Christian Grey knows exactly his hard limits in sadomasochism and he may also know a thing or two about his legal limits. The Dominant character Grey in the fantasy fiction Fifty Shades of Grey is bent on alluring his coprotagonist, Anastasia (Ana) Steele, to become his Submissive in a BDSM – Bondage & Discipline (BD) Domination & Submission (DS) Sadism & Masochism (SM) – relationship.
The layers of coercion, consent, pleasure and pain are as complex as the acronym itself and defined by the participants themselves. The cinematic account of this fiction – released this past weekend – illustrates some of the problematic demarcations in the law of assault in the real world.
When Grey informs the innocent Ana about the unnegotiable “hard limits” he sets down in a contract governing their BDSM activities – including no fire play, cutting, piercing, bloodletting, gynaecological instruments, scarring, permanent disfiguration, breath control, defecating/ urinating or use of electric current – she is confounded (probably with a blush and the cautious words of her subconscious). The law is a bit confounded too.
“Hard limits” – in the BDSM arrangement between Grey and Ana – are those activities excluded from the pair’s BDSM arrangement as a safety precaution. “Soft limits” – such as caning and flogging – are more negotiable: Grey does not regard them as a safety issue but they’re left open for negotiation on the grounds that they may cause unbearable pain.
So what does the law have to say about legal status of the sadomasochistic acts?
A legal perspective
For criminal lawyers, for humans in general, the hard limits described above may look a little bit like assault. The offence of wounding or grievous bodily harm with intent – which includes where there is permanent disfiguration or serious harm – attracts a maximum sentence 25 years imprisonment.
In Australia’s Northern Territory, mandatory prison sentences apply to first-time serious violent offenders. This may include acts involving cutting, scarring, whipping or caning. But the legislation does not prescribe the nature of violent activities or whether inflicting pain in the name of sexual pleasure is permissible.
In principle, if the participant suffering the harm consents to the violence, this would legalise what would otherwise be deemed assault.
In Fifty Shades, Christian Grey’s relentless pursuit of Ana’s consent before engaging in BDSM was well-advised, as consent provides an important pillar in nullifying assault claims – but it’s not the only pillar. There are, it seems, at least 50 shades of grey when it comes to the application of the laws relating to consensual bodily harm. ...
Forget Fifty Shades of Grey. Here’s your real primer on all things kink.
by Casey Gueren
1. First things first: Here’s what BDSM actually stands for:
BDSM includes bondage and discipline (B&D), dominance and submission (D&S), and sadism & masochism (S&M). The terms are lumped together that way because BDSM can be a lot of different things to different people with different preferences, BDSM writer and educator Clarisse Thorn, author of The S&M Feminist, tells BuzzFeed Life. Most of the time, a person’s interests fall into one or two of those categories, rather than all of them.
2. It doesn’t always involve sex, but it can.
Most people think BDSM is always tied to sex, and while it can be for some people, others draw a hard line between the two. “Both are bodily experiences that are very intense and sensual and cause a lot of very strong feelings in people who practice them, but they’re not the same thing,” says Thorn. The metaphor she uses for it: a massage. Sometimes a massage, however sensual it feels, is just a massage. For others, a rubdown pretty much always leads to sex. It’s kind of similar with BDSM; it’s a matter of personal and sexual preference.
3. There is nothing inherently wrong or damaged with people if they’re into it.
This is one of the most common and frustrating misconceptions about BDSM, says Thorn. BDSM isn’t something that emerges from abuse or domestic violence, and engaging in it does not mean that you enjoy abuse or abusing.
Instead, enjoying BDSM is just one facet of someone’s sexuality and lifestyle. “It’s just regular people who happen to get off that way,” sex expert Gloria Brame, Ph.D., author of Different Loving, tells BuzzFeed Life. “It’s your neighbors and your teachers and the people bagging your groceries. The biggest myth is that you need this special set of circumstances. It’s regular people who have a need for that to be their intimate dynamic.” ...
24. There is an immensely helpful list of kink-aware professionals so you can find a doctor or therapist who uniquely understands your lifestyle.
Maybe you’re worried that your gynecologist or your lawyer won’t be sensitive to your lifestyle or doesn’t allow you to feel comfortable talking about it. Check out the Kink Aware Professionals Directory from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom to find someone who will be more accepting. ...
