Monday, May 09, 2005
I keep an ongoing list of topics I should write about, and for some time now I've had a "ethics of BDSM" entry there. But it's a big subject, and I've been slow to engage it. That's why I'm very pleased to see that kink activist David Stein has done something great with it. (Note: if you'd like to read some interesting essays and articles about the art of consensual slavery, Google "slave david stein". He's written some good stuff .)
Now, without further ado...
SOME PRINCIPLES OF ETHICAL BDSM
Copyright is hereby waived to the following, which may be reprinted or reposted without charge or permission, but please give credit where due! Anyone may adapt and build on this starting point -- including the author. Thanks to the many participants in the workshop at Leather Leadership Conference IX in Phoenix, AZ, where these principles made their debut and received some much-needed qualifications, corrections, and additions.
slave david stein, firstname.lastname@example.org, ward of Master Steve Sampson 4/20/05
AIM AT EXCELLENCE IN ALL THAT YOU DO. Otherwise, why bother? There are much easier ways to get off. Everyone who comes under your hand, or whom you submit to or serve, should be better off for the experience. Does this mean humiliation or degradation have no place in ethical BDSM? As training tools, they do; as ends in themselves, no.
BE HONEST. Don't tell lies. Don't be complicit in lies by others. Withhold no necessary information. Never promise what you can't deliver. Acknowledged roles and fantasies aside, don't pretend to be what or who you're not. As far as possible, know your own limits and make them clear to your partner -- but also realize, if you're a bottom, sub, or slave, that these may be farther out than you imagine they are.
DO NO HARM. Giving or accepting pain is okay. Marks may be okay, even permanent ones. Temporary disabilities may be okay if complete healing is to be expected. Even helping someone die who's irreparably damaged and ready to go might be okay. But inflicting permanent harm that diminishes the quality of life or the ability to function in society and to earn a living is not okay. If you break your toys, you can't play with them anymore. And if you're a bottom, submissive, or slave, demoralizing your tops or Masters will mean that no one will want to play with, control, or own you anymore.
NEITHER INFLICT NOR ACCEPT PAIN UNINTENTIONALLY. Causing indiscriminate, unintentional pain is the mark of a bully or a dolt, while accepting pain as simply one's lot in life is a victim mentality. Sadism and Mastery are about control, and the ethical dimension requires control of the sadist or Master's own impulsive behavior. But the same goes for bottoms, submissives, and slaves, who can inflict enormous pain on their partners without meaning to, simply by acting without thinking first. And they should also take care not to accept pain they don't want, especially without a context that makes it meaningful (such as serving a beloved Dominant or Master). Pain in BDSM ought to be a deliberate transaction, not an accident or a byproduct.
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR ASSESSING AND MANAGING YOUR OWN RISKS. Whether you get off on risk or not, risk-management is not the exclusive responsibility of the top or Master. Everyone involved needs to become informed about the risks involved in whatever kind of scene is in the offing and decide whether they're worth running, as well as how to reduce or eliminate unnecessary risks. Being careless or stupid isn't "hot" -- it's just careless or stupid.
DON'T USE BDSM FOR THERAPY COVERTLY. Don't trap an s/m partner, let alone a D/s partner, into filling a therapist's role for you. A BDSM session can bring up deep issues and have a therapeutic effect, but unless you discuss this intention or possibility with your partner ahead of time, try to keep your personal shit out of the dungeon. The same goes double for a D/s relationship. While we should all seek whatever healing we need, whether through BDSM or otherwise, no one wants to feel, afterward, that you were just using her or him to work out your issues. If you have specific psychic or emotional trigger points, make sure your partner knows about them beforehand -- and can be trusted to avoid triggering them.
EVERYONE SHOULD FEEL GOOD ABOUT IT WHEN IT'S OVER. And this "no regrets" reaction shouldn't be limited to just five minutes later, but persist through the next day, the next week, the next month, and longer -- the more intense the session, the more time someone may need to process the feelings it brought up. With few exceptions, unless you leave your partner(s) wanting to do it again, the session wasn't right. Ideally, the same should be true of a relationship when it's over (this is much harder, but even more important).
KINKY PEOPLE ARE STILL PEOPLE. Even when we're puppies or ponies, Masters or Goddesses, slaves or toys, no one is invulnerable, unfeeling, or unworthy of the presumption of respect.
RIGHT IS BETTER THAN "RIGHT NOW." Patience is essential. Learn to wait for the right moment, the right partner, the right time to present itself. Don't be afraid to say, "Thank you, no," or "Not now." Learn to listen to your gut the right way -- not the part that screams, "Feed me!" but the part that whispers, "No, there's something wrong here" or "Yes, this is it. Go for it!"
TREAT OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELF. Don't shortchange them the way you often do yourself. Treat others the way you'd treat yourself if you had time for it . . . if you weren't feeling so guilty . . . if you didn't have all these deadline pressures . . . if you didn't have higher priorities . . . if you weren't a closet masochist . . .
FINISH WHAT YOU START. Don't take control of a bottom's mind unless you know how to return it again when you're finished. Don't break a bottom or a slave you're not prepared to put back together again. Don't enter training without intending to complete it, come what may (barring only the most extreme circumstances). Don't walk out of a scene partway through; if there's provocation that can't be ignored, walk away and calm down, then come back and finish it. If you enter a contractual D/s or M/s relationship, fulfill your end of the bargain no matter what; even though you can walk away without legal consequences, you forfeit your honor. Caveat: Don't enter such a contract unless there are provisions for honorable release if either party comes to find the terms intolerable. "Honorable" means due responsibility is accepted, but there's no shame, no blame, and no drama. Both parties walk away with a clean reputation and no animus toward the other.
DON'T MESS WITH SOMEONE'S LIVELIHOOD OR FAMILY. Unless someone explicitly invites you into the parts of her or his life that concern family or making a living, it's best to assume these are off limits. Therefore, nothing should occur during a session that might threaten those areas unless consent is secured in advance, before any action starts. For instance: shaving the head or eyebrows, piercings, tattooing, preventing someone from reporting in to work or calling family members . . . . The same goes for a bottom, sub, or slave encroaching on a partner's private space, like calling a number you were told not to use or interacting with his/her work colleagues or family members even though you haven't been introduced.
DON'T TAKE YOUR PARTNER(S) FOR GRANTED. Depend on them, count on them, lean on them as needed and appropriate, but never, ever lose the awareness that their presence in your life is a gift and a grace, not an entitlement, not even a quid pro quo. This is so whether you are a top or a bottom, a Master or a slave, a Dominant or a submissive, or even a switch. Having one or more partners you can count on, whether for a scene or a lifetime, is an incalculable gift. Don't devalue it by taking it for granted.
RESPECT DIVERSITY. Not everyone is turned on, or off, by the same things, or to the same degree, and that's okay. Not everyone does things the same way either, and that's okay, too. There's more than one way to swing a cat, to process pain, to wrap a mummy, to train a slave, to serve a Mistress, to scare an adrenaline junkie out of his skin, or to bring the biggest smile ever to a hard-working top's face. Be very grateful if you can master one of these ways, and don't use your achievement to put down someone who's taken a different route to the same goal.