BDSM Can Be What A Feminist Looks Like!

Question of the week:

Is it unfeminist of me if I like to be dominated in the bedroom? Am I selling out the movement if I let my partner tie me up?

Thank you for this excellent question, and let me begin with a resounding NO! It is likely that I will get some push back, and maybe even some strong resistance to this answer. There are some who argue that any thing that could be related to dominance/submission, violence, or physical restriction is inherently unfeminist…while I generally agree with these sentiments, I think that the bedroom is different territory…please hear me out.

In the Venn diagrams of feminism, BDSM and all of its parts can definitely be an overlapping circle. (The acronym BDSM can refer to all of the following: Bondage, Discipline, Domination, Submission, Sadism, Masochism, and can also include fetishes, power play, and bondage.) Feminism, at it’s difficult to define and impossible to pin down heart, is about the ability for each person to make their own choices and be able to live out their lives and desires in whatever ways make them most fulfilled—as long as that does not restrict, oppress, or destroy the thriving of others. We continue to struggle toward this ideal.

When it comes to feminism and sex I maintain one basic rule: it should be mutually pleasurable for all parties—this includes open, clear, honest communication (speaking and listening), as well as thoughtful reduction of physical, mental, and emotional risks. Bondage, power play, domination/submission, and BDSM can fit into this when it is enacted in a relationship where desires are openly discussed and some clear boundaries have been set. Enjoying domination in the bedroom by a caring or thoughtful sex play partner, does not mean you have sold out your feminist values; it does not mean you think that domination should be carried out in systematically oppressive structures world over.

When you dig below the surface, BDSM at it’s best is feminist-friendly because it allows for mutually consenting partners to play out fantasies and desires that satisfy all involved. (The New England Leather Alliance has put together a fantastic safer sex introduction to BDSM.)

BDSM is frequently characterized as one person (or many) restraining, abusing, or hurting another against that person’s will. In fact for the most ethical practitioners of bondage and BDSM (that would be most practitioners), those involved have already had open discussions regarding their boundaries and established the expectations of the scene. They have also established safe words, that will stop the action whenever they are uttered. In fact, safe words assure that whomever is being dominated maintains the power and control to stop a scene at any time—they might be one of the most feminist sexual tools ever invented…

Let’s talk more about safe words! A safe word is a non-sexual word that is agreed upon before any sexual activity begins, that when uttered by either participant (most frequently the partner being dominated) all sexual activity immediately stops. This could be used because an action has become unbearably uncomfortable (mentally, physically, emotionally), one partner does not want an action (or any action) to go further, one partner needs a break or a check-in, or a person might simply be done with the play session.

It is important that the safe word be something not generally associated with sexual activity (i.e. giraffe, bumble bee, turquoise, laundry, or whatever suits your fancy). This assures that when the safe word is said there is no confusion about its purpose or meaning. Often in BDSM and power-focused sex play a partner may say “no” or “stop” or “don’t” as part of the play and fantasy. Having a clearly defined, unrelated safe word promises that there will be no confusion, and no need to make sure you aren’t accidentally stopping the fun. Sometimes a safe word won’t work. When/if partners get into mouth gags and other silencing measures they will need to work out a safe signal, something that can easily be communicated with whatever appendages are mobile. The dominating partner can also occasionally check in with the dominated to make sure that everything is a go.

One of the clear beauties of the safe word is that it requires communication, and it can be a useful tool in any sexual encounter, not just those where power play is central. By broaching the topic of a safe word partners can crack open the topics of boundaries, consent, fantasy, power play, bondage, and whatever else your heart desires. An established safe word can be a great way to stop any sexual encounter, not just the BDSM ones.

So, start a conversation, set some boundaries, decide on your favorite safe word and get tied up! With clear communication, mutual respect, consent, pleasure, and safety, bondage and domination can definitely be feminist. If you want learn more, I want to leave you with a few resources:

Dan Savage is, as always, a wealth of information.

My favorite toyshop recommends this book as an introduction.

And everyone should watch this brilliant creation by the Midwest Teen Sex Show.

Thanks for reading all!

Lyndsey

Comments

  1. great post

  2. freewomyn says:

    Great post, Lyndsey. I agree – safe words can be useful in any sexual situation. But I think they help outside of the bedroom, too. If you’re arguing with your partner, you might have an agreement that if the safe word is used, the argument has to stop and everyone goes to their separate corners to chill out.

  3. Lyndsey says:

    Thanks all! Freewomyn, you make a great point about using safe words in arguments and outside of the bedroom. I hadn’t thought about it’s use that way, though I have seen it use in other situations when folks want to signal that a conversation or a joke has gone too far or makes them uncomfortable. In these situations I apparently have a safe signal…my whole body cringes so much that I have been compared to a seizing giraffe.

  4. Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed this post and your healthy perspective on domination in the bedroom.

  5. Loved, loved, loved this post. I work for a Domestic Violence Project and I fear that if my “kinks” get out, I’ll lose my job. It’s so reassuring to know that others feel the same way I do.

  6. Just…THIS! Fantastic article, thank you so much for writing it!

  7. Hi Lyndsey,
    a big thank you for writing this article last year. I just found it last week and it really reassured me to know not only that there are feminists out there who think that BDSM can be explored and enjoyed without replaying or reinforcing the patriarchy. Also your outburst “Let’s talk more about safe words!” suggested an excitable and fun-loving approach to the whole thing, which is how I generally like to approach things to do with sex :)
    I linked to you on my own blog, where I outlined some of my thoughts, feelings and general murky soup of confusion about domination: http://lipstickandteeth.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/curiouser-and-curiouser/
    All the best!

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