Today feels like a good day to pay homage to a book that is the best collection of academic research and community-based literature on BDSM that I’ve read: Safe, Sane and Consensual: Contemporary Perspectives on Sadomasochism, edited by Dr. Darren Langdridge and Dr. Meg Barker (2008). The following excerpts have acted as a source of motivation for my own academic research into the psychological and interpersonal landscapes of BDSM. These quotes are all from Part I: Introducing Sadomasochism, and I highly recommend reading the text in context, as well as all of the parts that follow—Theorising Pain and Injury. Empirical Research, Therapeutic Pespectives, and Bridging the Academic/Activist Divide.
“Most of the stories which reach beyond communities to the outside world are watered down, ‘mainstreamed,’ and deeply de-sexualised—often focused on an SM aesthetic rather than anyone involved in SM would identify as something they do” (Situating Sadomasochism, Darren Langdridge and Meg Barker, p. 4).
“Consent is a particularly problematic concept, that has been troubled in an important way by feminist scholarship” (Situating Sadomasochism, Darren Langdridge and Meg Barker, p. 4).
“The voice of the radical feminist drowns out the voice of the woman SMer” (Situating Sadomasochism, Darren Langdridge and Meg Barker, p. 5).
“The overwhelming whiteness of writing on SM is something that deeply troubles us. [There is] a lack of writing on race, ethnicity, trans, disability…” (Situating Sadomasochism, Darren Langdridge and Meg Barker, p. 6).
“This paper defines S/M as a broad range of consensual, erotic, interpersonal interactions involving the administration and reception of pain and/or the enactment of dominant and submissive power dynamics. Historical evidence suggests that behaviours imitative of those we contemporarily identify as S/M have occurred for millennia” (The Cultural Formation of S/M: History and Analysis, Kathy Sisson, p. 12).
“Up until the 1940s, no clear distinction between sexual orientation and S/M practice appears in the literature. A distinct gay male leather community developed in the USA in the 1940s…distinct heterosexual and lesbian S/M communities emerged in the 1970s. Due in large part to the viturperous feminist sex wars during the second wave of feminism, a considerable literature on lesbian S/M communities exists as well. I suggest that these three distinct S/M communities, gay, lesbian and heterosexual, co-exist today as part of the larger S/M sexual culture. However, a paucity of data exists regarding the development and characteristics of heterosexual S/M communities and culture” (The Cultural Formation of S/M: History and Analysis, Kathy Sisson, p. 13).
“Psychopathia Sexualis (1886) also popularized the binary sexual identity schema based on gender or sex of object choice – homosexual or heterosexual” (The Cultural Formation of S/M: History and Analysis, Kathy Sisson, p. 15).
“Gosselin, Wilson and Barrett administered the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire to 57 S/M-identified women and found that, although the women showed ‘high psychoticism, low neuroticism and high libido traditionally associated with a stereotypic “male” image…this is not to say that the behavior of S/M women should be regarded as pathological…’” (The Cultural Formation of S/M: History and Analysis, Kathy Sisson, p. 24).
“Echoing the removal of homosexuality from the DSM in 1973, researchers, clinicians and activists are beginning to challenge the DSM diagnosis of sadism and masochism” (The Cultural Formation of S/M: History and Analysis, Kathy Sisson, p. 25).
“Masochistic interactions would provide ‘a temporary and powerful escape from high-level awareness of self as an abstract, temporally extended, symbolically constructed identity, to a low-level, temporally constricted awareness of self as physical body, focusing on immediate sensations (both painful and pleasant) and on being a sexual object.’ By temporarily adopting a masochistic identity, individuals could escape the ‘burden of selfhood’ and achieve respite from the demands of modern society.” (The Cultural Formation of S/M: History and Analysis, Kathy Sisson, p. 27).
“Weinberg (1994) suggests six prerequisite social criteria for the institutionalization of S/M interests into S/M culture: embedded power relations, social acceptance of aggression, unequal power distribution, leisure time, imagination and creativity.” (The Cultural Formation of S/M: History and Analysis, Kathy Sisson, p. 27).
