Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When is it Sadism and when is it Abuse?

I stumbled upon a conversation recently where people were debating the difference between Sadism and Abuse. They were using a scene from one of my books as a discussion point, which is perfectly fine, I'm flattered that enough people had read my book it could be discussed this way. I didn't enter the conversation because I didn't want to agree or disagree with anyone. I know my intention for that scene - but however they read it is the way they read it, and that's the correct answer for them. A squick for me is a turn on for someone else, and a squick for them might be a turn on for me.

My definition of consent allows for there to be no safeword under certain very defined circumstances. I don't think that can happen overnight. In real life, my husband and I were together for years before we began playing around with periods of time without a safeword. When we first started playing around with it I was very specific as to what he could do that I could not safeword out of. We put it in writing to make sure there were no misunderstandings about it.

We've been together for 15 years now (married for 13 of them) and we rarely use a safeword. There are certain bits of edge play where we use a safeword, and if we try something new then I have a safeword. Otherwise, if there is a problem I tell him the problem - my arm is falling asleep, my leg has a muscle cramp. He usually knows something is wrong before I say something, though.

In any relationship there should be give and take, so both parties get what they want. In a vanilla relationship that probably means both parties go down on each other. Or perhaps one gives massages and the other gives blow jobs. Whatever makes them happy.

In a kinky relationship sometimes that means one person might enjoy medical role play more than the other, while the other partner enjoys sensory deprivation more than the other. So perhaps the Top will provide sensory deprivation for the bottom even though he's not that interested in it from his end... and the bottom will submit to medical play more than she'd prefer because she knows it's a huge turn on for her partner. If the rest of their kinks match up then making concessions for these two kinks isn't that big of a deal in the bigger picture.

In Safeword: Rainbow we see one scene where Tyler spends a lot of time working a flogger on Viv's back, getting her to sub space in an extremely pleasurable way. He's focused on her pleasure in that scene, thinking of what he can do to make it good for her. Later we see him putting her through a very rough scene -- one designed to feed his own sadistic needs. He tells her at the beginning of the scene that, "Some nights being my property means you get pleasure beyond your wildest imagination. Tonight it means pain." During this scene he employs a trick that deliberately keeps her out of subspace because he wants to see her hurt. He doesn't want her to float off into subspace where she can turn the pain into pleasure.

I've heard from so many people about this scene. Some loved it, telling me it was perfect and that it hit all of the right buttons for them. Some people were incredibly uncomfortable with it, but still appreciated it for showing them how something they have no interest at all in doing can be a huge turn on for other people. It's something they hadn't considered, and they appreciated the idea behind it, even if it made them squirm. Others see it as abuse and draw a line in the sand with that scene, saying it went too far. And that's okay. There is no right or wrong answer to how someone reacts to that scene. All reactions are an honest reaction.

Does consent always mean it's not abuse? No. I can think of instances where I feel something is abusive even when there is consent. For instance, I am uncomfortable with situations where someone with no education and no marketable skills and no way to support themselves feels they have no choice but to consent, for fear the person will break up with them and ask them to move out.

What about you? Where do you draw the line? If there is no safeword and the submissive has agreed to that, do you still consider it abuse? If the Dom is only concerned with his own pleasure in a scene every once in a while, does that make it abusive to you?

I think perhaps we're reaching the edges of SSC versus RACK. But this post is long enough so that will have to wait for another day.


  1. I think about this topic a lot. IMO, the scene in your book described above was not abuse, because Vivian was a willing participant, and it didn't go too far for her. I believe she was allowed a safeword at some point if she felt like it was causing her damage?

    I once read a post on a kinky discussion board regarding punishments. The woman said that she once had a punishment that put her in the hospital for two weeks. She stated it very matter-of-factly, as if that was acceptable. Nope. That's abuse. She got dozens of comments stating the same thing. Luckily, she did say that she was no longer with the abuser. I loath abusers disguising themselves as Doms.

    It just depends on how far it goes, and what was agreed upon beforehand. As for a 24/7 TPE situation where the slave has no power to negotiate, then I have no idea!

    ~ Diana

  2. Yes - she had a safeword during that scene. She could have stopped it at any time. But, at that point in time there were certain pre-agreed upon punishments that she could not safeword out of, and I've seen a few people state that any period of time at all without a safeword was unacceptable.

