A burly, bleeding man partially bound half-naked to a wooden chair is punched in the face by another man wearing only the skimpiest of uniform apparel and military paraphernalia. Both men’s penises are visibly erect.
When I first saw this image, it jarred me to the point of concern, but it also reminded me of a great movie I have long eroticized: Fight Club. Even before my exposure to that movie as a teenager, I fantasized about losing fights to stronger people, usually other boys. In those fantasies, and perhaps in this (likely staged) photograph as well, unrestrained but invited aggression were highly emotional and cathartic outlets for stress, celebrations of personal strength or achievement, and playful, sporty fun.
Moreover, being beaten consensually and emerging from the experience successfully can feel mind-blowingly empowering. As Zac explains in his excellent talk at KinkForAll Providence:
BDSM is a personal theatrical ritual. […] It’s a private performance, in which the participants are actor, director, writer, audience and stunt double. The successful carrying out of a scene depends on their mutual engagement in a shared fantasy, and this depends on effective and mindful negotiation and communication. I’d contend that navigating the mental and ethical twists and turns involved in this scene-setting has, at best, the potential for helping people navigate issues of consent and coercion in other venues of their lives.
Philip Zimbardo […] gave a TED Talk on evil. He lays out seven pre-conditions for good people to commit evil acts. They are:
- Mindlessly taking the first small step.
- Dehumanization of others.
- De-individuation of self.
- Diffusion of personal responsibility.
- Blind obedience to authority.
- Uncritical conformity to group norms.
- Passive tolerance of evil through inaction or indifference.
So, while what we do as kinksters is sometimes compared to the institutional abuses that happened at Abu Ghraib, there’s actually no comparison between that rubric and what we do. There’s no room in there for interactions between two consenting individuals, outside the structure of social institutions, based on negotiation, discussion, communication, and empathy.
(Skip to 4:01 in the video for the start of this quote.)
Nevertheless, since consensual sadomasochistic ritual is easily mistaken for abuse by uninformed observers, those of us who engage in it have been consistently pathologized by the medical community. As a result of their ignorance, some depictions of SM have already been outlawed in the UK and a US court recently sentenced a collector of “obscene” manga to 6 months in prison. Legal decisions like these are extremely dangerous to everyone’s freedoms because their premise fails to correctly recognize the very thing on which the law is based: intent.
The sad irony is that by criminalizing healthy explorations in navigating issues of coercion through consensual sexuality, anti-porn extremists are stunting the very self-determination they so desperately want everyone to have.