If you practice BDSM in fully consensual ways, you may still be criminally prosecuted for assault under many laws throughout the U.S. The BDSM-Leather-Fetish communities have focused heavily for years on defining “safe, sane and consensual BDSM practices” for practitioners as well as to help the broader public better understand what it is that we do. It was, after all, only in 1994 that the DSM criteria of the American Psychiatric Association changed their categorization of sadomasochism, paving the path for us to do more effective social, legal and political change. Until 1994, BDSM was defined automatically as a mental illness. Prior to 1994, it was difficult to organize effectively to protect and advance our rights as BDSM practitioners. This categorization and long-term societal view of BDSM as a mental illness resulted in severe consequences for many practitioners over the years—loss of child custody and jobs as well as criminal prosecutions. Fortunately for all of us, NCSF was formed in 1997 to work on these issues and to protect and advance our rights.
Although things have certainly improved for us over the years, we still have significant legal, political and societal issues facing us. The majority of us are not “out of the closet”, still fearing the very real threat of being prosecuted or losing our jobs or families. BDSM is still prosecuted criminally as assault, and the legal precedents related to consensual BDSM assault prosecutions are not in our favor. Many of the laws intended to protect victims of domestic violence and rape need to be modified in their application to consensual BDSM activities. The DSM criterion still needs further reform—it is still used against us, and we can still be defined as mentally ill for what it is that we do. And, members of our communities still routinely face ongoing issues of divorce, child custody, job discrimination and even criminal charges.
NCSF has two major national projects aimed at protecting and advancing the rights of the BDSM-Leather-Fetish communities. First, NCSF has taken charge of the “Consent Counts” initiative that was launched in 2006 at a Leather Leadership Roundtable as the single most important national priority of the BDSM-Leather-Fetish communities. Our goal: to decriminalize consensual BDSM throughout the United States by ensuring that consent will be recognized as a defense to criminal charges brought under assault laws and other statutes. The Consent Counts project is a nationwide education and activism program that includes a comprehensive analysis of current laws and court decisions, the development of legal arguments for changing the laws, participating in court cases, and ultimately, through lobbying, education and grass-roots activism, changing state laws and the way the public and the courts view BDSM.
The other important advocacy project is NCSF’s work to change the DSM criterion so that consensual BDSM will be categorized, not as a mental pathology, but rather as a normal variant. In this effort, we are coordinating research and advocacy and working with recognized experts in the field.
We need your help and support to be successful. You can make a difference. Get involved. Visit www.ncsfreedom.org.
American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition. These criteria are listed in the Paraphilia section, pg. 525.
Diagnostic criteria for 302.83 Sexual Masochism: