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One of the frequent appeals of BDSM is the close approach it makes to the dark aspects of life. While mature adults distinguish between fantasy and reality, people are nevertheless drawn to contemplating what they also would fear and despise in reality.
History of Punishments
BDSM offers a consensual, controllably safe framework in which tops and bottoms alike can and often do gradually talk about, explore,and experience an approach to these dark fantasies. While carrying out such heavier play is not for everyone, much actual BDSM draws some of its elements from fascination with such darkness. The range of exploration is very wide. It is always highly tailored between individuals who, ideally, constantly re-evaluate consent and caring between each other.
The extent of communication and prior negotiation that typically goes on before people play in the ways I will describe in this section cannot be overemphasized. The people I know who play in these ways do so with awe-inspiring awareness of the extremity of the risks they are taking with regard to their emotional lives and physical well-being. Most important of all, they know that they might not understand all the ways it can go wrong. Responsibility for oneself and for one's partner is the essence of this kind of play.
Sensible people do not play this way without discussing the possible negative outcomes. This includes allocating responsibility for dealing with long-term repercussions and recuperations in extreme situations. Failure to discuss in advance expectations about aftercare can lead to the top's feeling trapped into supplying endless emotional support or the bottom's feeling emotionally abandoned. (For more about aftercare, see Part 2.)
If you are a novice, the ideas in this section are not kinds of play that are recommended. I'm not going to whitewash the risks; but neither am I going to whitewash all of BDSM by pretending that such dark kinds of play do not exist. It's out there, and if it appeals to you, you might be able to find a way to work these things out with your partner. Better that you should know what problems -- and what joys! -- others have encountered and what concerns they have considered than that you should have to re-invent the wheel for yourself.
Consensual nonconsensuality (sometimes called metaconsent) refers to play wherein the bottom gives explicit consent in advance for the top to violate consent at the time of play. When play ensues, the top makes the call. If the top believes things are going according to plan, then no matter what the bottom says or does, the play continues. If things go wrong or the top misjudged, it is up to the partners to work it out afterwards. If it was a great experience for the bottom, super! If it was a horrible experience, maybe the worst thing in the bottom's life, then the partners have to deal afterwards. In the most common middle ground, there was a learning experience for both partners -- some good aspects, some bad. The partners talk it out and ideally appreciate that they did in their lives this difficult thing, whether they decide to repeat it, improve on it, or never go there again.
Sometimes, to make such scenes feasible, the bottom gives up any right to safeword that the bottom may previously have had. In light of this custom, such scenes are sometimes called no-safeword play or scenes. Not all play that involves the bottom's not having the right to safeword includes any pushing into such ambiguous terrain! The hyphenated phrase "no-safeword play" implies consensual nonconsensuality, pushing by prior consent into regions that are unwanted by the bottom at the time they happen. (For more on safewords, see Part 2.)
Why ever would anyone do consensual nonconsensuality, risking having a horrible experience at the time of play and possible negative long-term effects? One reason is that sometimes the bottom becomes intrigued to go someplace that is too scary to give an obvious ok to at the time it happens. Recall that "edge play" means playing close to or at a person's individual limit, no matter how arbitrary that limit may be. (See Part 2.) There are places people play that are so close to that edge that the bottom himself or herself just cannot predict in advance or even know at the time whether the experience of going beyond that point will turn out to be good or bad. Sometimes people prefer to experience these things than to try to think about them. Sometimes trying it is the only way to find out if something that draws you is the fabulous joy you want it to be, or the awful horror your common sense tells you it might be. It is a question of deciding how much risk you want to take.
Another reason people sometimes play beyond the edge of on-the-spot consent is that as partners become involved, the individuals learn more about each other. Simultaneously, trust deepens. Part of that trust sometimes involves an understanding that the other person just might know something about you that you fear to try even though the experience could turn out to be something you like. The possibility of overcoming a fear or learning to enjoy something new can be very appealing. It has the potential to expand the opportunities and joys you experience in life.
And for some people, the very essence of the appeal is precisely that the play will go too far in some dimension, pushing the bottom into regions that are beyond endurance, beyond conception, beyond self-control, beyond escape, and beyond consent.
Sometimes the trust and hope are unwarranted. Letting one's top lead one beyond the edge could result in a fiasco of discovering not only that the particular kind of play was unwanted, but that the relationship itself was not what the bottom thought. Every time partners explore consensual nonconsensuality, relationships can be destroyed. That is one risk. In practice, with quality communication, it is not the usual result. But it can happen.
