Porn and abuse.

// 12 April 2008

Disclaimer: I’ve had to focus on heterosexual relations and sex here, as I have little experience of anything else.

It’s always seemed logical to me that porn use could affect the sexual behaviour of the user. After all, there’s a reason companies spend billions on advertising. We learn about the world, about standards of behavour, about norms and values, through what we see and hear as we grow up, and if someone grows up using porn, that is where they are going to gain much of their understanding of sex from. If, like me, you grow up without directly accessing porn, you may well learn a lot about sex from experiences with someone who did. And in today’s culture, even if both partners grow up without watching porn, the porn industry’s influence is growing: the images of women on lads’ mags covers in your local newsagent, the trend in ripping out all your pubic hair, thongs for tweenies, women performing stripper moves in music videos, the list goes on.

If it wasn’t for porn, would this guy (and many more, if you read the comments thread) think it was fine and dandy to shoot off in a woman’s face without so much as a by your leave? Would some guys think ejaculating on a woman’s body is similarly bog standard, no-need-to-ask-first behaviour? Would so many young women think sex with a guy requires preremoval of all body hair? Or fake orgasm noises?

Yes, many of the messages mainstream porn sends out have been around for centuries: the dominant male/passive female motif being a prime example. Porn has not necessarily singlehandedly created these messages. But it does a mighty fine job of disseminating them. So, to say that porn has no influence whatsoever on our sexualities, the expectations we have of sex and of our sexual partners, seems pretty naive to me.

Which brings me to this. A seventeen year old Australian girl gang raped in a style which clearly imitates a certain strand of pornography. The rape was probably planned, the men took photos, threatened to kill her if she reported it. The writer of the article concludes that “pornography has made it very sexy to hurt and humiliate women”. Rape is often about power and control, but this particular crime also certainly seems to be about sex. Porno style sex.

Yes, rape and abuse and the hurting and humiliation of women are not necessarily a product of porn use. Not all porn users will rape and abuse women, and those that do may not do so as a direct consequence of porn use, or by reenacting what they see in porn. (I think many will hurt and humiliate women, intentionally or not, because of the way in which sex and gender roles are portrayed in much porn – see that thread at Jezebel).

But, in the light of cases like the one above, I really don’t think it’s so crazy to suggest that porn use in our patriarchal society – a society where women are portrayed as sexual objects for male pleasure, where rape can’t happen if she was wearing that, or said yes to that, or drank that, where men have a biological “need” to access women’s bodies – can in some cases encourage and lead to the abuse and rape of women. It sadly makes a lot of sense.

Hat tip to sparkle*matrix for the article.

Comments From You

Redheadinred // Posted 12 April 2008 at 11:26 pm

Has anyone else noticed the magazine in some newsagents called ‘teen angels’? I was disgusted to see it. It advertises these young girls – (just over the age of consent) with comments like ‘barely legal!’ and ‘virgin teen angels seeking hot sex’. That’s just the cover, since I haven’t looked inside. The front is covered with very young girls in undeniably pornographic poses. They may be legal, but constant reference is made to their youth and supposed naivete and the fact that they are ‘teens’ is eroticised. It’s a cheap rag, I think it’s less than a pound. I can’t imagine anyone but a paedophile being interested in that.

A birch tree // Posted 13 April 2008 at 12:00 am

Great article!! The studies done on this particular topic are legion and mindblowing, but so often get buried in the back pages or dismissed altogether. is a good article on the subject, if a bit old.

A newer study was done by Dan Ariely for his book, “Predictable Irrational”. He found that only 5% of men said they’d consider slipping a woman a date rape drug, but after viewing pornography, 26% of men said they would.

Diana Russell has compiled a large amount of research on the topic for her book, “Pornography as a Cause of Rape” (you can read excerpts on-line at ).

In fact, buried somewhere in my hard drive is a cite for the fact that most university ethics boards will no longer approve studies in which subjects are presented with pornography because the long term negative and antisocial effects have been so wel documented.

It should be sort of a “Well, duh” kind of thing, though, for exactly the reason you stated: if media didn’t affect us, would companies waste billions a year on advertising? I mean, even ignoring Bandura’s Social Learning experiments..

Lara // Posted 13 April 2008 at 4:18 am

“They may be legal, but constant reference is made to their youth and supposed naivete and the fact that they are ‘teens’ is eroticised. It’s a cheap rag, I think it’s less than a pound. I can’t imagine anyone but a paedophile being interested in that.”

Yes redheadinred, but most men are paedophiles if they are looking for extreme youth in a woman in the first place.

I am so sick and tired of the ways porn has taken over mainstream media, it’s a form of sexual harassment, honestly. Just it being there, shoved in everyone’s (especially women’s) faces, tells us that “hey, you are a meat envelope and you only exist as a receptacle for men to ejaculate in, smile!” I’ve started excluding myself from mainstream society more and more as a result.

The reason these important studies, highlighting the negative effects porn has on people, are buried or ignored is because porn is such a powerful empire in our capitalist society that it practically controls all of mainstream media.

Kat // Posted 13 April 2008 at 8:50 am

I completely agree. I almost agreed to someone coming on my face once because I felt I should (much younger!) and I once slept with someone who seriously acted like he was in a porno, I don’t think either of us were really enjoying ourselves, him because he felt he had to ‘perform’ and me because…well, it was rubbish.