    Which, for them that may be true. As long as they understand that for some people, the idea of trusting someone enough to be able to get rid of the safeword, even if for only small situations here and there, is an incredible turn on.

    I totally agree that punishment that puts someone in the hospital is going too far, though. Maybe that's my line in the sand - hurting someone with their consent is okay, harming them is not.

  3. I like the way you wrote that there were certain punishments without a safeword. I think that's pretty hot. (Though, am I supposed to think that? Well, I do!) I was totally fine with it because they agreed upon the terms of the punishment. She agreed to it, so I don't see it as abusive. Now, if Tyler were to do something that didn't follow the rules or something that really harmed her, then that would raise a *big* red flag. How could she trust him again? Trust is everything.

    ~ Diana

  4. I think its really hard to define the difference between abuse and sadism. What is true for some people is not true for others. If my husband stopped putting my safety and security as his priority then I would not be comfortable with the stuff we do at all and I would feel like I was in another abusive relationship.

  5. I'm with Mockingbird. If the safety and security is no longer a priority, I'd be a bit concerned too.

    I also believe that a hospital visit for two weeks is a problem.

    I think many people we are not in the BDSM lifestyle question what is abuse and what is sadism because it's foreign to them. For those who are in it and have their lines, they don't really debate about this in an esoterica way. It either crosses the line or it does.

    I think I was actually in that discuss you are referencing. I found it amusing and really much ado about nothing. I enjoyed every scene and thought the lack of safeword not a problem.

  6. I was actually more uncomfortable with the first scene, in the dining room. She had a safeword, but it came with an ultimatum: if she used her safeword, there would be no discussion, and no aftercare. He would just stop and leave. I thought that kind of edged on coercion, more than the scene you're talking about in which they had already developed some ground rules and he knew what her limitations were.
    I don't think a woman should be punished for using her safeword, and threatening to walk out on her was, IMHO, a type of threat for the sub in this case.

  7. I'd be pretty ticked if someone threatened no aftercare for using a safeword, too. Here's the dialogue from that part of the scene:


    On the fourth strike she screamed out, "Yellow!", but he said, "I'm sorry Kitten, I'm not going to back off of these final strokes. I've told you exactly how many are left. If you want to Rainbow out of them then I'll stop and we'll have aftercare and I'll still take care of you and make sure you know you are special, but there will be nothing else sexual. Or you can take the rest of what I want to give you and I'll drive you crazy with my mouth on your pussy and then make love to you. Tell me what you want me to do, either safeword or ask me to keep going."

    She was crying as she said, "Please keep going, Master James."


    I agree that threatening to just walk out if there is a safeword would be bad. Very bad. But Tyler didn't do that.

    There are a lot of Doms who will end a scene when a safeword is thrown. They still do aftercare, they aren't mad or anything, but a safeword ends the scene. That's not considered abuse or coercion, it's just the way it works for them.

  8. You're right, I was confusing two parts of the scene. The first part that you quoted, he was promising aftercare, but also dangling a good fuck in front of her, as if to say, "use your safeword and I won't make love to you."

    The second part, he tells her, "if you drop the bell, or throw it at me, or whatever, I'll turn around and walk out the door. Your friend Ron is watching, so he can come get you if that happens. But I will stop talking and walk out the door if you drop the bell."

    Now, he had told her there was nothing sexual about to happen and so no need for a safeword, but like Viv, the reader had no way to trust that completely, and we didn't know what the gag was for--that's why Viv asked for the bell. So, before the reader has a chance to understand that Tyler is about to ONLY talk to her, to "hear" him say that, threaten to walk out if she used the bell, that was a bit harsh.

    Of course, it made the exit all the more dramatic, which is probably what you were aiming for. And in the end, you understand his motives completely.
    Sorry if this got too long.

  9. It wasn't a scene. The scene and aftercare had already happened. There was no more aftercare either way. No sadism, no abuse, he just talked. The bit about dropping the bell was him letting her know she could shut him up if she didn't want to hear anymore of what he was saying. And she could have refused the gag in the first place if she didn't agree to the terms. It wasn't a nice way of telling her, and he apologized for being "chicken shit" about it later. As he should have. But still, I think most men would have just left without saying anything, and I thought that telling her that way was better than just disappearing. It gave them a better starting point three years later.

    It's interesting how different people react to different things though, isn't it?