Other times, the trust is warranted, but the experience is just not a happy one, perhaps not even after the fact. In those cases, the partners usually work hard at aftercare and in good faith work things out in time. And in the best of worlds, the play is fantastic, an experience that is a perfect realization of a dream, fantasy, or something too frightening to contemplate that turns out to be a wonderful experience. It can turn out to be an eye-opener about oneself and one's behavior in extreme situations that changes or expands for the better one's possibilities in life.
No one can make these decisions or weigh these trade-offs for you personally but you.
One of the most common fantasies for females is some concept of rape, overpowerment, or abduction. Many males experience such fantasies as well! But in this section I am going to focus on females as bottoms because of how common the fantasy is, particularly with regard to rape scenes.
The entire genre of romance novels is premised on women's relating in a variety of ways to some pleasure in the complex balance between resisting, being abducted, tied, overpowered, and then either rescued or finally giving in to what turns out to be the beneficence or romantic strength of someone who might initially appear to be up to no good. Pirates, motorcyclists, superior beings from outer space, and all kinds of "bad boys" historically have this kind of appeal in fiction and in reality for many women. Possibly there is a genetic attraction associated with the strength and smarts it takes to be a leader or a maverick and to accomplish overpowerment in such ways. Whatever the source of the appeal, it is quite a common fantasy.
Rape scenes are scenes. That is, they are consensual, and fundamentally so. They are not rapes. They are pre-arranged scenes that mimic or create the feelings of some aspects of rape. The extent of realism and which aspects are replicated are up to the individuals to work out.
For the majority of folks who play this way, the "rape" consists merely of a sense of overpowerment by one's beloved. There is no perception of nonconsensuality whatsoever. All that may be involved may be a tussle on the bed, a heated act of holding the bottom's hands down on the bed during sex, or a sexual "taking" by the top, say by the top's coming in the bottom's mouth, cunt, or ass without necessarily bringing the bottom to orgasm at the time. In other cases, mindfucks are involved (see Part 1). For lots of folks this can be incredibly hot, making for great sex for the bottom (and the top!), orgasm or not.
But some rape scenes can be and are arranged at the entire opposite end of the spectrum. Namely, if you know the right people in BDSM, and if you trust your top to know such trustworthy people, it is possible to arrange for people you don't know and will never know to abduct you at night off the street and perpetrate what you will absolutely believe at the time is a rape. This is uncommon as all get-out as a scene! Not many women would want anything this extreme. But it is feasible and sometimes desired. Safe sex can be negotiated as part of it; mindfucks or illusions of things happening that are not happening can be negotiated as fair game; being informed at the time or later can be negotiated.... Anything the bottom (or top!) needs to feel comfortable with can be worked out. Including the element of surprise: A common method of handling surprise is for the top to listen and make no promises, and then not do a thing about the scene for six months to a year. Then the bottom heads to another city for a business trip and goes to the airport late that night to go home, and, well, doesn't make the plane. Is that what you want? For lots of folks, that would be going too far. For others, it would be a dream come true.
The balance between the perception and fear that the activity might be "real" versus a "scene" is complex and up to the individuals to work out. One variant is your beloved "forcing" sexual acts upon you. You know all along it is just a scene. The other is where you really have no idea till afterwards that it was something arranged by your top; you believe at the time that it is a real-life rape, with all the concommitant horrors of assault, violation, and fear. The latter is a full-blown rape scene. Most people who toy with the concept of rape scenes want something in between.
I call the middle ground forced sex for lack of a better term. Most women want to know who is perpetrating sexual acts on them, even if there is an overtone of violence or force. They want to know right away or very quickly that it is a scene and not a real rape. They want to have had some kind of prior discussion or agreement letting their partner know which feelings and actions are within reasonable bounds. Most commonly, though not always, they want the perpetrator only to be their primary partner. It is one thing for your beloved to pin you down when you are fighting back or even screaming "Stop," and for him to force his cock into your mouth so hard that you cannot breathe. It is one thing to be terrified that this violent part of someone you thought you loved or trusted is something you have never encountered before, and to pray you can get it all figured out when you can breathe again. But it is quite another thing for a stranger to appear suddenly in your bedroom and do the same things.
For a top to assume in any way what a bottom might want when it comes to playing with rape
Log of an IRC Seminar
on Rape Scenes
Let's get this straight right now: People who do BDSM do not do snuff scenes -- scenes wherein the bottom is killed nonconsensually at the end. This is the stuff of fantasy and film pornography only. It is not consensual, it is not consensual nonconsensuality, and it is not what BDSM is about.
Though it can be hot to think about. But therein lies a big difference.
In general, a bottom's asking actually to be killed in the context of a scene is both unlikely and a suicide warning bell. It is one thing to fantasize, and another to want to carry something like this out to completion in actuality.