Leigh Woosey // Posted 13 April 2008 at 2:05 pm

I’m afraid I have to agree. Having grown up among teenagers who used porn and seen plenty of porn as an adult I can say that it does have an effect on what they expect during sex and how they treat their partners. The only solutions I can think of would be to educate young men about respect for their sexual partners before they are exposed to mainstream pornography, and then can hopefully form opinions contrary to those suggested by it, or to put pressure on the porn industry to make products that are pro-women and pro-consent.

Laura // Posted 13 April 2008 at 3:34 pm

Yep, that’s why we need comprehensive, compulsory sex education. I’m not sure we can really put pressure on the porn industry, it’s too powerful and doesn’t give a shit, but I certainly don’t think that feminists trying to make pro-woman, non-exploitative porn/erotica is a bad idea.

From what I’ve read, some of the studies linking porn use and violence against women are rather dodgy in terms of methodology and who funded them, but, as I said in the post, I think it’s just common sense to see that porn use could at the very least affect sexuality and sexual behaviour, as well as attitudes towards women.

Anne Onne // Posted 13 April 2008 at 4:25 pm

I am really worried about what young men are learning from porn, because they sure as hell aren’t learning respect for women, and how to reciprocate in return from school!

In my ideal world, even if degrading porn existed, the young men would be feminist, so wouldn’t be turned on by it

Mind, you I definitely don’t buy the argument that it’s natural for a hetero guy to be turned on by anything involving a woman exposing any skin, no matter the context. Men that are genuinely respectful of women aren’t turned on by porn where the focus is on degrading the woman, because they don’t get off on the actual degradation and discomfort of unconsenting women. Men who DO like it, don’t like it because the woman’s naked (I mean, they claim vanilla porn isn’t ‘hard enough’ for them, so it can’t be the nudity!), specifically like it because it is practically rape, and involves degrading women.

I’m not a person who believes sex acts are inherently degrading. I believe in an equal relationship with reciprocation, and where the woman (or sub of any gender) has the last say, is always comfortable, and is enjoying it, sex acts that are degrading in this porn would be perfectly fine. For me, it’s the idea that the man wants women to do it because he knows she doesn’t want to do it really, that he has to wheedle her into it, that she’ll find it painful and embarrasing, and that he can boast to his mates about what he did, that makes it degrading. It’s the fact that he intends to degrade which makes them bad.

And of course, this has nothing to do with real BDSM, where it is about giving your partner pleasure and does not fall along patriarchical lines. Safe Sane and Consensual, (and safe words) have nothing to do with most porn. Men who pretend to be into BDSM to abuse women and cover their tracks give it a bad name.

We need much more of an emphasis on consent, consideration, and respect for women in sex education for young men (of course, we need to teach young women to be able to be assertive, and know what they want, but it’s important to focus on men who rape and demean, rather than their victims!), probably starting early on (maybe 10 or earlier, with more vague talks on being courteous, and working up to more details and more ideas) because young people start consuming porn and reading lad’s mags at a really early age, and I dont’ think it would be as effective starting later on, when they are more likely to want to show off.

I could probably bet Mr. Brown that holding classes like these would greatly reduce the number of rapes in the future, but somehow, I doubt I’d get the idea past the Daily Mail, who would likely reply:

‘Outrageous! Sex education for 7 year-olds? What about family values? You want 7 year olds to have sex! It’s up to the parents to teach their children!’ Despite the fact that the one thing parents least want to discuss with kids is sex. Useful, that. Relying on a lot of sqeamish prudish, likely misinformed parents to educate the future population on sex? I’d rather make it compulsory, thanks. (Perhaps anybody not willing to teach their kids about consent should be charged with intent to rape? If they’re not willing to teach their kids to not do it, why should others suffer the consequences? i’m only half-joking, here.)

Personally, I hope that if I have kids, I’d be the cool, if very embarrasing kind of parent that would be totally open and lecture them about sex very early on. >:D

Laura // Posted 13 April 2008 at 4:37 pm

Hear, hear to all of the above, Anne!

Anne Onne // Posted 13 April 2008 at 4:47 pm


I forgot to add that I find it very worrying that some men seem to develop a Pavlovian response to degrading porn, where the degradation is so associated with sexual gratification that to them sex can’t be sex without violence. It’s Really worrying that most people dismiss this entirely by claiming it’s just about the sex (without having any idea of what is even in this kind of porn!), and that it’s just natural, when it’s a learned behaviour that leads men to get pleasure from the idea of violence against women, in a society where it is pretty easy to perpetrate real violence and get away with it. Much as though I’d like to say that people can always separate fact from fantasy, I don’t have that much faith that many of these men will be able to keep fantasies in the fantasy realm, or act them out safely with a willing partner.

Charlie d // Posted 13 April 2008 at 5:04 pm

I have just finished the book ‘Pornified’ by Pamela Paul. I am going to start buying it as a present for all my friends, everybody should read it. Great article!

Stephie // Posted 13 April 2008 at 6:04 pm

There’s quite a good book called “Pornography; The End of Masculinity” by Robert Jensen. It discusses the influences of porn on men and their outlooks on sex etc. I wouldn’t agree with everything that Jensen says in it, but it’s a really good book for anyone that’s interested in this kind of stuff.

