When I met the amazing, talented, cute-as-hell, and kinky-as-fuck Coffee&Kink at Eroticon, I knew she was one of those people who was just as genuine in person as she is online. Hearing her talk about her kinky perspectives and her own writing goals, I knew she needed to guest post for me. I don't think I asked her - I might have demanded in my bossy way. Thankfully, she said yes. What follows is a heavy but extremely important reminder about the very real dangers of D/s and abuse, and I'm glad she chose to share her knowledge with us.
First, this post comes with a Trigger Warning. I’m going to be discussing abuse, including some true experiences. If this is likely to be distressing for you, please feel free to skip this one entirely or step away to do some self-care.
This post will focus mainly on emotional and psychological abuse, with some mentions of physical and sexual.
We’ve all seen the lists. The ‘if your partner ticks more than five of these behaviours then you’re being abused’ lists, that is. There are many of them available online, so I’ve pulled out the one that helped me to leave my last abuser for the examples used here. Anything listed is far from exhaustive and ultimately, if your relationship makes you feel unhappy or unsafe, you should start thinking about making a plan to leave.
None of us want to talk about abuse, but we need to. And in the BDSM community, we really, really need to. We’re so intent on convincing the vanilla people who might judge us that BDSM isn’t abusive that we shy away from acknowledging the times when it can be.
I was a cis female submissive abused by a cis man Dominant, so that’s the perspective I’m writing from here, but abuse can happen to anyone of any gender, any orientation and – yes – any kink role. Women can abuse men, queer people can abuse each other, and submissives can abuse Dominants. Statistically, it’s more likely to happen to women and female-read people, but abuse can happen to anybody and absolutely nobody deserves to be abused. If you take nothing else away from this piece, please take that.
I believe that BDSM, particularly for the submissive, puts one in an almost unique position of being vulnerable to potential abuse. The rules of engagement are different when power exchange and sadomasochism come into play, and the lines can get blurred fast. But the bottom line is that a good, healthy kinky relationship absolutely must be built on a foundation of informed consent and mutual respect.
“My Master says this is what kink is... but I don’t feel good or safe.”
Do they spank you because you both get off on it, because it takes you out of your head and grounds you in your body, because they know that if you wiggle your ass in their direction you’re asking for it? Or do they hit you too much, hit you too hard, hit you when you’re not consenting, or hit you in real anger? There is no place for anger in BDSM play, even in punishment dynamics.
Do they call you a slut because it makes your cunt wet and humiliates you in just that delightful way you crave? Or do they go out and fuck whomever they want, but then call you a slut and a whore when you do the same – or even if you just smile at somebody else a bit too sweetly?
Do they assume the ‘responsible adult’ role because you’ve agreed to consensual age-play... or do they treat you like a child because they want you to feel stupid, incompetent or incapable?
It’s really easy, and really tempting, to stay in denial of a reality even when it’s staring you in the face. It took me years – literally years – to acknowledge that I was being abused, even though my friends (including – especially! – my kinky friends) had been telling me so all along. I was a collared slave in a 24/7 D/s relationship and, in my world, subs didn’t complain. Subs didn’t get to have needs, wants and opinions. Subs shut up and dealt with whatever their Master or Mistress decided to dish out, even if that was screaming down the phone at me at 3 o’clock in the morning for an infraction so small I don’t even remember what it was.
You know what I say to that now?
Submissives are human beings, and Dominants who forget that or don’t care about their sub’s humanity are dangerous. Subs have needs, wants, desires, opinions, and lives of their own and that’s the way it should be. A Dominant – or indeed, any person – who feels the need to cut away parts of who you are in order to control you is an abuser.
D/s is a partnership. It is not about the submissive becoming completely subsumed into the Dominant and no longer being their own person. It is two people coming together to fulfil their desires in a consensual and mutually beneficial dynamic, one that both parties chose and either party can opt out of at any time.
You may be submissive but you still deserve love, care, respect, safety and consideration just as much as anybody else.
“He says if I just behaved he’d be nicer to me.”