There are, however, several ways that people who fantasize such things do take approaches to them into reality. The most common is via mindfucks. If a bottom wants the experience of believing he or she could die in scene without actually risking death, many creative tops can work out ways to accomplish this illusion. Heavier kinds of play where there is in fact some known risk of the bottom's dying -- although the bottom's actually dying is not the immediate goal of the play -- do also occur.
Wondering what it feels like to face death or to face the fear of death are sometimes cited as reasons people play in such ways.
A Breath Control
Breath Control Safety Articles
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Another occasional way in which the possibility of death in scene sometimes gets considered is with regard to a person's own death if that death would follow a terminal, painful illness. Whether or not I sanction the morality of such acts, the discussion of euthanasia is not unique to BDSM. Just as most vanillas could not easily live with themselves after doing such a thing to a beloved, most tops could not easily live with themselves after doing such a thing. Even in the most humane of circumstances, killing a beloved leaves an emotional burden for the survivor, not to mention the legal issues that may be pursued. Nevertheless, for those who both are not uncomfortable with euthanasia and do BDSM, the concept of combining the two is sometimes discussed.
There are many other variations of fantasizing about the possibility of death in scene, some of which are powerful draws despite the appearance of romanticizing. The perception of adoring one's beloved top or dom to the extent of being willing to die if that would be the top's will is very common. Most bottoms and submissives who fantasize such things sensibly rationalize the conundrum by knowing that their top would never do such a thing to them -- they know they are loved, and they are offering extreme trust in return. Proof of uncompromising love and devotion is surely at the crux of these fantasies. There may be a genetic basis for the desire of humans to be willing to die for someone they love. That orgasms are sometimes described as "little deaths" is probably related -- the drive to procreate, perhaps even at the risk of one's own death, is probably deeply ingrained in all successful species and probably attached in complex ways to human perceptions of what love is about.
Neither is it uncommon for tops to fantasize "kill scenes," or scenes involving extreme tortures they would not actually perpetrate on their beloveds. Both tops and bottoms agonize about the meanings of such dark fantasies, which can be confusing and troubling. Why would one get turned on by killing or torture even on rare occasions in one's fantasy life? Why would one get turned on by being held at the point of death or strangled eye-to-eye by one's beloved? More troubling still is the fact that most adults have in their lives done some harm to someone at some point over the years. The realization that one is human coupled with such dark fantasies gives most people pause. Many tops adjudge their earlier errors and indiscretions more harshly as they begin to confront and learn more about the power of consensual BDSM, and wonder if their earlier actions came from cold parts of them that they should worry about when it comes to the BDSM they engage in.
Whatever the deeper answers, there is a big difference between fantasy and action. Though BDSM allows many people to pursue aspects of their fantasy lives more deeply than vanilla sex would, that still does not mean one acts as if there is carte blanche. Most people draw ethical, moral, and safety lines for themselves long before they enact the most horrific of their fantasies. Killing one's bottom is unproductive in the long run, after all!
It is a common warning for tops doing BDSM never to play in anger. Being a top means first taking responsibility to exhibit self-control. Playing in anger instead of cooling off first risks irresponsible damage. Apart from the risk of physically harming one's bottom if one loses control in scene, there is also the risk of emotional damage to the bottom and to the entire relationship. Bottoms and submissives deal with enough emotional stress in scene without adding on top of that the stress of panic that one's lover is deeply angry, no longer feels love, or is out of control. And most important of all, anger should lead to rational, adult conversation and communication about the reasons for the anger, opportunities by both parties to speak forthrightly and in self-defense, and mature decisions about what to do to avoid future problems or misunderstandings. For the top to eschew mature conversation and act instead in a moment of uncontrolled fury is irresponsible at minimum.
But -- and there are always "buts" in BDSM -- despite all these cautions, there are cases where tops do play in anger and may not in fact be abdicating these responsibilities. In some relationships, for the top to act in anger is consensual. Ideally the partners discuss this in advance. Ideally, the top does not ever actually lose self-control to the point of damaging the bottom. Ideally, the partners communicate and talk as adults about what happened between them in addition to the actions during any scene proper. Unquestionably, it is an extremely risky way to comport a relationship, much less play. It is not for everyone.
Why might playing in anger be an acceptable form of play for partners to agree on? Playing in anger may be cathartic for the partners or may serve as an act of penance for the bottom. Alternatively, playing with anger may be directly erotic. Yet another possibility is that the bottom's compassion for a top's temporary life stresses can sometimes mean the bottom's making some space for the top to take out aggressions so long as there is no extreme violation involved. (Presumably in the last case the bottom does have the sense and ability to draw the line should the top take advantage of this compassion routinely. But occasional gifts and sacrifices by lovers for their partners in extreme circumstances, however difficult these occasions may be to evaluate, are not necessarily signs of abuse or self-abuse. This does not mean one should be inattentive to considering the possibilities.)