S // Posted 13 April 2008 at 6:36 pm

There was a comment earlier that suggested that compulsory sex education was needed. I think, technically, in Secondary Schools sex-ed is compulsory.

However, in my school, if you take 2 languages (Yr8 up, before GCSE) you don’t do PSHCE so you only receive sex-ed in Science.

So, technically, there is sex-ed but things like this are never covered. You learn about periods instead. Huh.

Redheadinred // Posted 13 April 2008 at 8:03 pm

‘Yes redheadinred, but most men are paedophiles if they are looking for extreme youth in a woman in the first place.’

Well, yeah, that’s the point I was trying to make. It’s not that hard to see that sexually objectifying young females could extend itself to females just a few years younger than that, i.e. kids… which is just one of the reasons why the way the media presents porn is so irresponsible. If you’re a woman, you’re seen as some kind of lump of clay to stick a dick in. Why are so many people (men, lol) oblivious to that?

anna rannva // Posted 14 April 2008 at 12:23 am

coming from a nordic country, i was surprised how disrespectful english men are towards women, hooting and shouting, making comments. and all this porn! not to mention lad’s mags, which would never take off in such a mass manner where i come from. obviously men in my country do read porn, but its not so common that they take it so literally as english men do. i think the lad’s mags are particularly bad, and the page 3 girls, as it normalizes that women are half naked in easily available magazines,like its less seedy to look at tits in Maxim rather than penthouse, i think its just unacceptable to have half naked women in normal newspapers. porn is disgusting and degrading

and that men think its ok and normal to expect their partners to behave the same is horrendous.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 14 April 2008 at 8:30 pm

In reality there is no difference between so-called child porn and ‘adult’ (nee for males) porn. They have the same parameters which are females exist solely for men and boys to sexually exploit and sexually abuse. Or as the pornographers claim ‘virgin teen angels seeking hot sex!’ Why do you think most women in pornography are portrayed as adult children because of course women and girls are ‘sex’ nothing else.

Men who view pornography which has images of teen girls are not paedophiles – this is a misonomer deliberately used to muddy the realities of porn. Men need younger and younger images because porn is all about male sexual power and domination over women and girls.

Those men who filmed themselves group raping and sexually degrading this young woman copied what they saw in mainstream porn. It is widely available and so easy to find. Yet we are constantly told porn is ‘harmless and fantasy.’ Tell that to the young woman who was subjected to appalling acts of male sexual violence committed upon her. Men are not biologically programmed to enact certain sexual acts, rather they learn and it has been proven time and again. When boys routinely learn that girls are inferior; being a male means one has to prove one’s masculinity by sexually objectifying women; by sexually scoring with women; by claiming to be a ‘leg man or a breast man.’ Then yes male sexual objectification and contempt for women is learned behaviour. BUT – it can be unlearned. Problem is does society want to change ideologies of masculinity. So far the answer is a resounding no – because power would shift from male domination to a more equal one between the genders and we can’t have that can we.

Helen // Posted 14 April 2008 at 9:40 pm

A Birch Tree – thanks for pointing out that New Scientist article. I had not realised that way back in 1990 there was already plenty of evidence that violent pornography causes harm, yet it has taken until just recently to make its possession illegal, and only then as a result of determined campaigning by a victim’s mother. It is also interesting to see evidence for a link between pornography and rape, and that porn consumers have less sympathy for rape victims and are more likely to believe in rape myths. Since 1990 of course pornography has proliferated in the UK, and what has happened? We have seen the incidence of rape soar and conviction rates for rape plummet, just as we would expect from the scientific evidence presented in the article. It makes me wonder if women will ever obtain justice for rape unless the current porn culture is tackled.

Lara // Posted 15 April 2008 at 5:56 am

Laura and Anne, have you never asked yourself why BDSM is inherently based upon the subordination of one person to another? These sexual hierarchies, especially if role-played, attest to the male-centric character of BDSM. “Choice” and “consent” are besides the point: the point is that BDSM is based on the idea that one person is gratified by “punishing” and spitting down upon another person so explicitly, and that the recipient of this abuse should enjoy the degradation. When you see this dynamic, how is it any different than rape? Simply type in “BDSM” or “bondage and sadomasochism” in the search engine and look at the porn and images you get. I don’t think I should have to explain how BDSM is inherently misogynist, not to mention explicitly racist. And the fact that BDSM scenes and roleplays so closely resemble the dynamics between black female slaves and white male slavemasters makes me want to vomit. How can self-labeled feminists support or tolerate this crap?

Furthermore, BDSM is based on the idea that one person’s body and sexuality are “dirty” or “naughty” and thus need to be controlled or punished by another more “righteous” or “dominant” person. These dynamics are extremely anti-feminist and anti-woman. It doesn’t matter even if the male is taking a sub role, and the woman a dom role, the point is that the power dynamics are based on a patriarchal system of positionality: of inequality; of dominance and submission.

Anne Onne // Posted 15 April 2008 at 11:36 am

Lara, BDSM is about fantasy, and about ensuring that both partners are fulfilled, and in a context where the subordinate is free to stop the activity any time when they are uncomfortable is not harmful to those conserned. It is consensual, and when practised by two (or more) reasonable partners, is fun for all involved. (Or at least, that’s the theory, I’m not into BDSM personally)

BDSM does NOT fall along patriarchical or any other lines rigidly. The BDSM community started from queer roots, and the fluidity of gender roles is key to many BDSMers. There’s no reason you can’t get female doms, or male subs (if we’re talking hetero), and you do.

