In an published last week, the Sexpert responded to a question posed by a “Curious Sub.” The article does an excellent job emphasizing communication, consent, and respect, and offers good practical advice on limits, safe words, and check-ins. As Princeton’s kink and BDSM club, we at Princeton Plays believe that the article falls short in other areas. It mischaracterizes BDSM (bondage, dominance/discipline, sadism/submission, masochism) dynamics that do permeate into day-to-day life. It also casts as harmful the wide variety of BDSM practices that exist completely apart from sex.
The author insists that BDSM needs to be limited to individual scenes, “or else fun can easily morph into abuse.” Furthermore, the author writes that “carrying over BDSM dynamics into your day-to-day relationship” is a sign of abuse. This tying of abuse with kink that occurs in day-to-day life is inaccurate and problematic. Such a perspective improperly characterizes healthy relationships as abusive and shames people with desires for such relationships.
Though BDSM activities can occur on a scene-by-scene basis, the article implies that this is the best — and only — option. This implication ignores the full spectrum of BDSM activities. Sure, these activities can be scene-by-scene, meaning that participants negotiate the activity and dynamic each time with clear start and end points, but they can also be incorporated in day-to-day life. For some of us, this may be through a 24/7 dynamic, where participants set up an ongoing, omnipresent dynamic that incorporates kink. For others, it can be one of a wide range of dynamics.
One such dynamic is kink as a disciplinary tool in a person’s day-to-day life, where participants might be held accountable for specific goals and are subject to consequences if they fail to meet their goals. Others find satisfaction in using titles to address each other in private. In these cases, kink is present outside of explicitly sexual situations. When clearly negotiated and enthusiastically agreed upon, these dynamics do not “easily morph into abuse,” as the article writes.
Likewise, 24/7 dynamics can be healthy when everyone is fully informed and enthusiastically consents to kink being a primary aspect of the relationship. For those of us who participate, it can offer numerous opportunities to establish trust and respect between participants, facilitating further BDSM exploration. A 24/7 lifestyle is just one of the many ways to engage in BDSM, and it is just as valid as all the others.
Understandably, the Sexpert focuses on BDSM as it relates to sex, but for many of us, BDSM is not an inherently sexual pursuit. Some of us separate BDSM from sex, finding enjoyment in the act of giving up control or being restrained, rather than the sex that may or may not go along with that. According to one , BDSM acts allow participants to enter a state of flow independent of sexual arousal that is not unlike a runner’s high. For many participants of non-sexual BDSM, it is precisely this feeling that drives them.
Tying BDSM to sex also overlooks the fact that many people who identify as asexual do participate in BDSM. An asexual women writes in a that orgasm is not her goal in BDSM. Instead, “pleasure itself becomes the goal.” In these cases, pleasure and arousal are not inherently tied. For instance, some may find pleasure in using BDSM as a form of non-sexual intimacy. The intimacy here might lie in a shared vulnerability, where the submissive may find a feeling of liberation in giving up control to the dominant, and the dominant treasures the power and trust given to them.
At Princeton Plays, we advocate for all kink and BDSM that is risk-aware and consensual. To maintain agency and empowerment in BDSM dynamics – regardless of the degree to which they permeate day-to-day life – we suggest that participants prioritize open communication. Feeling safe in their environment and trusting each other are good prerequisites to have before participants engage in kinky activities. They should discuss their boundaries and expectations for the scene, and their relationship. After play and every few weeks, they should check in with their partner(s) to make sure everyone is on board with the dynamic.
As a club, we take the view that if someone wishes to try a scene, a 24/7 relationship, or some dynamic in between, they should pursue it – within the limits of . In doing so, they are being empowered and exercising their agency.
Princeton Plays is a student organization. The organization can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.