This is the oldest trick in the book. Abusers get control, in part, by making their victim feel responsible for their own abuse. This is especially true in abusive D/s situations – submissives tend to be intense people-pleasers and many crave approval, and an abusive Dominant can spot this and exploit it.
No-one who blames you for their abusive behaviour can be good news. If they say ‘you pushed me to it,’ run. If they say, ‘a good sub would [X]...’ – RUN RUN RUN. Please.
I tried for years to be good enough for my abuser. I tried to be pleasing, to be compliant, to be available when wanted and disappear when not. Anything to hit the bar he’d set for me. What I eventually realised is that nothing I did would ever be good enough to hit that imaginary bar, because constantly raising it was part of the game. That was the day I left.
You do not deserve abuse. You will fuck up and you will make mistakes, because you’re a flawed human being and that’s what we do. And that’s okay! I promise you do not deserve abuse, and if someone’s telling you that you forced them to behave badly towards you, then please, please remove yourself from that toxic person.
“What are some of the tell-tale signs of an abusive D/s dynamic?”
- Do you feel genuinely afraid of your Dominant? This is not the sexy-horny, “oh no Sir don’t spank me” fun fear, but real, actual fear. You should never feel afraid of someone you’re in an intimate relationship with.
- Do you feel unhappy more often than you feel happy when you’re with them or after you’ve seen them?
- Do things flip very quickly? Can your Dom be sweet and adoring one moment and losing their shit the next? Are things between you either PERFECT or TERRIBLE with no in between, and a slight thing causing the shift? If you’re walking on broken glass not knowing what you’re going to get from one minute to the next, your partner is probably abusive.
- Do they lose their temper, shout at you, call you names, put you down, hold the relationship to ransom or threaten you?
- Are they always right and you’re always wrong, no matter what? Is everything your fault? If you call them out on bad behaviour, do they turn it around and place the blame on you?
- Do they control, or try to control, who you can spend time with? If they only have bad things to say about your family or friends, or try to stop you from seeing them, this is abuse. No good Dominant would ever cut their sub off from a support network.
- Do they tell you that a real sub would do what they want, take away (or refuse to adhere to) safewords, or accuse you of ‘Topping from the bottom’ if you express a need, desire or limit?
- Do they expect that D/s means that their desires are the only ones that matter and refuse to give your needs equal consideration?
These are far from all the signs, and many of the hallmarks of abuse in vanilla relationships apply just as much in kink. For one list, take a look at this link: http://liveboldandbloom.com/11/relationships/signs-of-emotional-abuse. If any of these are happening in your D/s relationship, you’re in trouble.
“I’ve accepted I’m being abused. What now?”
First – so many props for acknowledging what’s happening to you. That’s a tremendously difficult and important step. Well done.
Now – only you can decide what you want to do next. I hope, for your own sake, that you will start making a plan in order to leave safely. You may need to enlist the help of family, friends, a domestic abuse service or even the police at this stage, particularly if your abuser tightly monitors your behaviour or controls the money.
Giving concrete advice on leaving the relationship safely is beyond the scope of this post and my expertise, but there are plenty of resources online. Please use them. Here are a few good ones to begin with:
http://www.dvguide.com/content.html (General with some US focus)
I absolutely believe healthy kinky relationships are possible and viable, including healthy kinky relationships involving 24/7 power exchange. But in order for these healthy and loving dynamics to become the norm in the community, we need to get better at talking about abuse. We can no longer brush it under the rug as “something that happens to the vanillas” because “kink is not abuse.” We can no longer allow abusers to use BDSM as a veneer behind which to hide their sinister behaviour. We cannot stand by while people are told not to report their abuse because it will “bring the scene into disrepute.” We cannot watch survivor after survivor ostracised from their support network for daring to speak out.
This is a call to action.
I challenge you to stand up to abuse.
I challenge you to support survivors.
I dare you to stand up and be counted.
I’m in. Are you?
Coffee&Kink is the alter-ego of a twenty-something queer British girl, usually spotted bouncing around in kitty ears and drinking a caffeinated beverage. She is a fiction writer (both smutty and non,) a sex geek, and an advocate for consent culture and pleasure-focused sex and relationships education. She blogs at http://coffeeandkink.