For whatever reason (many of them patriarichical, some personal, ro out of the blue, for all I care), some people find giving or recieving pain sexually pleasurable. For some, it’s the anticipation, for others it’s the sensation, and I’m sure there’s even more motivations. These desires could be played out in a way that is harmful (i.e. rape, abuse), but these people don’t wish to do that.

So, you get communities based around people with similar desires, giving each other what they want. The important thing is that activities are agreed on by both parties, and can be broken off at any point. This is where ‘safe words’ come in.

Hwever, not unexpectedly, there is a very different view of BDSM in mainstream media. Many seasoned BDSMers I have talked to are very, very leery of young men who identify as dominant, because many men start off with porn that is plain degrading (and not very consentual), and equate it with BDSM. They then see the BDSM community as a chance to control women (without the Safe, Sane, Consentual part of the theory), and do not practise BDSM in a consensual, respectful manner.

I suspect your findings arise from your search methods, and looking for porn, of all things… you seriously think porn’s going to give you a representative picture of practicioners? If I type in ‘Asian woman’ on google, should I draw the conclusion that all Asian women must be hot babes out to serve men, because that’s the kind of porn that comes up?

I suggest you do some actual research about BDSM before you start throwing around accusations – googling for porn does not give you a real idea of how real people (many of them feminist) conduct their affairs.

I suggest Mandolin’s, and Jill’s articles about BDSM and feminism, because I think it does a good job of explaining why as feminists it’s right to be sceptical of some people who BDSM, whilst realising that the whole community itself is not inherently misogynist:

There’s also a good one over at Pandagon exploring how the dreadful ‘domestic discipline’ movement is different from BDSM.

We need some articles on BDSM at the F word, by the look of it.

Laura // Posted 15 April 2008 at 2:45 pm

Hi Lara,

I think BDSM is far too broad a category to say that it is inherently anything. Bondage is very different from sadism, for example (personally, I have no problem with the first, but find sadism highly problematic.) And I don’t think many things can be said to be inherently x y or z – a lot depends upon the intent of those involved, the way in which said thing is used or performed etc.

For some, particularly the young men Anne mentions who use BDSM as a way to abuse women, BDSM could be “based on the idea that one person is gratified by “punishing” and spitting down upon another person so explicitly, and that the recipient of this abuse should enjoy the degradation.” For others, however, dominance may be about fulfilling the other person’s fantasies, giving them pleasure; havng someone take “control” (in inverted commas because the real control lies with the sub who is free to determine when things stop) of your body can be purely about pleasure, taking “control” about respect for another’s body and desires and sexuality.

As Anne said, of course much BDSM porn is going to be based on the idea that one person’s body and sexuality is dirty or naughty – that’s what most porn is about. BDSM isn’t necessarily about this at all, and while I think some anti-BDSM theories have merit AS THEORIES, they probably don’t apply to the practice in many cases. Unless we know what’s going on inside the heads of the people being theorised about, and unless anyone is being harmed (and I mean harm, not hurt – they may want to be hurt) I don’t think we can really say that what they are doing is Wrong.

I imagine some people’s retort to that would be that BDSM harms us all because it upholds patriarchal power relations, but considering BDSMers are generally viewed as freaks and looked down on by society, I really don’t think it’s that influential. Disney style romance is in my view far more insidious and far more harmful in terms of enforcing oppressive gender roles and negative female sexualities. Not to mention the vast majority of “normal” porn, hence the post.

Mary Tracy9 // Posted 15 April 2008 at 9:18 pm

Well, it seems that you Laura and I DO AGREE on something, after all.

And in regards to BDSM or any other porn style setting where “both partners agree and enjoy themselves, blah blah blah” I have this to say:

What you do in your bedroom is up to you. But when you put it out there in the world for all to feed of, THERE ARE RULES.

shatterboxx // Posted 16 April 2008 at 1:07 am

I think that there are levels to things like BDSM that a lot of people don’t think about. For example, I got into a relationship of that sort when I was way too young to understand my own sexual impulses and wound up damaging myself in ways that I am still discovering. It’s a difficult subject for me to talk about, I do very strongly believe that people should be able to have whatever sexual relationship they want but I agree also with marytracey. When things are in the public sphere, the rules are different. Maybe there should be more information available? Everything to do with BDSM is kept under wraps, but I think throwing open the discussion (without being too graphic!) is a good idea.

Aaron // Posted 16 April 2008 at 2:13 am

From my experiances of my interaction of people who watch porn (both male and female) i have found that in general people who watch porn find it harder to understand the concept of asking first not just for sexual acts but any physical contact i.e. kissing, holding hands, and touching because they dont view it as normal for people to ask first and i think this is because porn doesnt teach respect for women or equality but that their sexual gratifercation is what is most important. Its not about love or mutual pleasure, or their parteners pleasure, it is about their sexual pleasure and that is their main and only concern. So because of this i would say that porn does have an affect on people because from my experiances people who watch porn begin to objectify people and see them as pieces of meat, just “something” there for their sexual gratification not as an equal, a human being, a person with thoughts and feelings but as a thing, an object that has one purpose and that is to be there to serve them. I also think it is a good idea to make sex education compulsory as im 19 and have only had 2 1 hour sex-ed classes 1st when i was twelve (year 7) which you had to get parental permission to go to as it was basically just a video about sex and another sex-ed class when i was 15 or 16 (year 10 or 11) which was about contraception with a Q and A session at the end.Although my parents were and still are open and willing to talk about sex, contraception etc. so i have been lucky in that respect. thank you for taking the time to read this-Aaron

Anne Onne // Posted 16 April 2008 at 11:51 am

Aaron, I agree porn focuses on sexual pleasure to the exclusion of all else.

