Violence is not bound to fantasy

Victoria Goldberg | Editor-in-Chief
Featured illustration: Can the dichotomy of anti-rape culture and BDSM relationships survive? | Christopher Lai

2016 might be the year of the monkey, but many news outlets could not stop talking about rape culture. In March, Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted of his five charges that included sexual assault; that same month, Brock Allen Turner was convicted of felony sexual assault and served three months in jail; in September, former York TA Mustafa Ururyar was found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to 18 months in jail. Hundreds of other sex-related crimes are making their way through the court system, while thousands go unreported.

Since 2009, sexual assaults have increased by five per cent, and the media coverage has mirrored this increase. The world might be going to shit, but at least we are all aware of it.

Sex in general has transformed from a taboo topic spoken in hushed tones and Cosmopolitan columns to a more widely discussed topic. The Ontario government has recently gotten some heat for expanding the elementary school curriculum to begin teaching human development and sexual health, or sex ed, as early as grade one. Healthy relationships are now discussed as early as grade three.

In North American culture, have we finally expanded our minds to be more accepting of sex? Recent anecdotal evidence would prove otherwise, as even the discussion of kinky sex in the classroom and editorial room has brought on giggles.

Music videos, movies and Netflix are no longer subtle about the sexual messages in their content. In an often misattributed quote, Frank Underwood of Netflix’s House of Cards once said: “Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.”

Sex really is a dynamic and complex process that includes everything from masturbation to group sex parties referred to as orgies.

“Sexual arousal is complex, but when broken down, shows a rather simple concept,” says Fred Daou, a master’s candidate in gender, feminist and women’s studies.

“Play can be seen in the playground as it can be seen in our bedrooms. When we play [with] things and amongst ourselves, we gain pleasure.”

Daou explains that play, including sexual kinks, is a biological drive that requires relief. When this drive is satisfied, it allows for a break from the everyday social demands we face.

Many misconceptions warp sexual preferences from kinks to the contradicting conventional, or vanilla, sex. Kinks are often associated with hardcore pornography or novels like Fifty Shades of Grey; vanilla sex is often synonymous with boring or dull sexual experiences. Both are healthy expressions of sexual preferences and should not be evaluated as superior or inferior to each other. One’s sexuality is a mix of various factors, including experience, maturity and biological and psychological tendencies.

Kinks are often placed under the wide umbrella of BDSM, which stands for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadomasochism and other variations of what are considered unconventional sexual practices.

BDSM might seem like freakydeaky stuff for some, but many people practice elements of BDSM without realizing it: that occasional spank or tying-your-partner-up fantasy are variations of BDSM.

At its core, BDSM is about sexual pleasure that derives from power dynamics. If sex is about power, then BDSM is about the reshuffling of traditional power relations. In particular, the dominant and submissive relationship encompasses this power dynamic.

One or more partners are playing the superior, dominant role—doms and dommes, depending on gender—while others play the subordinate role of submissive, or subs. BDSM encounters, called scenes, can vary in range. Some scenes can occur over the phone or don’t have partners touching, while others can be very physical, even going as far as sadomasochism, the pleasure from giving or receiving pain or humiliation.

In our very aware society, one might jump to the conclusion that on paper, these relationships sound unhealthy, disgusting or borderline abusive. How can one achieve sexual pleasure from being in situations where they are in a submissive role, coerced to perform acts, tied up or in physical pain?

The question becomes, can one be against rape culture yet into BDSM, even if the two may seem contradictory in nature?

“How can we want something that is so shunned against?” questions Daou. “For someone who enjoys rape fantasies and is against rape-culture, this violence again plays as a zone of exception. Exceptions are important in the human brain.”

While the topic is complex, the short answer is yes, yes they can.

BDSM relationships might mirror some behaviours present in sexual assaults, but there are many important factors that distinguish an assault and a scene.

BDSM includes a variety of different practices, and even a specific subgenre of dominance/ submission encompasses many preferences, but rules are still to be followed. In a healthy BDSM relationship, partners have a negotiation period prior to a scene that includes discussion of where and when to meet, hard and soft limits, safe words and even health conditions.

Unlike sexual assaults, a sub always has a way out of a situation, and at any moment can shut down a scene if they feel uncomfortable. A sub’s lack of control is a play and can also be stopped at any moment.

A negotiation period would also include explicit understanding of how a scene would end, and details of aftercare. Like a tattoo that essentially damages the skin, aftercare is required in order to prevent scars. During intense sexual experiences, endorphins and several hormones are released in high amounts. A major part of aftercare is allowing a body to return to normal levels. Water, food, a trip to the washroom and skin-to-skin contact such as cuddling are often utilized to stabilize the body’s physical and psychological states. A scene might end, but the relationship continues, and must be taken care of and nurtured.

“In many ways of being and articulations, conviviality entails the drive to give warmth and human reciprocity. This involves commons and sharing. Some folk want to get hurt or pleasured; others don’t want [to]. The point is that in this ‘justice’ strand, we try to fulfill folk’s needs through dialogue and thinking in [a] both/and way,” says Daou.

The world does not survive in a binary sense, and sexual preferences are not always black and white.

BDSM relationships are just as complex as vanilla relationships and require communication, research and trust. Luckily, society’s changing understanding of sex has produced literature, sites and communities that are available for those interested in BDSM.

The terminology used is a distinguishing factor that separates BDSM and sexual assaults. Encounters are called scenes and partners have specifically named roles. BDSM sounds like a metaphorical play with actors, a script and costumes.

BDSM can be viewed as creative expression, where partners exercise their imagination, explore otherwise forbidden or hidden aspects of their desires and step outside of their societal identities into a different persona. BDSM is a fantasy: partners dress up, portray certain roles, recite their lines and then step out of those personas after the curtains drop.

That is the main difference between BDSM and sexual assaults: BDSM scenes end, and with healthy practice, partners can return to their “normal” lives with no adverse effects. For many sexual assault victims, going back to “normal” is a difficult wish to fulfill. Sexual assaults occur against a victim’s will; their power is involuntarily taken away from them. The power to control their bodies, to say no and to fight back are seized on someone else’s accord.

BDSM fantasizes the idea of changing power dynamics but allows for said power to be regained.

“Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.” If that statement is true, then sexual assault is a robbery of said power.

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By Excalibur Publications



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