The Fantasy of Acceptable 'Non-Consent': Why the Female Sexual Submissive Scares Us (and Why She Shouldn't)
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It's important to point out that, however you attempt to excuse it, this inability to accept BDSM into the feminist dialogue is really just a form of kinkophobia, a widely accepted prejudice against the practice of power-exchange sex. Patrick Califia, writer and advocate of BDSM pornography and practice, wisely states that "internalized kinkophobia is the unique sense of shame that many, if not most, sadomasochists feel about their participation in a deviant society." This hatred of self can be particularly strong among feminist submissives, when an entire community that they identify with either dismisses their desires or pegs them as unwitting victims.
It's taken me many years of unlearning mainstream power dynamics to understand and accept my own desire for fictional, fetishized ones. Despite this deliberate journey of self-discovery and the accompanying (and perhaps contradictory) feelings of being in total control, it's pretty evident that the feminist movement at large is not really ready to admit that women who like to be hit, choked, tied up and humiliated are empowered. Personally, the more I submitted sexually, the more I was able to be autonomous in my external life, the more I was able to achieve equality in my sexual and romantic partnerships, and the more genuine I felt as a human being. Regardless, I always felt that by claiming submissive status I was being highlighted as part of a social dynamic that sought to violate all women. Sadly, claims of sexual emancipation do not translate into acceptance for submissives -- the best a submissive can hope for is to be labeled and condescended to as a damaged victim choosing submission as a way of healing from or processing past trauma and abuse.
Whether or not it's difficult to accept that the desire to be demeaned is not a product of a society that seeks to objectify women, I would argue that, regardless of appearance, by its very nature BDSM is constantly about consent. Of course, its language and rules differ significantly from vanilla sexual scenes, but the very existence of a safe word is the ultimate in preventing violation -- it suggests that at any moment, regardless of expectations or interpretations on the part of either party, the act can and will end. Ignoring the safe word is a clear act of violation that is not up for any debate. Because of this, BDSM sex, even with all its violent connotations, can be much "safer" than non-safe-word sex. While not very romantic in the traditional sense, the rules are clear -- at any moment a woman (or man) can say no, regardless of the script she (or he) is using.
The safe, sane, and consensual BDSM landscape is made up of stringent rules and safe practices designed to protect the feelings of everyone involved and to ensure constant, enthusiastic consent. The culture could not exist if this were not the case; a submissive participates in power exchange because a safe psychological space is offered up to do so. That space creates an opportunity for a display of endurance, a relief from responsibility, and feelings of affection and security. Before any "scene" begins, the rules are made clear and the limitations agreed upon.
Finding a partner or dom to play with is the ultimate achievement in trust, and giving someone the power to hurt you for pleasure is both liberating and powerful. The more I embrace submissive sexuality, the more I come to learn that, despite all appearances to the contrary, consensual, respectful SM relationships generally dismantle the very tropes that rape culture is founded on.