The Mac Weekly
On my way to work last weekend, I noticed a familiar sight. Stuck between the hands of a woman who sat across the aisle on the 84 bus, there was Fifty Shades of Grey, the incredibly popular erotic novel that includes sadomasochistic sex scenes. The Fifty Shades fever has died down for the most part. On slow days, gossip sites report on who is and is not in the talks for the movie, but the main artifact of the craze is the occasional book whipped out on public transportation.
While I have a personal vendetta against Fifty Shades of Grey because I believe it depicts an unhealthy coercive relationship and because the protagonist refers to her genitalia as “down there” the majority of the time, I am thankful at least that it has brought up discussion about BDSM in the mainstream. Even if you do not engage in the practices yourself, I think BDSM is a great mental location to examine consent, pleasure and sex positivity, even for the non-BDSM “vanilla” relationships.
So what is BDSM? The acronym itself is a complicated jumble of different types of play: B&D for bondage and discipline; D/s for Dominance and submission; S/M for sadism and masochism. Some relationships feature only parts of the acronym, while others (such as discipline with D/s) work off one another to a build an experience. Generally, there is at least one Dom and one sub, or a giver and a receiver of pain/punishment/et cetera. There could also be switches involved, who are people who enjoy both giving and receiving. Contrary to popular superstition, very few relationships are a Total Power Exchange (TPE, or 24/7), which would grant the Dom exclusive decision-making power over the sub in all aspects of their lives. Instead, enthusiasts play a “scene,” which is a specific time frame that the partners involved agree to act through their particular form of BDSM.
Because of the nature of BDSM, consent and healthy relationships initially look different between Doms and subs. If they do not understand how anyone could derive pleasure from pain or punishment, some mistakenly read the consensual acts of a scene as violence, thus conflating abuse with BDSM. What these naysayers ignore is the culture of explicit consent in alt life that forms the core of healthy BDSM.
This culture gives way to the phrase Risk-Aware Consensual Kink (RACK). This does not refer to a formal set of guidelines but a ideology of consent. RACK values having an acute sensitivity of what is being done. It is not enough to stumble across an incident or a pleasurable time. You have to know what you are getting into (presumably with research), judge whether the costs involved are worth the gains, and then actively accept the conditions. While this meaning may be intuitive based on the words involved, it still bears examining closely since the process of negotiating a BDSM partnership is a very sex positive approach to founding a relationship. The purpose of RACK, after all, is to ensure that BDSM participants are aware that their sexual expression—kink—involves a level of risk, and they have decided that their pleasure is worth said risk if done consensually. ...