Whatever the pros and cons, it is sometimes part of the agreement that the bottom or submissive trusts the top or dom enough to allow the expression of even extreme anger over some real-life matter in scene. In personal matters in complex, loving relationships, play and non-play sometimes intertwine.
Emotional degradation is a form of emotional SM (see Part 1) that goes beyond embarrassment or humiliation into the realm of stripping the bottom of self-esteem or inner resources. For many people being embarrassed, humiliated, or even degraded can be very hot. Where to draw the line, and how to be sure that the loss of self-esteem stays under control and does not pervade aspects of life where it is unwanted can be very difficult to assess.
The heavier and riskier forms of this kind of play bring up questions about potentially damaging someone's self-respect both in and out of scene. While many males find it very hot to be told their cocks are small and unsatisfying in scene, and many females and males alike find it very hot to be told they are dirty, disgusting, or too ugly to desire, it would potentially be damaging to reinforce someone's negative self-image. To tell someone that he is stupid, useless, or undesirable may be hot for the person at the time, but it carries a lot of risk if it is repeated daily. It is the responsibility of the partners to consider the long-term self-esteem issues involved and to be sure that this kind of play does not lead into nonconsensual areas that sneak up on the partners over time.
More than most kinds of risky play, emotional degradation seems to risk a relationship's crossing the line into abuse. If the submissive or bottom is constantly told he or she is useless or subject to the top/dom's every whim, told to stay home doing the only lowly tasks he or she is good for, devoid of an outside job, school, or independent friends, and otherwise made dependent financially and emotionally on the top/dom for any kind of support or approval, how do the partners know if consent is still being given of free will? Even though such a model of abject subjection and extreme dependency on one's dom or top is appealing to many people, top and bottom alike, there is a substantial long-run risk of entrapment involved. Such relationships can start off with freely given and informed consent, but risk long-run emotional damage as well as the loss of opportunities in life.
Not all such relationships go down such a sad road! But to not think about the risks in advance and periodically reevaluate the situation is foolish.
Some people fantasize about being blackmailed. After all, blackmail is a form of control. While this is an extreme form of play that is rarely talked about in public, it does occur consensually. In one variant, the bottom consensually gives the top control over financial resources like bank accounts. If the bottom does not do the top's bidding or maintain whatever agreement was made, the top takes away the resources or reduces the bottom's allotment. In another variant, the top investigates the bottom's life and threatens to reveal unacceptable details to family or an employer unless payment or acquiescent behavior are forthcoming. Obviously, smaller amounts of resources afford less risk. But most of the time I have heard of this kind of play, it involves astonishingly large sums, even a person's entire savings.
Clearly this sort of play risks the top's not returning the resources or using them inappropriately. Disputes, particularly between unmarried lovers, can be hard to resolve. Under ordinary social mores, many would doubt that anyone can possibly give fully informed consent to something so extreme. But it is a fact that people do play this way. For some it is successful play.
Successful forms of this play sometimes entail specific goals for the bottom, such as studying harder at school, losing weight, or more frivolous goals such as the bottom's learning to kneel each night before bed. These are examples of behavioral reform, which is discussed more in Part 4. The palpable reality of actually losing money can be highly motivating as well as erotic. Complete financial dependency or vulnerability can also be a form of erotic control.
There are instances of people losing a lot of money this way. You are very foolish if you think it can't possibly happen to you because your dom or top would never do that to you or because you will never have a dispute with your partner. The person you have negotiated with may be completely serious when it comes to the financial threats involved in whatever contractual arrangements you agree to. In fact, for many, the appeal of this kind of play is inherently intertwined with the top's "badness," seriousness, or unpredictability. On the other hand, there are people in long-term relationships whose subjection or jeopardy does consensually and erotically involve the handing over of such financial reins. After all, many traditional marriages throughout the world involve similar arrangements, with the female having no independent resources. Such arrangements, while they may not appeal to feminists, do not innately preclude happiness or love in life.
Freeloading and BDSM
Tops and doms can get used as well as bottom and subs, if the negotiations are not clear and mutually acceptable. For the top to provide financial support for the bottom with nothing commensurate granted in return is also unlikely to be tenable in a long-term relationship.
If you are considering such an extreme form of play, it makes sense to consider getting a good lawyer to go over any contract you sign. You should also consider the long-term situation you may be putting yourself or your dependents in if you cannot reclaim resources in the event of a broken relationship or contract. I don't know of any court cases to date of anyone suing to reclaim resources surrendered to a dom in such circumstances, but I won't be surprised to hear it come up eventually.
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