronormative frame of analysis. Gail Dines and Jessica Masterson (both referenced in the article) identify as radical feminists, so their views on BDSM are affected by the same. From an intersectional perspective, this does not do justice to BDSM and its complicated legacy.

  3. Fir to the last commenter, your view on what is or is not a kink is flawed. You say a crime cannot be a kink… but that is factually not true. A kink can in fact be illegal. If it could not that would mean things like incest or bestiality could not be a kink… and yet they are for some. Things like polyamoury couldn’t be a kink (depending where you live) and yet they are for some. In fact, any violence against another person consenting or not, with specific exceptions like sports, is illegal and thus all violence within BDSM would be illegal. Being attracted to the same sex could be defined as a type of kink (especially for bisexual people who have chosen a life partner of the opposite gender but still ingage in the kink of sex with the same gender). Law doesn’t care about kink and kink doesn’t care about law.

    My arguement with the article is the claim “This distortion is also the reason why kinks continue to remain misunderstood.” This arguement is flawed. A persons kink is their kink. No one gets to “define for them” what their kink is or try to shove it in a box. Some people fantasize about brutally raping and torturing others. If we look at erotica, some may even fantasize about murdering someone at the end of it. That is their kink. It doesn’t mean they get to act on those kinks because that would be sick and wrong and we have laws to stop such things. Equally some people fantasize about being brutally raped and tortured. One cannot tell them how their kink works, its up to them to tell others what they feel. I have met women who have been raped and hated it yet still long to be raped again. They can’t explain it. It makes them feel horrible that they want these things…. but no one else can come in and tell them “you are misunderstanding your kink”. Thats not how kink works at all.

    There are men in the BDSM culture that like to own women, there are women that like to own men…. slavery is illegal but it doesn’t stop their kink. THere are subcultures of BDSM like gorean lifestyle where women give up completely all decisions and accept if that means they get raped, abused, or whatever else happens to them. That is their kink and no one can tell them its wrong or not how its suppose to be.

    One can learn and be taught how to safely practice their kink but they cannot be taught what their kink is, because their kink is their kink. No one can take it from them.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here