I wouldn’t say porn is actually at all focused on women’s pleasure, at all. Women in porn are supposed to moan and act fulfilled a lot, but they don’t choose how or when to do so, and the way women’s pleasure is presented in porn is really about making men feel better. For a lot of men, pleasuring women is not about reciprocating and making someone else happy, but about performing, keeping up with other men and societal pressure. It’s not really about pleasuring women, which is why you often see porn actresses having to moan in pleasure when doing things that aren’t about pleasing them at all.

This impacts upon real life, in that it gives men who rely on porn for sex education a warped idea of what women enjoy, and that women should react to sex just like the women in porn do (which puts pressure on women to put on a porn-like act), and makes women’s pleasure about making men happy.

I think the not asking about anything first is another consequence of the focus on pleasure, because it focuses much more on gratification of one person, as opposed to mutual gratification and respect. Sexual pleasure with another person (or other people) really should be about the interaction, the give and take. Fantasy is often a personal thing, and we can expect it to be one-sided up to a point, but the level to which porn ignores and sidelines women’s needs or desires ( which are instead replaced with male-ego-boosting ideas of what they entail!) reinforces the message men get from the rest of society, which is that their pleasure matters more than women’s pleasure, or comfort, or consent.

Lara // Posted 17 April 2008 at 7:32 am

Earlier I said:

“”Choice” and “consent” are besides the point: the point is that BDSM is based on the idea that one person is gratified by “punishing” and spitting down upon another person so explicitly, and that the recipient of this abuse should enjoy the degradation.”

Did you somehow overlook this part while you went on and on about “but it’s choice! it’s consent!”? And what accusations am I making against you personally?

Why does hurting someone else turn someone else on???? That is what I am asking. Jesus Mary and Joseph it’s like you didn’t even read at all what I wrote.

And the queer community is just as sexist and reeking with patriarchy as the hetero community, so I don’t see how that exempts BDSM from being patriarchal and anti-woman.

“…but considering BDSMers are generally viewed as freaks and looked down on by society, I really don’t think it’s that influential.”

Oh really? When you google for “BDSM” you will get some major websites with BDSM porn (how else would you “view” BDSM if it wasn’t porn???), the website directly links to MAXIM MAGAZINE. If that isn’t mainstream I don’t know what is. And besides, just because a “subculture” of people practice something it doesn’t mean that practice is instantly “subversive.” It could very well uphold the status quo, as is the case with BDSM.

And again, you white feminists did not at all address what I brought up earlier: that BDSM has also a lot of racist background with it, that it glorifies sexual slavery of women (both of color and white) and men of color. BDSM porn and “subculture” is actually popular now specifically BECAUSE it reinforces hierarchies in the bedroom. What if whites and blacks roleplayed “slave and slavemaster”? Would that be ok? Or is it when the hierarchy is sexualized that makes BDSM ok? Oh, I forgot, racial slavery also took the form of sexual slavery. White slavemasters raped black female slaves all the time. Would role-playing that be ok?

We need to ask ourselves WHY women would enjoy pain or be “turned on” by it. We need to ask ourselves why someone, especially a man, would want to roleplay as a slavemaster or “dom.” Why is it that people who support BDSM as “empowering” or “ok” never address these questions with substantial answers?

“Unless we know what’s going on inside the heads of the people being theorised about, and unless anyone is being harmed (and I mean harm, not hurt – they may want to be hurt) I don’t think we can really say that what they are doing is Wrong.”

Has it ever occurred to you that women are brainwashed into enjoying pain or hurt? I am not judging individual women for getting into BDSM. I am criticizing the whole mentality and power system that created it and perpetuates it.

You know, I have just come back from a screening for the movie “The Greatest Silence” (about the systematic rape of women in the Congo, often soldiers would rape them with guns, bayonets, and sticks to damage their bodies and genitals permanently) and to hear someone talking about how it’s ok to do BDSM and roleplay the enjoyment of sexual pain just makes me sick. Can’t you see the connection between these things? It’s not just about you you you and your choices. It’s about how the personal IS political.

“I suggest you do some actual research about BDSM before you start throwing around accusations – googling for porn does not give you a real idea of how real people (many of them feminist) conduct their affairs.”

I didn’t google “porn” I googled “BDSM,” plain and simple. That’s the crap I got. And I have listened to pro-BDSM feminists and their arguments aren’t too convincing, frankly. Another thing, so because these privileged women call themselves “feminists” it means instantly that their engaging in BDSM is pro-woman? You’ve got to be kidding me. Don’t try to make it look like I am so haughty and disconnected from real people and then go and treat me like I am some radical ignorant person who doesn’t know any better.

Oh, and by the way, the word “sadism” in “Bondage and Sadomasochism” comes from the name Marquis de Sade, a sick Frenchman who got off on torturing women way back in the day. THATS where the name for BDSM came from. It’s not surprising either that BDSM culture is unique to Western culture, in which sexuality and women’s bodies are considered “dirty” and need to be controlled.

Laura // Posted 18 April 2008 at 10:24 am


I’m not sure which bits of that comment were addressed to me and which bits to Anne, but I want to make it clear that I do think BDSM can be abusive, I do think it can be racist, I do think some of the types of things role played are disturbing, I do think Sadism is messed up and I never said BDSM was empowering.

But, without going into details, which I don’t want to do here, I do know from experience that there is a difference between wanting to be hurt in a BDSM type scenario because of self esteem issues and the influence of patriarchy, and enjoying a sexually arousing sensation of pain on a purely physical level. I agree that we need to ask questions about BDSM, just as we need to ask questions about all sexuality and sexual practices, but I think a blanket declaration that all BDSM is inherently sexist/racist/misogynistic is too simplistic.

Yes, much of the BDSM related stuff on the internet is based one or all of these things. But much of the sexual material on the internet, BDSM or otherwise, is too: the most “plain” sexual practice can be deeply sexist and based on power hierarchies. This doesn’t mean that sex is inherently sexist/racist/misogynistic. Yes, Western culture does consider women’s bodies dirty and in need of control, so this mentality will be present in all sexual practices and I agree that we need to destroy it. I just don’t think that blanket declarations on the wrongness of the myriad of sexual practices that could be termed BDSM (or of the wrongness of heterosexual sex, which often comes into anti-BDSM theories) is particularly helpful.

Anne Onne // Posted 18 April 2008 at 12:12 pm

I agree with everything Laura’s said.

Nobody’s saying one can’t question the patriarchical experiences or practices that lead someone into enjoying certain dynamics. To some level, we all take in the messages of the patriarchy, and it would be impossible to be entirely free of it. so I will agree (and never disagreed) that the dynamics do stem from the patriarchy, as well as personal issues or whatnot. People’s reasons for their kinks are complicated.

On another level, who are any of us to tell somebody not to do something they WANT to, which does not affect us?

Rape in the Congo is NOT closely related to BDSM, any more than heterosexual vanilla sex is related to marital rape. the blame lies not in the sex, but in the person who crosses boundaries and does not care what the other wants. For a start, BDSM in theory, is about taking the kinks that may be patriarchical, and channeling them in a way that is controlled, safe and consensual. It’s about finding someone who will enjoy being on the other end of the same things as you like. It is between two consensual partners. The dominant is giving the submissive partner what they want.

Rape can happen in BDSM, and it is as unacceptable in that context as any other, but it is not because it is BDSM play, but because the raping partner simply doesn’t care about consent. and I think trying to pin the blame on a kink is taking blame away from the people who deserve it, the rapists. Rape happens because of the patriarchy, because the patriarchy tells men they needn’t worry about what women (seen as submissive) want. BDSM is also influenced by the patriarchy, but it DOES take into account what the ‘submissive’ partner wants. It’s more about that, in theory, than what the ‘dominant’ wants.

Part of the problem is the mainstream interpretation of BDSM being about giving men power over women (which it isn’t actually about. It’s about both partners, of either gender, engaging in mutually enjoyable kinks.), which isn’t surprising, because that’s how the mainstream views sex of any sort.

In some ways, the BDSM community’s theoretical way of looking at sex is a good one. It encourages discussion of boundaries, sets rules as to what is acceptable, and gives the partner with the least power (not always female) more power to say when they want the activities to stop. This is theoretically a good thing. Mainstream sex doesn’t have these limits, these understandings of communcating with your partner, and accepting their limits. The patriarchy simply teaches men that their needs are more important than anyone else’s. That’s not to say that BDSM is practised well by everyone, or even the majority of the communities. I wouldn’t know. Certainly, many men might go into it from the patriarchical desire to control women, without any respect for women’s boundaries or comfort, and that is of course a big problem. It does not, however, mean that BDSM is like this in theory.

As for racist BDSM, it certainly does exist, and it does make me uncomfortable. BDAM porn, like all other porn is mostly degrading of women, and pretty much all about getting pleasure at the expense of women. It does also take on the racism and other isms of the society it comes from. I agree there is very, very problematic stuff out there, and it needs to be discussed (preferably with more BDSMers in the discussion to give their side of the story, since it’s kind of about them).

But if an interracial couple want to practice something like that, it’s their right to.

BDSM is like any other sexual practice, vanilla sex included. It can be practised well, or badly, but the practice in theory is not inherently anything. Heterosexual monogamy itself, the blandest of practices, is just as liable to abuse. I’m not arguing that BDSM is not problematic, or that it is not practised in ways that can be very misogynistic (that cult based on idealised womens’ submission in a sci-fi novel, anyone?) or racist, because it can. But that it is not inherently so, and cna be practised in a way that is as close to non-patriarchical as we can get in this day and age.

Also, I’m fairly sure ‘the personal is political’ is NOT an excuse to shame people about their individual choices, and to suggest that every woman’s choice shouls measure up to some feminist standard. Yes, by all means explore a choice, but you should still respect those who make a choice, in the end. Yes, I also have issues with BDSM (particularly 24/7 BDSM), but I don’t think that I can tell people what to do in their own bedroom if they want to do it, because I’m uncomfortable with it.

Googling BDSM on the internet (where, lets face it, googling anything vaguely sexual yields all sorts of porn) doesn’t necessariyl give you a representative sample of what BDSM can be like if practised considerately, was my point. I’m quite dissappointed we haven’t had any actual BSMers weigh into this conversation, because we’re having this discussion about them, without caring what they think about it. In short, we’re marginalising them, and turning real, complicated, living people into an issue to be ‘fixed’.

Nobody is calling BDSM inherently feminist. It is neither the prior nor the latter. It simply exists. Partiarchical in roots, because everything is, but having the potential to be anti-patriarchy, too. It’s a complicated issue all round. We won’t agree on everything, but I think we probably agree on more than we realise.

Shea // Posted 18 April 2008 at 4:23 pm

@Lara —-“Oh, and by the way, the word “sadism” in “Bondage and Sadomasochism” comes from the name Marquis de Sade, a sick Frenchman who got off on torturing women way back in the day. THATS where the name for BDSM came from.

Er, no it isn’t. Sadism did indeed come from the Marquis de Sade, but “Masochism” comes from Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch, who wrote “Venus in Furs” about a man who desires to be enslaved and humiliated by a woman.

Arguably De Sade was one of the first true libertines- a man who explored the principle of living life according to pleasure, not bound by conventional (patriarchial) morality, law or religion. He was a philosopher also and a forerunner to existential thought, he also preceded Freud in psychoanalysis in his focus on sexuality as a driving force. He is also unique (for the time period) in recognising that sex is a power that women can wield. “Justine” is rare in that it demonstrated the corruption of the church, law and society and that none of the above would protect or respect a woman (how things don’t change huh?).

It reported that de Sade, “abused” prostitutes as he did members of both sexes, apparently by trying to get them to take spanish fly, an aphrodisiac. I have never read anywhere that he “tortured” them and it seems unlikely as he spent most of his life in prison, including the Bastille and in an insane asylum at Charenton after only just escaping the guillotine.

Like all “deviant” practises BDSM is frowned on by society and those on the outside looking in, probably precisely because it challenges the prescriptive hetero-normative view of sex and sexuality. Nature loves diversity, society hates it.

Lara // Posted 19 April 2008 at 5:51 am

It’s just unbelievable how all of you did not actually read a single thing I said. You do not actually directly address the points I have made. You don’t even really consider the questions I have raised. Why? I have put a lot of effort and time into writing my thoughts out here for a discussion that goes beyond “I love BDSM that means I am deviant!” discussion. I guess that didn’t work. I am sick and tired of having my perspective as a radical woman of color who sees the connections between BDSM practice and misogyny and racism blown off and seen as “controlling of people’s sexuality” or “not getting it.” I am not telling you to not do BDSM, I am not “judging” you for it. If you want to twist my words around and take it personally, go ahead, but that’s your problem, not mine. It’s excessively rude of you all to completely ignore the points I have been trying to make, and furthermore, to make blanket statements yourselves without even proving your points. The fact that Anne unflinchingly used the term “vanilla sex” tells me enough :/ I have had ENOUGH with this discussion because the responses to me here are just so oblivious it’s really damned offensive. I am sick and tired of being told too that my views are “conforming to the mainstream” as Shea implied. I have been a radical feminist for quite some time now and I constantly analyze and reanalyze my views based on what others say, especially if they have a different perspective from mine, and I can’t tell you how fucking annoying it is to be addressed by another feminist in such a patronizing tone: “oh, Lara, you think BDSM is bad because you’re just like every other heterosexist sheep in society.”

I have argued repeatedly that this has nothing to do with consent. I have shown the connections between race-based slavery and BDSM. I have repeatedly shown how BDSM is NOT deviant in Western culture, and yet this is completely ignored. I can’t remember the last time I have been so frustrated with people’s responses to me on a blog, not because you do not agree with me (I run into disagreement all the time, and it doesn’t bother me much), but because they are completely ignorant and dismissive of the points I was trying to make. I shouldn’t have even bothered or invested so much emotional and mental effort, let alone time.

Shea // Posted 19 April 2008 at 5:58 pm

to Lara, I did read what you wrote and I think I answered your point on the word sadism. You are misinformed re the origins of the word. I think it is also a little trite to dismiss de Sade as a “sick Frenchman” when there is clearly more to him than that (would you casually dismiss Nietzche as a “crazy German” also?).

I am sorry if I came across as patronising you, it really wasn’t my intention. I skimmed the other points because I thought Laura and Anne answered them very well. I think collectively your points have been addressed coherently. My point on deviant practices is that it can be hard to understand them from an outside perspective, and that they are frowned on by the mainstream precisely because many people (unlike you) won’t exhaust themselves trying to understand or interpret them.

You are mistaken when you said that BDSM is unique to western culture. There is a long history of rope bondage in Japanese history, it is a very skilled practice, to tie up the other person without restricting the blood circulation. As Japan was isolated from the West for centuries, so I doubt that this was a result of cross cultural influence.

There is also a less eurocentric view that sees misogynistic practices inherent in alot of foreign cultures regardless of western influence, i.e female circumcision. But I get what you are saying, there is a lot within BDSM that makes me uncomfortable and a lot that arguably is a Pavlovian response to the current of racism and misogyny inherent in western culture.