A group of swingers, kinksters, polyamorists and nudists is taking over a Madison hotel this weekend, celebrating Valentine's Day weekend with two days of what's billed as "complete sexual freedom." The event will draw as many as 275 "alternative sex" aficionados from all over Wisconsin, the United States as well as abroad, says Melanie, a volunteer event organizer with Camp NCN, a "sexual freedom" campground in Black River Falls, Wis.
Melanie agreed to be interviewed about the event on the condition that Isthmus not use her real name. Though Camp NCN has been hosting well-attended hotel takeovers in Madison four times a year for the past several years, there's still a stigma associated with a lifestyle that allows sexual freedom, she says.
"There's a huge misconception about the swinging world," says the 48-year-old from western Wisconsin. "A lot of people look at swingers as people who are immoral, who are whorish, who jump from one person to another, but that's not necessarily the case. It's just another type of connection."
The group rents out the entire hotel when they come to Madison, so there's no risk of children or other unsuspecting guests getting an unexpected eyeful (or earful). That also gives the group the freedom to set up a fetish dungeon, group "play rooms" with various sex apparatuses, an area with vendors selling sex toys and a dance floor with a DJ. The entire hotel is clothing-optional, with the exception of the front desk reception area.
Attendees range in age from mid-20s to mid-70s, Melanie says, and they represent a variety of backgrounds and professions. Many are teachers, lawyers, counselors -- and she says there are even a few government officials.
"That's one of the reasons why we're so careful to protect their identities," she says. "Outing is a big concern for a lot of them. They could lose their jobs."
Though Camp NCN is LGBT-friendly, the hotel takeover events are open only to heterosexual couples and single females (who are referred to as "unicorns") as a way to ensure guests are comfortable, Melanie says. Single men are not allowed.
Finding a venue to host the event is not easy.
"The majority of hotels don't want to be associated with the types of things we do in our group," Melanie says. "It's very difficult to find one that is willing to cooperate."
The group ran into trouble five years ago in Stevens Point, when city officials tried to shut down a similar Valentine's Day weekend hotel takeover party, citing a city ordinance prohibiting "sexually oriented businesses" within 750 feet of an establishment with a liquor license. Faced with threats of fines and other legal penalties, the hotel canceled the swingers' group reservation, but a scaled-back event reportedly took place anyway.
They also faced problems in Wisconsin Dells, when a former hotel party site came under new ownership that was not interested in continuing to host the group, Melanie says.
Camp NCN's owner, Marvin Thomann, approached a number of Madison hotels before he found one that was agreeable, Melanie says.
The location of the Madison hotel takeover site is kept secret, per the request of the venue's management. The Camp NCN website doesn't even provide the information on its registration page.
The hotel's manager, who asked not to be identified, admitted that he was hesitant at first to accommodate the swingers' event. But the guarantee of a fully booked hotel -- especially during the tourism offseason -- is good for business. So far, there have been no problems or complaints. Plus, the group is "actually pretty tame," the manager says. ...
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the much-hyped movie Fifty Shades of Grey releases in theatres nationwide today. The movie reportedly grossed $3.7 million in early release on Wednesday. It’s based on the novel of the same name, the novel that introduced frank sexual discussion of sadomasochism, bondage, and domination to the book clubs of middle-aged, middle-class women the world over. Thanks to Fifty Shades, your mom now knows what “BDSM” stands for, even if you really hope that she didn’t before. A blockbuster movie based and a bestselling book go a long way toward legitimizing BDSM as a mainstream sexual preference.
Just how mainstream has kinky sex started to become, thanks to Fifty Shades of Grey? The Vermont Teddy Bear Company, otherwise known for boundary-pushing pieces like the Hoodie-Footie Pajama Bear, is hawking a Fifty Shades of Grey Bear. The bear comes with a mask and mini handcuffs. (At the bottom of the page, a safety warning reads, “Contains small parts. Not suitable for children.” Because the small parts are what makes a BDSM-themed teddy bear unsuitable for children.)
I confess that I have avoided the book on snooty literary grounds, for the same reasons I avoid Harlequin bodice-rippers and the Twilight series. I don’t object morally. I just like my books like I like my men — pretentious, difficult to understand, and weird. Characters with names as clunky and hamfisted as “Christian Grey” and “Anastasia Steele” — so symbolic! — make me break out in hives.
Whether kink’s your thing or not, the mainstreaming of BDSM is bound (ha!) to change the legal landscape. Much of the potential liability centers around consent — the authenticity of it, the legal validity of it, and the ways to prove it. So, put down the ball gag, lovebirds, and read this first.
