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When does BDSM become destructive? (2021)

You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.

I often face this question in my work, either from someone curious or from someone claiming to have the answer. Or from myself, asking was this really “good” after an intense session. Two common ways of answering it are consent and addiction, but I think neither of them is good enough, by themselves. In this weekly musing, I want to break the two down and then provide a third option.

The consent answer goes – whatever happens between two consenting adults is okay. The problem with this answer is first the statement whatever, is it actually whatever, and it is not. Already later in solution, it is limited to adults, to remove things obviously horrible, like pedophilia. Also, younger people don’t have a developed awareness of consequences, I have read somewhere that it doesn’t occur entirely until around twenty-five or even later. So adults consenting to destructive activities is not something new. There is another version of the consent answer – whatever legal that happens between consenting adults is okay. However, it’s unclear if it makes it any better; for example, the law prohibits many forms of violence. In Sweden, hitting someone with a tool, or BDSM-toy is considered major assault, and can’t be consented. Unless there is a sporting event, like MMA or boxing, however, this is more of a strange side note. And there are other BDSM practices involving drugs (or nature medicines if you like) that also are illegal. So the law, even if ever-improving isn’t good enough to answer the original question. I believe consent to be more of a handy tool for communication than the measuring stick of what is destructive or not.

What about the addiction answer then, that pretty much goes – whatever that isn’t causing an (unhealthy) addiction is okay. The answer can also combine with the consent idea into – whatever happens between two consenting adults and isn’t causing addiction is okay. But before going there, I want to look closer at the addiction idea. I’m addicted to many things in life, basic needs like air, food and sleep, and social interactions. Some would even claim that I’m addicted to meaningfulness. Narrowing addiction to unhealthy things makes the concept more useful. Or focusing at the cause, like doctor Gabor Maté that says addiction is a normal response to an abnormal circumstance. A coping mechanism, in other words. You can listen to him here, which I highly recommend. But is it a good-enough way to answer if BDSM is destructive? Is needing coffee to get up in the morning destructive? I believe that life is complicated enough that we need a few coping mechanisms to get by. Many people use BDSM as a mindfulness practice to deal with stress or an adrenaline rush for boredom. As a spark of excitement, when life feels meaningless and grey. Understanding one’s addictions and coping mechanisms are invaluable to understand oneself. If one notices, that they slowly take up more and more space and prevent living a normal life, like having a job, completing studies, maintaining friendships, and so on, then its time to worry. Independently if its BDSM, or alcohol, or computer gaming.

And this into the third more philosophical perspective—the polarity between creation and destruction. Life is about recreation, hopefully in an improving direction. Communicating consent and developing coping strategies paves the road of life. When they fail by being unconscious or abused; then it is destructive, in BDSM and everything else in life. I think this is true for both when evaluating one’s action towards oneself, in the sense of self-destructive behavior, and relationship to others, in the case of abuse, or other-destructive behavior. Is it creative or destructive? That is a hard question because it’s so subjective. One trick is to ask the subconscious, or intuition if you like, by inquiring; Does it serve? But what if it doesn’t, most people are already happily wasting much of their life away anyway. Maybe doing useless things is part of being human. But one experience that repeats for me and is continuously expressed by others is that the difference between creative and destructive BDSM is vast. In how it feels. So if one has dealt with the destructive elements of life, then they will know the difference. And this knowledge is what brings me the most sense of safety.

I want to extend this weekly musing with a more straightforward answer from a bodyworker’s perspective. Suppose the physical body doesn’t have time to heal between BDSM-session, for example, if bruises are building up over a longer time or persistent pain in muscles or joints lingers on. In those cases, I think BDSM is becoming destructive. But my experience is that BDSM is more of an emotional journey, and less of a physical one, at least when one goes more in-depth, so the problems and risks occur there. The polarity between creation and destruction is applicable here as well, by asking is the physical results constructively shaping the body or breaking it down.