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Informed Consent: Writing BDSM, the Abuse Clause, and the Rape "Fantasy"


posted by Lucy V Morgan on , , ,

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Here's a subject close to the bone (ahem) for this erotica writer. BDSM is a minefield of a topic, and something my WHORED series deals with on several fronts. I feel like BDSM gets a bad rap, and is considered as some kind of blanket Freudian expression of "darkness." I'd like to tell you that a lot of this is a huge misconception.

But let's clear a few things up before I get going:

BDSM Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism (compound anachronym). Participants find pleasure in taking or receding control, and/or and giving or receiving pain. It's not all gags and collars; sometimes it's just having a partner getting rather bossy, or submissive. The power dynamic is key.
Informed Consent In this context, one partakes in BDSM in full knowledge of its implications and consequences, usually within a framework of safeguarding rules.
The Abuse Clause The assumption that in order to take pleasure in BDSM, one must be mentally troubled in some fashion--usually due to abuse of the physical or mental variety.
Rape "fantasy" A scenario where a woman is "forced" into sex but soon enjoys it, and suffers no traumatising after-effects, under the pleasing insinuation that our "hero" wants the heroine so much, he can't take "no" for an answer. Intended to be erotic, but often miswritten as a vicious act that mentally scars our heroine for the purpose of pleasure through self-pity and flagellation.

Phew. Where to start?

I know, as a writer, that the easiest (often laziest) way to "explain" a character with a fault is to put abuse in their past (I ranted about that one here). I also know that a lot of BDSM writers feel the need to explain, or justify, their character's kink. (You really don't).

It may well be true that some BDSM participants find it calming, find personal absolution, and find peace through the pain or relinquishing control. They feel the need to be punished, or that they "deserve" to be hurt. Indeed, some of the practises are bound to attract unstable and unpleasant personalities who seek to exploit these factors. But here's the thing: sometimes, you just like it. Chemically. Sure, you might have had some bad experiences in your life--rejection, failure, wobbly self esteem--but let's not give Freud more credit than he deserves. Sex is intense and intimate and often revealing, but just because you're doing something "dark," it doesn't mean you don't see the "light."

BDSM speaks to the bedroom dichotomy so many of us find fascinating: this idea that you're a different person during sex, that this is the "real" you, that sex--and perhaps orgasm--are the only times you're truly fulfilled. In BDSM, for example, it's "acceptable" for a woman (or man) to be submissive; in real life, it's not considered so politically correct. But just because it might make some things more "acceptable" does not mean it makes  everything acceptable. Like rape.

The tenet of the BDSM world is safe, sane and consensual. Now I take issue with this, mainly because I think you can actually refer to few sexual practises as safe and sane on all levels (the adrenaline and fear are part of the fun, ahem), but the fact remains: consent is key. If you're abusing a character's consent, if the trust is dubious, if there is no underlying concern for the participants' personal safety; you're probably not  writing BDSM. You're writing about a questionable situation which may or may not be erotic, for hundreds of reasons. And I've written these scenarios myself, but hopefully, portrayed them for what they are--not exactly safe or sane, but still sexy to the rather fortunately undamaged participants. (We also now have the "dubious consent" subgenre, which is an accurate and valid enough description).

The protagonist of my WHORED series, Leila, wants a reason for her kink. She thinks she needs one, and she associates it with being a "bad" person...but it's not. And it's not going to "fix" her insecurities; it's just a blissful escape, like any other fabulous kind of sex. I wanted to write about a woman who came from, all things considered, a comfortable and kind home, but still ended up with buckets of kink. You know why? Because that's normal. Likewise, the partner-in-crime she finds is a loose cannon, but he's hardly abused and tortured. He's got his own issues, but they're perfectly separate from what his particular blend of hormones wants in the bedroom...because that's normal, too. Together, they learn that the pleasure they find in BDSM has less to do with their blotchy pasts, and everything to do with the cocktail of their personal power dynamics.

So you want to write about troubled characters? Great--but don't expect that to justify their BDSM preferences. You want to write rape fantasy? Fine--but please don't attempt this by disguising real, traumatic rape as dominance and submission. You want to justify your aggressive, psychotic alpha's behaviour as his "kink"? Er, no. That's not how BDSM works. That's not a romance (even if he's a vampire/werewolf/flamingo shifter); that's American Psycho. Hell, your characters can get up to whatever they want in the bedroom, but don't go calling it BDSM as if it somehow makes it okay. Sometimes, it's just not okay, and you're writing a very different story to the one you thought you were.

BDSM might involve cages, but please: it is not a get out of jail free card.



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