Authenticity of Consent
Even plain vanilla sex requires a person to form a reasonable, good faith belief in his or her partner’s consent. Doing so can sometimes be tricky, even in the most bland, typical heterosexual encounters — just ask a college-aged male at the end of a date. BDSM sex, however, raises much greater concerns. It may already be hard (ha!) for guys to know the difference between coquettishness and authentic refusal. This puzzle becomes more complicated when part of the fun can be role-playing non-consent. If a woman asks her boyfriend to act out her rape fantasy, then begs him to stop when he attempts to go through with it, is she withdrawing her consent? Or will she be disappointed if he stops, since she was just resisting as a part of the role play?
Of course, experienced members of the kink community often recommend establishing “safe words” that, when uttered, let the partner know that he or she really, really wants to stop. That strategy may help with the authenticity question among partners, but more on safe words below.
Legal Validity of Consent
What if mature, competent adults want to agree to a BDSM arrangement? Unfortunately for them, the law may not recognize their consent as valid.
Consider a potential civil suit for damages for injuries arising out of kink gone awry. The defendant could argue that the plaintiff assumed a risk of injury by participating in BDSM sex. If you volunteer to have your partner dribble hot oil on your bare thigh, you assumed the risk that you might get burned, right? Maybe. A plaintiff’s knowing and voluntary assumption of risk is only going to stand a chance against ordinary negligence claims. Assumption of risk generally does not apply to claims of gross negligence or willful misconduct by the defendant. ...
Though popular tropes all hold that people interested in BDSM were all abused or are disturbed, the biological basis of kink deserves more study
by Nichi Hodgson
hen it comes to explaining the how and why of sexual desire, there are few answers more reassuring than “because it’s in our DNA”, or “because we’re wired that way”. From why men love boobs to why both partners start wanting to scratch other sexual itches after seven years, a plausible-sounding biological explanation for our sexual predilections is always welcomed – apart from, of course, when it comes to BDSM.
Most general medical discourse about kink focuses on unpicking early childhood trauma, emotional disturbance or abuse (as experienced by the protagonist in Fifty Shades of Grey). Psychological arousal is not, however, just about physical stimulation, and physical reactions don’t confine themselves to psychologically comfortable circumstances. But when it comes to consensual kink, we could greatly benefit from more focus on the physical.
Put simply, there’s a science to spanking, to nipple torture, to candle waxing and to pretty much any other sex act you could name where prolonging the anticipation of touch or relief or safely manipulating blood flow causes the release of neurotransmitters – such as dopamine, adrenalin or serotonin – that result in a chemical high. It’s true that you have to be able to find that kind of physical stimulation arousing in order to be turned on, but if you do, having a person you find attractive putting you over their knee and spanking you in a way that encourages your body to release noradrenaline, adrenalin and dopamine in anticipation of the spank, and then opioids on point of contact is likely to be a pretty positive sexual experience.
And the research backs it up. Take some conducted by Meredith Chivers of Queen’s University, for example, which found that vaginal blood flow in women interested in BDSM increases when they watch kinky porn – at the same rate as it does for non-kinky women who watch vanilla porn. Conversely, blood flow does not increase when kinky women watch vanilla porn, implying that the brain has a part to play in controlling that blood flow, and that the brains of people who respond to kinky stimuli fire up the way those who respond to vanilla sex do. The pending fMRI scans of kinksters are expected to confirm what sexologists already hypothesise: there’s nothing neurologically or biologically dysfunctional about kink-related desire.
Most of us have demons and neuroses, swallowed frustrations and some of us act on them more than others and at different points in our lives. For a minority, BDSM may be a way those are expressed – as vanilla sex is for many others. But most of us lack the self-awareness necessary to pick apart the vagaries of our psychological motives and sexual peccadilloes. If you and your partner walk away from a sex act both satisfied and unscathed – or at least with no lasting emotional or physical bruises – perhaps that’s an outcome that needs no further probing.
Fifty Shades may certainly have opened up the general debate on kink, but social and legal prejudice still prevails. In the UK, December amendments to laws governing online porn fell disproportionately on kink acts. In the US, the First Amendment still does not apply to all sexual communications under the Communications Decency Act, if they are “patently offensive under local community standards” and cannot be proved to have “redeeming social value” by the author – particularly if they are kinky and non-heteronormative. And while the fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders may no longer consider sadomasochism or fetishism to be medical conditions, it still lists paraphilias such as sadomasochistic disorder and fetish disorder.