“McClintock (1993) suggests S/M is uniquely well-suited sexually for post-modern, post-procreative society because it flaunts socially constructed power, gender roles, identity and eroticism [and] proposes several ways in which S/M accomplishes this: (1) S/M subverts reified social power relations by creativing and enacting exaggerated power roles and by appropriating the privelege to punish; (2) S/M challenges the boundaries of sanctioned gender role behavior by allowing either gender to assume dominant and submissive roles; (3) S/M mocks the concept of a unitary, fixed identity by allowing participants to move fluidly in and out of an S/M sexual identity and by facilitating participants’ adoption of various fantasy and S/M roles; and (4) S/M deconstructs the paradigm of genitally oriented eroticism by utilizing non-genital, non-erogenous sites on the body for sexual arousal” (The Cultural Formation of S/M: History and Analysis, Kathy Sisson, p. 28).
“BDSM is a term used to describe a variety of sexual behaviours that have an implicit or explicit power differential as a significant aspect of the erotic interaction” (Themes of SM Expression, Charles Moser and Peggy J. Kleinplatz, p. 35).
“The subjective aspects of SM require their own taxonomy. Motives and intentions are complex and cannot ever be deduced from observation alone” (Themes of SM Expression, Charles Moser and Peggy J. Kleinplatz, p. 37).
“SM is said to have five common features: the appearance of dominance and submission, role-playing, mutual definition, consensuality and a sexual context for the individual… The emphasis here is on the appearance of dominance and submission, because the actual power in the relationship is much more subtle… SM is consensual by definition. Just as the difference between consensual coitus and rape is consent, the difference between SM and violence is consent. Non-consensual acts are criminal” (Themes of SM Expression, Charles Moser and Peggy J. Kleinplatz, p. 38).
“For others, the role-play provides the context for the SM and, sometimes, even for the relationship itself. That is, they find the roles create the erotic backdrop for the relationship; without these roles the partner would cease to be attractive” (Themes of SM Expression, Charles Moser and Peggy J. Kleinplatz, p. 42).
“Of interest, the ‘Mommy-boy’ dynamic is less common and often cast as an ‘adult-baby’ relationship… Even though these terms denote the gender of the participants, one cannot infer the sex of the participants from this language; lesbians often employ the ‘male’ terms and some men use the ‘female’ terms” (Themes of SM Expression, Charles Moser and Peggy J. Kleinplatz, p. 43).
“It is well known that sexual arousal alters pain perception, elevating pain thresholds over 80%…” (Themes of SM Expression, Charles Moser and Peggy J. Kleinplatz, p. 45).
“…a fetish is distinct from partialism; the latter involves a strong sexual attraction towards a part of the body. Within the SM community, both possibilities are merged together and referred to as a fetish” (Themes of SM Expression, Charles Moser and Peggy J. Kleinplatz, p. 49).
“One of the difficulties in designating any set of proclivities as pathological is the lack of criteria for what constitutes ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ sexuality… The lack of objective criteria makes it all too easy for mental health professionals to rely upon predominant cultural values to guide assessments… At present, Western clinicians tend to think of ‘normal’ sexuality as monogamous, procreation-oriented intercourse, featuring the heterosexual, young (but not too young) and able-bodied” (Is SM Pathological?, Peggy J. Kleinplatz and Charles Moser, p. 55).
“…when distress is manifest, it may result primarily from social stigma surrounding SM. This phenomenon is akin to internalized homonegativity in gay and lesbian individuals. The recommended ‘treatment’ is to validate the distress rather than to ‘cure’ the SM desires… As for impairment, this [DSM] criterion is particularly noteworthy in illustrating the social biases that continue to pervade the DSM. For example, the DSM considers it a sign of impairment if SM is ‘obligatory’; why single out some behaviours as pathological when required for sexual fulfillment and not others? Why not decree that people who require heterosexual intercourse to reach orgasm are pathological? Actually that was precisely the case during the 1950s when women who ‘failed’ to achieve orgasm during intercourse were labeled ‘frigid’” (Is SM Pathological?, Peggy J. Kleinplatz and Charles Moser, p. 57).
“In the absence of theory or research demonstrating what constitutes ‘normal’ sexuality, it is all too easy to pathologize the unconventional based on prevailing social currents. SM is particularly liable to being stigmatized in societies uneasy with sexual pleasure for its own sake” (Is SM Pathological?, Peggy J. Kleinplatz and Charles Moser, p. 60).
“The reason for, and essence of, the question [whether law can ever make peace with violence] is the fundamental paradox that while law purports to substitute itself for violence – in the form of a civilized, and civilizing, alternative – it retains and depends on, an immanent violence of its own” (Sadomasochism and the Law, Matthew Weait, p. 63).