Why does hurting someone turn someone else on? At its heart I can only give you my personal opinion, alot of BDSM is based on trust and if someone wants to be hurt, takes pleasure from it- then it stands that the person giving pain/pleasure will derive some satisfaction and enjoyment from this. I have heard it said “the greatest pleasure comes from giving pleasure”. Alot of the pain and discomfort heighten the sensitivity of the skin, so to enhance enjoyment (pain and pleasure also have similar neurological pathways and receptors). Again the roleplay for me is about a release from what is deemed socially acceptable (i.e with the slave/slavemaster roleplay), and “normal” ( I think a good example here are rape fantasies—it is just that –a fantasy based on alleviating alot of the “guilt” that comes from unashamedly enjoying sex. It is as far from an actual rape as it is possible to imagine.) You said that “choice” and “consent” are besides the point, but I think they are central to it. They are what distinguishes an act from being pleasurable and being a horrific experience. You haven’t shown the connections between race-based slavery and BDSM. On the contrary you have tried to take an unrelated event, the rape of women in the Congo and link it to BDSM and it has already been convincingly pointed out that that isn’t the case.

As for a subculture- the very definition of a subculture is that of a group who choose not to conform or choose to dissent in someway to the mainstream. They would also have practices which set them apart from the norm in systematic opposition to the dominant values/culture. I would say the BDSM falls into this (althought arguably there are sub-groups within this label).

You say you are not “judging” people for practising it, but that isn’t what comes across. Phrases like “makes me want to vomit” and “How can self-labeled feminists support or tolerate this crap?” don’t exactly support your declaration of non-judgment. I am also a radical feminist and I enjoy certain BDSM practises and sex generally, I don’t think I should have to shoulder your disapproval as well as that of society generally or have to be burdened with the responsibility that what I do in the privacy of my own bedroom will have repercussions in the wider world. As long as it is safe and consensual between consenting adults then it’s nobodies business but theirs.

Anne Onne // Posted 19 April 2008 at 6:39 pm

Lara, I did not mean to offend you, and I apologise for doing so. It was not my intention to try and silence you, or discount your opinion as a radical WOC.

I’m sorry to have patronised you. a lot of the comments I deal with tend to be from outright trolls, so I’m afraid I tend to start out assuming little knowledge until proven otherwise, and your explaining that you just googled BDSM for a bit of research didn’t read as being particularly knowledgeable about the subject. Though I can’t talk, because my knowledge of BDSM is admittedly also limited.

I think our disagreement stems from your focus on the porn versus my focus on the community, which are very different. The community has many different individuals and dynamics, some very patriarchy-challenging. It isn’t perfect, or without the influence of misogyny or racism.

I did agree that a lot of the material out there on the net under BDSM is very problematic, both in terms of racism and misogyny. My entire point boiled down to the argument that BDSM does not inherently have to be either any more than any other type of relationship. To an extent, misogyny, racism, homophobia and trans phobia are present in everything we do, every part of society. It is impossible to be truly rid of them.

I did not mean to deny there are links between how BDSM is practised in a racist, misogynist society and the fact that it is often done in a way that is both.

Whilst it is true that we seem to have been at cross purposes, and pretty much talking separate arguments, and what we wanted to focus on, this did not happen in a vacuum. You’re not the only person to have carefully explained your opinion here only to have your points mostly ignored as somebody goes off on a tangent, and this works both ways, ending up with people repeating themselves and feeling the other just isn’t listening. You have not made any more of an effort to address the points made by anybody else than people have done towards you, and come accross as ignoring every time somebody tries to point out they agree with you, or explain something. You have been no less dismissive to the points others have made than you feel they have been towars you. That is neither entirely our fault, nor entirely yours, it’s a problem that arises when a complex topic is discussed, where everybody wants to address a different facet.

I’m sorry that I haven’t addressed the points in the direction you wished, and that this conversation has taken such a turn. My focus was on another thing entirely, and neither of us have been willing to shift from what we personally wanted to put forward. Your insistence that consent didn’t matter were incredibly baffling to me, but I’m chalking that down to the focuses in our arguments being entirely different.

What we ideally needed, was to have this discussion on a post about a specific facet of BDSM, and only talk about that facet. Like this, we’re both just arguing about the part that we feel like concentrating on, and it’s getting nowhere.

Also, I have stated more than once that I’m not into BDSM, so it’s not a personal bother of mine. But the BDSM community does have an uneasy relationship with feminism, in a similar way to the trans community, in that by conforming to some functions of the patriarchy (gender binary for trans, dom/sub dynamics with BDSM), they are at odds with some feminists and their theory. I see them as marginalised, and as such, feel that their lifestyle shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. That’s not to say it shouldn’t be analysed. But since there were no BDSM practicioners coming forward to discuss this personally, I felt it important to emphasise that despite very real problems, the theory behind it does not have to be any more sexist or racist than anything else. I wanted to point out that it IS possible to practise it in a feminist way, not discount the fact that problems exist. I just felt that many of the problems you associated with it were not unique to BDSM, and could equally be said to belong to any sort of porn, and society in general. BDSM themes are being appropriated by the patriarchy, in part because they chime with its deepest darkest desires for control. That I agree with. However, I feel it can also be counter patriarchy.

As for ‘vanilla sex’ (which I admit I should have used quote marks for), I used the term as a loose way to separate BDSM from more mainstream sex, in part because I have seen the words used in that context. If there’s a particular reason the term is problematic, I’m really interested to know, so that I don’t make that mistake again.

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