And the systemic prejudice against BDSM affects the funding of research that would help us better understand it. Off the record, American academics at major colleges have told me that their sex research projects remain on ice for months, sometimes years, and many American sexologists decamp to Canada where the liberal climate – and budgets – better facilitate research. Yet if the US National Institutes of Health won’t even fund, for example, research on the intersection of gender and health despite the massive current discussion around transgender identification, it’s unlikely to fund research on spanking and health. ...
In some states you can watch the movie, but don’t try to act it out.
The Marshall Project
by By SIMONE WEICHSELBAUM
Dildos or any object used for “the stimulation of human genital organs” cannot be made or sold in Alabama. The Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act says that anyone caught with such tools could face a fine up to $20,000, a one-year jail sentence or 12-months doing hard labor.Contemplating bondage? Be warned that it is against New York state law to possess a pair of handcuffs unless you are a law-enforcement officer, private investigator or a security guard. The penalty for illegal possession of handcuffs: a fine of up to $200 and/or 10 days in jail. And in Florida, it is a felony to carry a concealed handcuff key.
BDSM (abundant in “Fifty Shades”) is an acronym with interchangeable meanings — bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism. Even if sexual partners both agree to engage in such edgy behavior, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom warns that consent is not enough to avoid possible assault charges if your partner has second thoughts.“Consent is not a defense,” said Susan Wright, executive director of the organization, which promotes — well, pretty obvious. Wright says that the enjoyment of flogging, whipping or dripping hot wax can be short-lived.“Injuries can happen and then 911 is called,” Wright said. ...
On Valentine’s Day weekend last year I found myself at Paddles, the local dungeon in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, for the first time. I was perched at the alcohol-free bar when a man politely introduced himself as a human carpet. He asked that I tread on him and lay on the floor to demonstrate. A professional dominatrix-in-training stepped onto his chest and buried her stilettos deep into his belly. His eyes were closed and he looked calm—blissful, really. As a medical student, I winced, imaging the arrangement of his delicate organs in relation to her vicious heels.
Just an hour before, I was in a Hell’s Kitchen diner chatting with a group of people interested in kink or BDSM (bondage-discipline, dominance-submission, and sadism-masochism), which includes consensual yet unconventional sexual behaviors that allow participants to experience different roles and sensations.
The monthly novice “munch” was hosted by the Eulenspiegel Society, one of the oldest and largest BDSM organizations in the US that promotes sexual liberation by holding classes, workshops, and social events around New York City.
There were people from all walks of life—artists, educators, scientists—who ranged in age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and relationship style. Some had been practicing kink privately for years, but were seeking to connect with the larger community. Others were curious and, after mustering up enough courage to attend the meeting, were ready to explore BDSM. I was the lone medical student who wanted to learn from this highly stigmatized group. How can healthcare professionals speak frankly about sex and better care for our patients, of whom a significant number are kinky?
Although studies vary, an estimated 10% of the population has engaged in kink activities, with a much larger proportion interested in it. Those who engage do so along a broad spectrum of activity type and intensity, from a one-time experience to a lifestyle. To bring those numbers into perspective, the 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report (pdf) announced that 9.3% of the US population has diabetes. Think about how many people you’ve met who have diabetes. When you compare the two, kink-oriented people aren’t as rare as they seem. ...
Ham Mason, a queer submissive activist and person of color who has been practicing kink for 20 years, said that there also needs to be more awareness of diversity in the community. “When you think about the face of BDSM, it’s usually either a gay man or straight people and usually the face is white,” she told Quartz. Because of this stereotype, healthcare providers may assume that people of color aren’t kinksters and think that disclosures of kink activity may be a “cover story” for abuse, Mason said. “It could be a matter of having your children taken away or not.”
Her concerns are not unfounded. The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom’s Incident Reporting and Response said it received 178 requests for legal assistance from kink-oriented clients in 2014. These requests involved 73 criminal, 33 child custody, and 15 discrimination issues.
In addition to becoming more kink aware, providers should “assume the potential for abuse exists in all patients” regardless of their social identity or sexual behavior, and screen appropriately, said Lewis. ...
The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom is fighting for your rights. Please support us by joining today!
For the month of February, as Fifty Shades of Grey sweeps the nation, NCSF is holding a membership drive in honor of the BDSM activists, authors and organizers who have helped pave the way for greater tolerance for all kinky people. As a coalition, NCSF is proud to bring together groups, businesses and professionals so we can work together to eliminate discrimination.